Author Archives: Silvernfire

Reading 2016

And welcome to my summary of the previous year’s reading. In some respects, this is much the same as previous years. I read 92 books in 2016. Some books were easily forgotten, others stuck in my memory. But looking over what I’ve chosen, I see only one nonfiction book this year. I did read more than that, and it’s not like it was all forgettable, but these novels were even more memorable. Plus, it’s easier for me to describe fiction than nonfiction.

Book covers of Three Parts Dead, Carry On, Children of Earth and Sky

  • Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone (9/10; finished 1/12/2016): Okay, fine, you can’t judge a book by its cover (or I’d have disliked The Gospel of Loki (below)), but I really like this cover. And I really like the story inside this cover. (I’m not sure why it’s over a year later and I haven’t gotten around to reading the next book in the series. Note to self: do that.) The world intrigued me because of the combination of modern elements (necromancy bears an awfully close resemblance to contract law) with traditional fantasy elements like gods and vampires. But a fascinating world on its own is never enough. Good thing the plot had me turning the pages (well, tapping the e-reader screen) and the characters were realistic.
  • Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow by Rainbow Rowell (10/10; finished 2/17/2016):  I learned about this book when I read Rowell’s Fangirl in 2015, and had a moment or two of disbelief: seriously, Rowell went on and wrote the fictional novel in Fangirl? Well, yes and no. Carry On stands on its own, and I liked it more than Fangirl. Yes, it makes a gazillion references to the Harry Potter books (and The Magicians? and Twilight?)—that’s the point. But it would also do just fine in a world where none of those other series had been written.
  • Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay (9/10; finished 5/25/2016): Every few years, my favorite fantasy author releases a new book. I automatically buy each one as they (slowly, so slowly) see the light of day. In this one, there is an alternate Renaissance Europe with many individual stories coming together to make a sweeping epic, made comprehensible by Kay’s skills of characterization.

Covers of Necessity, Roses and Rot, The Fifth Season

  • Necessity: A Novel by Jo Walton (9/10; finished 7/15/2016): Like I said last year, the Thessaly trilogy was due to wrap up, and I’d be getting that third book. It did and I did and this is it. The fantasy/philosophy novel became fantasy/philosophy/science fiction as the citizens of the Just City were moved to a new planet and a different time. (Greek gods and alien gods? Whee!) Definitely read the first two books (The Just City and The Philosopher Kings) before tackling this one.
  • Roses and Rot by Kat Howard (9/10; finished 8/22/2016): Back in college, I read Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, and fell in love with it. And now I’ve found another retelling of the “Tam Lin” ballad, and love it as well, without losing any affection for Dean’s version. As Disney has (finally) realized, there is true love beyond the romantic; in Roses and Rot, it’s sororal.
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (10/10; finished 9/21/2016): I delayed reading this book because I knew it was the first book in a trilogy, and I wanted to minimize the wait between reading it and its sequel. Only now I’m delaying reading the sequel to minimize the time between it and the last book. Yes, plot descriptions for The Fifth Season are a bit sketchy, but they have to be, in order not to be spoilers. A woman is on the hunt for her husband who killed their young son and then vanished, taking their daughter with him. Meanwhile, their world is dying from an induced volcanic winter. Did I mention the characters are engaging? Or that the world is interesting? Really, read the book.

Covers of Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Gospel of Loki, Moral Politics

  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (8/10; finished 10/27/2016): I’m cheating a bit here. I’m going to remember this book because it impressed the heck out of me when I was a teenager, enough that I bought it and reread it in my thirties (understand, until recently, I didn’t do much rereading), and then re-reread it this year. It has and has not held up well over the years. Still love the language—nobody writes like Bradbury—but it really hit me this time how invisible women are in his writing, even when they’re characters.
  • The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris (9/10; finished 11/1/2016): Generally, my heart belongs to Greek and Roman mythology. I don’t think I was exposed to Norse mythology early enough in my life to imprint on it. But I’m happy to try to forge a connection anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much I liked this novel. Keeping in mind, of course, that Loki is the epitome of the unreliable narrator!
  • Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think [third edition] by George Lakoff (9/10, finished 12/13/2016): In 2012, I read the second edition of this book and it ended up on that year’s most memorable list. Another election year (and a reading challenge with a requirement to read a book on politics), and I read Lakoff’s freshly-released third edition, highlighting furiously. Moral Politics is a detailed, somewhat academic, description of two metaphors for viewing the world. Strict Father morality is hierarchical and authoritarian, and its adherents see the world as inherently dangerous; Nurturant Parent morality promotes empathy and responsibility, and Nurturant Parent types tend to see the world as basically good, even if there’s lots of room for improvement. Lakoff maintains that people transfer their preferred metaphor to how they see the role of government: is government primarily for enforcing the laws and promoting discipline and morality, or should it help the unfortunate and encourage cooperation?

 

 

 

The audiobook and I

I have never taken to the audiobook as a format. It’s a matter of personal preference. I know some people love them, that they’re the only good format for some people, and I cheer these people on. But they’re problematic if like me, you’re not great at retaining what you’ve only heard, not read.

Back in January, when I started the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, I guessed at which tasks might be the hardest for me to fulfill. Horror and the dystopic/post-apocalyptic novel were obvious problems, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about reading about politics, and then of course, there was the audiobook. As it turned out, I managed all of those without too much of a struggle, except the last. It couldn’t be just any audiobook, you see, but one that had won an Audie Award. So I kept putting this off and putting this off, and suddenly it was December and I had to decide if I was going to finish the challenge or not.

So there I was, floundering around, trying to figure out first what books had won Audies, and then cross-checking the winners against what was available at my library (audiobooks, it turns out, are noticeably more expensive than print books). But after less struggle than I probably deserved for all that procrastinating, I ended up with an audiobook that:

  1. had won an Audie Award,
  2. was owned by my library,
  3. hadn’t been checked out by some other procrastinating soul finishing up their own Read Harder challenge, and
  4. was something I thought I’d enjoy listening to.*

I am listening to Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson, the 2016 Audie winner for Humor. I suppose if I hadn’t put this off for most of the year, I wouldn’t have had the 2016 winners to choose from, so maybe procrastination was a good thing after all. (How am I supposed to learn from experience when experience keeps teaching me that my bad habits work out in the end?) Furiously Happy is ideal for my inexperience with audiobooks. It’s anecdotal and episodic. I don’t have to remember what the protagonist was doing when I shut the book off the night before—okay, I just said that I shut a book off, and that sounds so freaking weird—or what a key discovery from six chapters earlier was, or anything like that. The only constant “characters” are Lawson and her family. This, I can manage.

furiouslyhappycover

I found one! (And the cover art matches my mood really well.)

Many audiobooks are famed for their narrators. I hear some people will choose an audiobook more for its narrator than the book itself. Furiously Happy is narrated by Lawson herself. This means the narration is authentic as all get-out (+), but I’m missing the experience of listening to a professional narrator (-). Lawson doing a fine job; I’m just curious about what the difference might be, if any.

Even though this is going surprisingly well, I’m not sold on audiobooks yet. If my attention wanders, it’s a lot easier to reread a printed page—and that includes one printed in pixels—than relisten to narration. Also, I’m limited in what I can do while listening: I can’t do anything that involves language and words. (Like, say, writing blog posts. Although I’m getting lots of knitting done.) Plus, it’s frustrating that I could probably read this book in about 3 hours, but as an audiobook, it’s 8 hours and 20 minutes. Yes, I’m impatient. It took a while to figure out how to speed up the narration. I haven’t decided if I’m going to stick with that. It shortens the book and I can understand it just fine, but it makes Lawson’s voice unpleasantly shrill. And there are illustrations in the print book that I’m missing. I know, because Lawson talks about them. So far they haven’t been crucial to understanding what’s going on, but I feel like I’m missing out on something cool.

So will I listen to another audiobook once I’m done with this one? Maybe. I bet I’d enjoy the experience a lot more if I had no restrictions on what book I listened to and wasn’t listening to a deadline. Like I said, I haven’t yet heard a book with a professional narrator, and maybe I should try that. But at the same time, I note that there’s no audiobook-related task on the 2017 challenge. Guess how happy I am about that. 🙂

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* An unexpected bonus—at this point, I’d have taken a winner of Autobiography/Memoir even though the thought of a unenjoyed genre in an unenjoyed format is off-putting. Yes, you could argue that Furiously Happy is autobiographical. Don’t. I’m enjoying it.

Litsy

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.

img_0118

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.

2015-1

  • 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.

2015-2

  • 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.

2015-3

 

 

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!