Bookstack for #ComicsFebruary

IMG_2841.JPGI know, I know. I’m supposed to only be reading the books I own until the end of March. But everyone started posting pictures of the books they plan to read for #ComicsFebruary and I got bookstack envy. So off to the library I went.

I tend to be drawn to nonfiction when it comes to comics so the majority of the titles I picked up are from that section of the library. The one exception is Diana Gabaldon’s The Exile, which recounts the events of Outlander from Jamie’s point of view. Yes, please!

#ReadHarder in 2016

Earlier last month, I was poking around BookRiot and stumbled across the #ReadHarder Challenge. I’m normally rubbish at challenges. Put a book on a list and I pretty much lose all desire to read it.

But I started reading through the list of twenty-four prompts and realized that I had either already read or was in the middle of reading a book that counted towards six of those prompts. Twenty-five percent of the way there! So why not challenge myself to go for the full 100 percent?

2016 Read Harder Challenge List

  • Read a horror book — Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  • Read a nonfiction book about science
  • Read a collection of essays
  • Read a book aloud to someone else
  • Read a middle grade novel
  • Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography) — The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
  • Read a dystopian and post-apocalyptic novel — Pure by Julianna Baggott
  • Read a book originally published in decade you were born
  • Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award
  • Read a book over 500 pages long
  • Read a book under 100 pages
  • Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender
  • Read a book that is set in the Middle East
  • Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia
  • Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900
  • Read the first book in a series by a person of color
  • Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
  • Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie and discuss which is better — Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (the movie is better)
  • Read a nonfiction about feminism or dealing with feminist themes — My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
  • Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Read a food memoir
  • Read a play
  • Read a book with a main character with a mental illness — Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Some of these topics won’t be a stretch for me as my reading is pretty focused on the Middle East, religion, and politics. But I would love suggestions for the other incomplete titles!

Ten Favorite Reads from 2015

I’ve already shared a recap of my 2015 in books complete with nerdy pie-charts, but I thought I’d pull together a list of my ten favorite books from 2015. These books may not have received a five-star rating from me when I finished them. Yet these are the books that stuck with me in the days, weeks, and months since I finished reading them.

The list below includes three nonfiction titles, two graphic novels, an audiobook, two prize winners, and two “classics”. Quite the range in favorites this The list is arranged in alphabetical order by title with links to my full review, if available.

Betrayal by the Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe

As a resident of Boston and someone who briefly worked in journalism, I felt compelled to see “Spotlight”, a feature film that follows the Boston Globe‘s reporting of the Catholic Church child-abuse scandal in 2001-2002. The film certainly makes a compelling case for supporting the local paper and, more specifically, the investigative journalists who take months to develop a story rather than the click-bait headlines that seem to be at the forefront of journalism these days thanks to its focus on the reporters and the lead-up to publication.

Of course, the film opened up several questions for me about the fallout post-publication and the pervasiveness of the problem beyond the two priests focused on in the film. This book, which compiles the 600+ articles written on the scandal, provides a succinct overview of the cover-up and the subsequent scandal. It’s incredibly well-written and the complexities of the cover-up from the local parish level all the way to the archdiocese of Boston and Cardinal Bernard Law are easy to follow. I never once felt lost or confounded by the rapid pace of the reporters’ investigation, and am glad I decided to read it after seeing the film, despite the incredibly difficult topic at hand.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988, this tale focuses on Sethe, a young salve who escaped to Ohio to join her mother-in-law eighteen years ago, and her youngest daughter, Denver, as they live together in the house at 124 Bluestone Road in Cincinnati that is haunted by Sethe’s two-year-old daughter. The death of this daughter has marked every aspect of Denver’s life isolating her and her mother from the community at large and costing her a relationship with her brothers.

So much judgement is wrapped into Sethe’s decision, and it would be easy to recoil in horror like everyone else. Yet Morrison points out that while, slavery and murder are despicable evils in this world, given the choice between the two – given the only choice one has – how can one choose life in slavery over murder? I would not have picked this book up were it not for the Classics Club, and I am so nkful for the push the Club provided. I am still not enthralled with Morrison’s writing style, but I was (and remain) enthralled with the questions Morrison’s novel raised about choice and freedom.

A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori (Volumes One – Six)

I have been deeply remiss in not blog about a single one of the graphic novels in this series. Mori’s historical manga is set during the late nineteenth century and follows the arranged marriage between a young woman in her twenties named Amir and a boy eight years her junior named Karluk. Amir’s family fortune had declined, and the marriage was meant to save the family from the cost of supporting her. In one of the later volumes, Amir’s brother decides to come for Amir, and the young woman must decided between her family and her new husband. Other volumes are devoted to the women of Amir’s new family, including a very mischievous set of twins named Laila and Leyli who are determined to find wealthy men to marry.

It’s difficult for me to explain exactly what I love about this series — the historical setting, the exploration of a nomadic culture I’m unfamiliar with, the way Amir and Karluk’s relationship evolves across the six volumns (nothing gross, I promise), Mori’s elaborate drawings. Having discovered the series in March 2015, I’ve since reread the series twice now. And each time another volume in this series is published, I submit a purchase request at the public library and practically stalk its delivery date online so I can be first to read the book. The seventh volume needs to hurry up and make it’s way to the shelves!

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

One of the ideas generating a lot of buzz both within the publishing and the entertainment industries is this idea of “strong women”. This idea that women should be kick-ass, superhero leads with female friendship that transcend discussing boys. In other words, more representative of woman in real life. And, of course, I agree with this idea and long to see more of characters like this. Yet what I love about Hardy’s work is that Bathsheba — strong, independent, and level-headed Bathsheba — is allowed to be multifaceted.

With this novel, Hardy remains not only one of my favorite writers of the nineteenth-century but of all time. I adore his ability to capture the dialects of his rural settings, to paint such vivid and emotional pictures of where his characters live, and I continue to fall in love with the female characters he places at the forefront of his novels.

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Winner of the 2015 Giller Prize, Alexis’ short novel involves the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo visiting a dog kennel near Toronto and gifting the fifteen dogs there with consciousness. Each of the fifteen dogs responds differently to this gift, and it was such a delight to imagine how my own dogs would have reacted to this gift. More over, though, the novel is a deeply philosophical tale most closely related to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and I was left with numerous questions from Alexis’ microcosms of aggression with the events of human society today. Is society doomed to turn violent, to reject expressions of love and compassion? Are we doomed to die unhappy because we are aware of the loves and lives we’ve lost and are capable of feeling futile in the face of dominant codes of conduct within society?

Killing a King by Dan Ephron

The parallels between the political climate of Israel in 1995 and today’s presidential election in the United States — the comparisons of politicians to Nazis, the demand for a whole group of people to deported based solely on religion —  would be difficult to miss, although Ephron never explicitly calls them out.  More importantly, though, I think the book helps to explain why the peace process died and why Israel has continued to elect such right-wing politicians in recent years.

Ephron says at the beginning of his book that it would be impossible to determine if peace would have come had Rabin lived. The escalating violence, including the capture and murder of several Israeli Defense Force members, damaged the public’s perception of the peace process. But the mounting rhetoric and the vacuum left by his death within his party and in the left-wing of Israeli politics brought the settlers’ perception to the forefront of Israeli politics.

Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano

Like many who read solely in English, the announcement that Modiano won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature left me a bit confounded. I have never heard of the author and never, to my recollection, seen a review for his work on one of the many book blogs I religiously read. This collection of three short stories was the only work by Modiano available at the public library, and I am so glad this is the book I started with in my exploration of Modiano’s work.

Each story features an unnamed, male narrator possessing the same voice as the previous story; each story concerns itself with how uncertain our memories can be. And as I moved from story to story, I felt as though the narrator was shedding his skin or donning a costume and asking me to decide on which version of his life is true. Which is probably why I stayed up so late reading this and why I’m thankful these three previously published novellas were compiled into a single volume. (If I had to rank the novellas, I would say their order of publication matches my ranking in terms of enjoyment.)

Vietnamerica by G.B. Tran

As the only member of his family born in the United States, Tran grew up largely indifferent to the experience of his immigrant family in Vietnam and how they came to the United States following the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Tran decides to return to Vietnam in April 2008 with his parents after much prodding on the part of the his mother and a decisive edict from his stereotypically stern and distant father, and this comic documents the experiences of his parents, grandparents, and uncle during decades of colonial rule and civil war.

One of the things this book has going for it is both the reader and the author are in the unknown, both are exploring Tran’s family history and the larger history of Vietnam together for the first time. The intrigue and the wonderment are shared emotions, and there were multiple times where I, too, wanted to yell at Tran’s parents to stop being so evasive with explaining their life stories. And I also appreciated how Tran’s comics exposed me to a region of the world and a portion of history I know very little about. I enjoyed the opportunity to linger over a particular panel and marvel over how perfectly Tran managed to capture such a dramatic moment through his use of color, shadows, and imagery.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I would not have expected a crime novel to have such a dreamy feeling to it. Creepy, yes, but the tone taken in this novel places in a rather odd position between crime novel and psychological thriller. On the very first page, Mary Katherine introduces herself, informs the reader that she is a fan of Amanita phalloides, and states in a matter of fact manner that everyone else in her family beside her sister is dead. She appears to be cold, distant coping with this loss and the marginalization of her family by created a new, more structured order.

Yet there is something innocent about her presentation of the villagers and her attachment to her cat, Jonas; something introspective and whimsical about the way she views her life and hammers expensive family heirlooms to trees. My book club spent nearly two hours discussing and dissecting this novel, which is a remarkable considering we usually spend thirty minutes on the book and an hour on everyone’s personal lives.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I was muffling my laughter on the flight back home as I listened to this book because Poehler is funny in a self-deprecating, I’m-a-nice-girl-until-you-piss-me-off kind of way that makes you really want to be her And she manages to sneak in these insights that are only really digestible when wrapped in humor.

I wasn’t expecting to have a personal revelation about my own life whilst listening to this book yet Poehler’s metaphor about treating your career like a bad boyfriend was surprisingly profound for me. She interjected just enough humor that I could laugh as I contemplated, that I could evaluate my own life without feeling as though I was being lectured to and that, ultimately, is what made listening to this book on audio such a great experience for me and why I’m glad I decided to say “yes please” to something I ordinarily would not pick up.

2015 In Review

In 2015, I read a total of 91 books — higher than the goal I set of 75 books read, but 59 books short of the 150 I read last year.  I hate to use the word “but” there as I actually feel rather good about this number. I spent a lot of time in 2015 not reading and, instead, concentrated on enjoying some of the other activities I enjoy — traveling to Iceland and Montreal, kayaking the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin, completing a 40-mile cycling event through the city of Boston, etc. I feel like I finally tossed off some of the hyper-competitiveness I’ve felt towards book blogging in the last year, even if this has meant a trade-off in comments and interactions with the community.  C’est la vie.

I do still enjoy looking at my stats for the year, however. I tossed my detailed spreadsheet out about two years ago and, instead, relied up GoodReads to do much of the tracking for me. The site isn’t equipped to handle rereads so one book is missing from their yearly wrap-up post for me, but the basic statistics are 91 books and roughly 31,111 pages read. That’s an average of 1.75 books a week, or 95 pages a day. Not bad for someone who barely read at all between September and October and for someone whom 91 of those books were comics/graphic novels.

Books By Genre

Now comes the part my stats-loving, nerdy self enjoys most — charts! Unlike years past, I moved away from a closer 50/50 breakdown with fiction dominating my reading this year. (In 2012, fiction was 46% of my reading. In 2011, it was 58%.) This is first full year I have not been in university, which I’m sure had something to do with the extreme drop in nonfiction.  I also did not participate in the Nonfiction November event this year.

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I go back and forth on whether or not I’m bother by this shift. I love reading nonfiction, but I also know that I only love it when I am truly and deeply interested in a topic. If the interest is sparked, then I’ll bring home a whole armful of nonfiction books from the library. If not, then I will continue to pick up fiction novels.

Books By Genre

Speaking of the library, living in such close proximity to my local branch means I’m sourcing the majority of the books I read from there. (Another chart at 78%, oddly enough!) With the list price of a single book around $25 dollars, the library has managed to keep around $1,775 in my pocket over 2015.

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I stopped soliciting review copies back in 2013 hence the low percentage of my reading coming from that particular source. I would like to bump up the percentage of books that are from my own personal collection. I’ve been indulging far too much at the used book sales over the past year and have run out of shelf space in my apartment as a result. Hopefully, the Triple Dog Dare will help out in that regard.

Books by Format

I’ve developed a love affair with audiobooks in the past year. One of the women in my book club asked me when exactly I listen to audiobooks since I have such a short commute, and I rattled off so many places that I think she was slightly startled. I love heading out to the local cross-country ski track and making laps as I listen to an audiobook, preferably a mystery/crime novel. I’ve gotten so swept up in an audiobook before that I’ve lost track of time out there, and I usually know exactly how long I’ve been exercising.

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eBooks continue to comprise such a low percentage of the books I read. I switched out my iPad for a Kindle Paperwhite back in November in the hopes the Kindle will work better with my poor eye health so I will be curious to see if this trend continues in 2016. If so, then I guess I’ll be a Luddite when it comes to eBooks.

Books by Author’s Gender

I continued with my trend of having a roughly 60/40 breakdown in favor of female authors, which always surprises me given how many articles and blog posts appear on my Twitter feed decrying how publishing is a male-dominated sphere. I don’t doubt the validity of that argument; it’s just never been my experience. Not sure if this is because I instinctively gravitate towards female authors or because female authors tend to write about the topics I’m interested in, but I have no plans to try to reform this split into a more even 50/50 distribution.

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One chart missing from this post that has been generating a lot of buzz in the book blogging and the publishing community, particularly in the last month, is a breakdown of my reading by author’s race. Even when I kept a more detailed spreadsheet, author’s race or ethnic identity was not a marker I kept track of.

Instead, I tended to use whether or not the book had been translated into English as a marker for diversity. (In 2015, 12 percent of the books I read were translated — the first time I’ve broken double digits.) I recognize using translations in this way is fraught with it’s own complications. Discovering Icelandic literature may have bumped this percentage up (and encouraged me to visit that beautiful country), but it certainly did not increase the number of authors of color whose books I enjoyed in 2015. I can’t comment on exactly how many books I read by POC/BAME/LGBT authors but, looking over the list of books I read in 2015, there are only five I immediately recognize as being written by a person of color.

Looking Forward to 2016

So what does all this mean for 2016? Well, for starters, I would like to make a sizable dent in the number of books I own both in print and on my Kindle as well as continue to make progress on my Classics Club list. I’ve also started following #ReadDiverse2016 on Twitter for suggestions and encouragement on increasing the diversity of my reading, and plan on keeping track of the number of books I read that are written by POC/BAME authors so I can be even more introspective on this issue in the publishing industry going forward. Overall, though, I want to keep the healthy balance between books/blogging and the rest of the activities I love that I stumbled upon in 2015. So I’ve set a goal of 75 books for this year on GoodReads and hope I don’t exceed it (too much) in 2016. Looking back, the 217 books I read in 2009 should be an anomaly that I don’t aim for ever again.

Recent Acquisitions

IMG_2133.JPGWith Christmas only five days away, the library hosted another used book sale. I went with plans to purchase books for friends and while I successfully managed to find a book each for two friends, I also came home with six “gifts” for myself. Whoops.

The Occupation Trilogy includes three of the 2014 Nobel Prize of Literature winner’s books — La Place De L’ÉtoileThe Night Watch, and Ring Roads. Sarah Walters’ book was selected by my book club for our February meeting so it was good fortune to find The Little Stranger for a dollar.  I was also excited to find a title by Colm Tóibin as a woman from my book club recommended him to me during our meeting this morning.

Unsurprisingly, given the immense popularity of Gone Girl, there were a whole slew of Gillian Flynn titles for sale so I followed in everyone else’s footsteps and picked up two — Sharp Objects and Dark Places. And, as a fan of “Downton Abbey”, how could I pass up Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey?

A friend of mine came to visit today, saw this stack of books on top of my television cabinet and the crammed bookshelves flanking it, and said, “I hope you get slammed with blizzards again this winter so you have time to read all these books”. Me, too. Also, so I have time to go through and scan all of them to my to-read shelf on Goodreads!