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Losing an Author, and Read Harder Book 2: A Retelling of a Classic Story

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I hope that, by now, everyone knows that the beloved Sir Terry Pratchett died recently. I hope that people know that, because for a few days after I found out (which was pretty much as soon as the articles started going up, I think), I kept accidentally being the bearer of horribly depressing news when I went to talk to people about my feelings. And then I’d get a rather odd look from my fellow Discworld “fan” who has no idea why, when they compliment my Discworld shirt, I respond with immense sadness. (I put “fan” in quotation marks because, I mean, I feel like fans would know.)

I’ve never lost an author before. I mean, I’ve read books by dead people, of course. And I’m sure authors I’ve read books by have died in my lifetime since my reading of their books. I don’t really know. Or if I do, it’s something I find out much later, and say, oh, well, that’s unfortunate, she was good. And, to be completely honest, I’ve never quite understood the hysteria surrounding the death of a famous person. Please don’t leave angry comments, but: When Robin Williams died last year, and everyone I know began acting like he was their favorite actor to ever have existed when I know for a fact that a few weeks ago they had said something about how he’s not all that funny anymore, and suddenly they’re in full mourning–well, I grew up listening to the Evita soundtrack, and there’s a certain song that gets stuck in my head. Please know that I’m not saying that Robin Williams’ death wasn’t horrible or sad. He suffered from terrible illnesses and I really do hope that whatever happens after we die, he’s found peace. I do. But I didn’t feel it personally, and I had a hard time believing that all the hysterical mourners on my Facebook wall did, either. But after losing Sir Terry, I think I get it a bit more.

I think the first time I ever saw a Discworld book, I was in middle school and some girls I knew loved them. They were geeks, so I kind of wrote them off as books for geeks, completely ignoring that I could basically recite from memory every Harry Potter book. I came across them again in high school, again in the hands of geeks (different geeks, since it was a different school), but suddenly I had found that these geeks were my close friends, and oh, wow, I’m a geek, too! So they started lending me their books. I read a few and, honestly, I wasn’t thrilled with them. I didn’t dislike them, though, so they lent me more. I soon realized that I wasn’t all that into Rincewind (and, well, Sir Terry himself never recommended starting with A Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, so maybe that’s not my fault), but I really liked the others. I read EricThe Wee Free Men, Small Gods, and a couple of others, and I soon found that my worldview had changed completely. I wasn’t brought up with religion, but the way things worked in Small Gods made a whole lot of sense to me, and I still look at theology through that lens. Still, though, I wasn’t what you’d call a Discworld Fan. I had read a few of the books and mostly liked them. I borrowed a copy of Good Omens from a teacher who then got fired so I never had to give it back. It’s still on my shelf.

It wasn’t until college that someone gave me the right Discworld books, that I read about Sam Vimes and Granny Weatherwax and Moist von Lipwig, and I realized I’d been going about it all wrong. My copies of the City Watch books are almost as beat up as that copy of Good Omens, I’ve read them so many times. The pages are dog-eared so I can always find the funniest bits, though when I lend them to people they always kindly unfold the pages for me because they know that, as a book lover, I must hate it when pages get like that. (In a $30 hardcover? Yes. In a $7.99 paperback with frayed corners and 12 cracks in the spine that I’ll have to replace with the new taller edition anyway so the shelf lines up right? No.) I devoured the first two books in the Long Earth series, and finishing the rest, well, I’ve got a 2’4″ stack of books I have to make some headway on before I can buy anything else, but I can’t wait to get to it.

So even though I’ve never returned to the Rincewind books–until tomorrow, that is, when I will finish the book that I’m reading (A Slip of the Keyboard, Pratchett’s collected nonfiction, because how could I have picked up anything else?) and pick up The Color of Magic again, this time as an actual Discworld Fan–Pratchett’s work has been a huge influence on my life. Half my thoughts about life are in the form of sarcastic footnotes. The City Watch series is something I’ve been able to share with Mike, who better hurry up and read Night Watch and then Thud! because those two are my favorites, and I love being able to share books with someone and laughing hysterically at 1:30 in the morning at the suggestion of naming a future potential child we may have Dorfl.

Reading A Slip of the Keyboard is eye-opening in a way that feels similar to how I felt when Small Gods made so much sense to me eleven years ago. I want to write, and I’m realizing that I’m going about it all wrong. I’m reading all the wrong things, and, well, I’m not going to stop reading the things that I love, but there’s a lot of stuff out there aside from science fiction and fantasy, a lot of nonfiction, classics, mythology, science, whatever, that could inform me as a theoretical writer much more than just reading the types of books I want to write. You don’t bury an apple tree to grow an apple tree.

So thank you, Sir Terry, for all that you’ve given to me and the world. I cried a whole lot (awkwardly, at work, but fortunately with a boss who also loves him and understood), but I realize now that you also helped to create in me the mechanisms necessary to deal with this. You taught me that “a man’s not dead while his name’s still spoken,” and that DEATH is actually not too bad a guy, and maybe this is heaven and when we die we’re actually being born, and that after you die, you’ll end up wherever you believe you’ll end up. And I’m hoping that you’ve ended up on the Discworld, and that if you have, it’s somewhere that can offer you Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably-Priced Love, and a Hard Boiled Egg.

All the little angels rise up, rise up,
All the little angels rise up high!
How do they rise up, rise up, rise up?
How do they rise up, rise up high?
They rise heads up, heads up, heads up,
They rise heads up, heads up high!

(If you’re just here for my update on my Read Harder challenge, I’m not remotely sorry about all that. But the other part’s starting now.)

In the winter, I like to read fairy tales. Not necessarily classic fairy tales, but books that make me feel the way I imagine Lucy first felt when she stepped through the back of that wardrobe into a snowy Narnia with a lamp post sprouting out of the ground in front of her. I think I’ve inextricably linked that scene and snowstorms in my mind, which is why I always feel like something magical is going on when it starts to snow, while real adults just sit and complain about the shoveling. (At a certain point every winter, though, I’m over it. It’s pretty, but it can go to Hell.) It’s for this reason that I decided my second Read Harder Challenge book should be a retelling. There are so many retellings with so much magic in them, I knew I’d find the perfect one. So one kind of dismal and slow day at work, as I walked around neatening up shelves, I pulled a few off and read the backs, hoping to find the perfect fairy tale retelling to fulfill this slot on the challenge. And then something jumped out at me. Something I’d bought ages (okay, months) ago and had sitting on my TBR shelf at home just waiting for me. Something I’d been meaning to read since I did an independent study in epics back in college. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.

Not a fairy tale. Not what I was looking for or expecting to want to read. But the perfect book nonetheless.

When I say I did an independent study in epics, what I mean is that in the course of three months, I read The Odyssey and two modern epics that are heavily based on it, one of which was Ulysses, and guys, if you ever want to hate yourselves, design an independent study that you need a good grade in to graduate that requires that you read Ulysses in a month. And understand it. I guarantee you’ll never want to look at the book again. That’s besides the point, though.

At some point, something happened, some discussion occurred, and my professor recommended The Penelopiad to me. I hadn’t read Atwood at that point, so while I vaguely remembered the title, I wasn’t about to rush to the store to get yet another book based on The Odyssey. I’d had quite enough, thank you. But I’m pretty sure the discussion that led to this recommendation was about the maids. I’m pretty sure I didn’t like their death. So now, all these years later, I’m happy to say that Margaret Atwood didn’t like it, either.

The Penelopiad is a slim volume where Penelope recounts her experiences while her husband was on his famed Odyssey from a safe distance of a few thousand years, which she’s spent mostly in the sort of afterlife she believed in. The book was surprisingly straightforward. Penelope’s been planning this story for thousands of years; she’s not about to waste her time making things convoluted for us. She has something to say, and she’s finally ready to say it, and what it is is her story. Her side of the events. What she was doing the whole time he was gone. How she ran the household, built it up, tricked people who needed tricking, raised a frankly thankless son, kept an eye on the suitors while keeping them at bay, and how she lost everything for it. How the suitors took most of what she had, and when Odysseus returned, he took the rest, her twelve favorite maids who acted under her orders and were loyal to her throughout. All for the crime of having been raped.

The maids get their say, too, though not in the way you might expect. They’re the Chorus. They appear between chapters and sing a song, or tell a story, or, in one instance, give a university lecture on their significance to the story of The Odyssey.

If you’ve ever read The Odyssey and you’ve ever got a little free time, this book is worth picking up. It’ll present some new ideas, and those ideas that aren’t new will be put under a different light. Atwood doesn’t make much up, really; she tells the story so obviously lurking in the background of the classic–so obviously that most of us never really even notice it.

Oops! And Read Harder Book 1: Something Someone Recommended

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Way back on December 31st, I mentioned my new project for 2015, which is Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge. And I’m doing it, and it’s going very well, but I may or may not have also said something about how two blog posts per month seemed totally reasonable. Well. That was probably true, for most people, you know, just not when you’re me and you’re planning a wedding and also just not really spending a lot of time on the computer. So now it’s March 1st and I haven’t written a single update on my project. And I really do spend a whole lot of time on this blog apologizing for failing to update it more frequently, which would be a little more appropriate if I believed that many people read it, so I think I’m really apologizing to myself. Sorry, self, that you are so bad at maintaining any sort of update schedule here; you really need to get your priorities straightened out. Especially since these will most likely not be ridiculously long posts.

The first book I selected to fulfill a requirement on the Read Harder Challenge list was a book someone recommended to me. Finding a book to fulfill this requirement really wasn’t difficult, because, well, most of the time when I pick up a book, it’s because someone said it was good. Frequently, it’s because another author (cough*Neil Gaiman*cough) that I like said it was good and it’s right there on the cover for everyone to see. However, in this instance, I figured I’d go with something that an actual person whom I actually know recommended, and, to make the challenge more interesting, something that wouldn’t normally find its way onto my reading list. Fortunately for me, Christmas had just happened, and for Christmas I got just such a book: eaarth by Bill McKibben.

I read fiction almost exclusively, so to pick up a book about science—as much as I love science—was a little intimidating. The last science class that I took was a Genetics and Ethics class when I was in college, which was the first semester Mike and I were dating—five and a half years ago—and, well, it didn’t go well. Mostly because there was no prerequisite listed, so about half the class took it as a “gotta fulfill my science requirement, this seems like it’ll be liberal arts-y enough to not be boring,” and I was one of that half. It was not liberal arts-y. It was a 200-level genetics class half full of people who hadn’t taken biology since freshman year of high school. Mostly, it didn’t go well, and that was with a med student boyfriend to help me out. I imagine lots of people didn’t pass.

Eaarth, however, was surprisingly accessible. Bill McKibben has a message for the world about climate change—mostly, “It’s here, god dammit, now will you morons do something?”—and he wants it understood by the masses. I was surprised at how the book pulled me in right from the beginning, and even more at how much I didn’t know about this crazy important issue, like how we’re already above the threshold of carbon in the atmosphere to sustain life as we know it, and at the rate we’re going, we’ll be completely screwed by 2050. Everyone talks about this issue like the real problem is still far away, but this isn’t an issue for our great-grandchildren. That’s 35 years. The plankton is already dying out. Climate-related disasters are happening all over the world, the effects of which we in the US have a hard time seeing if we’re not looking for them. We need to make some changes.

Part one of eaarth was scary, but part two was hopeful. We’re on our way to completely screwing ourselves, but McKibben makes some suggestions as to how to slow this process down, and they’re mostly suggestions that I liked. It mostly has to do with hunkering down in our communities and taking what might seem like a few steps backwards. More local farms and backyard gardens—even if you don’t have a whole lot of space, companion planting can help your garden produce a whole lot more food than you’d imagine. (Of course, I live in a place with almost no soil, so that’s fun and exciting.) Shop locally as much as possible. I mean, fewer UPS trucks driving around with half the world’s Amazon orders piled up in the back can’t possibly be a bad thing, right? And we’re at a point where we can put down roots locally and still be in touch with the rest of the world. I was thrilled to find that McKibben is a huge fan of the internet because, well, so am I.

Did I like the book? It’s hard to say. It was interesting. In a way, it was very easy to read—it didn’t take me any longer than most novels I pick up, and I understood what he was talking about. However, it was also very hard to read in the sense that it was terrifying. It pissed me off. And I’m bad at being pissed off at one thing, so, like, I’m pissed off because of this book, which leads me to being generally pissed off about almost everything, which, despite my being from Massachusetts, is not my default state. I didn’t love that, but I think I needed that, because I immediately turned the (oil) heat in my house down from 70 to 64. I mean, I can put on a sweater. I’ve made some changes. And this summer, if the ground ever thaws, maybe I’ll plant some tomatoes and see what happens from there.

I’ll be back…well, you know, eventually to tell you all about my second selection in the Read Harder challenge. I’m not telling what I picked yet because I want to keep you on your toes, but it’ll be a retelling of a classic tale.

The 50 Book Project In Review and Reading Harder in 2015

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I meant to get to this sooner. I had the flu, so I didn’t. It was awful. I don’t recommend the flu. If you need to take a few days off from work, I highly recommend pretty much anything aside from the flu. Not ebola, though. I don’t recommend that. The flu is pretty bad, but ebola would definitely have been worse.

But I’m back! And I promised a reflection on my 2014 50 Book Project, so that is what you’re going to get. And I’m going to do it in the form of an interview, a self-interview, because that’s the sort of woman I am. Here goes.

So Rachael, what exactly was the 50 book project? Well, I would say that’s fairly obvious, isn’t it? It was a project where I would read (and blog about) at least 50 books over the course of 2014. I really didn’t want to do a whole lot more than 50, either, because I feel like if I’m averaging lots more than one book per week, I’m not challenging myself intellectually at all, and that’s not a good thing.

So was that what this was about? Challenging yourself intellectually? No, definitely not. I mean, it was in the back of my mind—I didn’t want to read fifty pulpy romances or something, you know? I wanted some balance. Some light silly stuff, sure, but I’m a Ravenclaw. I like to think. And I think you need to go back and forth. Read something heavy, or a few heavy things, and then read something lighter for a bit. Literary cleansing, we call it. Read The Diamond Age, a heavy, thought-provoking piece of science fiction, yes—but then pick up The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. Read 1Q84, but take a break halfway through to read The Office of Mercy.

You’re mentioning a lot of titles. What did you read this year? Oh, a list? I can do a list! I mean, it’ll be long, but I can do a list! I draw the line at linking to every post, though. That would be ridiculous.
1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick
2. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
3. Runaway by Alice Munro
4. This Immortal by Roger Zelazny
5. Paper Towns by John Green
6. The Giver by Lois Lowry
7. 1Q84 vol. 1 by Haruki Murakami
8. 1Q84 vol. 2 by Haruki Murakami
9. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
10. The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian
11. 1Q84 vol. 3 by Haruki Murakami
12. Railsea by China Mieville
13. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
14. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
15. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
16. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. Unsouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” (a.k.a. J. K. Rowling)
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
30. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
31. The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
32. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
33. The Magician by Michael Scott
34. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
35. The Sorceress by Michael Scott
36. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
37. The Necromancer by Michael Scott
38. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
39. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
40. A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
41. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
42. The Warlock by Michael Scott
43. Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
44. Bathing the Lion by Johnathan Carroll
45. The Enchantress by Michael Scott
46. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
47. Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross
48. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
49. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
50. Dawn by Octavia Butler
51. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
52. The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

What exactly was the goal of the project, would you say? You know, I didn’t actually go into the year with a goal. It wasn’t a project I thought about a whole lot—I just decided to do it on the spur of the moment; there wasn’t a lot of time to come up with goals. Mostly, I wanted to remember what I read at the end of the year, because at the end of 2013 I really didn’t.

Did you do anything specific to help you remember your reading better? Blogging would be the obvious answer, but you can see I was kind of abysmal at that. I took notes. For the first time ever, for an entire year, I kept a notebook as I read. If I came across something that struck me, I’d write down my thought. If there was an absolutely wonderful quotation that I just had to remember later on, I wrote it down. If I had a question, or a prediction, or a bit of confusion, or if I finally figured out something—I wrote it all down. That started just as a way of helping me with blogging, but it was so much more valuable than that. Most of the stuff I wrote down didn’t get into the post, but flipping through my notebook, I can say, oh yeah, I loved that moment, that was on this page. Or, you know, I never did get an answer to that question! But I think just as big as the taking notes was how I was reading. For a few years, I’d been reading nearly exclusively on an e-reader (a nook). I really liked it, but it was amazing how mindless it was compared to actually holding a book. It’s like an entirely different activity. On an e-reader, your eyes don’t work the same way—even the e-ink kind, because that’s what I had. And there’s science backing me up now, which is wonderful. The full-body experience of reading an actual, paper book does a lot of good that no sort of device can do. You remember what you read better. Six minutes a day reduces stress by a whole lot and decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s, but not on an e-reader because your brain processes that differently. I started the slow switch back at some point in 2013 and this year I think I only read two e-books, and that was because they were parts of series that I had there and didn’t feel like entirely replacing. But when the next iteration comes out, I’ll just go to the library. Because even when I didn’t take notes when I was reading—when I got to the end of the book and realized I’d forgotten, usually because I was so wrapped up in whatever was going on in the story—I still could write down what I’d been thinking and feeling at different points in the book. When I got the end of something I read on my nook, I was kind of like, wait, what? It was like something that happened to me, or near me, rather than something that I consciously did and participated in. It was like the difference between freshly-ground pepper from a pepper mill and that pre-ground stuff they give you little packets of when you get fast food. All reading is not created equal.

That got, uh, pretty off-topic. Yeah, it did. I’m not sorry.

Getting back to things then. Even if you didn’t go in with a goal in mind, what were the outcomes of your project? I certainly chose my books differently. I think part of that is, again, part of the switch back to paper books (yes, I’ll shut up about it now), but also the public aspect. I was always a little shocked when I got an email saying that someone started following my blog. I certainly never intended for this to be read by anyone else. I just figured, a record would be nice, and why not make it public? But I think that may have pushed me to choose different books that I otherwise would have. Nothing too over the top, but I had this thing in the back of my mind, like, well I don’t want to have twelve posts in a row of the same author, that would get really boring if anyone’s reading it. Things like that. So I read more diversely in that sense. When I loved Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I could easily have run to the bookstore and bought everything Philip K. Dick ever wrote. In the past, I might have. But I didn’t. Keeping a record also helped with diversity in other ways. When it got to December, I looked at the list of everything I’d read so far, and while it wasn’t 100% white men, there were a lot of them. So I dedicated most of the month (aside from book club books) to reading books not by white men. I finally picked up The Valley of Amazement, which I’d been meaning to read for ages. I read Alif the Unseen, which was by a Muslim-American woman. I finally got around to reading Octavia Butler, and oh my god I was missing out. But normally at the end of a year, I don’t have the opportunity to look back and say, wow, lots of white dudes here, let’s get some variety in.

What was your favorite book this year? Ahhhh, favorite? Don’t make me choose! (I think Neil Gaiman said it best: “Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.”) I think the best book I read this year was Bathing the Lion. There were other books that made me look at my rating system and say, huh, maybe I should add an extra star. But that’s the one that made me add the damn star. Despite that, I don’t know that it was my favorite. The top tier, though, would be that, 1Q84, A Wild Sheep Chase, the MaddAddam series, The Golem and the Jinni, The Round House, The Diamond Age, Alif the Unseen, Dawn, and Lexicon. And even now I’m super paranoid that I’m leaving something out. I couldn’t even narrow it down to ten.

Six stars, so…the winner, I think?

That’s ridiculous. How about your least favorite? NEUROMANCER. Fuck that book.

Wow. Okay. So. Moving on. Were there any unexpected outcomes? I didn’t re-read anything all year! That was weird for me. When I originally made the rules, I built in stipulations for re-reading, because I just assumed I would. But it felt like cheating, so I never did. Of course, as soon as it was January 1st, 2015, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and read the entire Harry Potter series in 11 days. It had been a few years, and I missed my Hogwarts friends.

Were there any downsides to your project? Yes! Yes, absolutely. Overall, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience, but nothing is all good. The biggest downside was the number, just the fact of there being a number, and how that affected my choices. After I read 1Q84, and that took so long, and I counted it as three books—I mean, I think it was part two that took me over two weeks to get through. Like, it took me over a month to read that book. Those three books. However we’re talking about it. So after that, I was hesitant to take on another really big book. I’d keep walking by The Infinite Jest at work and think, I’d love to read that someday but if I take that on now I’ll never get to 50. And without the number there, maybe I would have picked it up and maybe I wouldn’t have, who knows? It’s on my ‘books I’d like to read someday’ list, but I don’t know if it ever would have gotten to the ‘book I’m going to read next’ point in the last year. Or if it ever will. I mean, I know I won’t read all I’d like to in my life. Some books will just stay on that ‘someday’ list forever. But I wasn’t going to start anything huge in 2014 when I had a goal.

So you won’t be doing a project like this again? I don’t think I’ll be doing this specific project again, but I did like having a project. It introduced a level of mindfulness into my reading habits that wasn’t there before, and I don’t want to lose that. But I don’t think it’ll just be number goals in the future. I’m really excited for what I’m doing this year, in fact.

And what’s that? Yes! Time for the Reveal! In 2015, I’m participating in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. It’s 24 categories and you’ve got to read one book from each over the course of the year. Or you could allow some overlap, cross out a few categories with one book—listen to a young adult audiobook by a Native American author who’s the opposite gender as you and you’ve got four down at once. I’m really only planning on counting one category for each book, though.

What are the categories? Well, you can read all about it over on Book Riot, but here they are:
1. A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25.
2. A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65.
3. A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people).
4. A book published by an indie press.
5. A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ.
6. A book by a person whose gender is different from your own.
7. A book that takes place in Asia.
8. A book by an author from Africa.
9. A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.).
10. A microhistory.
11. A YA novel.
12. A sci-fi novel.
13. A romance novel.
14. A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade.
15. A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairy tale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.).
16. An audiobook.
17. A collection of poetry.
18. A book that someone else has recommended to you.
19. A book that was originally published in another language.
20. A graphic novel, a graphic memoir, or a collection of comics of any kind.
21. A book you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over).
22. A book published before 1850.
23. A book published this year.
24. A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”).
That’s them, copied directly from Book Riot’s site. It’s an exciting challenge, and one that I think will push me in ways that my 50 Book Project didn’t, while also giving me a lot of leeway both in the categories and to read my own stuff on the side.

What are you most looking forward to in this challenge? Both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett have short story collections coming out this year. I can’t wait for those. Really, at least half the categories will be covered by stuff I would have read anyway, so I’m looking forward to getting to each category and looking around my shelves and my TBR list and seeing what’s there that fits.

What do you expect to be the most difficult? 1. A romance novel, because I have this preconceived idea of what romance novels are and fully expect to absolutely hate it. I’m all for love stories happening in books, but I like them to be side plots. I’m just not a very romantic person. 2. A self-improvement book. I mean, how could I possibly improve on this? (*Indicates all of self.*) But in all seriousness, I’m sure there are some great ones out there, but I know there’s also a whole lot of crap and I have no idea how to go about wading through that crap to find something worth reading. 3. An audiobook. I don’t like noise! I’m going to have to develop a strategy for this one, because it’s really the exact type of noise that I most dislike. I don’t like when I can hear a voice but can’t see someone. I feel like I’m missing key details. Facial expressions, body language. I’m sure it’ll be different listening to a book—there’ll be description when it’s important. But I don’t like disembodied voices. I don’t like the phone, I don’t like talk radio, and I have a hard time imagining that audiobooks will be any different. I’m also not great at listening to someone talk while I do something, so I don’t think I’ll be able to get away with multitasking. We’ll see.

Will you be blogging this project? Hah. Yes. I’m not good at the blogging part, but I like it. I won’t be blogging everything I read this year, but I do plan to blog the Read Harder challenge. 24 posts seems manageable.

So one last question, then: What are you tackling first? I already tackled it! That’s how bad at blogging I am. I just finished #18, a book recommended by someone else: eaarth by Bill McKibben, recommended and given to me by my dad. (And yes, I started with #18. I’m not going in order. They aren’t actually numbered on the Book Riot site, so I think that’s fine.)

Okay, that’s all for this post. Which is good, because this is literally on the sixth page in the Word document I’m writing it in. Sorry. I’ll be back soon to talk about eaarth. Hopefully soon. You know. Soon-ish.

New Year’s Eve and the Last Twelve Books

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Well, it’s New Year’s Eve again. One year ago tonight (not to the minute or anything–I think it was later in the evening), I was sitting in my kitchen in Concord, NH writing a blog post about the five best books I’d read in 2013 when I decided I should read 50 books in 2014 and blog about them all.

Guys. I really sucked at the blogging part of that.

It’s the first time I’ve ever really made a resolution. I mean, maybe when I was little, but never before had I made a serious this is something I’m going to do next year commitment on New Year’s Eve. And I put absolutely zero thought into whether it was a reasonable thing for me to do–I figured I probably read at least a book a week. Actually, it was probably more. I think I spent a lot of the past few years taking a weekend and binging on a YA trilogy and rereading series that I’ve read a few times already and just fly through. I wasn’t figuring that a book a week was accurate to what I was doing at the moment. I was figuring that a book a week would be a good goal. Because if I’m reading too much more than that, then I’m clearly not challenging myself at all. And honestly, the books that took me a whole lot longer than a week were the ones I got the most out of.

I keep writing more, but I really wasn’t intending for this to be a reflecting-on-the-project type of post. I’ll do one of those soon when I discuss my 2015 project.

So this year, I’m having my favorite kind of New Year’s Eve. Reading and writing and maybe a little Mario Kart and some Chinese food. And the first thing I’m going to do is finish up last year’s resolution and blog about the final twelve books.

I didn’t read 50 books this year. Officially, by my notebook, I read 52 books this year. You could be really picky and say that since 1Q84 was three volumes in the edition I had but more commonly only one it should only count as one, but then I would point out the number books that I did not record. I read most of What If by Randall Munroe, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores, and about 500 billion picture books but it seemed ridiculous to count every single Elephant and Piggie in my end-of-the-year tally. Anyway, even if you’re being picky and refusing to count 1Q84 as more than one book, I still read 50 books this year. (And my boss, aka the owner of a bookshop, says it totally counts as three books since they’re individually bound, so nyah.)

Anyway! Here are the final twelve.

Book 39: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

Here’s the thing about reading Murakami. When you finish, it’s so easy to put the book down and get lost in questions about specifics, such as: What the fuck just happened? But if you do that, you’ll miss the point of his books. The story—the plot, the actual things that happen in the book—those things aren’t the point when you read Murakami, I don’t think. Those things make the point. And there will be some point in your future, whether it be five minutes later or eight months later, that you suddenly completely forget whatever you’re doing at the moment and say: OH! Because you figured it out. You realized what the point was. And not only did you realize what the point was, but you realize that it’s so applicable to your life at this very moment, because his books don’t make stupid small points. (In fact, he doesn’t try to make points at all, which is probably why whatever I figure out in terms of the points always seems super relevant.) If you’ve read this book, or if you’ve read 1Q84, let me know because I would love to hear what you got out of them.

Book 40: A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

If you’re a science fiction fan, you’ve got to read this book. It’s about a group of scientists, human scientists, living in a research lab base on a planet that’s entirely under water (or some other sort of liquid, not sure if it was actual water), studying on of the native species there. But there’s another alien species out there that makes laws about this sort of thing, and the rule is that they can’t interfere, they can’t even let the species they’re studying know that they’re there. And the species they’re studying, it turns out they’re sentient, they’re intelligent, they’re scientific. And the thing that is so cool about this book, that brought it from being a pretty good science fiction story to something amazing, was that you get to hear each point of view. Each species has one representative with POV chapters. So instead of the whole book being about humans looking at the other, we get to think about ourselves as the other and realize that our point of view isn’t the only one that matters. And it was just so cool. I’ve been recommending it to everyone.

Book 41: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

I really, really like Saladin Ahmed. I follow the guy on Twitter, and his tweets either crack me up or make me think hard about something or, on a not-irregular basis, both. His book, The Throne of the Crescent Moon, was really good. I enjoyed it. It’s a fantasy detective sort of novel—well, he’s really a ghul hunter and not a detective, but it follows the same general idea—set in a medieval made-up Middle Eastern city. I loved the idea from the first time I heard about it, because, well, does anyone else get a little sick of everything in science fiction and fantasy being so…western? So that was this book. It was kind of like if you took the Dresden Files, except instead of making it about a wizard detective in modern-day Chicago, you made it about a ghul hunter in medieval Dhamsawaat. The characters are complex and multi-dimensional, with detailed lives and thoughts going on behind their ghul hunting ways. The world is built well around the characters, too—I really liked that, while magic was a fact of this world, it wasn’t there only for the convenience of our main characters or villains. It was built into life in the city. Now, you might be reading this thinking, Rachael, this sounds like the sort of thing you’d love but up there you wrote that you “really enjoyed it,” which, I mean, I read your blog and you love saying you love books! And you’re right. I do love saying I love books, and I would be lying if I said I loved this book. I really liked it, and I wanted to love it, but characters had a touch more religious fervor than I generally like in my fantasy. So, since I was comparing to The Dresden Files already, if you’re a fan, imagine: Michael is Dresden’s constant companion through the entire series, but rather than responding the way he does to Michael’s religious comments, Dresden also talks about God a whole lot, just in a slightly different way. Now, I get that it’s completely reasonable within the context of the story for the characters to be highly religious. I didn’t think it didn’t make sense. It’s just not really my thing. On that note, however, I am very much looking forward to the next in the series.

Book 43: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Before I start talking specifically about Raising Steam, I want to talk a little about Sir Terry Pratchett. He’s hard to talk about right now because talking about him makes me sad and angry. For those of you who don’t know, Pratchett has early onset Alzheimer’s. I’m not sad and angry because I want more Discworld books than he will be able to write. I mean, I do want more, I want them to keep going forever, but that’s not why I’m sad and angry. I’m sad and angry because, over the years, I’ve read so many of his books and they have given me so much that I absolutely hate knowing what he’s going through. It’s awful. Of course, he writes about it better than I ever will, and I urge you to read some of what he’s written—both about living with Alzheimer’s and choosing to die.

Anyway. Raising Steam. Guys, this book was amazing. My two favorite Pratchett characters are Sam Vimes and Moist von Lipwig. I bought this book knowing it was part of the Lipwig series, but having no idea that Vimes would play such a major role! (Uh, I mean. Spoilers. Not big spoilers, though. Shh.) This is the third Moist book. The first, Going Postal, was about con man Moist von Lipwig after he’s saved from his execution only to be sentenced to a career as Postmaster General in a city where the postal system is a complete joke. Not surprisingly, a former con man is perfectly suited to government work. In Raising Steam, Moist has been a pillar of the community for a number of years when someone invents a steam engine. Like everyone else, Moist is drawn to the shiny new technology, but Lord Vetinari gives him a task that seems impossible…but is it?!! When I read these, I feel just like someone in the book: An outsider, looking in, completely enthralled, wondering how Moist is going to pull this off, completely convinced that he’ll fail, because how could he succeed? And it’s wonderful. If you want to read this book, though, I highly recommend starting with Guards! Guards! and reading all the Vimes and Moist books (at least) before starting on this one; you really need the context of both stories.

Book 44: Bathing the Lion by Jonathan Carroll

This book was so good I added a sixth star to my rating system. It was like Neil Gaiman, Philip K. Dick, Haruki Murakami, Roger Zelazny, and China Mieville all had a brain baby and this was it. I read it while on a family vacation to visit my grandfather in Florida and at some point my brother asked what it was about, and I was about two thirds of the way through at that point, and I just—well that’s a really good question, I have no idea yet. If you don’t like being slightly unsure of what’s going on when you’re reading, or if you don’t like subtlety in your endings, this book won’t be for you. For everyone else, I still can’t tell you what this is about because there is literally no way to do that without spoiling the ending, so let’s just say it’s about humanity. It’s about the absolute necessity of human passion and curiosity and creativity. The one downside is that it’s only 280 pages. Over way too fast. (Also, has anyone ever taken a book on an airplane and had it grow? Like, even the guy sitting next to me commented on it. It tried to expand. Sadly, it didn’t grow more pages.)

Book 46: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

I kept having to turn back to the front of this book where the author’s picture is located because, every few pages, I’d become absolutely convinced that “Robin Sloan” is a pen name that John Green used to write an adult book. I absolutely loved it. (I’m still wondering if authors who use pen names sometimes use a fake picture to really pretend it’s not them.) You’ve got a narrator who’s kind of in a weird point in his life, and he’s got this weird crazy group of friends who all have one completely random and very specific thing, and he meets this crazy weird fun quirky brilliant woman, and then weird stuff happens and there’s a crazy adventure and you learn something important about life when you’re done reading it. It’s so much fun, and you won’t be able to put it down, and then when you finish it you won’t be able to shut up about it for a while. Oh, and this is important: There’s nothing in this book that would make it inappropriate for anyone for whom John Green’s books are appropriate.

Book 47: Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

There’s a science fiction book club in my town, and this book was the first book I read for it that I was actually able to make it to the meeting for. (The first meeting after I joined was about Neuromancer, which I read recently enough, but since the meeting was at a member’s house and he was cooking, I wasn’t about to show up and say, hi, you’ve never met me before, give me your food, I hated this book that you love. The second was for A Darkling Sea, and it broke my heart to be stuck on an airplane on the way back from Florida when they had that meeting because I loved it.) Everyone in the club who finished the book liked it, but no one seemed to have loved it. However, it did have a fascinating idea behind it that a lot of space opera fails to consider or creates an explanation around. Traveling faster than light seems like it’d be completely impossible. So let’s say, in a few thousand years, we’re at a point where people are scattered all over the universe. Traveling from one planet to another could take hundreds or thousands of years. So, in the book, they’re not human, they’re kind of post-human androids that can basically go into sleep mode for most of that time. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, what does that mean economically? Like, let’s say I hire someone. I pay them a certain amount to come do a job for me, and it takes them 400 years to get here. I’m still here and they’re still there because we’re kind of robots with uploadable consciousness, but what about the money? Economic systems and values change quickly enough that by the time they can use the money, it’s worthless. So in Neptune’s Brood, Stross writes about that. What does that mean? What systems might be put in place to avoid that? How could those systems fail? So if you’re into science fiction and economics, this is the book for you. If you’re not so much into economics, you might struggle through it at points, but it’s still a good story and fascinating to think about.

Book 48: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I very nearly read this entire book in a weekend, but I didn’t quite finish it, and then the week started, and the week was crazy and weird and I barely had any spare time so it took me a while to finish after an initial whirlwind of addiction (and a whole lot of exasperation when I really just wanted to sit down and read but had too much other stuff to do). It takes place in the early 1900’s in China, beginning in a first class courtesan house owned by an American woman named Lulu Minturn. The story centers around her daughter, Violet, as she grows up an outsider and is forced to face circumstances beyond her (or her mother’s) control. Over time, she begins to understand some of the decisions her mother had needed to make. In classic Tan style, it’s a beautiful story of the love that families have for each other, and it manages to be that without being even remotely boring. I absolutely loved it and I’m already looking forward to Tan’s next book. (I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything Amy Tan has ever written. I don’t think that’s true for very many authors who have written more than a book or two. Amy Tan and good ol’ JK are the only ones I can think of at the moment.)

Book 49: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

SO GOOD. (I’m becoming incoherent, huh? I can’t wait to go to bed!) I’ve decided that I’m going to continue buying any book that looks remotely interesting and has a quote from a review by Neil Gaiman on the cover, because seriously, I am never disappointed. This book is about a young hacker in yet another made up Middle Eastern city. He writes a code that shouldn’t be possible, then comes into possession of a book that shouldn’t exist, and finds himself on the run in the company of his next door neighbor, an American student, and a possibly evil djinn. This book has something for everyone—some politics, some love, some magic, some technology, all with well-rounded, interesting character and some beautiful writing. I absolutely loved every second of this book. It was about the importance of ordinary people doing things to try to change the world, even if they don’t think what they’re doing will matter, because everything matters. Or, you never know what will matter. It was wonderful.

Book 50: Dawn by Octavia Butler

How have I never read Octavia Butler before? I’m so disappointed in myself. This book was absolutely wonderful. I felt like I was reading a perfect episode of Doctor Who (except, you know, without most of what makes it Doctor Who). It’s science fiction, but the science is alien and so far beyond any understanding that we have of science right now that it seems almost like magic as you’re reading. And it’s about humanity, again, and I really think that all the best science fiction and fantasy is at its core about being human. Lilith has somehow managed to survive a world-destroying war, along with a small number of other humans, all of whom have been taken by an alien race onto their ship. But the aliens are going to use the humans to change themselves, and in doing so, change the humans and the future of humankind. As soon as I finished this I went and got the rest of the series and I’m looking forward to reading a whole lot more Octavia Butler in the future.

Book 51: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

You know what I said earlier, about eventually saying OH! and understanding what Murakami’s book was about? I finished this two days ago. That hasn’t happened yet. I’m still in the “…what?” phase of having finished a Murakami book. This one in particular is strange. It’s got a jacket that goes the wrong way around it. The font is huge and it’s got pictures taking up about half the pages, and the whole thing reads a bit more like a piece of art than anything else. It’s appropriate for younger audiences, but I’m not sure I’d agree that it’s a kids book like at least one review I’ve read. It’s definitely not a full-length novel—I think it’s a novella, or possibly a novelette, though I’m not sure what the difference is. Anyway, I’m looking forward to having my moment of epiphany and reading it again when I do.

Book 52: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Have you ever read a book that took place in a town where you lived? This book was extremely weird, because it took place in Concord, NH, where I lived for three years until this July. And damn does this author get Concord. It was so much fun to read it and say, yes, I know that place, I’ve been there, oh that restaurant where the people were having lunch makes the best burgers ever, and if you said the streetlight at Warren Street works I know exactly which intersection you’re sitting at, and that weird science fiction movie series is exactly the sort of thing that movie theater would do. It’s a pre-apocalyptic detective story. A giant comet has been discovered heading directly to Earth, and impact will occur in about six months. People all over the place are committing suicide, but when Detective Palace comes across what looks like another hanger, sometimes seems off. Most people think he’s crazy for pursuing it as a case, given the end of the world, but he’s got sort of a Batman complex and is determined to do his job. It had just enough science fiction in it to intrigue me, but I’m really not sure which shelf this belongs on. I read it in approximately two days and can’t wait to start book two.

 

Okay, readers, that’s all for 2014! I’ll be back soon for some big reflections on this year’s reading and details about what I’m doing next year, but for now, it’s almost midnight and I have plans tomorrow, so I’ll be watching the clock (well, no, okay, I’ll be reading) for a little longer and then going to bed. (Sorry about the lack of pictures and links here. I might come back and edit them in later, but I’m really not committed to it. I’m tired and I might actually have the flu and it just doesn’t sound like that much fun.)

Does anyone have any book-related resolutions?

On NaNoWriMo, Sucking at Blogging, and Playing Catch-Up

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Someone asked me at some point whether I was planning on doing National Novel Writing Month this year. I hadn’t been. I’ve never done it before, and I had this whole reading/blogging project going on and a lot of catching up to do with that, so I didn’t really even think about it. But then, at approximately 3pm on November 1st, I realized that this year was different from past years when I have declined to participate in NaNoWriMo: This year, I had an idea.

This isn’t to say that I don’t normally have ideas. I have three distinct books bouncing around in me, all of which I care deeply about. But every time I sit down to work on them, I get a bit bogged down in details. I can’t go any further with this story until I pick a city for it to take place in and there isn’t a city that exists that is perfect so I guess I’m stuck. Or, This isn’t working from this point of view so I’ll put it on hold until I think of a better POV for it. Which, inevitably, results in these books being put on hold forever, because I want them to be perfect. And I don’t want to write these books without a detailed outline, either, because whenever an author of a book I’ve read discusses in an interview whether they used an outline or just “pantsed it,” I end up saying, yeah, I could tell. So I’ve got a bit more percolating left to do before I’m ready to write those.

This year, however, I had a new idea: An idea for a story I didn’t care about. A story that I could have a lot of fun with and not have to worry too much about whether it took place in the exact right city or which character should be the primary narrator, because as it turns out, I suck at that sort of big decision. This story, I could just sit down and puke out onto a screen and see what happens, and when I publish it, maybe do so under a pen name so that perception of my big three won’t be affected by this silly little story.

And it was a little crazy, and I went a little crazy. There was one night when I went into the basement and opened up some packages of magnetic poetry and organized them on a fridge by part of speech while singing Schoolhouse Rock songs under my breath. There was a vacation to Florida halfway through, which I thought would make finishing much more difficult than it did–as it turned out, the time that my computer freaked out and reverted to a version of the document from 5,000 words ago was much more of a hiccup.

And I won! Over 50,000 words in a month. I took a total of 8 days off (actually, that’s a lie–more like 6 or 7 because one of the days that I’m counting as ‘off’ is a day that my computer just lost my progress for so I might as well have taken it off). I learned that I have a lot more time to write than I previously thought, but a lot less than I was taking during November, and it’s nice to eat real food and get real sleep again. I learned that on a day off, I have no problem writing about 4,000 words if I have a sense of where I’m going with the story.

So, the question I’m left with is: Why do I suck so much at blogging? I clearly have time for it.

And the only answer I can think of is: When I have free time that I want to dedicate to my reading project, I use it to read. And when I’m not using it to read, it’s probably at least in part that about 80% of my life revolves around books right now. I work at a little bookstore, so I spend 8 hours a day playing with books, talking about books, touching books, et cetera. I leave 15 to 30 minutes early so I have time to read and relax before the day starts, and I go on my lunch break and read, and I go home at the end of the day and read, and I curl up in bed and read myself to sleep. In between, I go on Facebook to check updates from pages such as Book Riot and I Have More Books than Friends and NPR Books and other book-related pages for those of us who are completely obsessed. And then, sometimes, I try to write books. Don’t get me wrong: I do other things. I like to cook and I have a number of TV shows that I thoroughly enjoy watching. But for the most part, it’s all about books.

(If you’re reading this thinking, Wow, you must be so much fun at parties! allow me to stop you. I’m not. There used to be an inner Rachael who was good at parties who I would let come out sometimes, but I discovered when I tried to call upon her last night that she’s dead. I specifically selected my fancy-dress purse because it can comfortably hold a trade paperback (or squeeze in a smallish hardcover). Small, quiet gatherings of good friends are great, but large gatherings with lots of noise result in me lamenting the fact that while it’s perfectly socially acceptable to pull out your phone and stare at it in the middle of a shindig, it’s still frowned upon to pull out a book and read. However, the Rachael who cares that it’s frowned upon is, likewise, dead.)

The point that I’m trying to make is that it’s no surprise that when I’m on the computer, once I’m all caught up on the book-related news I get via Facebook, my first instinct isn’t necessarily to run over here and write about books. However, I made a commitment to blog about 50 books this year, and I’m right on track reading them—halfway through number 47—but have only blogged up to number 26, so here I am with a sort of quick and very dirty update of the next, oh, let’s say 14 books on my list, giving me ten left afterward. Here goes.

Book 27: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Do you know how hard it was to find this picture and not the movie cover picture? Kind of. It was kind of hard.

I picked up Gone Girl before I got my job at a bookstore, but long after I had begun hoping to get a job at said bookstore, and I figured, everyone I know seems to have read this book. Maybe I should read it for, you know, product knowledge. And then one day when I was away with my mom for a weekend, I finished a book (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) and asked my mom which of the three books I brought with me I should read next. She selected Gone Girl because she’d read it and we could talk. I finished it over the course of the weekend, and I absolutely loved it, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized that I loved it because I read it wrong. “How did you read it wrong?” you’re asking, confused, and I understand your confusion. It’s a book! You read it! Yes, I know, and here’s what happened: I read Gone Girl and thought it was absolutely hilarious. The same thing happened when I went to see the movie. All the big dramatic moments, everyone is creeped out, and I’m sitting there laughing hysterically. And if you’re reading this thinking that I’m some kind of psychopath, well, I have no way of proving that you’re wrong.

Book 28: Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

Look! Paint!

Okay, I mean, just look at the authors. Philip K. Dick, author of the book that inspired pretty much every good science fiction movie ever made, and Roger Zelazny, one of Neil Gaiman’s biggest influences and author of the Chronicles of Amber, one of my favorite series. There was no chance that this would be bad. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland of a world, the man who pulled the trigger on doomsday has been elevated to the status of a god—specifically, the God of Wrath. Christianity has been reduced to this small fringe group, scrambling to survive. One of the greatest painters among the worshippers of the Deus Irae has been commissioned to do a portrait for their church of the God of Wrath, but he only paints from life, so he must go on a pilgrimage (“pilg”) to find his god. One of the things I love about science fiction and fantasy is that it can handle real world issues in a way that doesn’t feel too heavy-handed, and this book handles the themes of art and religion (and each one’s role in the other) perfectly.

Book 29: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

I’m still not sure what’s going on with this cover. I think they just wanted it to look like Snow Crash.

Holy crap, guys. This book. Everyone talks about Snow Crash when they talk about Neal Stephenson, but they’re talking about the wrong book. Not that I didn’t love Snow Crash. I did. But The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer blew my mind. It’s fairly difficult to describe. There’s a rich influential dude in an neo-Victorian society who thinks that children, young girls especially, are learning mostly useless stuff and should be taught how instead how to think and how and when to be subversive, so he commissions a book-like device for his granddaughter. It gets stolen and ends up in the hands of a girl who lives just outside of the neo-Victorian city who is poor, whose brother is a thief, whose mother is a drug addict and possibly prostitute with a string of horrible boyfriends. The Diamond Age tells the story of this girl, her life (from her mother’s pregnancy to age 17), and how that book in her hands ends up influencing the entire world. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It blew my mind.

Book 30: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

Look! An owl!

After two fairly heavy science fiction books in a row, I was ready for some literary cleansing. It’s necessary, once in a while, after reading a whole lot of intense books that involve a whole lot of thought, to cleanse your palate with a few lighter, fluffier reads. So I came across The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. A great work of feminist literature this is not. It starts with PhD student Nora, struggling with her thesis, recently dumped by her long-term boyfriend, going to a wedding and moping about being single and wanting to find a man. But she takes a walk in the woods to clear her mind, only bringing with her a copy of Pride and Prejudice, and finds herself in an alternate reality where magic and fairies rule. She’s immediately swept up in the glamor of the fairy lifestyle, and at first, seems to have found the happy ending she wanted, but something’s wrong. She eventually makes her way to freedom with the help of a local wizard, but seems to be stuck in this world. We follow Nora as she finds her place in this new world where women can’t be scholars or do magic. It’s clearly meant to mirror the plot of Pride and Prejudice—there’s even a red-headed suitor—but we don’t get the whole story in this book, and the author’s sort of teased a sequel though I’ve heard no official announcements as of yet. I, for one, can’t wait for it—this was the perfect fun, light read, a little magical adventure for when your brain is sort of tired. However, no matter what anyone tells you, don’t go into it expecting Harry Potter. And if you’re really looking for a sf/fantasy book about a thinking woman, go back one and read The Diamond Age.

Books 31, 33, 35, 37, 42, and 45: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott

This is the first book. They all look different.

This YA series about a pair of 15 year old twins who suddenly find that their world isn’t what they thought, but instead a world filled with magic and secret pathways to other worlds and mythological creatures and gods and goddesses and even historical figures who were supposed to be dead but, surprise, are immortal, was recommended to me by a friend. She told me it was just like Harry Potter. Guys, you’ve heard this rant before, so I’m not going to repeat it, but suffice to say that while I was reading book 1 of this series, I was writing my post about Skin Game, and the feelings that I had about that book may or may not have leeched into that post. That being said, this was a super fun series to read. I almost stopped after the first book. There were so many gaping plot holes that I couldn’t go on. But I did pick up the second one, and quickly found that the author answered many of the questions I had in there. By the end of the series, most (but not quite all) of the holes had been filled in. There were a few little details that bugged me, like when a character freezes a big chunk of ice around something and it immediately sinks in the water under the weight—if you can’t get past that sort of thing, don’t read this series. But it did have some really great points, and I was excited to pass it on to my 12 year old stepsister who I think will absolutely love it in part because of those points. My absolute favorite part of this series was that there’s no clear right or wrong throughout the whole thing. At the beginning, it seems very good guy/bad guy, hey twins, choose the right side which by the way is super obvious to anyone paying attention, but as it goes on, you learn about some of the not so great stuff the “good” guys have done in their lives, and the “bad” guys become more developed and you learn their histories and reasons for everything. And in life, things aren’t black and white, so I think it’s weird that in YA lit, things so often are. I love that this series gives kids heroes to look up to who have to make tough decisions about what they think is the right thing to do, rather than just whether they will be able to do it. That was wonderful. I also loved the multiculturalism. Every old god exists and they all know each other. Niccolo Machiavelli and Billy the Kid team up. An old Celtic goddess and Joan of Arc are BFFs and, hey, they all know Shakespeare pretty well. (Okay, yeah, I rolled my eyes a bit when Shakespeare turned up.) It was a really fun series to read, though if I’d tried to read it all in a row I probably would have gotten sick of it. I feel like the target audience for these is ages 10ish to 15ish, and in that age range I highly recommend it. For anyone older, I still recommend these, perhaps not quite as highly, as long as you’re able to overlook little details that don’t quite make sense.

Books 32, 34, and 36: The MaddAddam series by Margaret Atwood

You know what would make a really good Christmas present for anyone over age 16 who likes to read?

Have you ever picked up a new book, read the first paragraph, put the book back down because that first paragraph was so good and so, well, beautiful that you want to have a blank slate and experience it for the first time again, read it again, put it down again, read it again, then read it out loud to your cat because it was just that good? Yeah, Oryx and Crake, the first book in the MaddAddam series (which, by the way, is the first series I’ve ever seen that’s named after the last book in the series), is that good. And, spoiler alert (is it a spoiler if it’s the first paragraph?)—that paragraph is about a homeless man waking up on the beach and rummaging through some trash to find some food or alcohol. I don’t know how she did it, but that was one of the most beautiful paragraphs I’ve read in a very long time. I feel like, with this trilogy, Margaret Atwood read a bunch of the post-apocalyptic dystopian trilogies that are out there, and said, “Ugh. Guys, please. Let me show you how to do this.” The entire series blew my mind. I don’t want to tell you anything about it because it will be spoilers and I don’t want you going into it with expectations. Just read it. Please. All of you. It’s that good.

Book 38: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Even this cover is kind of depressing. Her head is fading away.

And now for something completely different: A murder mystery! Not my usual thing, unless of course J. K. Rowling wrote it under a pen name, but when fall rolled around I wanted a murder mystery. But I’m picky. I can’t just pick up any mass market someone else writing as James Patterson book. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with picking up a random not-actually-James Patterson book, but they’re not my thing. So I asked my boss what there might be in the mystery section that would appease both my desire for a whodunit and my desire for something more literary to balance my fun YA series out, she found this. Turn of Mind is told from the point of view of the primary suspect in a murder investigation, the victim’s best friend. The reason she’s the prime suspect is that she’s a retired orthopedic surgeon who specialized in hands and the victim’s fingers were all cut off with surgical precision. And the reason they’ve had such a hard time proving or disproving this suspect’s involvement is that she has Alzheimer’s. This book does an amazing job pulling the reader into the mind of a confused older woman who occasionally knows what’s going on, but is sometimes somewhere else in her mind, as the police question her and investigate her friend’s death. It was terrifying to read, and incredibly sad, but also amazing and beautiful and poetic.

Ten books left! And I still need to read three and a half of them, so it’s time for me to get back to reading. Or possibly make dinner. One of those things. So I’ll be back, and soon, like, this month, I promise, with the next five, starting with more Murakami. Hooray!

The Nobel Prize and the Great Catch-Up

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Working in a bookstore, I was very excited all this week for the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature. There was a lot of speculation–personally, I really wanted Murakami to win, simply because I could say “Oh yes, have you read his magnum opus, 1Q84? I thought it was brilliant! I love how he uses surreal, fantastic storylines to capture the essentials of human existence.” So basically, I wanted bragging rights. And if it wasn’t Murakami, then I was looking forward to familiarizing myself with a brilliant author I hadn’t read before, as I did last year when Alice Munro won.

My dreams were ruined, however, on Thursday morning when I checked online and saw the winner. Patrick Modiano–some French guy I’ve never heard of, nevermind read. Oh well, I figured, we’ll get some of his books in and I can check him out. I’m sure they’re very interesting.

Nope.

Not that they’re not interesting. I don’t know if they’re interesting. I can’t know if they’re interesting, because none of his work is even available in the United States. I don’t even think it’s been translated into English. And, seriously?

I’d like to ask everyone reading this (so, you know, Mom) to think about the point of the Nobel Prize. Is it to tell some French guy, “Hey, you’re a pretty darn good author, even if no one has seen fit to translate your work,” or is it to reward someone whose work has had a positive effect on the world, captured something of what it means to be human in a way that people can relate to? And, above all, isn’t the point to get people to come buy books so we can make money? (Okay, I realize that’s not the point. I was still hopeful, though.)

Anyway, I’m a little disappointed. I don’t think I’m the only one, because even the NPR host on the show we were listening to sounded a bit confused when discussing it–he admitted he’d never read Modiano in a tone of voice that sounded more like, “As a matter of fact, who the heck even is this guy?”

Fortunately, all was remedied the next day when Malala won the Peace Prize. At least she’s written books we can sell.

And now for the catch-up. I keep reading, and I keep not updating here because I’m busy reading and doing a million other things that go into functioning as an adult and it’s hard to convince myself to take an hour to update my little blag here. But I’m in the middle of book #40, and I’ve only written up through book #21, and at this rate, I will never succeed in blogging about 50 books this year. So! Five books at once seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Here goes!

Book 22: Neuromancer by William Gibson

I’m fairly new to reading science fiction. I’ve been reading fantasy for a while and I’ve read a bunch of the fantasy classics, though still not nearly enough, but when it comes to SF I’m pretty much at a loss. So when I was at Porter Square Books in, oh, April or something, and they had a display of SF classics, I got excited and picked up a copy of Neuromancer to help build my nerd cred a bit. It’s a little science fiction classic that won the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards! There is no way this could possibly go wrong!

Except, you know, if it did.

I hated Neuromancer. In fact, for most of the time I was reading it, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. It’s a teeny tiny paperback, and it took me two weeks to slug through it. If I hadn’t already taken up a line on my meticulous little list of books for this project, I would have stopped after 50 pages. And I really don’t like abandoning books.

Okay, you probably want more than why I hated this book. I think it’s a situation where, in its time, it was amazing. It was exactly what people wanted from science fiction (and, in my opinion, the reason genre writing still has a fairly terrible reputation)–it was driven entirely by the plot and the world it took place in. This isn’t a story, this is a daydream about the types of technology that the future might hold. The characters have absolutely no depth. Half the words are cyberpunk tech lingo that is never explained. I spent a bunch of time going back and looking for the explanation of what certain words meant–did I read that part when I was falling asleep and not register it at all?–but found nothing. It seemed like I was just supposed to accept everything because “wibbly-wobbly techy-wechy,.” The characters are introduced, participate in the plot for a little while, disappear, than reappear later on and get some description–which threw me off, because with no description to begin with, I had tried to form my own mental image that the new description didn’t work with at all and as a result, I just had no idea who the character was. I think in the last 15-20 pages, I finally started to kind of understand what was going on…and then it ended. Halfway through, I’d even looked up a summary, thinking that the beginning would sound familiar and having read the summary would help me follow along. This didn’t work. And you know that this strategy did work for? Ulysses. This book makes less sense than Ulysses.

Book Recommendation that Completely Misses the Point: Read this book if you hate yourself. Or if you go back in time to the 80s when apparently this was good.

 

Book 23: Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau

My friend explained this book to me at work one day and my immediate reaction was: Why was I never required to read this during writing classes in school? She let me borrow it, and I picked it up as my “I’m moving and need to be reading something that I can be sort of distracted for” book. It was perfect for that. Exercises in Style isn’t a novel–it’s the same short story told 99 times in a different style each time. The story, essentially, is this: The Narrator is on a bus. Also on this bus are two men, one of whom has a silly hat on and sounds like kind of a hipster, the other of whom is older and annoyed at the hipsterdom and keeps stepping on his foot. There is an altercation. Later, Narrator sees the man with the funny hat being told by a friend that the top button on his coat is in the wrong place.

It’s not an amazing story that’s going to stay with you for the rest of your life, but what you can learn from reading it in so many different styles might, especially if you’re a writer. The first style, “Notation,”  is very straightforward. It has precise descriptions and no extra words, and as such, it felt like reading a lab report. The style “Metaphorically” was only possible to follow because I already knew the outline of what happened, and a great demonstration of why yes, metaphor is great, but it should be used sparingly. “Retrograde” was told pretty much backwards, and it read very much like a memory, which can remind us when we’re writing memories that the brain jumbles things up quite a bit when we’re looking back. Some of the “styles,” however, were questionable: For example, in “Anagrams,” every word (or sentence, to be honest I’m not sure which it was) was jumbled up. It was impossible to read, and calling it a style seemed like a huge stretch. Overall, it was a fascinating read, and much of it seemed like it would be very useful in writing classes.

Book Recommendation that Completely Misses the Point: Read this book if you like hats, plaited cords, or buses.

 

Book 24: The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith”

Wow, that circle is kind of obnoxious, isn’t it?

Everyone knows by now that this is really by JK Rowling, right? So if you’ve been following me, you know how I feel about JK. I’m not of the opinion that she can do no wrong, definitely not. I really wish she hadn’t published that article by Rita Skeeter about the DA members all grown up, because now we’ve got people saying “Neville’s an alcoholic?!” and completely forgetting that nothing Rita Skeeter ever wrote was even remotely reliable, so instead of feeling like, “Yes! More Harry Potter!” I feel like I read a horribly inaccurate tabloid article about some of my best friends.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, however, was not an unwelcome revisitation to the world of Harry Potter. It was something completely different. And, just as I did when I picked up The Casual Vacancy, as soon as I started reading it, I felt like I was home. Her writing style remains the same, familiar and pretty much perfect–I think I found one word in the whole book that I thought didn’t quite belong, and that’s the sort of thing I pay attention to. I’ve read criticisms that her style doesn’t work for adults–the formality and language makes more sense when talking about kids–but I’ve only ever heard Americans say this, and I think it’s more of a culture thing than a style thing.

I feel I should quickly address the pseudonym thing: This book kind of flopped when it came out. She wanted to write under a different name so people wouldn’t expect Harry Potter and compare the two, which I think makes perfect sense. Her publishers, however, knew who she was and marketed it as if everyone else did, too. This was not marketed as a debut novel; it was marketed as if everyone would automatically buy it because it was JK. And that doesn’t work. Especially when it takes forever to come out in paperback and when the cover really looks like a silly chick flick.

I’m not a big mystery reader, so I can’t say how this compared to other popular mysteries. I’m sure I would think it was better written than most, but from what I’ve been told, it didn’t add anything exciting to the genre. And I’m okay with that. I don’t need everything JK writes to be the next Harry Potter, because as I’ve discussed, there’s no such thing. What mattered to me is that the characters were well-developed, relatable, and interesting; it was extremely well-written; and the plot was interesting. Don’t pick this up expecting another Harry Potter, but if you like her style and mysteries and you pick this up expecting to really love it, you won’t be disappointed.

Book Recommendation that Completely Misses the Point: Read this if you like green dresses, cameras, and fantasizing that Billie Piper will be cast in a film adaptation.

 

Book 25: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Holy crap, you guys, I loved this book. I think I’m about 10 years too old for it to be socially acceptable for me to love everything John Green writes as much as I do, but dammit, he’s just so good, and this is no exception.

This is a book about two high school boys named Will Grayson who meet accidentally and how things change for them afterwards. It’s about love, but not romance: It’s a friendship book. It’s the sort of book that you can only really write for young adults, because what adult is going to pick up a book about friendship? I mean, maybe some would, and friendship is important in adult books, but as the main point I’m not sure it would work. And the thing is, that’s a problem. Because it matters. It’s not something that we should just ignore once we’re all grown up. And there’s this great little part toward the end but that isn’t really much of a spoiler so I’m putting it here:

“When you date someone, you have the markers along the way, right: You kiss, you have The Talk, you say the Three Little Words, you sit on a swingset and break up. You can plot the points on a graph. And you check up with each other along the way: Can I do this? If I say this, will you say it back?
“But with friendship, there’s nothing like that. Being in a relationship, that’s something you choose. Being friends, that’s just something you are.”

This felt really important. Of course, it’s a bit different as an adult. There are a couple of checkpoints, depending on the type of life you have, but even those are only good for a select few friends. There’s the “be in my wedding party” checkpoint, or the “be my kid’s godparent” checkpoint, I guess. But even just “Hey, let’s make plans” is kind of a checkpoint as an adult: Unless it’s a work friendship, you don’t see each other automatically, so each time you make plans to see each other, you’re saying: “Yes, I care enough about you to make some time in my hectic adult life to spend with you, because you matter.” It doesn’t feel like that when you’re younger, and we forget that. Relationships do the opposite, though: I feel like once you reach a certain point, you lose checkpoints. You get married and have kids, and there aren’t any more “I’m at this point, are you here with me?” because you’ve hit all those points. So maybe you’ve got to find a way to check in with each other.

Anyway, this book isn’t all serious. I think it’s the funniest book I’ve read all year. At least once, I laughed so hard while reading in bed that I woke Mike up, though he fell right back asleep and didn’t remember later on. So it’s important, and it’s hilarious, and basically, you should read this book.

Book Recommendation that Completely Misses the Point: Read this book if you like Law & Order, glass bowls, Oscar Wilde’s ghost, and porn stores.

 

Book 26: Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I guess I went on a little bit of a YA kick in August. I’d heard a lot about this book since it came out, but mostly what I’d heard was that it was full of pictures. In fact, most of the descriptions I’d heard made it seem like it was just a book of pictures and not an actual story, so if you’ve heard things that make you think that, I’m here to help.

This is a really great YA fantasy book. If I’d read it in high school, it probably would have been one of my favorite books–as it is, I really, really liked it, and I can’t wait for the sequel to come out in paperback. It’s about a boy who goes to investigate something from his grandfather’s past and finds a school full of impossible kids. It uses old photographs as illustrations, and they’re seamlessly integrated into the text. I guess for a while it was really trendy to take surreal pictures of your kids, possibly much as planking and pottering and all these other silly picture fads are now. (Or 5 years ago. I can’t keep up with these things.) They build the world, though, and even know realistically you know they’re fake, they feel like proof: Look, these kids are real. This really happened. And it almost makes sense: If they were real, wouldn’t they have to hide? Wouldn’t it be necessary to pretend it was all a trick?

Unfortunately, I forgot to take notes as I was reading, because I am an addict and couldn’t put it down. I was left with hopes for the sequel and a burning desire to know what my talent would be if I were peculiar. If you’re looking for a fun fantasy adventure story, I highly recommend this one.

Book Recommendation that Completely Misses the Point: Read this if you like Ireland, psychiatrists, or caves.

 

So, that’s my update! I hope it wasn’t too much at once. It was helpful for me. Maybe I’ll do it again sometime! And I have a couple of series coming up that I can include all in one post, so maybe I’ll blog about 50 books after all!

Coming Soon…

27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
30. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
31. The Alchemyst: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
32. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
33. The Magician: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
34. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
35. The Sorceress: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
36. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
37. The Necromancer: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
38. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
39. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
40. A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

Hey, did you know you can follow me on Instagram? My username is–wait for it–ohrachael. I try to post Friday Reads every week, so it’s a good way to know what I’m actually reading even when I forget to update here for a long time, and it’s also a great way to keep up with what my cats are doing!

Return of Television, and Book 21: London Falling

Let’s make something clear: I love television.

I don’t know if that’s something that I’ve specifically declared on this blog before, but an astute reader may have picked up at least that I am not against television from references I’ve made to, for example, Doctor Who. The thing is, it feels like a taboo thing to admit on a blog that is mostly about books. The general cultural attitude seems to be very either/or: TV people don’t read books, and book nerds don’t watch TV.

I know that, in some cases, it’s true. There are plenty of people who do one or the other. I honestly don’t know how much overlap there is, though it’s been a long time since I’ve met someone who didn’t have at least one show that they enjoy. Even the people who say “Oh, I don’t own a TV” generally follow it up with something like “But I love Orange is the New Black on Netflix!” or “I watch Doctor Who online the next day, though.”

I’m here to stand up for those of us who really like books and also really like TV. I know it’s not just me.

I identify as a story addict.

So what do I like about TV? Let’s set TV apart from movies, because I’m not a big movie person. “But you’re a story addict!” Yes, I know. I’m getting to that. The difference is time. If a movie is 3 hours long, that’s a really long movie, but by the end, I usually haven’t had a chance to get to know and care about the characters yet. The development tends to happen all at once, which, while sometimes interesting, gets old quickly. TV, on the other hand: Even a show that gets canceled unjustly after one incredibly wonderful season has 13 episodes, 45 minutes each, that you can get lost in later on. And when you do, you get to know the characters, and you see them grow and develop naturally over the course of the story. You develop a familiarity with them, which is difficult to do in the time it takes to watch a movie. (Movie series, however, I tend to like a lot more. Go figure. Of course, they’re usually based on something else now, because god forbid anyone have a creative thought.)

Watching one episode a week just makes the story last longer. I like a story that lasts. And even the quickest, most addictive read generally takes up a full day of reading time. (I’m thinking this may be another reason I didn’t love The Fault in Our Stars as much as I was supposed to–I read it in five hours! That’s not enough time to develop a connection to anything!)

So, yeah–I love TV, because it’s just another way for me to get my story fix.

However, it’s not my preferred way. And now that seasons of more shows are starting up again, I’m looking back and realizing how much I read during the hiatus season (you know, summer), and I’m feeling torn. Because I can’t imagine just no longer watching Once Upon a Time, or Supernatural, or Doctor Who, or Sherlock (actually, ignore that, Sherlock seasons don’t last long enough to really count), or Agents of Shield. They’re amazing stories with amazing characters whom I’ve come to love. And then there are shows like The Mindy Project, New Girl, and The Big Bang Theory, which are all great when I just want a once-weekly “please empty my brain of all this stuff and fill it with silly nonsense instead.” They serve a purpose. And the remaining shows that I watch (this seems like so much, but it’s one show a day with an occasional comedy binge) are shows that Mike also watches, so they’re the stories that we get into together, and I like that. So while I don’t think I’d miss NCIS if I stopped watching it, I would really miss Burrito and NCIS Night (or whatever it will become now that we don’t have an easily accessible burrito place).

So my goal, with the return of television season, is not to have that hour-ish a night cut into my reading time. I would much prefer for it to cut into other screen time, whether that be Pointlessly Staring at Pinterest on my Phone Time, Diners Drive-ins and Dives Marathon Time, or Turning On My Computer and Getting Lost in Cracked Articles time. I’ll get more enjoyment out of watching TV than I will out of these things, which I do anyway because it feels like it lets my brain recharge. My brain can recharge while I stare passively at a TV and at least take in a good story, rather than just look at the exact same “40 Ikea Hacks!” pins that I’ve seen over and over.

Also, I feel I should mention this to anyone who got here by searching for Ikea Hacks: Painting something to make it a different color is not a hack, even if it does make said thing look nicer.

Book 21: London Falling by Paul Cornell

Paul Cornell is proof that it’s okay to like many different forms of media. He’s written for TV, including a few episodes of Doctor Who (because, I mean, he’s British). He’s written comic books. And he’s written novels, including, again, a bunch of Doctor Who stuff, and more recently, this. (And then a sequel, but I haven’t read it because I waited for this one to come out in mass market paperback and now I can’t get the sequel yet because it’s still in hardcover and the books in a series have to match. I’m looking at you, re-releases of every Terry Pratchett book.)

London Falling is an amazing book. Cornell is clever, and he tells things to you as he or his characters really see them. He is not going to tell you that a baby that has literally just been born five seconds ago smells like a honey-lavender ice cream, because that’s not what a baby that has been born five seconds ago smells like. Want to know what a baby that has been born five seconds ago smells like, according to Paul Cornell? Read the book, he mentions it at some point, and it’s wonderful.

The story itself is relatively straightforward. It’s a supernatural police procedural that takes place in London. It draws a whole lot on British culture–the history, the art, the other stories that have been created there, and the tendency to both want to apologize to something but also feel like it owes you an apology. It’s funny, and it’s creepy, and at times it’s a little heart-wrenching. Overall, it’s incredibly enjoyable.

Now, I recently read a short article about book recommendations that completely miss the point, and they made me want to read the books listed more than most real reviews ever have, so here goes.

You should read London Falling if you like: anything related to the Tudors, piles of dirt, waiting at bus stops, or gang violence.

Coming Soon…

22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
30. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
31. The Alchemyst: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 1 by Michael Scott
32. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
33. The Magician: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 2 by Michael Scott
34. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
35. The Sorceress: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 3 by Michael Scott
36. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
37. The Necromancer: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, book 4 by Michael Scott
38. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

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