I was home with a cold, which means that I was mainly calculating how long my supplies of handkerchiefs and tea would hold out. So I may have been in a slightly vulnerable frame of mind when in a matter of hours, first a friend and then Book Riot mentioned a new(ish) social network/app called Litsy. And because I clearly don’t have enough book-related goodness in my life between Goodreads, LibraryThing, and this oft-neglected blog, I joined.


One of my few posts. An entire post with picture is longer than will fit on the screen, but you get the idea.

Almost every description of Litsy I’ve read calls it a combination of Goodreads and Instagram, a description which I can’t improve on. I’d say it takes after Instagram more than Goodreads: a picture accompanied by a short bit of text, with the option for viewers to like and comment on it. You don’t have to take a picture of what you’re reading (or inspired by what you’re reading) to post, but it makes the post stand out better if you do. It was fun to play with in my time of illness. Even while sniffling, I could come up with pictures of the books I’d recently read and write short reviews of them. I couldn’t just copy my Goodreads/LibraryThing reviews over to Litsy: there’s a 300-character limit, slightly longer than two tweets. So of all the things I could say about a book, what was the one thing I really wanted to tell others?

Being in a social network in its early days is almost eerie. It’s…quiet. (But hey, I got my first choice for my username.)  A couple of friends joined as well, but my feed is mostly static because I’m not following anyone who posts frequently. I may have to follow some strangers just for variety, something I’m used to in Twitter, but rarely do in other networks. With so comparatively few members, posts on Litsy are skewed towards more popular types of books. I’ve had no trouble finding multiple posts on each YA book I looked up, but I’m the first person to post about the two philosophy/religion books I’d read.

Posts, by the way, are reviews, blurbs, or quotes. Reviews are pretty simple: the ratings are Pick, So-so, and Pan—or you can give up on the book partway through and say Bail. I’m fine with this; it’s a welcome change from wrangling stars and half-stars. Quotes are, well, quotes.😉 And blurbs are everything else: the random comments you have about what you’re reading, what you want to say about the things that reading your book made you think of, and so on. But with everything limited to 300 characters, nuance is a challenge. Reading a bunch of super-short comments and reviews on the same book can give you a sense of how popular it is, but meaty discussion is elusive.

Oddly, given the subject matter, Litsy seems more for photographers who read than readers who take photographs. I’m primarily a word person, not an image person. I can come up with an occasional inspired idea of how to photograph a book cover, but that’s neither my strong point nor my main interest.How many pictures of the same book cover does anyone want to see, anyway? Reading e-books makes it easier to get a perfect shot of the cover, but it’s as generic as you can get, although I’ve seen some nice photos from people imaginatively staging their e-readers. So there’s this stress about making a good photo that I don’t have with either Goodreads or LibraryThing (and with Instagram, I don’t do anything until I have a good photo). Still, Litsy is only just getting going. There may be new features planned that I’ll adore, and maybe this will be the app that gets me to shed one of my other book networks. Or—realistically—maybe Litsy will close down, having never really found its niche. For now, I’m happy to hang in there and see what happens.

Another reading challenge

For several years now, I’ve participated in the Goodreads reading challenge. I’ve enjoyed it and it’s not complicated: declare how many books you think you’re going to read in the year to come and have at it. Read anything you want; all we’re after here is quantity, although if you can get quality as well, more power to you.

This year, I’m branching out. I’m still doing the Goodreads challenge, although I’ve dropped my goal by about 20%. I’d been reading thinner books in order to get more read (quantity) and I wanted to read thicker books this year without feeling like I was endangering my success rate. Besides the Goodreads challenge, though, I’m also participating in the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. This only requires 24 books at most during the year; the challenge lies in getting you out of your reading comfort zone. Finishing it successfully will mean I’m going to have to read a horror novel (ick). And listen to an audiobook. You’re allowed to fit one book into as many categories as possible, so maybe I should listen to a horror audiobook because I’m bad at remembering what I’ve only heard, and I’m pretty sure I won’t want to remember the details of whatever horror novel I choose.

To space it all out, I only need to do two books a month. But somehow without really trying, I’ve gotten to the end of February and I’m already six books in.

  1. A nonfiction book about feminism or feminist themes: Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick. I had hoped this would be more of an analysis of spinsterhood; instead, it was mainly a memoir. Well, one is not required to love every book for the challenge; one must only find them and read them.
  2. A book that is by an author from Southeast Asia: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. This is a fantasy novel, so we’re squarely in my comfort zone here. In the 19th century, England’s first black Sorcerer Royal tries to both hold onto his position and find out why England is losing its magic. Although there were some rough spots, I liked the book enough to look forward to the promised sequels.
  3. Read a book out loud to someone else: Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach. I assure you, I read it only to consenting adults.
  4. A biography (not a memoir or autobiography): The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca by Emily Williams. I don’t usually read biographies, so I was wondering how I would find a good one, when Amazon made this one of their Kindle Daily Deals and I grabbed it.
  5. A book over 500 pages long: Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow by Rainbow Rowell. More fantasy! I learned about this book after reading Rowell’s Fangirl last year. Sure, Carry On alludes heavily to the Harry Potter books, with a sprinkling of Twilight thrown in. But it would be a strong book in its own right if neither of those other series had ever been written, I liked it better than Fangirl, and I’m glad I tracked down a copy.
  6. A book under 100 pages: The Spook Who Spoke Again by Lindsey Davis. A novella set in the world of Davis’s Flavia Albia mysteries. The story is told by Albia’s brother Postumus, age 12 (or maybe 11¾), and after a while, I decided it was as if Flavia de Luce had been born a boy in 1st century CE Rome. I mostly enjoyed the story, but Postumus got annoying pretty quickly, and it’s just as well this wasn’t a full-sized novel.

March is imminent. I’m hoping to go read some non-challenge books for a while. Except that I have the challenge on the brain, and I can’t stop considering possibilities. Hey, maybe if I read a middle-grade horror novel, I won’t be traumatized for life…

Reading 2015

Last year, I set a reading goal for myself of 100 books and read 101. That was above and beyond the goal, but in reality, I barely made it, squeezing in a volume of manga and You Have to F**king Eat on December 31. This year, I want to feel less pressure to meet a quota, so I’ve dropped the goal to 80 books. I’m hoping I’ll be more inclined to read thicker books if I don’t have to push myself as hard.

But that’s the future. This is a post that looks back on the recent past and what I thought were the most memorable of those 101 books. Same old, same old, as far as the kinds of books go. Fantasy remains my favorite fiction genre, and over in nonfiction, I read plenty of writing, astrology, and divination books. I may be in a rut, but I like my rut, thank you.

And with that, the list:

  • Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling by Lara S. Ormiston (9/10; finished 2/11/2015): Nothing deep and profound here, just an interesting alternative plot: what if Elizabeth accepted Darcy’s original proposal of marriage in order to secure her family’s financial future?
  • The Just City by Jo Walton (9/10; finished 2/20/2015):  Greek gods! Philosophy! Worked together into an interesting story! What’s not to love? The goddess Pallas Athene decides to create Plato’s Republic, populating it with people drawn from different cultures and different centuries. For reasons of his own, Apollo decides to live anonymously as a mortal in the Just City. And then Socrates himself is brought to the City… Followed by The Philosopher Kings, which I also enjoyed. The trilogy concludes with Necessity in 2016. Yes, I’ve already pre-ordered it. Why do you ask?
  • Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton (8/10; finished 2/27/2015): In which I finally got an an explanation as to why bashing the poor has become socially acceptable. Actually, as this is the world I grew up in, it’s more that I learned that it wasn’t always acceptable to dis them.


  • Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth by Benebell Wen (9/10; finished 3/13/2015): The thickest book I read in 2015, coming in at 896 pages. It covers practically every aspect of tarot, with stuff for all levels of experience. Really needed a more durable binding, though.
  • The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction: Your Blueprint for Building a Solid Story by C. S. Lakin (8/10; finished 7/13/2015): This book and I got off to a bad start. The architecture analogy went on and on, and I got tired of the author’s efforts to sell me on her book when I’d already bought it. But then we finally got to those twelve pillars and it turned out she’d come up with some excellent questions to test the strength of your story against.
  • The Dark of the Soul: Psychopathology in the Horoscope by Liz Greene (9/10; finished 9/11/2015): Should anyone say that astrology is all newspaper predictions, vague personality descriptions, and matchmaking advice, I’m going to mention this book. Three seminars on psychopaths and genocidal national leaders. There’s nothing like analyzing the astrological chart of a serial killer to put a sparkle in your day.


  • Do What You Love and Other Lies About Success and Happiness by Miya Tokumitsu (8/10; finished 9/29/2015): My tendency to read sobering, often gloomy, books in the fall continues. Admittedly, I don’t usually wander into the economics section to find them. Tokumitsu argues that the “do what you love” mantra encourages people to willingly work for less money and pressures them to be constantly passionate about their jobs, while unpaid internships multiply, formerly professional positions are “de-skilled,” and a two-tiered system of those who have desirable jobs and those who support them develops.
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo (8/10; finished 10/18/2015): Given how much discussion of this there is in the world, this would probably be one of the most memorable books I encountered in 2015 even if I hadn’t read it.
  • Classical Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 1 by Peter Adamson (9/10; finished 11/17/2015): Transcriptions of podcasts, episodic, but well-connected. The book is a lot more readable than the title might lead you to believe, assuming you had any interest in the subject to begin with. I’m finally getting the hang of Socrates and Plato. And volume 2, Philosophy in the Hellenistic & Roman Worlds, awaits me on my bookshelf.




NaNoWriMo: made it!

NaNWriMo 2015 Winner BannerAnd lo, 50,000 words hath come from my fingers into the keyboard. I reached the goal and validated on November 29, but I squeezed in a little more writing and ended the month with a final word count of 51,007. This doesn’t mean I’m done writing this first draft, alas. I’m guessing I’m about two-thirds of the way through my story, suggesting that the final word count will be closer to 75,000 words. I have written a little bit on the draft each day in December, although my daily word counts have been closer to 20 than to 1,667. (Hey, that’s still progress!)

It was an educational experience, as you might expect. I had thought that I would manage to do the most writing first thing in the morning. Maybe I should have done so, but I ended up writing in the last couple of hours that I was awake each day. I think that was probably because I told myself I could always stay up just a little longer to get a few last words in. I’m just not good at making myself write anything if I know I’m going to have to get up in a few minutes and do something else like go to work.

Planning the whole thing out ahead of time saved me. By getting myself and the story organized to the point that I had a scene list, I basically made myself a novel’s worth of writing prompts. If the story wasn’t flowing on its own—and most of the time it wasn’t—I’d go to the scene list, choose one, and just write words on it until nothing more came out. As I worked my way through the scene list, the story began to wander away from the plan. Generally, this wasn’t a problem. If I was desperate for words, I just wrote on a scene even if it no longer fit the story as a whole, knowing that I could throw it out later. And I added several scenes that I’d never thought of when all this began. It’ll be interesting to pull this all together at some point and see where the story wants to go now.

Next time—if there’s a next time, which I’m not promising—I will make a list ahead of time of all the meals I can make without much effort or attention. Why waste precious time trying to remember which cookbooks those recipes are in? I suppose if I were truly dedicated, I’d spend part of October making up meals ahead of time and freezing them, but I don’t think I have enough room in my freezer. Speaking of meals, how does anyone do NaNoWriMo and deal with Thanksgiving? I got around it by spending the day quietly at home, but if I’d had to travel anywhere for the weekend, I’m not sure I would have ever been able to make the writing up in time.

It’s been almost a week, and I’m still having trouble believing that A) it’s over and B) I managed to do it. Now that it’s over with, I’m delighted that I did it. It does feel good to be 51,007 words closer to getting this book out of my head. Now to get that draft done before revision starts in January!


NaNoWriMo: the first week

In a surprise move (well, it surprised me), I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. That’s on the short end of novels, but let me assure you that’s still a lot of words when you’re trying to come up with them in a mere 30 days. The saving grace is that you’re not expected to write a good novel in one month. It’s mainly just to get a first draft out of your head and onto paper/into your computer.

NaNoWriMo 2015 participant banner

And why am I putting myself through this? Because there’s a Sailor Moon fanfic that has been bouncing around in my head for over two years now. I’ve played with it, plotted it, planned it…but have never gotten around to writing it. See, I’m one of those people who works best to a deadline. NaNoWriMo has provided me with that deadline.

Things I have learned in the first week:

  • I thought getting ahead on my word count would take some pressure off. Nope. I just obsess over maintaining my lead instead.
  • Having “writing buddies,” as they’re called, helps. The same competitive streak that nudges me into entering things in the state fair also pushes me to keep my word count up around everyone else’s. Plus, it’s nice to be able to occasionally rant to someone who’s going through the same hell you are.
  • It’s fun not only to not pay attention to all the rules of good writing, but to be able to deliberately break them as needed. You know how you’re supposed to eliminate as many adverbs as possible? Forget that. Adverbs are words, you need words: put as many adverbs in as you can stand. I’m also indulging in giant expository lumps as well as a lot of “As you know, Bob…”-style dialogue. Whee!
  • I’m going to develop a taste for Baroque music at this rate. Everything else I’ve tried has proven to be way too distracting, but dead silence is distracting in its own way.
  • I was five days in before I remembered that I’ve had good results in the past by using the Pomodoro Technique for staying focused. It’s working for me for this as well. That’s probably because it creates micro-deadlines. Me and deadlines: we’re an item.❤
  • Anyone who does this by jumping in with nothing more than a story idea has my profoundest admiration. The first week alone has confirmed my suspicions that if I don’t map this sort of thing out ahead of time, I’m doomed.
  • This is cutting into my knitting time. I miss knitting.😦
  • This has also eliminated my TV-watching time, and it took me the better part of the week to notice. This undoubtedly says something about the importance of TV in my life.
  • I won’t be reading fiction until December 1. I can’t afford to get lost in someone else’s fantasy world when I’m trying to put mine together. Luckily I have plenty of nonfiction on my to-be-read list.

And…back to the ever-growing draft. Still another 1,200 words or so before I sleep!

One book, different cultures

I’ve finally gotten around to reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Until recently, I was only familiar with the U.S./Canadian edition. But in updating my entry for it on LibraryThing, I happened to see the cover of the German edition. Yes, these really are the same book.

English and German covers of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

The covers in question. Unanswered mysteries include why is “Japanese” capitalized on the U.S./Canadian cover when nothing else is, and why does the German edition have an English title?

The North American cover emphasizes the book’s gentler, more “woo” features. The soft colors in an abstract, watercolor-like design say you’ll be reading a book with more of a psychological, even spiritual, focus. The words are in black and red, but the all-lower-case serif font softens the impact. This is a cover that goes with Kondo’s advice to to thank your possessions for the service they’ve done you, to greet your house when you come home, to give your handbags and socks a rest. What it doesn’t prepare you for is the author’s uncompromising attitude towards clearing stuff out of your house. That’s not a secret: every book review focuses on it. But those first readers might have been a bit surprised to run into it.

In contrast, whoever designed the German cover focused on that aspect of Kondo’s book. Presumably this is what the German publisher figured would attract potential readers. Black, red, and pure white dominate, with just a touch of green from the only organic element: the little plant at the center. The sans-serif font is all-caps: you will declutter your house! There’s no misty watercolor effect here, just clean, straight lines and defined curves. How well did Kondo’s assertion that “your possessions want to help you” go over with her German audience?

Whether or not you can judge a book by its cover, it seems you can guess what its readers like. Or at least what its publisher thinks they do.

Judging a cover by its book

Earlier this year, I started reading Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms trilogy. Each book is narrated by one of three sisters. I enjoyed The Mark of the Tala and The Tears of the Rose, and I finally have time to read The Talon of the Hawk, told by oldest sister Ursula. Seen through the eyes of her sisters, Princess Ursula has become my favorite character, so I’ve been looking forward to reading “her” book. Ursula is 30 years old, and in addition to being a mature adult, she’s not model-pretty either:

  • “I suppose I’m lucky not to be the oldest and least beautiful. Ursula, however, is our father’s heir and couldn’t care a whit for things such as prettiness.” (Andi, The Mark of the Tala, p.1)
  • “Ursula looked fine, too—make no mistake. Her ladies wouldn’t allow otherwise. She cleaned up well when she went to the trouble. But Ursula’s beauty is in the clear, firm lines of her jaw, the sharp eyes that miss nothing, her incisive intelligence.” (The Mark of the Tala, p.3)
  • “The eldest and heir to the High Throne of the Twelve Kingdoms, she looked more gaunt than ever. In the past, some might have called her passably attractive, in her hard-edged way, but not at this moment.” (Amelia, The Tears of the Rose, p.2)

Until I’ve read the book, I won’t know how Ursula describes herself, but according to the plot summary, Ursula is “a girl grudgingly honed to leadership, not beauty, to bear the sword and honor of the king.” After two books and that plot summary, I picture Ursula as a woman in her early thirties, thin but muscular, fairly ordinary overall in attractiveness, with a few strong features such as her eyes and her jawline, and who’s not inclined to fuss over her appearance unless her ladies (or her father) demand it.

Then I saw the cover:

Book cover: The Talon of the Hawk

I’m annoyed at myself for not hating it. If I’d seen this before reading the first two novels, I’d be interested in at least reading the plot summary to this one, which is what cover art is for. My reaction is exactly why publishers design covers like this. But this Ursula doesn’t look like someone who appears at formal court functions wearing her sword over her dress so that her men will see her as a soldier before they see her as a woman.

Now when the protagonist really is beautiful, I have no arguments with a cover that reflects that. Consider Ursula’s sister Amelia:

“The youngest, breathtakingly beautiful. They called her Glorianna’s avatar when she was born and started composing sonnets to her by the time she turned twelve. Hair the color of sunrise, eyes like twilight, skin like moonbeams.” (The Mark of the Tala, p.2)

And here’s what the publisher came up with:

Book cover: The Tears of the Rose

In The Tears of the Rose, Amelia is 20 years old. Her youth (really, her immaturity) and beauty are an important part of her story, and the cover art for The Tears of the Rose works well with that. But the cover art on The Talon of the Hawk makes it so that Amelia and Ursula look equally gorgeous and close in age, not ten years apart.

This is giving me cognitive dissonance. It’s like the author is saying Here’s my story about a woman who’s a competent, average-looking adult while the cover is saying Buy this book about a young, beautiful, sexy warrior princess. I’m not great at visualizing, and now when I read the book, no matter how many times Kennedy describes Ursula as average-looking and probably wearing something practical for battle, the image of a pretty woman in a studded tube top is what’s going to pop into my head. Come on, even Amelia’s gown has spaghetti straps!

This is a fairly dismal trend in publishing. Jane Ellsworth’s major problem in Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal is that although she’s intelligent and magically gifted, she’s considered too plain to attract a husband. The cover depicts an ethereal young woman who would probably have no trouble getting married in Kowal’s alternative England. The original American cover for Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, a book about an African-American girl, featured a photo of a white girl. (After protest, the cover was changed.) But it’s demoralizing to realize that fantasy fiction about women older than 25 is deemed unlikely to sell unless it’s disguised. Being well over 25 myself, I’ve been looking for books with older heroines. Perhaps I could find them in general fiction or women’s fiction, but my favorite genre is fantasy. I had been thinking that maybe they just didn’t exist. Now I’m wondering if those books are out there—good!—but hidden behind deceptive covers. And how will I find them if that’s the case?