Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Ruining the Mystery Genre For You

This week, I found my self giggling over this great take down of the mystery genre from The Millions (I particularly enjoyed the line, "Perhaps I don't tell you enough that you're stupid, Watson.").

As much as this makes me laugh, it tends to be right on the money. I can't help but feel that most of the time when I read a mystery, I am profoundly let down by the ending. The book can be trucking along quite nicely for most of the book and then it totally loses my goodwill in the last 10% of the story. This is an inevitable liability of the genre - the ending matters as much as the rest of the story. In most genres, even if the ending is a little weak, people can be pretty forgiving of the overall work (Suzanne Collins, I am looking you dead in the eye). But in a mystery, if the author doesn't nail the landing, they've kind of ruined the whole book.

See, in a mystery, the author has to persuade the reader to suspend their disbelief twice. In every other genre, the author needs to overcome any initial resistence that a reader may have to the story's premise, characters, plot, etc. in the first 50 or so pages. At that point, the "disbelief quotient" should go down considerably:

Usually, as the reader is immersed in the story, their disbelief quotient remains low. It may spike at the end depending on the ending (and the mere fact that they are pulled out of the story as they realize it's ending), but generally, the reader should be pretty well "bought into" what the author is doing after about 50 pages.

With mysteries, however, as soon as the reader realizes that the solution is forthcoming, their guard goes back up. They think, "Hmm, okay, so how is this all going to come together, Mr. Author?":

Even if the story is pulled off well, I find myself outside of the story, analyzing the effect of the denouement on my satisfaction level. My ultimate enjoyment of the book is driven as much by the outcomes of that evaluation as by the journey to get to the ending.

Two books I've read recently highlight this point: Dominance by Will Lavender and In the Woods by Tana French. In Dominance, we have a mystery with a set up that is tantamount to catnip for me- 1) a serial murder mystery 2) set on a college campus 3) with flashbacks 4) that revolves around literary theory to unlock the clues. Is there a book I was predisposed to like more? I think not. Plus, this was no hack writer. The prose was solid (not beautiful, but well executed and much better than a lot of books it gets shelved with) and he set up a nice little mystery for the characters to unravel.

The problem that this book encounters is twofold: first, there is a really contrived and frustrating structure. We cut back and forth between the past and present every chapter. When an author is this slow in telling me the backstory, I figure that we are heading for either amazingness or complete disaster. Either all this foot dragging is going to pay off in an orgasmic fit of reading delight... or more likely, I'm going to resent the fact that the author made me work so hard for so little payoff. And I'm going to assume that the only reason they set it up this way is that they didn't have enough narrative suspense "meat" to be able to tell things linearly. It feels like they've taken 2 novellas about different times in the characters' lives and mixed them together to hid their individual weakness. Alas, this rarely works and, alas again, this does not work in Dominance. It just doesn't feel like a strong enough pay off to put up with the herky-jerky structure.

Secondly, the mystery is solved with a solution straight out of The Millons' parody. It uses a device I particularly loath in the genre and it just made me mad I had invested time in the characters.

In the Woods left me with the exact opposite impression. This is another book I was destined to love since it was 1) a possible serial murder mystery 2) set in Ireland 3) with flashbacks and 4) with freaking gorgeous prose. I don't want to go into details too much because I really want people to read this book and there's nothing worse than spoilers for a mystery. Suffice it to say that it handles all of it's narrative challenges flawlessly (though I did call the ending) and it maintains reader good will through the crests and dips of the disbelief quotient. It does this by creating a set of believable and well-rounded characters, as well as solution that is unusual and satisfying in an atypical kind of way.

What are your peeves in the mystery genre? Is there a book that you think handles the disbelief quotient well?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Movin' On Up to the West Side (of the Continent)

So... at the beginning of the year, I obliquely mentioned that I potentially had some big changes coming up. Now that I've let my employers in on that news, I can finally share with all of you that...

I'm moving to Vancouver! To go to grad school! For something completely unrelated to what I do now!

Okay, so why am I making this change? Basically, I went into consulting as a grand experiment - I'd realized that accounting was not my bag and this was my last shot to try to use my undergrad degree. Plus, I really do admire the company I have worked for. They are a global brand, populated almost exclusively with really smart and really interesting people (I hope this means that I'm a similarly smart and interesting person by association). I figured, if I don't like this, I won't really like any business type job.

There are days when I really love my job. But more often than not, my job makes me feel trapped and stressed about things that just aren't important enough to me. I think it would be different if I was supporting a family or had debt to pay off, but it's just little old me, and frankly, they don't give me enough personal time for me to spend the money they pay.

That being said, I've also known that I wanted to reroute directions since I was in my junior year of college. Profitable or not, in my heart of hearts, I want to be a writer. That may not always pay the bills, but that is what my true vocation is. I wanted to go back to school to get some more specific training in that arena.

Enter: Regent College. Now, you may be wondering why I am going to seminary to become a writer. It would be really long post to totally explain the path that brought me here, but the short version is that I'm going to be studying literature from the vantage point that most interests me: how faith influences a writer's work (think Flannery O'Conner, Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Tolkien, Lewis, etc.). Thus, I will emerge from school in 3 years with a Masters in Divinity with a focus in the Arts (i.e. lit).

I had an amazing school visit a few weeks ago (seriously, everything exceeded my expectations and I had a debate about gender roles and spirituality in Pilgrim's Progress - it was the best Friday ever) and snapped some photos of my new school home:

I will also (obviously) be moving to Vancouver, British Columbia, to go to school full time, which it turns out is a really wonderful place. It is perfect Frankie weather (moody and not too hot) and you can see the mountains everywhere you go:

And to top it all off, there's a smiling bear in the airport just like in Knox Vegas:

Whew. More or less... I'm JAZZED! I cannot wait to start a new season of life in a very different place doing very different things than I have been for the last few years. I'm really sad to leave all my DC people behind, but I also know that the time in DC has been preparing me for this next step.

But since I'm moving to a new country, I'm going to need something to read, so...

Does anyone have any good Vancouver/British Columbia/Canadian novels they can recommend?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Books Like Whoa: A Moment of Wisdom from Harper Lee

Here is your moment of zen, courtesy of Miss Lee. This sums up the Southern spirit pretty succinctly: 

As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, “I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal. - Harper Lee

Friday, June 22, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Books of the Planes (Volume 8)

This week was exciting for us here at Books of the Planes - there were dozens of folks reading acutal, real books in the airports! I've rarely had so many titles to choose from, but I'm going to stick with a few that younger people were reading. They keep telling us that people under 30 will eventually only read on eReaders - I say... never!

An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff (college girl with blond hair and cut off jean overalls)

Seven Guitars by August Wilson (high school volleyball player with a really long ponytail who kept switching between 3 books she had in her backpack)

Dragonbreath: Attack of the Ninja Frogs by Ursula Vernon (boy with a lot of freckles and a Star Wars t-shirt)

What are you reading on the planes this week?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Weekend in Chicago

I finally got to spend a weekend in Chicago! For those of you keeping score, I've been languishing in the gross industrial suburbs for months and haven't gotten to see much of the big city. I've been to a Bulls game...

And to a Cubs game in Wrigley Field. And I've had my fair share of fancy dinners downtown (not to mention  a lot of yummy deep dish pizza):

But I had not yet fully sampled the delights of the city. So my mom and I set out to explore. We started with a hop on/hop off bus tour that was passable, but was somewhat diminished in enjoyability by an extremely bossy tour guide.

We got off back at our hotel (the Four Seasons on the Magnificent Mile) and were amazed at the gorgeous view we had of Lake Michigan and the skyline around it:

We took in a couple of movies, ate some great food, and even got a tour of the Old Town neighborhood from the Second City:

I loved hearing the history of the area, as well as hearing the backstage gossip about Second City. It was amazing to see all the talented people who had come through those stages over the years. Plus, I found out that "Chicago" comes from the Native American word for "Smelly Onion." Indeed.

All in all, I really like Chicago. It's clean, the architecture is amazing, and there seems like there's a lot to do over the summer. And Muhammed Ali was staying at my hotel - I waited for an elevator with him. So that was thrilling...

 If you haven't been to the Windy City, it's definitely worth a trip.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Books Like Whoa: A Meditation on the Books That Made Me a Reader

I've been thinking lately about what forms our predilections and interests long term. Was it a single art class at summer camp that made you a life-long crafter? Did a year of little league cement your love of baseball? More specifically to myself, what event or experience made me a reader?

I wasn't raised in a voraciously reading household - my father doesn't have the patience to sit through more than a couple of books a year and my mother, while she certainly does enjoy reading, is so busy that she doesn't often have the energy to focus on a book. There were books in our house, but I wouldn't call it a bookish place. We were a family dedicated to our regime of favorite TV shows, not curled up next to the fireplace, quietly enjoying our respective novels. Every study I've seen talks about the importance of parents being readers to encourage their kids to follow suit, so... how did I happen?

Looking back, I can trace my bookwormishness to 3 main books. First, there was Walt Disney's 101 Dalmatians. I remember "reading" this when I was 3 or so... a.k.a., I memorized the audio tape that went along with the book. But being praised so much for "reading" left a huge impression on me. It built my confidence that I could be a good reader.

Next, I happened upon a certain series. Say hello to your friends...

The Babysitter's Club! I tore through these en masse, adoring each adventure with Kristy & the gang (but what a bitch, right? I mean looking back, she was so bossy. Ah... maybe that's why I related so much). I wanted to be a crazy dresser like Claudia and have the perfect boyfriend like Mary Anne. Ann M. Martin was my hero, though I do now feel a little (read: a LOT) betrayed that many of them were ghost-written. These fluffy delights not only cemented my confidence that I could read, but they also made me realize that I liked to read.

Finally, when I was 7 or so, I read the book that made me believe I could read "hard" books... Johanna Spyri's Heidi:

I didn't understand that this was a children's classic rather than a "classic" classic. I thought I had read something that was written for adults. This boosted my reading confidence enormously and I started reading other classics, ones that were actually meant for adults. Do I remember what happened most of them? No. But it was a huge bolster for my vocabulary and literary horizons. I saw myself as someone who could conquer difficult books and that confidence has served me well throughout my reading life, as well as made me someone who genuinely enjoys reading older books.

What were your childhood favorites? Do you think there was a single book that made you believe in yourself as a reader?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Belated Father's Day Note

So I'm a little late on this note on Father's Day... I was spending the weekend with my mother (sorry Daddy!) and lost track of time. I think I summed up my old man best in a previous post, so I won't go rehashing old ground (post).

All I'll add is that my dad is a spectacularly unique and kind of crazy person that I absolutely adore. The biggest lesson I've learned from him is that you have to be yourself, even if it's hard or unpopular. He's got a very strong personality (something I share- you're shocked, I'm sure) and it's the kind that people either love or hate. While I've learned some "anti-lessons" from that dynamic, I've also walked away understanding that you shouldn't try to change who you are to make other people happy. You are what you are, and while we all have room to improve, I can hold my head up high and be confident in who I am.

My dad is  one of the first people that I want to call when I'm excited or scared, and along with my mom, I am completely blessed to have parents who love and support me. C.S. Lewis has a wonderful section in The Four Loves where he talks about familial affections and the purpose of parental love. He concludes that the ultimate end of parent love is to make yourself unnecessary. If you have done your job right, your kids don't need you. Luckily, I don't need my parents, but I want to be around them. Mission accomplished.

What did you do for this Father's Day?

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Rhythms of Office Life

With every day, I grow more accustomed to the rhythms of office life. The first cup of tea at 8am. The copier running out of paper around 3pm every day. The depressing sound of the air conditioning powering off at 7pm. These are the milestones that I mark my day by.

It's more the routines of the people I work with, though, that make my days blur together. There's a guy who looks just like Christopher Guest in The Princess Bride who has a smoke break every morning outside my window. There's the gigantic dude with a shaggy beard who seems to just circle the building, lapping me every 10 minutes or so. I've never seen him land in a location - he's like a raft adrift in the ocean, aimlessly drifting towards oblivion. There is the lady at the end my cube row who posts a new picture of her dog and/or nephew every Monday under her cube name tag.

However, I never cease to be surprised by the ways that humans manage to break out of their default as creatures of habit. This week, I had many odd and out of character encounters with my coworkers. Some were simply head scratching (why the old guy I work with on deployment decided to wear nearly identical Hawaiian shirts every day this week) to truly weird (why the guy I help manage sent me a shirtless GIF of him winking). In every case, they jar me out of my day to day and I realize how much my own life has become routinized.

In spite of odd interactions, office life remains dull and boring, no matter how much hustle and bustle there is around the water cooler. Moral of the story kids? Even variety to routine doesn't make a job you're not digging more exciting.

Here's hoping to happier Monday...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Books Like Whoa: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt (2012 Challenges)

An excellent summer read and my official beach recommendation... The Sisters Brothers:

The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick DeWitt

Procured from my wonderful local library

Procured in May 2012

Finished on May 24, 2012

Challenge?: For the "A to Z" Challenge

Format: Hardback with maybe the best cover ever - I love the double play of the graphic

Why I gave it a try: I first heard of this book from the folks at Bookrageous, who all seemed to love it. Then it won the Morning News' Tournament of Books and I knew I wanted to see what the hubbub was about. Everyone pitched this as a western for people who don't like westerns. Party of me.

Summary: There is one duo whose murderous exploits are known throughout the wild west - brothers Charlie and Eli Sisters. They have been the top ax men for Oregon's big boss, "the Commodore," for many moons, but they both know it can't go on like this forever. Charlie takes on one last gig for them as a pair, tracking down the elusive Hermann Kermit Warm. Western hijinks ensue. 

Thoughts: Here's why I'm positioning this book as my official Summer 2012 summer reading recommendation. 1) It's in paperback. 2)  It's got something for plot people: there is constant action and movement from scene to scene in a way that keeps you turning the page. 3) It's got something for character people: the narrator and his brother are incredibly memorable anti-heroes who do crazy things and encounter crazy people on their journey to San Francisco looking for a crazy (possible criminal) enemy of their employer. 4) It's got something for setting/atmosphere people: the tone of the narration is unique and the landscape and general feel for the old west is conveyed beautifully. 5) It's got something for prose people: Simply put, the writing is magnificent. Simple but distinct. 6) This is a book that would appeal to men or women. 7) It's a Man Booker nom and Tournament of Books winner, meaning you can feel fancy whilst you read.

You convinced yet?

Okay, if not, let me also say that I found the emotional journey that the brothers are on that parallels the physical journey well sketched and plausible. Eli, our narrator, is basically coming to the end of his tolerance for violence. It's a not state of moral hand-wringing, but rather a lack of blood lust that makes his occupation more wearisome than guilt-inducing. This is not an assassin interested in violence as an end unto itself or as a means to wealth and power. For that, we turn to Charlie, who is revealed to be a deeply troubled man. Rather, in Eli, we see a man motivated by restlessness and loyalty to his big brother. As for Charlie... well, I'll let you figure out his motives. Suffice it to say, DeWitt gives credible backstory and motivation for all of his characters, which makes the path that the story unfolds in seem inevitable and satisfying.

I'm not well versed in the western genre, so I'm not sure if there were more tropes that I just didn't catch, but DeWitt certainly hit all my expectations: saloons, gold panning, prospectors, bar wenches, drinking, riding, Indians, and covered wagons.

Really, just read it. It's one of the rare books that I think could connect with just about any reader. 


5 - It's really good; well written and pleasurable 

Do you like Westerns? What does it take for you to pick a book outside of your comfort zone - buzz? Author? Friend recommendation?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Books Like Whoa: (Hypothetical) Beach Reading

Whew. Tuesday is not being kind to me. My flight to my client's office got cancelled yesterday morning and I had to fly in today instead, meaning that I was forced out of my bed before sunrise for two days in a row. This makes for a cranky Frankie. Luckily, because it's Tuesday, there is a new Top 10 prompt at ye old Broke and Bookish. This week, it's the Top Ten Books for Beach Reading.

This presents somewhat of a conundrum for me, as I will not be going to the beach this summer. Further, I don't typically lie on the beach, being as I am from very fair Irish stock. I have only three shades (white, pink, and red) and white is by far the most comfortable. So this will have to be a hypothetical list: if I was hypothetically going to the beach and hypothetically possessed enough melanin to withstand protracted periods in the sun, I would be looking for 2 qualities in a beach read: laughs and mystery, preferrably with some romance splashed in. Thus my top ten (plus one)...

  1. The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse: Have you ever read ol' P.G.? If not, you are missing out. He is the master of the absurd and is one of the few writers that genuinely makes me laugh out loud. Poking gentle fun of the upper classes at the beginning of the last century, his romps are always a delight. This particular one revolves around Wooster, his faithful butler (Jeeves), his Aunt Dahlia, and a very expensive cow creamer. 
  2. The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie: Agatha is a delight, always, of course, but this particular sugary treat is a madcap "spy thriller" adventure. It's one of those murder mysteries where the body is almost incidental to the crazy fun that the rest of the cast is having. And I want to be Bundle Brent when I grow up. Hijinks galore!
  3. Bossypants by Tina Fey: I am on the record as really loving this memoir, but if you somehow missed it's ubiquitous pull last year, do yourself a favor and enjoy Tina Fey at her pithy best. This is certainly the best audiobook I've "read" - so perfect for those of you who want to bake in your beach chair without being bothered to hold a book
  4. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz: With all the Sherlockian reboots out there of late, some folks may be wondering where to turn after completing the original set of sleuthing genius. May I suggest this particular re-imagining? Horowitz was specifically commissioned by the Doyle estate to write this case, which functions as two interwoven novellas. The voice and tone are dead on and provide a most satisfying mystery
  5. In the Woods by Tana French: French is proving that police procedurals can still be innovative and beautifully written. This is the first in the series, though from what I gather, each book takes the point of view of a different character in the story. The ending will have you scratching your head and eager to dive into the next one (on my TBR!)
  6. Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan Howard: This combines humor and murder - what more could I ask for from a beach read? Y'all know how much I love this book. Just do me a favor and read it already, okay?
  7. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene: This is my equivalent of a romance novel for the beach. Greene is definitely not read widely enough these days. He suffers from the same problem that Wodehouse does in America - not "literary" enough for the highbrows and too "literary" for the lowbrows. Middlebrows! Rise up and reclaim this amazing author! His classic depiction of lust, love, and a crisis of faith are amazing and will have you gazing dramatically off in the distance.
  8. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: Warning - if you haven't read Jane Eyre, do not move onto this speculative work about one of the main characters! That being said, if you have read and loved the original (and who wouldn't?), I can't imagine a much better book to read while sitting under the hot sun. Rhys paints the Caribbean beautifully.
  9. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend: As mentioned previously, I gulped through this book in a single sitting. Clever and subversive, this boob of a teenager will have you cringing and laughing under your cabana. And make you feel like such an intellectual.
  10. Howl's Moving Castle by Diane Wynne Jones: I read this YA in my teens and was completely charmed by it's blend of whimsy, humor, and fantasy adventure. It still holds up for me as an adult. I vaguely recall seeing that it got turned into a movie at some point, but don't bother with that. Go to the book for a good laugh and a fun romp through the land of fallen stars and vain wizards.
This list, however, does not include my top beach read recommendation for the summer of 2012 - tune in tomorrow for a review of the book that I officially deem universally recommendable(ish)!

What are you taking to the beach to read this summer? Or will you be preserving your skin like me?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Jump Start Your Summer Reading

It's June, it's hot as Hades already, and that means... it's time to start thinking about your summer reading! There are so many ways to approach summer reading - light and frothy? The classic you keep meaning to get to? Political rantings in prep for the fall election?

Personally, I don't 100% buy the premise behind summer reading. I think the idea is supposed to be that everyone is more relaxed and has a lot more time to spend with their nose in a book. That's true, so far as it goes with actual vacations. But I feel like I have so much less free time during the summer - there seems to be something going on every day of the week, not even talking about the weekends. In the winter, everyone is holed up and I tuck in with my books.

In any case, I don't change up my summer reading too much from the rest of the year, but I do hope to get through these in the next couple months: Pure by Andrew Miller; Bleakley Hall by Elaine di Rollo; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; Imagine by Jonah Lehrer; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; and The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.

To help you make your choices, here's a round up of some helpful links from around the interwebs:

A Flowchart to Pick Your Summer Read

The New York Times' Picks

Amazon Rounds Up Blockbuster Author's Newest Releases

NPR Lets Indie Bookseller's Choose Their Top Summer Picks

Flavorwire Gives You 10 Highbrow Reads to Make You Feel Smug on the Beach

Entertainment Weekly Offers Some Selections for Those Who Love HBO's "Girls"

USA Today Has A Great Interactive List

Some Good, Loooong Reads

The Wall Street Journal Has Suggestions for Financiers and Non-Financiers Alike

And, if you're interested in joining an online summer reading group, may I recommend The Readers' Summer Reading Group? They have chosen a diverse group of titles and there is both a podcast and Goodreads group element. Read as many or few as interest you, but the conversation is smart and it's always interesting to hear from the authors.

What are you reading this summer? Any difference from your normal reading?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Podcast Spotlight: The History of Rome

Return of the Podcast Spotlight... This is an ubernerd edition:

The History of Rome

How do you get it?: Listed in iTunes- search for "The History of Rome" and it will show up (Mike Duncan is the podcaster)

How did I find it?: Mentioned on Open Culture, which is a great site that documents FREE articles, online classes, podcasts, videos, etc. that are generally enriching. Seriously. Go check it out- it's got something for everyone and you will feel smarter for having read it.

How often does it post new shows?: Not posting new episodes, as it has finished walking through the history- here's a spoiler: Rome falls.

Do they spoiler the books they discuss?: Um, not really. I don't think it counts as spoilers if it's a history written 2000 years ago

Production quality?: Very good and improves over time

Can I listen to this with the kids in the car?: Yes, it's encouraged - though you will probably need an especially geeky kid for them to get into it

Should I start at the beginning?: Absolutely - it's a story! You don't want to miss anything

Should I listen to every episode?: Absolutely - it's a story! You don't want to miss anything. Though if you're just listening to supplement what you're studying in school, it's easy enough to skip to the applicable topics

What's awesome about this podcast?: This has to be the platonic ideal of history podcasting. I know that's a very niche area to call someone the master of, but Mike Duncan is in fact the master of it. Episode one starts with the origins of the Roman foundation myths. Episode two covers Romulus and his questionable moral compass. Episode three covers the rulers after Romulus. And so on, and so on. Spanning hundreds of years and historical topics ranging from military strategy, notable biographies, political maneuvering, sociological analysis, and cultural norms, Duncan presents an engaging and challenging gloss of the Roman Empire from cradle to grave. What I most appreciate about Duncan is his commentary on running themes in Roman attitudes and actions that tie the various generations to each other. By breaking the history down into 15 minute chunks, he is able to unfold the events as a chapter book with each section ending on a cliff hanger. Consequentially, Rome's history is illuminated as a story rather than a dull collection of dates and names. I find myself listening while getting ready for bed- it's like getting a very bloody bedtime story every night. I have been able to make much stronger connections to early Roman history than I was ever able to in school and the issues that came up back then are still topics of the day. I would particularly recommend this to anyone who is studying Western Civ and having a difficult time engaging with the material. Each episode is specific enough that you could find whatever topic you are covering and get a good overview of the material before diving into the specifics with your professor.

What's not so awesome about this podcast?:  Um... nothing. I guess if you don't like history you won't like this, so there's that. But if you enjoy history or Rome, you will enjoy this.

Highlight?: Every once in a while, Duncan drops in an amazingly nerdy joke or aside. His pop culture metaphors are also amazing

Overall rating?: 5 stars

What are your favorite geektastic podcasts? 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Reading Through the Year (2012 Challenges)

You may not have noticed, since I have no allusions that anyone is intently studying my projected reading list for the year, but I am attempting to get through some big, long, difficult books this year. Not just to be pretentious (though that's fun) or to be able to say that I've read them (though I will relish every opportunity, I'm sure), but because I genuinely want to have read them. Their topics or scope intrigue me and from what I have read thus far, they are well written and worth the time commitment. The books in question are:

  • The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy by David Carradine
  • London by Peter Ackroyd
  • The Most of P.G. Wodehouse by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King

A variety, as you can see. I knew I would need a strategy to get through so many pages in a year and I struck upon a seemingly simple one: read a little bit of each book every week. I drew up a schedule (yes, I am that much of a dork) and thought it would be easy as pie.

What I didn't think about what the difficulty of trying to execute this reading plan of gigantic books when I'm on the plane every week. There's not exactly room for all of these books in my suitcase every week, and while I have a couple on eBook, I didn't want to have to rebuy them when I already had the physical book.

I also didn't think about the frustration of never getting done with a book. I am a little bit ADD when it comes to books and I start to get impatient when they run past the 400 page mark. It feels too long to me and I want the author to wrap it up already... plus, part of what I love about reading is that feeling of accomplishment when you put the finished book down. The delayed gratification of such long books is hard for me.

The long and the short of it is that I have made minimal progress with my strategy as is. So I'm asking for help...

How do you get through long books efficiently? Do you have a strategy or do you just dive in?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Is Everyone Reading Without Me?

Bonjour mes amies! Today's post comes courtesy of the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish, who posited the question, "What 10 books does it seem like everyone but you has read?" As I think about this question, it's hard to define "everyone." Are we talking in the broader culture or specific to my group of friends?  I try to stay on top of the big bestsellers just to have a sense of what's going on in the market, so I've at least tried most of the big books (i.e. Twilight, A Game of Thrones, the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, etc.). That being said, there are a number of books that it seems like I've missed the boat on...

  1. A James Patterson book: I've seen 2 of the Alex Cross movies, so in my mind, I think I've mistakenly associated that with having read the books. In fact, I have not actually had the megabestseller experience
  2. Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James: Oi vey. Look, I've read Harlequin romances at the beach - that's one of the great pleasures of getting a beach house with your girlfriends. You swap them and read aloud the hilarious "sexy" bits. From what I can tell, this seems to be a very popular version of those dime store romances, albeit with more handcuffs. Not sure I'll ever get around to this one, but I enjoy hearing people discuss the phenomenon (and quoting passages - evidently this chick's subconscious is very active during sexy times)
  3. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare: I think maybe every other high schooler had to read this Shakespeare at some point during their 4 years... it wasn't on the docket at our school. I've never gotten around to it, but hopefully some day I'll get the bard's take on power and betrayal in ancient Rome. 
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: I have the audio and I keep meaning to get to it, but this is the book that every one and their mom was reading last fall... Very much looking forward to diving in
  5. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand: I really, really want to read this, as I've yet to hear someone give it a negative review. Just haven't gotten to it. 
  6. Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel: Now that the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, is a huge hit, it turns out that everyone I know seems to have read the original. Not sure that I'll ever get around to these, though, I gotta be honest
  7. Switched by Amanda Hocking: YA Romance featuring trolls? Um, no thanks. But there's no denying that this self-publishing juggernaut has inspired hopes in the hearts of self-pubbed writers everywhere
  8. A Danielle Steel Book: I think she's the best selling female author of all time. Her appeal must be great. Just not to me. 
  9. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich: From all accounts, this is frothy fun. It just doesn't quite capture my fancy enough to put in the rotation of my TBR
  10. Wild by Cheryl Strayed: This is the new Oprah book club book - which means that this once appealing book smells like overhype to me. Not interested any more. Too bad, I heard it was a really good memoir.
What books do you feel like you missed the boat on?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Books of the Planes (Volume 7)

The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil (business guy with slicked back hair and beakish nose)

Killing Floor by Lee Child (a grandmother with fluffy white hair and a sullen grandson)

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley (young business guy with turquoise oxford and pink tie)

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collings (middle age hipster guy with frosted tips - he polished off The Hunger Games in the first half of the flight, twiddled his thumbs for a couple of minutes, and then rummaged around and pulled this out... I've been there, buddy)

One Day (aka Um Dia) by David Nicholls (a Brazillian mother sitting next to me - I figured out what book it was from Anne Hathaway on the cover)