Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Change of Venue

Howdy, all! So... blogging has kind of fallen off my radar this year. There's been a lot going on in my personal life, and I've just not been in a reflective kind of mood for a while. Also, I've long been kind of "meh" about Blogspot, and every time I thought about blogging, I thought about how I needed to figure out a way to work out the kinks in the technical side of the blog, etc.

Anyways, all of this is to say that I've been missing blogging about books. I'll be doing that from now on at:

I may pop back over here from time to time to blog about other things, but I'm mostly going to be at Wordpress, talking about books.

See you there!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Books Like Whoa: Looking Forward to the Bookish Year Ahead

Happy New Year, y'all!

Hope you and yours found a fun way to ring in the new year. As for me... well, you know how I roll.

Anyways, another year, another book plan. 

This year's plan is a kind of via media between 2012 and 2013. 2012 was a highly programmatized year, where I was trying to fulfill a bunch of specific challenges. Result? I felt frustrated that I didn't have as much freedom to choose what I wanted to read and disappointed when I didn't reach my goals.

2013 was much looser - I had overall numbers goals and wanted to make sure that I got at least some pleasure reading in. Result? I met my overall goal but felt too aimless and unsure about what I wanted to read next.

So for 2014, like the good Anglican that I am, I'm taking the middle road. 2014 will be the year of the big ol' book. I'm going to pick a few of the big classics that I've been meaning to get to and work my way through them. I'm sure I'll have some palate cleansers on the side, but I'm going to make these big books my project for the year. Some of them I've never read (like Anna Karenina), some I read when I was a kid and now have little or no memory of (like The Count of Monte Cristo), some I've read excerpts from but not the whole thing (like The Brothers Karamazov) and some of them I've read most of but it was so piecemeal and disjointed that I feel like I need to start again (like War and Peace). 

I know on the front end that I am not going to get through all of the ones I've pulled out from my pile as big ol' books. But that's okay. I like the idea of having a project I'm working on long term in the midst of all the reading I have to do anyways for school.

So that's my plan- I'll keep you guys posted on how it's going, but I probably won't be on here quite as much. I'm still figuring out what to do about Friends Friday (which I know a lot of people enjoy, but is a lot of work for me), and I may shade out from time to time, but I won't be a stranger. 

What are your New Year's resolutions?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books Like Whoa: Another Bookish Year in Review

Whew! This was officially my busiest reading year ever. By my/Firefly's fantabulous spreadsheet's count, I have read 75 new books this year and reread 3 books. By Goodreads' count, I have read 85 new books. Why 2 counts? It comes down to a difference in how we count books I gave up on and... you know what. This is getting too geeky and nuanced even for me. Bottom line? I read about 80 books this year.

Yahoo! Most of these were for school, but I completed/exceeded my goal to read at least 10 books for pleasure and I met my overall books read goal a few months ago. And now that I have another year of data, I can take a look at how my reading patterns have changed year over year. And there are graphs again. Maria and my other stats peeps, you are welcome.

So how did 2013 compare to 2012 as far as bookishness goes? Well, it was actually a pretty different year. To recap, 2012 was the year of the library for me, both because of grad school and in my pleasure reading. Consequently, it was definitely not a year of getting books out of my TBR. My ratings weren't as high in 2012 as they were in 2011 or 2013, and I was reading newer books... again, this was because I was reading more books that I hadn't paid for and therefore took more chances in trying new books. Not just new books, but new authors... in 2012, 93% of the books I read were by authors I hadn't tried before (compare 2011: 72% and 2013: 82%). 

As for 2013? Well, on paper, it was a better year of reading for me. My ratings were slightly higher for the books I read (2013: average of 4.38; 2012: average of 4.23*).

I certainly read books that I adored (see Gilead) and books that have opened up new intellectual and spiritual vistas (like Jesus Through the Centuries, The New Testament and the People of God, and Without God, Without Creed). But as I look back on the year, I can't say that I feel like it was a very good year of reading. A lot of that has to do with the constraining aspect of being in school and having a lot of my reading list dictated to me. You can definitely see that in my genre breakdown:

I read way more Christian non-fiction that I normally do, and though I liked a lot of it, few of those titles made me enjoy the reading process itself. It also way skewed my male/female author ratio to the most out of balance that it has ever been (63% male authors this year) which makes me grouchy. Ladies! Write some theology!

I also did not finish a single mystery this year (though I'm in the middle of 2 great ones right now)- that is highly unusual for me. Mysteries are my comfort reads... maybe that is part of why I have been feeling so adrift. I always have a reading agenda- a plan, a vision for where I'm heading with my reading, and a clear idea of how I'm going to get there. Lately? Not so much. I think a lot of that has to do with the constraint of school reading, and, since I'm going to be in school (hopefully) for about 5 more years, I need to figure out how to keep my own reading "voice" amidst the noise of reading for work. *End tangent*

Anyways, a few more points of interest... I read a lot more from my TBR pile this year! You can see that both in the book source (still a lot of library, but not as much) and in the pile break down:

It makes sense that I have been reading more owned books, as I try to buy the assigned books for school. That being said, my TBR grew a lot more than I would have liked. I started the year with 225 books to be read and I end it with 251. Ouch. I swear I have been culling a lot! My overall books owned ratio is going down and I'm moving a lot of them to digital. But I have been buying books for my thesis research and I haven't gotten through all of them yet. Hopefully, I'll be back down to around 200 by the end of 2014.

Also, a word on eReading - it has been slowly growing for me (2 in 2011, 12 in 2012, 15 in 2013). I have an early generation Kindle that I'm perfectly happy with and I don't mind reading for pleasure on it. However, I have found it to be very frustrating when it comes to reading for research - page citations are a nightmare and it is hard to find something unless I marked it at the time. I have an iPad now, so it will be interesting to see if/how that changes my opinion of eReading for work. 

Anyways, it has been a mixed year of reading for me. On the one hand, I read books that I now can't imagine not having read, if that makes any sense. Game changer books. On the other hand, I'm only now getting out of a 5 month reading slump in my personal life, so it's hard to feel too rosy about the year as a whole.

Tomorrow is a new year - and that means a fresh slate on the bookish front. Thank God for that!

How was your reading year in 2013?

*See ratings scale

Monday, December 30, 2013

Books Like Whoa: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Favorites)

To finish off my year in books, I want to talk about the best book I read in the last 12 months, the book that filled me with renewed faith in the written word, the book that reminded me of the warmth of human kindness...

by Marilynne Robinson

Procured from my all time favorite used book store, McKay's

Procured in July 2012

Finished in April 8, 2013

Format: Trade paperback with the iconic white-washed door cover

Why I gave it a try:  I'd been meaning to get to Marilynne for ages and then it was assigned for class - two birds, one stone.

Summary: In mid-century Iowa, John Ames is 76 and dying. In addition to the normal process of preparing oneself to depart this world, he is trying to prepare his wife and seven year old son for his imminent death. Realizing that his son will never really know his father, John starts keeping a diary reflecting on his own life, as well as the lives of his father and grandfather. As the third in three generations of preachers in the nascent American West, Ames' stories of the American Civil War weave in and out of his present day reality, where the prodigal son of his best friend has returned to Gilead and is complicating all of their lives.

Thoughts: Considering that Marilynne got the Pulitzer for this, it's not a huge surprise that this is a great book. A beautiful book. A book that makes me despair of ever being able to write sentences half as perfect as the ones that she seems to effortlessly toss out. A book that renders me mute in the face of my own incompetence and reminds me that I will never write a book this good.

Whatever. I need to get over my feelings of smallness that Marilynne's prose kindles within me, because this is a perfectly written novel. 

I should say, I do know people who don't like this book at all. I get it. It is purely driven by the writing and the characters, so if you don't like the voice, you're not going to like the book at all. I mean, you'll be wrong, but that's okay. 

But all kidding aside, this book is wonderful because it does manage to be so compelling with so little going on. I wouldn't call it stream of consciousness, per se, but because it is written as a diary, there is a wonderful fluidity of time that allows memories from the narrator's childhood to exist with the real time action in a way that illuminates both the memory and the present. Marilynne excels at the old writing moniker, "show don't tell," especially when it comes to the fractious relationships between the men of the Ames family.  

Even more than the technical skill of Marilynne that shines through every word of Gilead, what has stuck with me is her ability to articulate the thoughts and feelings that drift shapelessly at the fringes of your consciousness. She shapes these nebulous ideas that you weren't fully aware were there into these delicate scenes and by the end of them, you find yourself crying and filled with the joy of clarity that Marilynne has brought into your emotional life. 

This is a book that I know I will return to throughout the years - it's the kind of book that can age with you. And it has made me dip into the rest of her oeuvre, though it is sadly not that big. I started gulping it down, realized the supply was limited, and am now sipping her essays very slowly. 

Get this! Read this! Love this! Please - you're only hurting yourself if you don't. 


7 - I will have to seriously reevaluate any friendship or romantic interest that does not like this book: a favorite 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Books Like Whoa: Holiday Shopping Guide 2013

Canadian Thanksgiving - check. Halloween - check. American Thanksgiving - check. That means...

It must be Christmas!

For those of you who have a book worm on your list, or, more likely based on statistics, you are buying someone their one or two books for the next year, I have some suggestions to help get you started. (I've linked to reviews where I have them, to give you more info)

For Movie-Lovers:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Yep, this was on here last year. Yep, it will be here again in 2014. God bless you, Peter Jackson, and your trilogy-ing ways.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: People flipped their shit for Gatsby this year, what with the Baz Luhrmannification and all. Just make sure that you don't miss the original!

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: I read all three of these books in roughly 48 hours. It messed up my life. It was also an amazing reading experience. Before you see the (surprisingly) great adaptations, read the books. 

World War Z by Max Brooks: The author is Mel Brooks' son and there are zombies. Do you really need any more info?

For TV-Lovers:
A few books that are in the same spirit as some of the tube's biggest hits:

Life is Meals by James & Kay Salter: For the Food Network lovers on your list

The Passage by Justin Cronin: It's not zombies, but this post-apocalyptic opus (part one of three) is a sure winner for fans of The Walking Dead

Gulp by Mary Roach: This intimate exploration of the digestive tract, described with Mary Roach's trademark humor, is a great gross-out read for people who watch any number of the forensic crime shows on TV

Tampa by Alyssa Nutting: Whew - this book is not for everyone. Depicting pedophilia from the prospective of a woman on the hunt for her next victim, Tampa will shed new light on icky-ness for those who love Law & Order SVU or Criminal Minds

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran: A smart and funny memoir for ladies who dig The Mindy Project

For Dad:
It seems like dear ol' Dad is always one of the hardest people to buy for. You ask him what he wants and he says... nothing. Thank you very much. So here's a few reads that will get the job done:

Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr: For the foodie Dad

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach: For the science nerd Dad

Walking With Jack by Don J. Snyder: For the golfing Dad

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes: For the 'Nam Dad

For History Nerds:
There are just so many of us history geeks out there (me, your uncle Sal, your great aunt Sissy...) that I thought I'd call out some options for that contingent...

Without God, Without Creed by James Turner: An intellectual history that explores how non-belief became a viable option for Americans... from the Reformation and to the peak of naturalism in the 19th century, Turner demonstrates how our objective epistemology was surgically removed from our subjective epistemology. Fascinating!

Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich: Norwich dives into the nitty-gritty of papal politics. As you might expect, things get complicated real quick... 

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe by Anne Applebaum: An exploration of the Cold War years from the other side of the curtain

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: My favorite novel of all time is also an incredible example of the historical novel. Set in a rural English estate in the 1930s through the 1950s, Ishiguro explores class dynamics, German sympathizers, and the ethics of our working life in a one beautiful, perfect narrative. 

For Jesus People:

Since I'm studying theology, it would be wrong if I didn't include a few of these...

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. Go. I'll wait. 

Jesus Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan: A fantastic (and very devotional) look at church history. Pelikan organizes the chapters by various aspects of Jesus that Christians have emphasized at different historical moments (i.e. Jesus the Liberator, Jesus the Monk Who Ruled the World, etc.)

Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis: My favorite book and a wonderful guide to prayer

The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright: One of the most important works on the nascent church and the Palestinian Jewish culture that birthed it

Wellsprings by Anthony de Mello: A great collection of spiritual exercises from a Jesuit- I've found myself whipping this out a lot for devotionals that I've led this term

A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor: This is a new book that's on my Christmas list - it is O'Connor's personal prayer journal from when she was in university. 

For Book People:
I'm a book person. You may have other book people in your life. And there's nothing that book people love more than books about books.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe: For the book person who wants a good cry over the power of the written word to bring people together

An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis: For the book person who's wrestling with the question of what Good Literature even is

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: For the book person who loves beautiful prose

The Habit of Being by Flannery O'Connor: For the book person who wants to spend some time with a funny, smart author through their correspondence 

Books by Charlie Hill: For the book person who wants to snigger at the state of publishing (another on my Christmas list)

For Classics People:
Because I've had classics on the brain lately, I thought I would pass some classics love around and remind you that a book doesn't have to be from the last few years to be a great gift

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: For the classics lover who likes their villains mustache-twirling and their heroines spunky

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins: For the classics lover who likes a good caper (I'm in the middle of this now and it is great!)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky: For the classics lover who loves big, fancy Russian novels

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: For the classics lover who loves big, fancy English estates

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym: For the classics lover who has gone through all their Jane Austen and wants more

For Funsies:
If you're just looking for a fun, well written fiction book, here are a few titles that I think have pretty broad appeal across taste, age, and gender...

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: rural England + local politics + sudden death

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: messy marriage + sudden disappearance + twisty twists

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones: upper crusty Brits + early 20th century + sudden nearby train crash

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy: existential angst + New Orleans + beautiful prose

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: Nazis + reincarnation + early 20th century Brits

Tenth of December by George Saunders: short stories + offbeat settings + beautiful prose

For White Elephant:
Or Yankee Swap, or Dirty Santa, or whatever you call it...

Since last year we went with Fifty Shades of Grey, how about:

Ravished by the Triceratops by Christie Sims (there is a whole new romance genre about women and dinosaurs... what in the #$%*!? But I think you can safely bet you will win for craziest gift with any of these titles)


Those are my Christmas picks- happy present buying!