Category Archives: Books and reading

My 2019 reading challenges

New year: new reading challenges. The Goodreads Challenge is about as straightforward as it gets: read X books in a year. I’m going to be reading anyway, so I may as well get reading challenge credit for any book that passes before my eyes (or though my ears, if I ever tackle another audiobook). But then there’s the fine art of choosing a personalized challenge. A challenge that interests me, that is more complicated than the Goodreads Challenge, and yet doesn’t repel me, make me feel guilty when I read a book that won’t fit, or has me reading so many books that are challenging that I read fewer books that I wholeheartedly enjoy. I have pored over The Master List of 2019 Reading Challenges, and am going with the 2019 Good Rule Reading Challenge. Or as I think of it, the 2019 But I Thought You Wanted to Read/Reread That Book Challenge.

Last year, while doing my A-to-Z challenge, I needed to reread books to get all my letters. I’d also reread some books in 2017 as I weeded my collection. It’s sinking in that I’ve kept a lot of books because I’m sure I’ll read them again someday, but then I don’t. Time spent rereading a book is time not spent reading a new one, and I feel like I’m shirking a duty. Meanwhile, a large portion of my home is filled with these books I think I’m going to reread. Well, this year, I’m committing to doing some of that. The bulk of this challenge is on reading new books—I still want to shrink that TBR pile! However, I’m adding a number of must-rereads, for a total of 40 new books and 10 old ones. I said I’d read 60 books for the Goodreads Challenge, so that still leaves 10 books to learn of in 2019 or get from the library or whatever.

A few of the proposed books, new and old.

Of course, some books won’t work out, from either category. That’s fine. But I plan to keep my initial balance of new to old books. So if I give up on a reread partway through, I will replace it with another old book. And just selecting books for the challenge is proving to be informative. I look at the books and ask myself, Do I want to read this one? With some of them, I’m instantly saying No. Really? Like I said, didn’t I want to read these books? If that’s no longer the case, I can let them go now and free up the shelf space.

A-to-Z: 2018—finished!

About a year ago, I committed to doing an A-Z reading challenge: 26 books, one for each letter of the alphabet. And lo, I have finished it.

  • A: The Astrological Moon by Darby Costello
  • B: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  • C: Circe by Madeline Miller
  • D: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
  • E: Elemental Divination: A Dice Oracle by Stephen Ball
  • F: First and Last: A Devotional for Hestia by the editors of Bibliotheca Alexandrina
  • G: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
  • H: Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years by James Kacian, Phillip Rowland, Allan Burns (eds.)
  • I: Imbolc: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Brigid’s Day by Carl F. Neal
  • J: The Just City by Jo Walton
  • K: Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
  • L: Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • M: Metamorphoses by Ovid
  • N: No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • O: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • P: Pandora’s Boy by Lindsey Davis
  • Q: Quadrivium: The Four Classical Liberal Arts of Number, Geometry, Music, & Cosmology by John Martineau (ed.)
  • R: The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
  • S: The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic by Mike Duncan
  • T: Tarot Compendium by Sasha Graham (ed.)
  • U: Untold Tarot: The Lost Art of Reading Ancient Tarots  by Caitlín Matthews
  • V: Villanelles by Annie Finch (ed.)
  • W: The Wisdom of the Middle Ages by Michael K. Kellogg
  • X: The Phobia of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell
  • Y: Your Tarot Your Way: Learn to Read with Any Deck by Barbara Moore
  • Z: Zeus: A Journey Through Greece in the Footsteps of a God by Tom Stone

It was the normal run of books for a year: loved some, liked more, made it through a few of them on willpower alone. While I didn’t find a book with a title that started with X, I didn’t have to resort to “Ex-“. Most of those books were first reads. I reread three books (J, V, and Z) because I didn’t want to buy books just to get my missing letters when part of the point of this challenge was to work on my TBR pile! And the rereading had value too, because why else hold onto these books after their first reading unless I was going to reread them at some point?

After deciding to read 26 books for the alphabet, I realized that some books on my TBR list have titles that start with numerals. So I extended the challenge by one book to cover that possibility. I then managed to misplace the book I was reading for #. I’m sure it will turn up again eventually, but I’d rather read it calmly and finish it next year rather than try to cram it in this late.

It’s tempting to do this challenge again in 2019, and I haven’t yet ruled out the possibility. I picked up the latest edition of Vogue Knitting a few weeks ago, so I already have one of my hard-to-find letters in hand. But there’s some appeal in finding a new challenge. Whatever challenge I choose, I want to read books that I’ll enjoy. I get that a challenge is supposed to be challenging (!), but there’s a fine line between moving out of your comfort zone for new experiences and forcing yourself to read something you genuinely dislike. But there are all sorts of reading challenges out there, so it might be nice to go in a completely different direction in 2019. We’ll see.

A lifetime of reading hasn’t prepared me for this

I am not someone who boldly steps forward and engages with life. Humans generally have messy lives, and I try to reduce the mess in mine by watching what other people do and working out potential solutions ahead of time. So a lot of what I know about life has been gained through reading instead of actual experience. I know, I know…real experience gets you real answers, life is meant to be lived, and so on. Yes, I’m exaggerating my lack of engagement a bit. Plus, I figure learning through reading exposes you to more than you might run into naturally. Thanks to all the advice columns I’ve read, I’ve learned many useful responses to relationship issues I will never encounter in my own life!

Besides advice columns, I’ve picked up on many new things through reading blogs. That’s where I first heard about various topics that are, ah, passionately discussed nowadays: trigger warnings, pronouns, cultural appropriation, and privilege. It’s been a lot easier to explore them through reading, where I have the space to realize and reflect and analyze and wince and absorb and regret and question in private.

And before blogs and advice columns, there were books, and there have always been more of them than the other two combined. In fiction, my favorite genre is fantasy. There’s lots to be learned about life in novels generally, but fantasy novels are often large scale, with the fates of nations and cultures at stake. So if I’ve been learning about how to relate to people one-to-one through reading, that’s probably also how I’ve been learning about politics. Not party politics—that’s more the stuff of blogs and social media—but the bigger issues of how governments work, how people behave in large groups, and how to be a good citizen. While these are always important issues, let’s admit it: they’re front and center now.

But here’s my problem: fantasy authors don’t set their stories in democracies. I’m absorbing lessons on how to restore a rightful king or queen to their throne.

The fantasy authors I’m familiar with live in countries where everyday people have the right to vote and their votes matter. But these authors mainly write about absolute monarchies and the struggles in their books aren’t contained within democratic norms. No one needs to worry about maintaining democratic institutions because there aren’t any.

Picture of woman on a horse and a kneeling male warrior on a fantasy chessboard.

Warning: fantasy characters in action. Do not try this with your real-life political situation.

Consider The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn is a king because he’s the heir of Isildur. It’s great that he’s honorable, intelligent, has a sense of justice, and so on, but he’d still get to be king without any of that. Certainly the people of Gondor aren’t going to be consulted in the matter. And putting Aragorn on his throne doesn’t require getting out the vote, winning midterm elections, countering foreign hacking, or fighting voter suppression. Mainly it involves winning a war against an opposing army of orcs, trolls, Nazgûl, and humans that apparently aren’t like the Men of Rohan and Gondor. There’s no need to work out how you’re going to integrate the opposition into your society afterwards because you’re going to kill a lot of them, and anyway, most of them are literally not human and the different peoples of Middle Earth tend to stick to their own. Of course, this part of the war would achieve nothing if Frodo, Sam, and Gollum hadn’t gotten the Ring to Mordor and destroyed it. That’s a great story, but there isn’t much there to support the modern upholder of democracy except a general reassurance that even the most overlooked people can make a difference.

I don’t read as much science fiction as I do fantasy, but the TV shows and movies I’ve watched have been science fiction far more than fantasy. Democracy is much more likely to exist in an SF universe, but in many stories, we don’t see much of it. My dim memory of government in the original Battlestar Galactica was that the democratically-elected Council of Twelve was mainly an obstacle for the military (our heroes) to work around or ignore—not a good model when real people and everyday life are involved. The Republic in Star Wars is a odd mixture of democracy and monarchy that mainly suggests different people over several decades doing just enough world building to support the plot of each movie. I think Star Trek‘s Federation is a federal republic, but I couldn’t tell you how it’s perceived by average people living on Federation planets; we mainly see the effects of its foreign policy. Democracy is so far gone in Blake’s 7 and Firefly that the heroes aren’t worrying about preserving democratic norms day-to-day. Mere survival is higher on their agendas—Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as applied to small rebel groups.

Comic books and graphic novels were a staple of my youth and, okay, off and on in adulthood. Here we have heroes, villains, and Good vs. Evil depicted about as clearly as it ever gets. Mind you, there’s not much beyond a supporting role for people without superpowers, and again, the methodology is “bash the enemy into defeat with nifty powers,” which is a lot more entertaining to read/look at than registering voters. Also, the villains often want to destroy Earth, not overthrow a government. Manga and anime? I’m having flashbacks to Sailor Moon. In that universe, the eventual future was going to be a monarchy, and the series never got into whether or not it’d be a constitutional one. Plus our heroines were using magic to fight for love and justice, not door-to-door campaigning.

But why does this even matter? Because unlike some of the things I mentioned at the start of this post, there aren’t many good resources. If I didn’t learn about relationship problems from advice columns, I’d have learned about them from personal experience and the experiences of people I know. Those topics I’ve found in blogs are being discussed everywhere now; even if I had to learn about them with others, I’d know about them. But our culture has offered me very little in what to do when your democracy (or federal republic) doesn’t seem as secure as you thought it was. I don’t need to have read stories about tornado drills because I’ve gone through them for most of my life. I apparently do need to read about preserving democracy, because I’ve never practiced that beyond voting and a lot of signatures on petitions.

So am I doing the normal, mundane things you do in the United States to be a good citizen? Yep. I’m registered to vote and I’ve read about the candidates in the upcoming election. But a lifetime of reading fantasy novels suggests that I should also be creating a voting amulet or a democracy talisman or something. Isn’t there a spell I should be casting?


photo credit: siliaFX CHECKMATE via photopin (license)

Reading 2017

2017 was my Year of Lowered Expectations. I’m hoping it retains that title so that I don’t have to pass it on to 2018 or some other future year. I read about 25% fewer books last year than usual. And I know it isn’t a competition, and I know you don’t get demerits for dying with a huge stack of unread books, but it was frustrating. Especially since I can’t figure out what I was doing that ate into my reading time (and my knitting time: not many finished projects last year either) so noticeably.

I did more rereading this year than usual—”usual” for me being “not at all.” I hold onto a lot of books, utterly convinced that I will reread them, and then get distracted by all the other interesting books I haven’t yet read. This year, though, I was trying to streamline my personal library, and I reread a number of books to see if I really wanted to keep them. (Often the answer was “no.” Not all once-beloved books age well.) In a couple of cases, I reread books because they worked for the 2017 Read Harder Challenge. At least that was economical. No reread books are in the following list, although I was sorely tempted to put Three Parts Dead in again, just for the amusement of including it for two years in a row.

This was a year of memorable series as well as memorable books, namely the Small Change trilogy and the Craft Sequence. I’d been intending to read the Small Change trilogy for the better part of a decade. When I finally got around to it, I devoured it as fast as the library could provide copies. It’s probably a good sign about the quality of a title (or three) if you have to get on a wait list for them even when they’ve been around for years. As for the Craft Sequence, all I can say is that I’d gotten distracted in 2016 with other books. I fixed that in 2017.

Covers of Farthing, Ha'penny, Half a Crown

  • The Small Change trilogy by Jo Walton: Farthing (9/10; finished 4/5/2017), Ha’penny (9/10; finished 4/24/2017), Half a Crown (6/10; finished 5/18/2017): Three linked novels set between 1949 and 1960 in an alternate England that made peace with Hitler and turned fascist. Unfortunately more timely than the author ever intended. I say more about it here.

Covers of Eleanor & Park, Plato at the Googleplex

  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (9/10; finished 8/15/2017): So, how many books by Rainbow Rowell have I read without getting around to her possibly best-known one? Yes, it’s quite good. It also gave me flashbacks galore to being in high school (I’m a few years older than the characters). I was reading it on the Megabus, and the woman sitting next to me—who was definitely not old enough to remember 1986 personally—recognized it and assured me that it was great.
  • Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (10/10; finished 9/15/2017): It’s always good to hear about a book, track down a copy, read it, and like it. There’s a special thrill, though, to going into a book with no real idea of what it’s about, and discover that it wasn’t what you thought it might be and still like it. I have no memory of putting this on my library wish list, and I decided to read it because everything else on the list was checked out. I thought it would be some earnest essay about philosophy in today’s world. Instead, Goldstein has written a series of short pieces, starting with the premise that Plato is alive and well and on a book tour in the modern United States. Each chapter consists of an essay on a theme in Plato’s work, followed by a fictional dialogue (lunch at the Googleplex, a debate at a Y in New York, and so on) that expands on that theme. Partway through, I returned the ebook to the library—the footnotes were badly linked, and they’re vital—and bought a print copy, already knowing I wanted to keep it.

Covers of Four Roads Cross and Last First Snow

  • Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone (10/10; finished 9/23/2017): This is the more-or-less direct sequel to Three Parts Dead, although if you read the series in order, there are three books between them. (Including Last First Snow, but I got mixed up and read it afterwards.) As sequels often do, it deals with the fallout from its predecessor; even triumphant endings have repercussions. And I went through the entire book happy to see Tara Abernathy and other characters again, plus getting all in suspense about the legal battle that builds during the story.
  • Last First Snow by Max Gladstone (10/10; finished 11/1/2017): This is fully part of the Craft Sequence (#4), but as the first novel chronologically, it has the feeling of a prequel, and I’m not always that fond of prequels. Sometimes they leave me feeling like I’ve just read the same story twice. Not so in this case: I came to the end of this book feeling like I had a much better grasp of the history of Dresediel Lex and several of the characters I’d already met. Featuring one of my favorite characters from Three Parts Dead: Elayne Kevarian (can I just say how wonderful it is to read a book where the “older woman protagonist” is over thirty?).

A-to-Z: 2018

I have a fondness for reading challenges. I must not be alone in this; as of this writing, The Master List of 2018 Reading Challenges had 128 challenges and the compiler is promising to update it through the end of 2017. I freely admit that I didn’t do terribly well at the two reading challenges I took on this year. I’ve done the Goodreads challenge since 2011, and I’ve usually managed 90-100 books a year. For whatever reason, I had to scale back to 75 books this year. I don’t know where the reading time went. I do most of my reading on the bus or while eating and I still do plenty of both. Maybe I just read thicker books this year?* And however disappointed I may be in how the Goodreads challenge is going, the 2017 Read Harder Challenge simply isn’t happening. I’ve made it to 13 books out of 24. Some books will count for multiple categories, so it’s probably closer to 15, but that’s as good as it’s going to get.

But hey, there is always another year and another challenge. Goodbye 2017, and let us turn to 2018.

I’ll be doing the Goodreads challenge again. I’m not doing the 2018 Read Harder Challenge, though. It’s a worthy challenge, and I hope many people do it and love it, but it’s not for me this year. I have learned that if I’m not enjoying something, no amount of self-motivation will get me to do it, and I can tell I wouldn’t enjoy that particular challenge. (Happy to look over the 2019 challenge when it comes out, though!) Instead, I am putting together my own challenge. Here goes:

  1. It’s an A-to-Z challenge. 26 books is achievable. Plus, the requirements are easily memorized, so I don’t have to constantly refer back to the challenge to find out what I’m supposed to be doing.
  2. Whenever possible, the books will come from my to-be-read collection. I only mark a book TBR if I own it, so the fact that LibraryThing says I have 300 TBR books was motivational as all get-out for doing this. Plus, I know a lot of my ebooks haven’t yet been added [wince]. There’s plenty to work with here. Also, any books I buy in 2018 are eligible, although I don’t plan to buy books just to have something to read for the challenge (see #3).
  3. I’m missing three letters: V, X, and Z. I have a few options here. I can reread a book I own that starts with one of these letters. I can look for a book at the library that works. Or I can buy a book, but that’s definitely the “if all else fails” option. Also, in the interests of keeping this a fun challenge, although I will prioritize book titles that start with X, “Ex” is acceptable as well. I’m not reading a book I loathe just to follow an arbitrary rule.

Photo of the book Quadrivium

Q!

I will not be reading the books in alphabetical order. And although I’m probably going to jot down a few ideas, I don’t plan to choose most of the books now. I’ll just see what I’m in the mood for when I need something to read. I plan to savor this year’s challenge. After all, I bought these books because I thought I would enjoy reading them. Now’s the time to find out.


*Maybe, but that’s not going to work as an excuse. Goodreads counts pages as well as books, and my page count for 2017 is down as well.

The Small Change trilogy

Short version: I recently read an alternative history trilogy by Jo Walton called Small Change. I think it’s good. Read it!

Long version:

The three books of Small Change are set in an alternate Britain that signed a peace treaty with Hitler in 1941. Farthing and Ha’penny take place in 1949; Half a Crown is set in 1960. I’d heard about Farthing years ago (it was published in 2006), but I was in no real hurry to read it. I’ve had an iffy success rate with Walton’s books. I may be the only SF/F reader in the world who didn’t become a passionate fan of Among Others after reading it. I enjoyed it, but it was a kind of middling enjoyment. It was a great trip down memory lane for the books of my teenagerhood, but I kept wishing I was reading the story of Morwenna’s original fight instead the story of her recovery from it. I might not have ever have gotten around to reading another one of Walton’s books after that, but then she came up with the Necessity trilogy, and I couldn’t resist the combination of Greek gods and philosophy, all wrapped up in fiction. I loved that series enough to buy all three books in hardcover (!), but then I read My Real Children and liked it except for feeling like I was missing something obvious about the ending that I was certain everyone else understood. So, some books clicked with me and some didn’t. Farthing sounded interesting, but not pressing, and there were lots of other books to read. And then, well, November came and went, and January came and went, and things are different now, and Farthing rose to the top of my to-read list. I’m guessing I wasn’t alone in this, because there was a wait list for every book in the trilogy at my library.

Small-Change

As with those other books I’ve mentioned, I enjoyed Small Change unevenly (my reviews of the individual books are linked at the end of this post). Farthing hooked me straightaway and I fell into the book until the end. It’s a classic British murder-at-the-family-estate mystery, but, well, fascism. I braced myself to be disappointed with Ha’penny for no better reason than that it was the second volume of a trilogy and middles are challenging. I ended up liking it almost as much as Farthing. Although Inspector Carmichael returns as one of the protagonists, Ha’penny is more of a political thriller than a murder mystery. It takes place a mere two weeks or so after the end of Farthing, but even in that short a period, there’s been a noticeable change in atmosphere. I was more frustrated with Half a Crown. So much of the tension in the first two books comes from the reader’s (my) knowledge that this history is “wrong” and that fascism is a threat, yet the characters are innocently—naturally, believably—dealing with their immediate concerns and not seeing this other danger. Ten years later, the characters have to deal with that threat directly. I missed the structure of a foreground story (the murder mystery, the political thriller) hinting at a bigger background story. But it was still a gripping story, whatever my disagreements with it, and I did want to know how the trilogy came out.

And the above is pretty much all I was going to say. Earlier, I’d avoided most reviews because I wanted to read the books without the filter of other people’s opinions. But afterwards, I started looking around the Internet to see what other people had to say, which is when I found this, by Jo Walton: 10th November 2016: How I feel when people reference Farthing.

(I’m assuming you’ve now read it. Beyond this point, there are spoilers for the trilogy. Assorted thoughts follow.)

If there’s any book I wrote that I wish was obsolete and that people would never be reminded of in any real world context, it’s Farthing. “Gosh, that’s dated,” I wish people would say about it. It wasn’t supposed to be a prediction. It wasn’t supposed to be an instruction manual. (The actual specifics of the post-Brexit shuffle and May etc really are scarily like what I have in the book.)

As I said, I was aware of Farthing before the 2016 Presidential election, but yes, that’s what motivated me to finally read it. For what it’s worth, I’m not recommending it to other people for that reason alone. Small Change is good and would be worth reading even if Brexit, May, Trump, etc. had never happened. But I found it impossible not to think of them while reading these books, and it wasn’t the experience I would’ve had if I’d read them back in 2006-2010.

People like the tragic ends of Farthing and Ha’Penny more than (spoilers!) the positive end of Half a Crown maybe because I didn’t do it as well, and maybe I didn’t because I was going uphill against the weight of narrative expectation and that’s hard. But it’s how fascism ended in Spain, King Juan Carlos did just what I had the Queen do in the book.

I remember this about Spain, and I’ve been holding on to this memory because there aren’t that many examples of dictatorships converting to democracies, and I need to have hope as well. But Juan Carlos had been laying the groundwork for the end of fascism for years. Nor was the world fascist in the 1970s and 1980s. At the end of Half a Crown, only Britain and a few other countries are democracies. Since we’re limited to Elvira and Carmichael’s points of view, it’s hard to tell if the Queen is as well prepared as Juan Carlos. Would Nazi Germany tolerate a Britain that was returning to democracy? Even if the Farthing Peace held, there’d be tension.

But learning this helps. Even though I’m still critical of this ending, I have more context for it now. Apparently what I need is The Annotated Small Change: With Author’s Commentary, Afterthoughts, and General Notes.

Did I mention Small Change was worth reading? Go on, try it.


My reviews of Small Change:

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?