Book Loot

Look, Look, Look!!! I have received book loot!!!

A week or two ago, I received a text message from a friend who lives half-way across the country.  She asked if in the “millions” of books that I had read, had I read Alone on the Wall? I told her I hadn’t, but I would add it to my ever-growing list.

She said that she would send it to me, but wanted to verify that I hadn’t read it already.  I was over the moon excited. There is something super fun about receiving packages in the mail especially if they contain books! And about a week later, I not only got the book she told me about, but a bonus book as well!  It made my day, possibly my whole week!

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They were so neatly wrapped in brown paper with little notes. It was so simplistic and wonderful! They reminded me a little bit of the neighborhood libraries where a constant exchange of books is quietly happening. The world may seem to be falling off its axis and yet a bunch of neighborhood folks are swapping books without a fuss. It gives me hope.

I’ve added these lovelies to my reading pile, and I hope to get to them very soon.  It’s funny how just receiving a couple of books can make life seem so incredibly grand.

Happy reading!

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Reading Evolution

I rarely re-read books. There are two reasons for this. One, there are just so many books out there to read and discover I don’t feel like I should use my precious reading time for re-reading. And two, I’m afraid that books I read years ago and loved won’t seem as wonderful the second time around.

As I’ve gotten older many things in my life have evolved. My fashion style has gotten a bit more classic. My priorities have transformed.  I no longer think of my job as my identity. And like these things, my reading has also changed.

I’ve gone from reading only murder mysteries to almost anything. And, if the Editor succeeds in convincing me to read Carrie, it will expand even further. I tend to view books in more of a “it-wasn’t-for-me” way as opposed to labeling them just plain bad.

I finish almost every book I start unlike when I was younger where there were piles of books that went unfinished. I pick my reading based upon my mood compared to simply what’s next on my list. I’m now even okay with deviating from my list to read a book recommended by a friend.

I see classics as mainly good reads that have made it through the ages. In the past, I viewed them as something professors tortured students with. I believed that in order to be a classic the book had to be boring or impossible to understand. I, now, purposely seek them out; understanding that most classics don’t fit in either of these categories.

I can appreciate good writing as a critic might, but I also enjoy a good plot even if it is formulaic. If it keeps me reading, I’m game to go along for the ride.

I’ve learned that I can find something to take away from almost any reading experience. And thus, no book is ever really a waste of my time. (I acknowledge this could be a coping mechanism to look on the bright side since I won’t get that precious reading time back.)

However, even with all this new openness in my reading world view, I fear that the magic feeling of certain books would be diminished if I were to re-read them. I’m happy my reading views have changed.  It has opened me up to a lot more books. I’ve learned so much more than I would have only reading one genre and not finishing half of them. But all of this makes me even more aware of the fact that re-reading books is not currently in my best interest.

I’m sure as time goes on that my reading will continue to evolve and change.  In five or ten years, I will have a different view than I do now, and maybe by then I will have come around to the idea of re-reading things and being okay with having them feel differently than the first go around.  But for now, I think I’ll see what new books have in store for me and see what they will do to change how I read.

Have your reading ways or views changed over the years? Do you re-read books?

The Greatness of Dark Matter

I recently finished reading Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I have a great urge just to shout at you in all caps: JUST GO READ IT!!  However, this doesn’t make for the most interesting blog post.  So, I’ve decided to give you a few reasons.

Reason one-

It clearly explains Schrodinger’s Cat paradox.  Okay, before you go screaming in the other direction. This is a novel, but its premise centers on some pretty incredible quantum physics.  However, Crouch does a great job at explaining how it works.  You don’t have to be a physicist or even pass physics class to get what Crouch is saying.  I’m a science nerd, so I’ve read and heard many different explanations for Schrodinger’s cat and honestly this book contains the best and easiest to understand explanation I’ve come across.

Reason two-

The book shows how much we take for granted and is a really good reminder to be happy with what you have.  It shows that choices matter, but that sometimes the less glamorous choices are the best ones.  They are the choices that have the best long-term effects.

Reason three-

It’s a really fast read. Crouch tends to write in these short, clipped paragraphs which give you the impression that you are careening through the book like the characters are though the storyline. But this speed doesn’t lessen the emotional impact or character development.

Reason four-

This book is a bit of a mind screw, but it’s a hugely fascinating concept. It gives you a lot to chew on and is very memorable. It presents a few conundrums that, as a reader, I haven’t faced before.  Mainly the relationship between the hero and the villain is very unique.

Honestly, this is just an all-around good read and one of the few that I would feel pretty comfortable recommending to almost anyone.

Happy Reading!

A Uniquely Gripping Tale

Obviously, I’m an avid reader. I read to and from work. I read at my desk before work and during lunch. I read while making bread and doing laundry. I read before I go to bed and even while waiting in line at the grocery store to check out.

Nevertheless, I can usually put my book down when it’s time to start work, or go to bed, etc. But, every once in a while, I will find a book that has me so entranced that I can’t be bothered to start laundry or go meet friends at a brewery for a drink.

One of these such reads was The Alienist by Caleb Carr.  I found myself completely enthralled. I had no regard as to when chapters ended. I normally consider how much time I have and how long the next chapter is going to be to see if I should keep reading or not, but not with this book.  No, I simply kept going.

It was a highly disturbing and at times gruesome read, but one I couldn’t look away from. The style of writing reminded me of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The story is told from the first-person perspective of a sidekick-like character.  Some reviews didn’t like the writing style, but I personally felt it enhanced the book’s general aura and fit with the time period.

This style also lends itself to some of the deeper philosophical ponderings that Carr delves in to, but in a very easily digestible way.  I found myself struck by the clarity of such thoughts as they were put forth. It is deliberate, comprehensive, and while it can meander, it does so with the intention of filling in background knowledge and information.

I heard of this read through the Editor. Her brief but positive assessment of the book piqued my interest. It was first published in 1994, when we were only in grade school and thus weren’t aware of this highly successful book.  If you also were in grade school at the time or simply missed it, I recommend it you give it a try.

Nevertheless, there is some caution to this tale. As I mentioned above, the topic and plot of this novel is deeply troubling and the descriptions of the crimes are vivid and grisly. The main plot centers around a serial killer and children who are sexually exploited. It will not be a read for everyone.

Despite its dark topics, Carr gives us one heck of a thriller, and a detailed view on psychological profiling for those interested.

My Inner Critic

When I was in my 20s and on the dating scene, I would get pretty insecure about myself and wonder what a guy would possibly find attractive or remotely interesting about me.

One day I was feeling particularly insecure and was whining to my roommate who had heard all this crap about 1000 times over.  She was getting exasperated.  She finally shook her head and said,

“You need to get control of Paula!”

I stopped and looked at her with this screwed up face and replied, “Who the hell is Paula?”

“She your insecure/inner critic alter ego.”

“Why is she named Paula?”

“I don’t know it’s the first name that popped to mind.”

“Okay…yours is Regina.”

“I don’t like that name.”

“Too bad.  You named mine Paula for God sakes.”

“Touché”

From then on, our insecure selves were known as Paula and Regina.  They are both married now so they have overcome their boy insecurities, but they are still around for other things. I’m not sure what Regina’s up to these days, but Paula’s a big fan of popping up when I’m writing or painting.

The bitch is never satisfied. However, identifying when she’s hanging about certainly has helped.  I’ve gotten pretty good at shutting her down particularly with my writing. My trick was to just keep writing. I wrote four complete journals before I felt confident enough to do a blog, and it took two more after that to even entertain the idea of freelancing.  I just wore her out.

Nevertheless, as I experiment and grow and try new things she likes to saddle up for a good ole stampede across my confidence. There are days when she’s pretty successful, but I’ve noticed since naming her. She’s lost some of her power.

I occasionally have to yell, “Shut up, Paula!” She doesn’t like it when I talk back.  She prefers an easy target, so she tends to do what I ask and goes to sulk in a corner for a while.  I know that she’s still there, and she’ll make the occasional snide remark, but I can forge ahead.

While I’m not a fan of Paula. She does at times serve a purpose.  She makes me strive to do better. She makes me face uncomfortable things, and since I loathe when she wins, thus I work extra hard to make sure she doesn’t.

Inevitably, after she loses a few times she gets bored and tries to win at a different game, and we start the process again.  Nevertheless, I’m thankful for Paula and her ability to make me better, and I’m thankful to my roommate who gave her a name.

Does your inner critic have a name?

Book Recommendations go Beyond Star Ratings

What makes a book good? Now, isn’t that the ultimate question that readers and writers face, alike. It’s, at times, a really difficult question. There isn’t one answer and it’s strangely a gut feeling, just like love.

I’ve recently read three books. I gave them all about three stars (I really wish Goodreads had half-ratings.) But in the end, I feel very different about them and my recommendation of them is far more complex than a simple star rating.

When I begin a book, I mark it as “currently reading” on Goodreads and do a quick scan of the reviews. I find that it can help temper my expectations or get me in the right head space. The first book was Summer Hours at the Robbers Library. It’s a light, fluffy read, but it didn’t get the best reviews.

The reviews were right in one sense. This book isn’t an award winner.  The story is a bit discombobulated.  The point-of-view constantly changes. The flashbacks are subtle but can lead to confusion. The characters are developed but a little troup-y.  And yet…

This was one damn delightful read.  Yes, critically it’s a bit of a dud, but I had a co-worker catch me in a full-on grin as I was reading this book.  She smiled and said, “It must be good.” And damn it, it was!

Once I finished Summer Hours, I started The Life of Pi. Obviously, this not only got a fairly solid rating on Goodreads, it’s award-winning. There was a lot of hub-bub and a movie; nevertheless, when I finished it I felt pretty meh; hence the three stars. I get why it won awards, but it didn’t grip me. It didn’t really evoke my emotions. It was a little too out there for me to identify with the character or story. And while I gave it the same rating I would recommend Summer Hours before The Life of Pi.

Finally, I read The Handmaid’s Tale. The highest rated book according to Goodreads of the three. It is viewed as a feminist classic and like The Life of Pi almost everyone has heard about it. However, I in the end, wasn’t blown away. If I were able to, I might have said three and a half stars, but since I can’t I couldn’t in good conscious give it four and thus three it was.

Despite The Handmaid’s Tale being critically and average joe acclaimed and the fact that I might rank it slightly higher than the other two, I still would recommend Summer Hours first and foremost. It’s more accessible. It’s sweet and fluffy. It isn’t going to make your head hurt or make you attempt to make heads or tails of what happened or what it all meant in the end.

I get why The Handmaid’s Tale caused a stir and partially what it’s getting at (I will not claim I get it all because frankly I don’t.) But it’s a bit heavy handed in a purposely befuddling way. I see what Atwood is up to, I just don’t really know that I can get that excited about it.

So, if you’re looking for a book to read and happened to not have read any of these my advice would be: If you’re looking for a new contemporary masterpiece of literature, Summer Hours ain’t it, but if you need something to warm your heart and make you smile. This is good choice. I admit that I’m a sucker for feel good tales. They are my comfort food in reading. If you want the philosophical- The Life of Pi. And if you want literature that inches remarkably close to our modern times, The Handmaid’s Tale is the book for you.

Happy Reading!

The Magicians: A Trickster Trilogy

I’ve had a hate-hate relationship with Lev Grossman since the mid-2000s. I read his novel Codex and promptly awarded it the second worse book I’d ever read prize. Thus, when the hub-bub about the Magician’s Series began, I duly ignored all the things I was told.

However, the raving persisted. I had numerous people who knew I was a big reader recommend these books to me. Finally, when the Editor purchased them I relented and finally agreed to give the first of the trilogy a go.

I admit, I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t fantastic, but it intrigued me enough to read the second one. So, I read it, and Mr. Grossman burned me again. I felt like I had been sucker punched. His “not-so terrible” first book caused me to give him just enough rope that he could hang me with the second one. I was disturbed and annoyed.

I was very unsure if I would read the final book in the series. I didn’t need more trauma, but I am a completionist. The Editor read it first. She really liked it and thought I should give it a try. She said it had a different vibe than the others.

She was correct. The last book does have a very different feel and on the whole is really good. It is the best book in the series. It’s probably one of the best finishes to a trilogy I’ve read. This is really unusual. My experience with trilogies is that the first book is wonderful, but they lose steam and disappoint in the end. So, the fact this series doesn’t graph in a linear decline but rather a heart rate monitor where the last super cedes the first is interesting and rare.  But where does this leave Mr. Grossman and me?

Well I think I can say that the relationship has been promoted to love-hate and that I will consider his future novels. But I’ll probably have the Editor read them first before I dive in.

In the end, I’m glad I read the series middle book and all. I’ve also realized that some authors do deserve a second maybe even a third chance. People grow in their writing just like readers do in their reading. It’s just something to think about the next time someone recommends a book to you by an author who’s previous work wasn’t your cup of tea.