Happenings

I’m a creature of inertia, apparently. I always feel the danger and temptation of putting of things (like updating this blog, for example) because the more days come between the last time I post and the next time I attempt, the less likely I am to actually follow through. A part of me feels paralyzed with embarrassment, like I have to explain away why I seem to have done nothing since January.

But happily, I’ve been writing. Just not here. I’ve been a contributor for Book Riot since June. There’s not a lot there yet, but here’s my Author Page. This is probably going to mean that this poor blog is gonna languish even more, since I’ll be writing there on top of the day job. But I still do want to write about books, and I still want to have a space for myself.

Thanks for continuing to hang here with me, folks.

My Sort-Of, Inadvertent #ReadWomen2014 Reading Challenge

I’m starting with a little anecdote but I’m gonna have to eyeball the timeline, so I hope you’ll forgive the inaccuracy.

Around the middle of February (perhaps before the Vida Count 2013 reports was published, but I can’t be sure), I looked at my reading list on Goodreads and noted that I have been on a 4-book reading streak of all male writers. At that point the breakdown would have been 5 books written by men versus 2 books written by women. I picked up Ellis Peters’ A Morbid Taste of Bones to break the streak (written by a woman writing under a male pseudonym, natch). I then read 3 more books by women after a lengthy foray into Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I didn’t really articulate it at the time, but it was the moment that I began making a mental note to maintain some semblance of gender parity in my reading this year. This is where I tell you how well the Goodreads interface can aid an obsessive.

The impulse to do this may have come from the zeitgeisty moment going on in the culture that is putting a harsh glare on the the gender disparity in publishing. In January, Joanna Walsh wrote on The Guardian about challenging herself to reading all women for the year. The piece’s provocative title invoked the #ReadWomen2014 hashtag. It was much talked about in book world, with some people making personal pledges to read nothing but women this year. Among the entities that have been a the forefront of discussion is the previously mentioned Vida Count, which tallies the authors reviewed and reviewers of major literary publications. Jennifer Weiner has also been pretty vocal about this, to the point that she has been called “strident” by people who has tried to paint her with a jealous brush. Continue reading

My Year In Reading 2014 – Standout Books

2014 has been an exceptional reading year for me. By the end of the year, I’m set to have read more than 50 books, a feat that I haven’t been able to accomplish since I was in college. Recent years have pegged me at about 35 books read on average, and last year I only managed to read 22 books. I don’t believe that there is a minimum number of books that one must finish in order to be considered a “real reader” but I do make a conscious commitment to do it because I have a tendency to be distractible. Reading means a lot to my self-identity but without some overt effort on my part, I would have probably spent all of 2014 scrolling through corgi photosets on Tumblr.

With the exception of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, I haven’t really written about any of the books I read this year. This blog is less a running update of books I’ve read in real time and more a challenge to myself to write reflective notes about books after some time has passed between the reading and the evaluation. As it stands, I have more than a year of backlog (reaching back to 2012) in my “reviewing” slate and I don’t really have any pressure to catch up except whenever I feel like berating myself about procrastination. I’m gonna highlight several books that have ended up being real gems from my 2014 reads.

1. True Grit by Charles Portis

As pure, crackerjack entertainment, no book has managed to surpass True Grit, a novel which I read very early in January. Told solely from the point of view by a young woman bent on revenge named Mattie Ross, it pairs beautiful, blunt writing, wry humor, and nail-biting action. It’s also a loving but unflinching depiction of frontier life with all sexist, racist, and generally profane baggage that went along with that milieu.

2. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

I moderated the discussion of this book in October for The Filipino Group on Goodreads, a wonderful book club that has been my source of great book-related camaraderie for years. During our meeting, we tackled some particularly heady aspects of neuropsychology and philosophy. The book is a series of diagnostic sketches about unusual neurological conditions such as face-blindness, auditory hallucinations, phantom limbs and more.

Our book club meeting also generated an interesting debate on the responsibilities and values of non-fiction when it comes to accuracy, ethics, and other concerns, something that I’ve continued to mull over since. Not to mention a lot of raging for my brain-hurting questions. :P Continue reading

“It is a truth universally acknowledged” – On First Lines

The NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour had a wonderful segment recently about first impressions in pop culture, with panelist Glen Weldon talking about the great first lines in literature. I particularly loved his analysis of “Call me Ishmael” and his breakdown of the different functions of first lines. He has additional material posted on his Tumblr, including several other examples and he asked listeners to mention the first lines that they loved and I figured that I can take a crack at it.

I love first lines. I pick them apart, not only in other people’s writing but also in my own. A well-turned phrase, a particularly scintillating piece of dialogue–for me, it signals the writer’s capacity for wordcraft and I end up feeling let down by a less than stellar first page. In fact, I have started to disdain this a little bit about myself, because I’ve found that overly elaborate first lines can end up being mere affectations that the rest of the book’s two hundred or so pages cannot sustain.

Here are ten openings that I want to talk about from books I’ve loved. Obviously I’m projecting what I already know about the book into my interpretations, but I still hope people find this exercise interesting, regardless. I tried the find examples across the spectrum, from starkly simple description, personality-filled first person narration, to even works that mimic other types of documentation. Continue reading

A Little Nuts about Podcasts, Part 1

I have to admit that the bulk of the time and attention I used to devote to books have lately been encroached by podcasts. It’s not necessarily a new medium–for years I’ve listened to staples such as Radiolab and Pop Culture Happy Hour but my fixation has become much, much more intense in the last three months or so. The thing with podcasts is that they often end up referencing other podcasts that I end up trying as well.

Though I inevitably spike shows that I don’t find particularly engaging, the list of podcasts that I follow is still distressingly long. Here is the list of the ones I truly enjoy, conveniently grouped into categories.

I. Roundtable-type Discussions

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour (iTunes)

This is legitimately my favorite podcast of all time. It’s a delightfully casual but still incisive discussion of pop culture and the breadth that it encompasses. The panelists are Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Trey Graham, and Glen Weldon, all of whom are connected in some way with NPR. Topics that they’ve tackled include comic book movie adaptations, The Bachelor Pad, John Updike, movie musicals, muppets, and roadtrip movies.

Over time you will learn that each have a respective predilection (Trey, for example, is a German art song enthusiast while Linda is a noted reality television aficionado) which the rest of the panel would lovingly mock. Their list of guest panelists, like Barrie Hardymon and podcast producer Mike Katzif, are also delightful.

Though they often discuss current events in pop culture, I think it’s perfectly easy to jump into the pool and listen to older episodes. Here are some that I particularly enjoy:

Scott Pilgrim And Our Great Big Blind Spots (August 2010)
The Art Of The Memoir And What We’ll Have On The Side (Nov. 2011)
On Endings And Road Trips (May 2012)

Continue reading

Literary Blog Hop: March 8-11 – Reading Style, etc.

Literary Blog Hop

Today is my birthday so I guess this is as good a time as any to try something new and participate in the Literary Blog Hop over at The Blue Bookcase. I’ve been following this particular Blog Hop for a while now and I’ve always been fascinated by how much individual responses reveal about the bloggers. This week’s question is:

How do you find time to read, what’s your reading style and where do you think reading literature should rank in society’s priorities?

When it comes to finding the time to read, I’m afraid I can’t be a good role model for other people. I have a job that forces me to look at words and correct other people’s writing for eight hours (or more) so there can be days when picking up a book at the end of the day is the last thing I want. Those little timesinks called TV and the Internet also tend to have a very powerful effect on my attention span. However, I do try to read at least 10 pages a day, which I can usually accomplish while riding the bus or sitting down in fast food as I wait out the rush hour so I can then ride a bus. Thank God for weekends, because I can catch up on my reading then.

In general, I don’t take down notes or highlight favorite passages when I’m reading books. I’ve always been fascinated by other people’s marginalia and I’ve tried in college to develop that kind of habit but it never really took. Pausing to take down notes, I found, often breaks the rhythm of my reading. When I read The Name of the Rose, however, I found that I couldn’t go forward without taking down the names and book titles that the characters would rattle off. I still have bits of paper stuck inside my copy of that book that are riddled with incomprehensible Latin titles.

Continue reading