RSS Feed

Tag Archives: ya lit

The 50 Book Project In Review and Reading Harder in 2015

Posted on

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.

Advertisements

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

Posted on

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

Posted on

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!

Before I Die, and Book 18: Unsouled

Posted on

I think this is the first year in a very, very long time that I haven’t really done any re-reading.

At some point recently, I sat down and did some calculations. I’m almost 27, so if I live an average female lifespan (about 80 years as of 2011), I’ve got 53 years left. I have to assume that there will be points in my life when it is much more difficult to make time to read than it is right now–such as when I have young children–and that possibly, as I age, my reading pace itself will slow down. So maybe, for the rest of my life, I’ll read about 3 books a month on average. (In addition to not re-reading this year, I’ve been purposefully selecting books that I think will make my 50 book goal more difficult and my blog more interesting to any random internet user who happens across it. “I devoured this YA series in a weekend” is kind of boring, and feels like cheating, so I’m hitting about 4 a month right now. Normally I’d guess it’s more like 5.5.) So, 3 books a month x 12 books a year x 53 years: I’ve got time to read approximately 1,908 books before I die (but, you know, who’s counting?)

This means a few things:
1: I should maybe be a little pickier about what I read! Really get the most out of those books. I should look for books that challenge and enrich me, not just fun stories–more literature, less pulp. And if I don’t like a book, I should put it down and move on.
2: I should read a much higher percentage of fun stories than I do right now! More pulp, less literature! Then I could easily read a book and a half per week for the rest of my life and read a lot more books!
3: I should re-read books less often! How many times have I re-read the Harry Potter series, and how many new books will I never get a chance to read because of all the times I’ve done that?

And I’ve decided to completely ignore all of those things.

First of all, the first two contradict each other. If I have any goals in this matter, I should aim to strike a balance between the two, and I find that the best way to do that is to read heavy stuff until my brain feels like it’s about to fall out of my head from all the thinking, then do a quick literary cleanse by reading two or three books that require very little of me. (Of course, my favorites are the ones that don’t require much of you, but will reward you handsomely if you put a lot of yourself into them anyway. I’m always looking for books like that.)

As for re-reading: I like re-reading. I have an aunt who has asked me a few times how I can re-read books, so finally I asked her, “Well there are billions of people in the world you’ve never met before; how can you keep celebrating holidays with us?” And at first I was kind of joking, but after I said it I realized how true it is. There are books out there that are family. I already mentioned the Harry Potter books–I’ve probably read the series 25 times, if when you think “series” you think “everything that’s out at the time of my reading,” because there were definitely many, many times when I re-read everything that was out at the time before they were all out. And it’s gotten to the point where, when I read anything else by JK, even if it’s something I’ve never read before, I immediately feel like I’m home. I’ve re-read the City Watch stories in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series so many times that they’re pretty much completely falling apart by now, and I’m actually kind of relieved by this: The new books in the series are about 3/4 of an inch taller than my copies, which means that when I put the new one on my bookshelf, it made the shelf uneven. If the others fall apart, I can replace them with new copies and it’ll be even again. I can stop being angry every time I look at my shelf.

In summary, reason 1 to re-read books: A book that you love is like family.

Reason 2 to re-read books: You never catch everything the first time. Would you believe, in all those re-readings of Harry Potter, it wasn’t until about book 4 in my most recent re-read that I finally smacked myself in the forehead and said, “Diagon Alley. Diagonally. I am a fucking dumbass.” And sometimes you read something else in between your reads that sheds light on what you’re reading, like the time I re-read American Gods shortly after re-reading The Chronicles of Amber and tweeted at Neil Gaiman to ask if Roger Zelazny was one of his influences, and would you know it, he was. And sometimes a book has something at the end that completely changes how you would have looked at the rest of the book, and you just have to see how it feels to read it now that you know. And other times, a book is one of those “it’s a thinking book if you want it to be” types of books, and you want to read it when you’re in the other mode and get more of the fun story that you missed because you were thinking, or more of the thinking that you missed because you were tired and just wanted fun. There are a lot of reasons to go back and look for more in a book. More is always there.

Reason 3 to re-read books: The next one in the series just came out, and you remember nothing about the rest of the series. Or even if you remember a lot, you just feel better if you read them all in a row, or at least fairly close to each other. The continuity feels good, and you miss less that way. This is probably the cause of most of my re-reads. Of course, there are situations where it would be ridiculous to do this. If there are already 15 books out, that’s a lot of time. At time same time, it’s still not as much time as it’ll take when book 6 of the Song of Ice and Fire series comes out and I have to re-read 1-5 because there is just so damn much in those books that I remember almost nothing from the first time (and the show is great, but it’s not the same).

This post’s book, Unsouled by Neal Shusterman, would normally have fallen under reason 3. It’s the newest book (until, I believe, October) of his Unwind dystology. I tried not to re-read books 1 and 2. I went and found a summary of book 1, because I remembered nothing about it. That worked okay, though there was still stuff in Unsouled that I remembered being a reference to Unwind but couldn’t remember what the reference was. I know I still missed stuff. I looked for a summary of book 2, Unwholly, as well, but I couldn’t find one. So I figured I’d skim a little of the book to remember vaguely what happened, and I ended up re-reading the whole thing. I’m glad I did, because I had basically forgotten about most of the main characters’ existence who weren’t in book 1. Re-reading would have been the wiser thing to do from the beginning, but I was playing catch-up and didn’t want to take the time. However, I still don’t think I will when book 4 comes out. Maybe eventually I’ll go back and read the whole series from beginning to end. So far, it’d be worth it.

Book 18: Unsouled by Neal Shusterman

And the prize for most terrifying cover art goes to…

The premise of the Unwind dystology: A second American Civil War occurred, and this time, they were fighting over abortion. There was a pro-choice side and a pro-life side, and it went on for years. During this time, so much funding was diverted from education into the war effort that teens were left wandering the street all day, with no education, no skills, and absolutely nothing to do with themselves. Finally, someone sarcastically suggested a solution to both problems: How about if, instead of allowing abortion, parents could choose to have their kid “unwound”– surgically disassembled with every single bit of the kid being donated to someone who needed it–starting at age 13 and continuing through age 18? This way, no one would be getting an abortion, and since every part of the kid needs to be used, the kid’s not really dying, right? And though the suggestion was sarcastic, everyone agreed: This was the perfect solution. Both sides were happy, and parents everywhere had a way to keep their delinquent kids in line. Don’t misbehave, we’ll have you unwound.

If you’re pregnant and don’t want the kid, there’s an option put in place for you: Rather than having an abortion, you can have the kid and stork it. This refers to, basically, leaving the kid on someone’s doorstep. If a baby is left on your doorstep, you’re obligated to take it in and raise it as your own (until you can unwind it, of course), but if you catch the person leaving it there, they have to take it back.

And some ultra-religious families have an extra kid and raise him specifically to be unwound. These kids are called tithes, and they’re treated like royalty their entire lives (the whole 13 years) until they eagerly go off to experience the sublime joy of life in a divided state. They’re excited about it. They’ve been told how amazing it’s going to be their entire lives.

This whole series is fucked up.

The thing that makes it great, though, is that it’s pretty much believable. If someone showed up in my living room suddenly and said they were from 20 years in the future and the same civil war had happened, the funding had been taking from schools, the teenagers had roamed freely, and someone had suggested basically just killing all the teenagers, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. The book reinforces the realism constantly by providing links to real news articles that you can type into your browser and read on a real news site about something horrible that people are trying to do right now. For example, this article about an Arkansas candidate for the House of Representatives, Charlie Fuqua, and his desire to instate the death penalty for rebellious children because that’s how it worked in the Bible. He says, “I think my views are fairly well accepted by most people.” He also says that oh of course no one would actually ever do this, that would be horrible, but it’d sure be nice to have that to hold over the teenagers’ heads when they’re being little shits.

This series is fantastic. It is absolutely chilling, because while you’re pretty sure it would never actually happen, you then have evidence right in front of you that there are at least a few people who are already more extreme than the solution in this book–I mean, at least in the book the body parts have to be donated, right? Fortunately, with 3D printing technology advancing as quickly as it is, we’re unlikely to have that drastic a shortage of organs anytime in the near future, but that doesn’t mean some psychopaths won’t think this whole unwinding thing is a good idea. (I can’t help but wonder if anyone reading this books thinks that.)

The series is told from the point of view of a number of kids who were meant to be unwound but escaped. A rebellion springs up with them at the center, and they struggle to avoid the juvenile police officers who want to find them and send them off to the harvest camps where their society thinks they belong. By book 3, one finds himself forced into a cult leader sort of position. Two are at the front of different ends of the rebellion, and I got a very interesting Professor X/Magneto sort of vibe from them (okay, okay, a MLK Jr/Malcolm X vibe). Some just try to stay under the radar and get old enough not to be unwound. And one part of the story comes from the point of view of someone who was never born, but made: A secret organization built a new kid entirely out of parts of unwound kids, and he’s part science experiment, part marketing ploy, and 100% human–though he’s never been taught what that means.

Should you read this book? If you’ve read other YA dystopian lit and want something a little more thought provoking, this is the series for you. Or if you’ve avoided the YA dystopia craze because it seems a little silly and immature, this series is definitely worth a shot. The premise is realistic and terrifying in a way that no other series I’ve read really has been. The characters are flawed, but mostly lovable, and their story is riveting. If you have a very expressive face, your facial muscles will be well exercised after the insane rollercoaster of emotions in this series–I promise, there are hilarious parts. If you’re a member of the Tea Party, please don’t read this book. I’m afraid you’ll get ideas.

Coming Soon…

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 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

A Completely True Story, and Book 17: Warriors: Into the Wild

Posted on

 

People keep asking me how my move was.

Unfortunately, most people who have asked this have asked via text message, where it’s difficult for me to respond with more than a few words. “Not bad, hired movers–still unpacking, though!” It gets the gist across, but it leaves out a lot. So: It was stressful, and it sucked, and it killed a part of me I will never get back.

My name is Rachael, and this is the story of how I died.

For most of the move, nothing happened. Nothing at all. We packed, we cleaned, we hired movers to do all the hardest parts for us, which is absolutely the way to go if you’re in a situation where it’ll be reimbursed (which, fortunately, we were). We had this great plan for the Official Moving Day: The movers would get there. I would go on a coffee run, since they probably woke up around 5am to get there when they did and it seemed rude not to offer coffee. (Only one wanted coffee, but that was okay.) Then we’d load up my car and I’d head out, taking our cat, Zoombini, with me. Mike would take the other cat, Chloe, when he left later on, since Chloe’s less likely to get in the way or bolt out the door.

Some important backstory that I should share with you at this point: Zoomy is loud. She’s not always loud, but if she is displeased or impatient, you know about it. We’ve taken her to the vet a few times and she just yells for the entire 15 minute drive. She hates the car. When she hears a can open, she’s sitting right by the counter (or sometimes trying to jump onto the counter) making more noise than you’d think is reasonable for a cat to make. For this reason, I wanted to give her some Benadryl before the drive. I figured, she’ll sleep, and when she wakes up she’ll be somewhere new, it won’t be as traumatic for her! And she’ll be quiet, so it won’t be as traumatic for me!

But we couldn’t find agreeing sources telling us how much Benadryl to give a cat, so Mike found something online that said you can put a blanket over the cat carrier and, like a bird, they will think it’s night and go to sleep.

At the very worst, we figured, how long could she possibly yell for?

So of course, as soon as I start the car: MROWWWWW! MROWWWWW! MROWWWWWWWWWW!

I put the blanket over her carrier. It becomes immediately apparent that this isn’t going to work. It’s July, and the air conditioner in my car is pretty good, but I can hear her panting between MROWWWWWWWWWs. I didn’t even know cats could pant.

MROWWWWWWW! *pant pant* MROWWWWWWW! *pant pant*

This wasn’t going well. I pushed the blanket off. She kept panting. I tried reaching my finger into the cage to rub her head, but she pulled back. She’d have none of that.

At this point, I’m about 15 minutes into the drive and I’m already looking for a phone pole to crash into. Two hours and 15 minutes to go.

I decide to sing to her.

We sing to our cats at home. We take whatever song is stuck in our head, or playing in the background, or on the TV, or whatever, and make it about them. Occasionally that means some loose semblance of lyrics constructed that describe the cat, but mostly, it’s singing their name to the tune of the song. I don’t know if this is a normal thing people do–in fact, I’m sure it’s not–but they seem to like it.

I search my brain for some songs that she’d be familiar enough with and might comfort her. I’ve been on a Joss Whedon kick lately (okay, I’m always on a Joss Whedon kick), so I go with some Dr. Horrible. I go through “A Cat’s Gotta Zoom when a Cat’s Gotta Zoom,” “With my Zoomcat I will Hug my Cat,” and “I Cannot Believe This Cat.” Nothing’s working. I continue the Joss Whedon trend by trying out some stuff from the musical episode of Buffy (“She will Zoom Through the Fire” and “Let Me Hug My Cat”).

Nothing’s working. I’m sitting in my car trying to think of anything that I might sing to her regularly enough that she’d recognize it. I try Disney (“I’ll Make a Cat out of Zoom,” “Let Her Zoom”). I try Broadway (“Zoomycat,” to the tune of “Popular”).

Nothing’s working. I try turning the air conditioner up, thinking maybe she’s really hot, but the extra noise just seems to freak her out more. The MROWWWWWWWs become MROOOWWWWWWWWWWs, and she’s suddenly also bodychecking the side of her carrier. This is not better. This is worse. I turn the AC back down.

Finally, I realize what I sing to her most often: TV show themes. No specific TV show or anything–I just usually sing the theme to her.

I try the Doctor Who theme. Zoom-EEEE-zoom….ZOOOOOMY zoom….ZOOOOOOOMY zoom, zoom zoom zoom. MROWWWWWWWWW!

Sherlock. ZOOMY! Zoomy-zoom-zoom-zoom ZOOMY! Zoomycat zoomycat zoomycat zoomy zoomy zoom. MROWWWWWWWWW!

I’m grasping now. What else has an easily sing-able theme?

New Girl? Zoomy zoom! (zoom zoom zoom) Zoomy zoom! (zoom zoom zoom) Zoom cat! MROWWWWWWWWW!

Big Bang Theory?

Zoom zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom zoom zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy–ZOOM!
Zoomy zoomy zoom, zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom,
ZOOMY ZOOMY ZOOM!
Zoom zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoom zoomy zoomy zoom zoom.
ZOOM!

……

Silence.

For the entire time that I sang the Big Bang Theory theme song, and about 5 minutes afterward, Zoomy is calm. She is quiet. She is kind of panting because it’s hot in the car (I try the AC again and the silence breaks), but she is quiet. And I am happy.

…..mrowwww….

MROWWWWWWWWWWWW!

The silence lasts about five minutes, at which point I begin to wonder: Will it work again?

I sing again.

Silence.

And five minutes later, MROWWWWWWWWWWWW!

I endure the yelling for a couple of minutes. It’s really only been about 40 minutes at this point (an hour and 50 minutes left!) and I’ve already done this song twice.

I try another song again. No luck.

I sing the Big Bang Theory them again. Silence.

We developed a pattern. I would sing, and it would buy me five-ish minutes of silence. At this point, her patience would run out and she’d start yelling again. I’d put up with it for as long as I possibly could, and then sing The Song again. I have never hated a song more. I begin to fantasize about the next time I’m at home watching TV and the show comes on and I throw the TV out the window.

Toward the latter part of the drive–probably the last half hour or so–the silences started getting a little longer. I glanced over, and she’s squatting in her carrier, tense, her eyes closed and her mouth open. She looks like she’s given up and is just waiting to die.

Inevitably, she starts yelling again, and I start singing again. I am wishing death on every person who has ever been involved in The Big Bang Theory. Zoomy is quiet, and I am grateful, now, for those very same people.

Finally, I get to the new house. I bring Zoomy inside. I set her up in one room with her food and her litter box, open the windows,  and close the door. She is hiding under something.

I look around. The house is perfect. It’s sunny, and warm, but not so hot that I’m uncomfortable. The gardens are gorgeous. I have a swingset. I go sit on it.

I realize, then, that I died. I have died, and this is heaven. At some point between the 15th and 30th rendition of “My Cat’s Name Over and Over to the Tune of the Big Bang Theory Theme Song,” I snapped and drove the car off a bridge.

I’m surprisingly okay with this.

Until, of course, I look at my arm and realize I have driver’s sunburn, because I broke my #1 Rule of Summer (never go outside without sunscreen) for the entire drive down. I’m not dead.

I hear a faint mrowwwww come from the house.

Book 17: Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

From a story about my cat to a book about cats.

I like to take book recommendations from people I care about. If someone I like really loves a book, chances are, unless it sounds truly horrible, I’ll give it a shot. I figure there are two things that can happen. I could love the book, too. Maybe they have similar taste to mine, or they just have a feeling it’s something I’ll love. That’s a great outcome. But at the very least, even if I don’t love the book, I get to know that person better. It gives me a little bit of insight into them, what they like, what matters to them (and since I like buying books as gifts, what I should get them for Christmas).

So one day, I was at my dad’s house and there was this book on the table. It wasn’t Into the Wild, it was much later in the series. I look at it and laugh, because (a) the cover is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, and (b) it’s exactly the type of book I imagine Mia, my 11-year-old stepsister, would love.

At dinner, I ask her about the book. I always ask kids about books if I can. It makes for much more interesting conversation than “Soooooooo are there any cute boys in your class?” or “Oh my GAWD your HAIR is so CA-YOOOOT” (I hate myself right now), and there are much better things to talk about than boys and physical appearances, and I think it’s nice for kids to know that.

This book, though. Mia’s eyes lit up, and I knew this would be The Topic of Conversation for the Night. Never mind that my brother is with us, freshly home from Afghanistan, with crazy war stories. No, I asked about a book about cats. Everyone is pretty okay with it. Mia launches into a description of the books.

“These are the best books ever! It’s about these tribes of warrior cats that live in the forest! There’s Shadowclan, they’re evil, an’ there’s Riverclan an’ Windclan an’ Thunderclan an’ they’re the good guys!” She opens the book to show me a map. “See, Thunderclan lives here, an’ Shadowclan lives over here, an’ this here, that’s the rock where they have meetings! An’ that’s the thunderpath, and these are the houses where the twolegs live, and that one’s where Firepaw comes from! They’re sooooooo good!

“WAIT! LET ME GO GET YOU THE FIRST BOOK!”

So I sit, working on my dinner, and begin to question my decision to ask Mia about a book about cats.

She returns and gleefully shoves a book into my hand.

“You’ll love it! It’s soooooo good! An’ when you finish it, you can borrow the second one!”

At this point, I’ve accepted my fate. I’m reading the first book. But.

“Mia,” I say, “I’ll read this one, but I might be a little too old to read all of them.”

“Oh, but once you read the first one, you’ll have to read the rest! They’re just soooo good!

So I take home Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter (which, as I soon learn, is a nom-de-plume for a group of five people who write the Warriors series together). I hope it will offer me insight into Mia’s mind, but I doubt it’ll offer me anything I couldn’t figure out from the fact that she’s 11 and her favorite movie is still (I believe) The Lion King and she likes to roar.

She’s the coolest kid.

This book surprised me. SPOILERS AHEAD.

It was every bit as cheesy as you expect a book about four clans of warrior cats who rule the forest (which, if you look at the map, is really more like a small wooded area between some houses), but it was still much better than I expected. It worked well as the beginning to a series–I remember reading books as a kid that were the first in a series but solved every single problem by the end. This book didn’t do that. It left questions up in the air, which had me almost tempted to take Mia up on her offer of the second book. (Almost. I’m 26 years old.) I didn’t see the traitor immediately, though I did see him long before the book revealed him as such–however, even then, I didn’t figure out his treason right away. I just knew I hated him.

And that’s where it really surprised me. I felt something for one of these characters.

And later on, when the character I could have sworn was the  eventual love interest for the main character died, I was shocked. THIS IS A KID’S BOOK. YOU CAN’T KILL THE PRETTY AND SYMPATHETIC MEDICINE CAT. YOU JUST CAN’T.

But they did, and it really upset me for a minute, before I said to myself, Rachael, this is a kid’s book about clans of wild cats that rule the forest. Calm yourself down. (But to be honest, it still feels like a betrayal.)

END SPOILERS.

So even though it had lines like “Unsheathed claws glinted in the moonlight,” I liked this book more than I thought I would. The one thing that really bothered me was the prophecy at the beginning and how it plays out. The clan leader hears a prophecy that only fire can save their clan, and as soon as a bright orange cat (or rather, “kittypet”–a cat who is a human pet) shows up, she invites it to join their clan against all tradition and advice of her clan members and renames it Firepaw. I would have preferred for someone who hadn’t heard the prophecy to have renamed Firepaw, because it felt like cheating the way it happened.

For the most part, this book went the way I expected it to, and if “kid’s book about clans of wild cats that rule the forest” sounds like something you’d enjoy, I recommend it. I can imagine these being really fun beach reads if you’re the sort of person to go to the beach.

I made some predictions after I finished this book, and the next time I saw Mia, she confirmed that every single one of them does, in fact, come true. I, therefore, will not be continuing to read the Warriors series, but I look forward to future updates on the goings on in Thunderclan whenever Mia reads a new book. And even if it didn’t offer me some great new insight into her mind, I’m glad I know what she’s reading, and I’m glad I know they’re not quite as ridiculous as I expected.

Coming Soon…

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 School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

 

The Blahs, and Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars

Posted on

Am I the only person who’s been feeling blah lately?

Whenever summer comes around, it seems like everyone I know is super excited about all the great weather we have, the prospect of going to the beach, shorts and flip flops, and all the other stuff that summer apparently means to most people. I guess I’m the worst kind of person, though, because as soon as it breaks 75 degrees, I find it disgustingly hot out. I can’t stand the idea of spending a day at the beach–the sun, the sand, the seaweed–it’s all too much for me. And I’d much rather wear jeans and a hoodie than shorts and a tank top. I’m just not made for summer, I guess.

It doesn’t help that we’re moving soon. I just put my work schedule for the week up on my refrigerator planner (which is the best invention ever, by the way) and it’s forcing me to think about the fact that Friday is my last day at my super-awesome job, because as much as I love it, I would have to be literally insane to try to make a 2.5-hour commute work. And no matter how hard I try, I can neither figure out how to apparate nor convince my boss to set the shop up on the Floo network.

So moving means leaving my job, which I love; my friends, whom I will miss; and this town, which I have grown fond of over the past three years. It also means needing to hunt for a new job, which could be difficult and stressful; having to make new friends, which is terrifying and will likely take a couple of years; and needing to adjust to a whole new area that I’ve only been to a few times before. Also? There’s no Target. How are there still areas with no Target?

Moving also means packing, which, surprise! We’ve barely started doing. And that’s okay, because after Friday when we both finish work, we’ve got about a week and a half before Moving Day, and that’s more than enough time to pack up our small apartment. What’s not okay is that everyone keeps asking me, “So you’re all packed, right?” Because, no, we’re not, and we shouldn’t be, because if we were, then we’d have nothing to do during that week and a half–there would be no packing left to do, and all our stuff would be packed so we wouldn’t have any way of entertaining ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t start having a panic attack every time someone asks.

All this stuff combines to make me feel a little depressed and much more anxious than usual, and that then starts making me feel weird physically, and I basically want to curl up and sleep until I’m magically all settled into our new house and bestowed with an awesome job and group of friends. So I’m trying to focus on positive things. Like, if it takes a while to find a job, I’ll have a lot of downtime to read in my awesome new reading nook in my house! And we’ll have a nice yard, and we’ll be near the beach, so if I want a change of pace I will have options for reading outside! Maybe I’ll get a job at a bookstore and be able to get an employee discount on books! There might be an awesome book club in the area where people actually read the book and I’ll meet people who like books!

And since that entire list of positive things to think about boils down to “hooray books,” does anyone have any ideas about other things I might be able to look forward to when moving? Because as great as books are, sometimes they are just depressing and not helpful when in a funk. Which reminds me, I have a book to write about.

Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Yes, thank you, I will take the non-movie cover.

Okay, first, can we very quickly talk about how this book came out in 2012, but the paperback just came out a couple of months ago? I don’t think I’m alone in greatly preferring to read paperbacks. I don’t know what other people’s reasons are, but I have wrist issues, so holding a hardcover for long periods of time gets frustrating. I therefore find it ridiculous that they seem to be waiting longer and longer to release the paperback versions of popular books. Are they hoping we’ll cave and buy the hardcover and they’ll make more money? I, for one, refuse to cave. Unless the paperback is only released with a movie cover, which at first this seemed like it would be (despite what Barnes and Noble’s website will have you believe, there is a paperback that looks like this one).

If you’re reading this and you don’t know what The Fault in Our Stars is about, I would like to thank you for making my blog the first thing you look at after you crawled out from the rock you’ve been living under. I’m flattered! But seriously, you know this, right? Two teenagers with cancer fall in love and go on an adventure and it all ends in tragedy and pain because, duh, it’s John Green. So I’m just going to go ahead and fill the rest of this post with SPOILERS if it’s alright with you.

REALLY, IF YOU DON’T LIKE SPOILERS AND DON’T ALREADY KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, STOP READING HERE.

The big spoiler was spoiled for me early on, long before the paperback version came out and I actually read the book. Unfortunately, in this situation, it did actually kind of spoil the book. Before I read that Augustus dies, everything I had read let me sit there believing that oh, well, Hazel has terminal cancer, and John Green likes to kill off main characters, so I mean this is pretty obvious right? And I would have gotten thoroughly attached to Augustus and thrown the book across the room and cried when he ended up being the one to die. Instead, as soon as he was introduced, I knew what was going to happen, didn’t let myself get attached, and was just waiting for him to get sick again and eventually die.

My whole experience got screwed up because of that spoiler, and because of it, the book that everyone seems to think is the greatest thing John Green has ever done ended up being tied for my least favorite of his books. Don’t get me wrong! I loved it. Like the media and about 80% of teenage girls, I’m a little in love with everything John Green. It’s just that I loved Paper Towns a lot more, and Looking for Alaska a whole lot more. The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines are tied, oddly, since they’re the two of his books with the fewest similarities. (I haven’t read Will Grayson, Will Grayson yet. I think that’s slated for book 25. We’ll see where that falls in the lineup.)

Of course, it might not have been entirely the spoiler’s fault. I found the characters in The Fault in Our Stars less relatable than his other characters, which I think may mean I failed at reading it. I didn’t relate, and I didn’t get attached–I was so afraid they were going to die that I kept them at arm’s length, which–

SHIT. John Green, you win. Okay. I see what you did there. Because, really, of all the characters in John Green’s books, Hazel is probably the one I should relate to. Of course, I don’t have cancer, but I can understand depression. I totally get the whole life revolving around a book thing. I understand being really introverted. I even completely agree with her philosophy as Augustus describes it in his eulogy for her: I see all these people who think they need to do something of enormity with their lives, that they need to be remembered forever for their lives to have mattered at all, and I simply don’t get it. I write, and if I eventually write something that people will remember, well, I don’t think I’d want that to be too big a deal (okay, let’s be honest: Van Houten is the most relatable character ever). But if I got hit by a car tomorrow, I wouldn’t be lying in the hospital thinking I was going to die and worrying that I didn’t matter, because I know I matter, and the people who would remember me are enough. (Then, of course, the surgeons would come over and fix the small thing that was wrong, and I’d get a cast, and everything would be okay and I’d live, because there’s still a whole lot more I want to do before I’m really okay with dying. I’m not saying that dying would be okay with me–just that I wouldn’t be worried about mattering and being remembered.)

So as relatable as Hazel was, I didn’t relate to her. I kept her at arm’s length because she had cancer and I didn’t want to get hurt if John Green ended the book in the middle of a sentence. I hid behind mild annoyance at her refusal to be a little bit introspective and realize why what happened after the end of her favorite book mattered so much to her. “Come on, Hazel,” I was thinking, “you obviously just need to know that the people who care about you will go on afterward. Talk to your parents. They can give you what you need.” I also had the, “Come on, Hazel. It’s a book. Nothing happens after. Books just end.” See? I told you Van Houten was relatable.

END SPOILERS

All this being said, I really did love The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t think my sudden mid-blogging epiphany is enough to move it above Looking for Alaska, but now, at the end of this post, I’m tying it with Paper Towns instead of An Abundance of Katherines. And I devoured this book. As in, I read it in five hours, curled up on my couch waiting to drive down to my mom’s. I went and saw the movie within a week of it coming out, and though I didn’t love it quite as much as I loved the book, I did cry more.

And so we come to the big question: Should you read this book? And the answer isn’t complicated: Yes, you should. It’s incredibly sad, but that’s okay. Read it, then think about it, and think quite a lot, because if you read the spoilers, you’ll realize that it took me until halfway through this post to get what I needed from this book out of it. And I think that that’s something that sad books have over happy ones: They generally contain something that we need to read. That’s why they hurt so much. We may not need it immediately, and I think at least part of the reason Looking for Alaska still outranks this one in my mind is that I needed the lesson from that one immediately, whereas the lesson I took from The Fault in Our Stars is one I’ll hold onto until it becomes a bit more relevant, which will hopefully not be for a very long time.

I’ve talked before about how much I love John Green, and in my last post, I discussed the importance of YA lit. So before I finish, I have to add one more thing. Remember the Madeleine L’Engle quote I used? No? Here it is again:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

The Fault in Our Stars does exactly that. Can you imagine reading a “cancer patients in love” book for adults? Every time I try, it just seems like it would be overly pretentious, preachy, and/or saccharine. For young adults, it worked. It gave teens something they didn’t have yet, and adults a way to think about things in a way that we usually don’t have to. I believe that this book will help people connect and relate to their loved ones with terminal illness, whether that illness happens now or 30 years from now. And I think it gave kids with terminal illness a chance to relate a little more to something in pop culture and maybe feel a little more normal, though of course, I have no experience in that and may be way off base or even possibly offending someone (sorry). In all, it’s a worthwhile read, whether you’re a YA fan or not.

Coming Soon:
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

The YA Debate, and Book 14: The Graveyard Book

Posted on

If you follow bookish news on the internet at all, you probably know that, apparently, some supposedly decent website recently posted an article about how adults should be ashamed to read young adult literature. I’m under the impression that, according to said article, every minute that an adult spends reading YA lit is a minute they could have been spending serious classic literature, and it’s therefore bad. I’m also under the impression that this article went on to say that people who read Harry Potter as kids or teenagers will never read anything good in their lives.

You may have noticed my use of the words apparently, supposedly, and impression up there. That’s because there’s no fucking way I am going to read this article. I have two reasons for this:

  • Why would I read something that is so clearly just going to infuriate me? There’s enough crappy stuff in the world that I have no choice about being exposed to, so I do my best to avoid seeking things out that will just put me in a bad mood.
  • I have no desire to support the website that would publish such an article, and I mean this to the extent that I don’t want them getting the few cents of ad revenue they would get just from my click. I honestly believe that a lot of articles that push a lot of people’s buttons are published solely for the purpose of generating ad revenue, because what’s the first thing most people do when they read something that pisses them off? They share it on Facebook. And people who see an article title that pisses them off seem to always click on it. So I try to offset that by refusing to, and I wish more people would, too. Notice I’m not linking it.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that the person who wrote the article in question had never read Harry Potter in his miserable, boring, stodgy-old-classic-filled life, because if he had, he would probably realize that not only will the people who read it probably go on to read worthwhile things, but that the Harry Potter series itself is incredibly worthwhile.

You can obviously tell that I disagree with the article about as vehemently as it is possible to disagree. Now, personally, I wouldn’t want to read nothing but YA. I feel like I–again, personally–would get kind of bored after a while. However, even if someone does want to read nothing but YA, is there really anything wrong with that?

One of my favorite quotes: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Madeleine L’Engle said that, and I think she’s right.

See, there are a whole lot of YA books out there that deal with dark, weird, depressing, terrifying, or otherwise disturbing topics, from the mundane to the fantastical. And I think that’s awesome. I think it’s great that these books are getting younger people thinking about topics that scare us. And I also think it’s awesome that adults keep reading them, because it forces us to look at them differently. Maybe it makes us think about things the way we might have as kids, when we didn’t feel like we already had all the answers. It gives us fresher eyes, lets us step back and consider something from a more innocent point of view. And that always makes me wonder why we live in a world where innocent points of view need to consider such horrible things.

I think there’s a reason why post-apocalypse dystopian literature hasn’t really caught on outside the young adult genre. It’s not as if the topic only interests teenagers; I know plenty of adults who devoured The Hunger Games series as readily as any kid. I find that this genre makes me think about the world we’re fucking up, and how the younger generations are the ones who will be left to deal with it. It makes me think about how Katniss is too young to be leading a revolution, but then I remember that 18 year olds are routinely sent off to die in war, and how is that okay?

So no, I don’t think anyone should be embarrassed to read YA lit. I think the people who should be embarrassed are the ones who look at the world in black and white, with a completely closed mind, and refuse to accept that other points of view might at least be worth thinking about. I’m pretty sure half the point of being an adult is being able to make your own decisions, so read whatever you want. I’m not going to judge you. And if you judge me, I honestly don’t care.

Book 14: The Graveyard Book

When I first heard of The Graveyard Book, and in fact until pretty much the time I picked it up in a store a few months ago, it was always as “an illustrated children’s book.” Now, I know Neil Gaiman has written illustrated children’s books, such as Blueberry Girl and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.

The Graveyard Book is not what any sane person would think of when told that something is “an illustrated children’s book.” The Graveyard Book is, in fact, a full-length novel (almost 300 pages) with occasional black and white artistic renderings scattered throughout.

The Cat in the Hat is an illustrated children’s book. The Graveyard Book is a young adult novel that starts with the murder of an infant’s entire family.

And, most importantly, The Graveyard Book is classic Neil Gaiman, so obviously, I loved it. If you’ve read a lot of Gaiman, you’ll probably find this quite predictable, but if you love Gaiman, you won’t care one bit. Once again, he has taken an ordinary human and put him in a haunting (pun definitely intended) and beautiful secret fantasy world that hides within ours, completely unbeknownst to the rest of the human world. Only this time, the ordinary human is a baby boy who gets adopted by ghosts (who name him Nobody) and raised in a graveyard, learning all the secrets of the dead and otherwise unalive. But danger lurks outside the graveyard’s gates…

So, if you love Neil Gaiman and haven’t read this yet, go get it right now. I’ll wait. Done? Okay!

If you’re unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman, does The Jungle Book in a graveyard sound like a fun story to you? If so, definitely read this! If not, probably still read this, because Neil Gaiman is a master of his craft and I’m sure you’ll be surprised by how much you like this book.

Coming Soon:
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