— Book Report

I found out about Long-Awaited Reads from Sasha. It is basically a “challenge” of sorts organized by Ana and Iris, where you try to read books you’ve been meaning to read in January.

Here are the rules, lifted from Ana’s blog (though the event/challenge is meant to be relaxed):

  1. Read books you’ve been excited to read for a long time but never seem to get to in January. You can do this exclusively for the whole month (my approach), you can do it for just one week, or you can simply try to get to one or two of these books in January. Your level of commitment is entirely up to you!
  2. At the beginning of January, Iris and I will post something signalling the official start of Long-Awaited Reads month. If you’re taking part, you can come back to these posts and leave us a link to a LAR-related review; you’ll then be entered in a giveaway for a book you’ve always wanted to read that is up to $15/€11/£10 on BookDepository (open worldwide). — go here or here for this part.
  3. If you want to talk about the event on Twitter, the hashtag is #LARMonth.
  4. Have fun!

Here are some of my reading goals for this month. It’s an incredibly busy month, but I’ve been realizing that you need to make time for books if you want to actually read them. Sounds like common-sensical gibberish, but I think you know what I mean by that! Anyway, I picked a good mix, I think. I was aiming to diversify my reading this year, so I think this is a good variation.

  1. A re-read of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon — this is long-awaited because I’ve been meaning to re-read this book for the longest time. It’s one of my favorites and it’s certainly one of the longest books I’ve ever read and finished, so it’s been a challenge to do so. I’m doing it for an online class that I’m taking, mostly, but it’s nice to revisit this book again and maybe write a proper review.
  2. Finish Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, which found me terrified in the middle of the night. I had to sleep with the lights on.
  3. Lydia Davis’ translation of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary — a classic.
  4. Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of Love — some nonfiction.
  5. Simeon Dumdum Jr.’s To The Evening Star — a bit of local literature.

Hope to meet the other people who are joining LARMonth! :)

In other news, I want to get rid of this layout, but I’m attached to the ability to write sidebar marginalia~ But the rest of it just drives me nuts!

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Books were not a big part of my life in 2013, and actually not even towards the tail end of 2012 when I just kept on reading trashy teen literature. I’m not sure where the shame comes from—probably that place in my heart where I know that I am 25 years old and should move on to other things worth reading.

Just to get it out of the way: I love teen literature, but more importantly, I love good teen literature. I love excellent YA. It’s something that I have no qualms about admitting to reading. Anyway.

I think my reading patterns have been reflective of my state in life—I just feel stuck. And I think that I just haven’t been trying as hard as I ought to, even in book choices. As with my pact to try and turn things around in my life this year, I have a goal to spend my reading time more wisely, too. There are so many good books that I know I should read, as far as how these books are and how they would fit in my life.

Some of the things I’ve been reading do not fit into my life at all, which is why I arrived at this conclusion in the first place.

I also feel like my consumption of “bad” literature made it harder for me to read “heavier” books. That’s just a theory and an observation.

Anyway, please wish me luck! I’ve added my personal “Reading Challenge” on the sidebar and will be using GoodReads to track. And, if you are partaking in any reading challenge this year, do let me know. :)

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Attachments

For some reason, I’m not one to read an author’s entire breadth of work within months of reading the introductory book or novel, but that’s what happened with Rainbow Rowell. I guess you could say that I really like her as a writer. I was reading her blog post on the book she’s releasing soon after Fangirl, and she said that she’s happy her publisher actually likes that her work is diverse (2 YA, 1 adult—in as far as it means not YA).

In many ways Attachments is vastly different from her two other novels. This was written with older characters in mind (in their late 20s), with different general concerns and a different environment altogether—the workplace instead of school—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Attachments, Rowell’s first novel, is about Lincoln, a beefy-but-sensitive guy who works in the IT department of a newspaper. With the new millennium in sight, Lincoln was hired to monitor flagged emails that contained triggers—racist jokes, inappropriate subject matter, conversations that range from those sexual to those that are personal in nature—and reprimand the employees. A conversation between two friends, Beth and Jennifer, catches his eye and instead of sending warnings, he ends up being a spectator to their personal lives, getting to know them without ever even meeting them.

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Recently

I haven’t read a lot this year, and this is probably the first year since before 2008 that I stayed in the 20 books a year region, which freaking sucks. It’s a blow to the ego, and I don’t even understand why because it’s not like it takes special talent to read books. Sure, it takes dedication and a genuine curiosity—at the very least, determination—but I don’t think you have to be a special person with a special skill to read a number of books. It’s not like I read particularly “hard” books, either. I don’t know what happened! But it happened. It happens.

Recently, I have been on a kick, though. By recently, I mean the past two weeks. I have read 3 books and am in the middle of 2. Here are capsule reviews of the three that I finished.

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What another video? Yes, I’m afraid so. This is just a short one, in which I show you the books I bought in September. So far, I’ve read one, Hope Larson’s Mercury, which I liked enough. I think I will read either Nora Ephron’s or Daniel Handler’s next.

After my August read-a-thon (lol), I fell into a ‘slump,’ and so far, including Mercury, I’ve only read 2 books. Though I liked Kelly Oxford’s Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar, it was a bit of a rough time to get through and I was at it at snail pace for two weeks. That said, it was alright. Review coming up!

As for reading. I’ve been thinking about why it’s been so difficult for me to read lately. Is the fact that I read a lot of trashy books at the end of last year a direct cause of this book slump? Is it because I’ve just lost interest? I feel like it’s more of the former, but I don’t really have proof… Though I do know that I want to read more books.

Anyway. What do you do when you want to read more? Any tips for a withering book worm?

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Here are my August reads! Though I suppose you have already read what I thought of them. But yeah, a concise um, overview for each. AND what I’ve been reading the whole of September. I guess I don’t really love it, but it’s an alright book.

What have you been reading lately?

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As much as I love Neil Gaiman, I am not really as up-to-date with his writing as I wish I was. My favorite novel of his is still Neverwhere, which Petra introduced me to in high school. I didn’t really read a lot of “grown up novels” until that book. So I suppose you can say that it changed my life.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane begins at a funeral where the main character digs up some old memories on a drive down to his old childhood home. He remembers a house down the lane and pieces together a series of events that are too traumatizing and frightening to forget.

Gaiman is such a great storyteller and I was hooked from the first page. The narrator goes back to his lousy seventh birthday and begins his story from there. Slowly, he recreates his memories, grasping at them as though viewing them and being acquainted with them for the first time, instead of remembering them the way you would replay old scenes from your life.

I think I related a lot to his main character, as someone who loves books and often retreats into myself. He is very introverted and quite “secretive,” in a way. When he ran into problems, he would try to solve it himself instead of asking for help. Then, when things get bad—the level of bad that’s almost impossible to solve—that’s when he looks for help.

Though I enjoyed reading this book and was sufficiently creeped out by Ursula Monkton (like seriously, could not sleep with my back to the empty air where she might lurk kind of creeped out), I think once I gathered my composure and read on, it felt a bit more like a made up story instead of a true tale infused with supernatural parts that it was building up to be in my head. It felt like trying to cup water; no matter how firmly you wrapped your fingers around that reality, it seeped through your fingers anyway.

Still, it was quite an enjoyable read, and it reminded me a lot of why I loved Neil Gaiman. Although I don’t find this to be an “adult book,” really. This is such a simple, very short novel that is difficult to compare to the likes of Neverwhere and American Gods. I guess it wasn’t surprising when Gaiman, in his acknowledgements, revealed it to have originated as a short story that became too long to be one.

I think that there is still a lot of hidden truths and stories in this one. I am especially curious about the lore of this world’s magic, and I wish that Gaiman writes a follow-up someday. I’m still waiting for his sequel for Odd and the Frost Giants (reviewed here), but I don’t know if it’s still coming.

Anyway.

I know that a lot of people have praised this book, and though that praise is merited and I did enjoy reading it, I find myself wanting more of the complexity of his older stories that I got to know him most for. On the other hand, I think it’s quite astounding that he has been writing for so long and that he still hasn’t run out of great and original material. I think that’s a telltale sign of a wild and glorious imagination, which I don’t doubt Gaiman has. Although this was a good read and not really markedly more awful than his other books, I still think that the world is ready for another long Gaiman book now. Please?

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I read this, but I meant to get some work done.

I couldn’t find outlets to plug in my dying laptop (ah, our reliance on technology), so I went to the most comfortable, familiar place to me—a bookstore—and looked for some books. I remembered seeing it on so many people’s rave lists, and most recently as part of Reggie’s book haul, so I looked for it in particular, and I bought it along with Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.”

I started reading it and I couldn’t put it down, and then I finished it but wished there was more.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is told from the perspective of Clay Jannon, a graphic designer who was laid off and applied for work at a small independent bookstore owned by a quirky old man, Mr. Penumbra. Clay is in charge of the graveyard shift, which is perhaps the worst time for a bookstore to be open, but a series of kooky regulars drop by, searching for the mysterious books filed on their back shelves, instead of the bookstore’s typical offerings.

Slowly, Clay unfolds the mystery behind this secret society, and relies on technology to help him solve its history and uncover its secrets.

Where to begin? There are certainly some aspects about it that I liked and intrigued me, but I didn’t really care much for how it ended.

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I received this book as part of Maud Newton’s last Quarterly mailing. I didn’t really intend on reading it soon because I’ve been in a reading funk (as you may have noticed), but I picked it up and began to read and I couldn’t put it down.

To summarize, it is a retelling of Achilles & Patroclus’ vague but obviously meaningful relationship. In the Iliad, a proud and spurned Achilles refuses to fight against the Trojans, until he was faced with the death of Patroclus at their hands. This sets off a chain of events that many people the world over are familiar with.

Miller aims to explore and speculate that relationship by creating a story behind it. It’s very embellished and the author mentions in an interview at the end of the book that an ex-boyfriend called this story “Homeric fan fiction.” I think that on some level, it is precisely that. I think that it will appeal to a certain type of reader and mythology enthusiast, because of its subject matter. Given the scope of the Iliad readers, I think that more scholarly fans or just purists in general will not like this book. However, I do think it’s a decent speculative work that explores human emotion and connections well.

I didn’t find the writing particularly elegant but there was obviously something in there that made me read it quite quickly. I find it quite risky to take on such a “big” book, but I think that “The Song of Achilles” definitely has an audience. At the risk of naysayers, I guess.

I appreciated it for what it is. There was definitely a sense of dread building up to the inevitable conclusion. The Achilles/Patroclus story is definitely rich in implied meaning, and I think that someone like Miller, who grew up around Greek mythology and spent years steeped in its literature and study, was definitely bound to write a book like this.

Overall, I enjoyed it and I have it to thank for kickstarting my reading habit again.

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eleanor and park - rainbow rowell

It’s been a while since I read this book, but let me try to talk about it in a way that gives justice (maybe?) to the book. I’ve often spoken about this novel, Eleanor & Park, and sung it high praises. I called it one of the great YA novels I’ve ever read, and I do still mean that.

Basically, it’s a story that introduces Eleanor, a surly, heavy-set, atypical high school girl who lives in an abusive home with a dysfunctional family. She thinks of herself as fat, and is excluded by a lot of people in school. I feel like her exclusion is due to most people not knowing how to deal or connect with her (so they resort to being mean about it), and also the fact that she isn’t all that open to connections either. We’ll get to that later.

It also looks into the life of Park, a half-Korean, semi-anti-social boy in school. He doesn’t really have a group of friends that he hangs out with a lot (which is why I categorize him as a loner), though he gets on with people well enough. He is well-liked, but he’s fine being by himself. He likes comics, graphic novels, and 80s music like The Smiths. That’s important to note because that’s how Eleanor and Park connect.

“How can you thank someone for the Cure? Or the X-Men? Sometimes it felt like she’d always be in his debt.”

This story is very much about Eleanor, though. We get a peek into Park’s personal and home life, but I feel like the story is really propelled by Eleanor’s struggles with self-image, bullying, her dysfunctional and abusive family, and just her general feelings of displacement.

The reason why I absolutely love this book is because it delves into different themes that aren’t always talked about in popular media. It is about teenagers, yes, but it doesn’t really resort to just fluff for a story. I feel like it would definitely help out people who are going through the same things, and maybe open the eyes of other people and urge them to be more aware of these issues and empathize with those who are maybe going through a tough time.

It is an absolute pleasure to read, and isn’t really all that difficult to finish. After a long reading slump, I breezed through this quite quickly because the story is compelling. Even though it is a love story, there are a lot of things that happen outside this context of new love, and also threaded within it.

I also really think that it’s just a book about an unexpected love, and there is always a hint of wonder in both Eleanor’s and Park’s observations, at the newness of all of this. Here are some passages I’ve highlighted. Be warned; there may be spoilers up ahead:

  • “Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”
  • (Besides they didn’t just holed hands. Park touched her hands like they were something rare and precious, like her fingers were intimately connected to the rest of her body. Which, of course, they were. It was hard to explain. He made her feel like more than the sum of her parts.)
  • “‘I don’t like you,’ he said. ‘I need you.’ He waited for her to cut him down. To say Ha or God or You sound like a Bread song.”
  • “Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
  • “The first time he’d held her hand, it felt so good that it crowded out all the bad things. It felt better than anything had ever hurt.”
  • “You think that holding someone hard will bring them closer. You think that you can hold them so hard that you’ll still feel them, embossed on you, when you pull away. Every time Eleanor pulled away from Park she felt the gasping loss of him.”

Rowell’s writing isn’t the most elegant, and I find that she has some over-flowery descriptions here and there, but those are minor concerns and shouldn’t deter you from picking up this book if you are curious about it.

I ordered my copy over Kindle just because I couldn’t wait for it to be shipped to me, but you could try buying from The Book Depository if you want a physical copy and don’t mind waiting for it.

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