Monday, December 15, 2014

Top Ten Books I Read In 2014

2014 was a big year. I lost my grandmother and went back to school. I lived my life around trips that would take me far from Michigan. I started to think that there's a future where the words hourly pay don't always apply.
I like to think it's because of all these changes that I chanced upon so many good books this year. There were times when I needed a long challenge and others where the only thing I could handle were fluff and decadence. I found a book about dealing with loss some six months after I needed it. I discovered Roxane Gay and started to love nonfiction in a new capacity.  YA demanded a bigger shelf in my library and reminded me never to overlook a genre just because of the average age of it's readers.
I'm closing in on 50 books this year. My goal was 35. 2014 could have been a bad year, but I'm counting these 10 books as the silver lining.

Top Ten Books I Read in 2014

1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephenie Perkins
Sometimes a book comes around when you need it most. I was in a slump when I picked up Anna and immediately I fell in love with her, Paris and a British boy. I loved Anna and the French Kiss so much I recommended it to anyone who would listen. I bought it's sequels immediately. I squeed (is that a real word? oh well, is to me) and cooed over passages and themes.
Really, AatFK is a book that 16 year old me needed, but would have refused to read. I'm glad I'm more open now.

2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Every summer I like to pick a huge book and make it my project. This year I grabbed 1Q84 and dedicated the most of June lugging it from work to home and back again. I liked to whine about it's lenght and it's slowness but really I loved what I read. 1Q84 made me think. It gave me people living like, well, people - only in a slightly altered universe. It gave me a mystery that I'm still irritated about. It kept me captivated for all of its 1100 pages.

3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
If Anna and the French Kiss is a book 16 year old me needed. Fangirl is one that 19 year old Sarah would have clung on to for dear life. Fangirl managed to make the more nerdy/fandom parts of my life seem relevant, like they didn't need to be kept in the shadows until someone else mentioned Hogsmead or a Sonic Screwdriver. I loved the chapters of FanFiction and Cath's general attitude. She was for a bad year in college. It was good to see that my second year hellish experience wasn't something that only happened to me.

4. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Bad Feminist is everything I needed it to be. It gave me permission, at least as much permission as a book can, to be imperfect while still wanting equality. It's full of Essays on sexism, the media, race, and politics and I loved every single one of them. I want to give a copy to every important lady in my life. It's a great book. Go pick it up.

5. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
Family Drama - Check
Infidelity - Check
A Distant Family Sitting Shiva - Check Check Check
Okay I'm a few years behind here, but This is Where I Leave You is a fantastic book.  It's funny and emotional and just great. Gah.

6. Divergent by Veronica Roth
January was cold. I was snowed in more often than not. Since I couldn't do much else I read. The Divergent series made winter bearable for me. I didn't love Tris, and Four went from interesting to boyfriend worthy to irritating too many times to count, but i loved Roth's dystopian Chicago and the factions.

7. One More Thing by B.J. Novak
This was my favorite short story collections of the year. It's full of fast reads. They're funny and culturally relevant. Plus Novak was always my favorite part of the Office and I just love him in general.

8. Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor
Hands down the Daughter of Smoke and Bones series was my favorite set of books this year. Karou was interesting, Akiva was sulky, but cool. The worlds, Angels, Chimera, everything was fantastic.  I did like the first book the best, but they were all fantastic. I have a review of the series coming up later this week with more fangirling, so stick around.

9. Room by Emma Donoghue
I'm going to ask you to be patient with me. I actually finished Room today. I'd put off reading it for years but bought it on a trip to Canada in the spring and needed to read something on hand instead of buying a new book for my kindle. I was immediately sucked into Jack and Ma's world. It didn't matter that it was small and horrifying. I tried to pace myself because sometimes Donoghues proses made me anxious. In the end i finished in about three days and now I'm sitting here, typing this and generally be upset over a book.

10. The Vacationers by Emma Straub
I'm ending my list with a perfectly pleasant book about an outwardly pleasant family who just happens to be crumbling. Dirty laundry is aired during a summer trip to Spain. It's a great, quick read and one of my favorite new releases of 2014.


The Curse of the Short Story

I'm drawn to short story collections. A few years back I made a deal with myself that I couldn't continue to read them back to back. I'd lose details. I wouldn't be able to keep up with who wrote what, or what stories went together.
What I was really trying to save myself from was mediocrity.
I really do love short stories. I think they are art and do not get nearly the praise they deserve. That is until certain collections get too much praise.
As I write this I have read five collections in 2014 and have left two more unfinished. I guess that is one of the blessings of this medium. You can stop anywhere and still get a mostly full narative. But I come across the same issue every time I pick up a new group of stories, and it's a problem that stems from running this blog.
How do I write about them?
This year alone I've forced out "reviews" for No One Belongs Here More Than You and One More Thing. One collection I a loved and another abhorred. Even with strong feelings I had a difficult time articulating them. 
For instance in the summer I read The Other Language and Can't and Won't very close to each other. The Other Language reminded me why I invest in $20 hardbacks, but Can't and Won't made me regret buying an ebook. I never got around to reviewing either collection. In the end I was tired of trying. Do I talk about every story or just the ones that really made me think? Is it wrong to focus on a piece that may not represent the collection as a whole? 15 good pages doesn't make up for 300 bad ones and vice versa.
I've seen other reviews handle books like this with grace. There are bloggers who seem to just know how to talk about short story collections, even when they're not part of their regular reading experience.
I wish I had a solution. I'm several stories into Hilary Mantel's The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher right now and to be honest I'm not a fan. I could talk about the writing style or the themes that just aren't capturing my attention, but nothing feels trailered enough to address my issues with each story.
So this is me saying I'm sorry for messy reviews of story collections, and warning you that there may be more coming. I finished My True Love Gave To Me a month ago and it is one collection that definitively deserves to be highlighted on this blog. I promise I'll try to get over my review issues soon.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next Door
Stephine Perkins

Lola Nolan is anything but normal. She lives her life in costumes - the crazier the better. Bright wigs and combat boots are a staple in her wardrobe, as is her wanna be rockstar boyfriend.  So what happens when the one person she never wants to see again returns to her neighborhood?

After finishing Anna and the French Kiss I was smitten. I needed more of Perkins' writing. Her characters jump off the page and wrap readers in a warm hug while dragging them through the mess of their teenage years. Lola could have easily become a cardboard cut out of the 'weird girl' stereotype but instead she feels real, and it's exciting to take this journey with her.  However this personal feeling makes it difficult to separate a book like Lola from it's predecessor, especially as it is part of a loose series.
Even in terms of setting this feels like a Perkins' novel. Anna and the French Kiss took Paris and brought it to life. I spent days dreaming about crepes and Truffaut movies after finishing it. Lola and the Boy Next Door makes San Fransisco sing. It has it's own air. It's bright and exciting and full of interesting places. It's colorful, effervescent, San Fransisco becomes the only place where Lola could have grown up. Anywhere else wouldn't have done her justice.
And for those of you missing Anna and Eitenne, don't worry. They show up too!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Life and School and Books

I finished my first semester of grad school!
That means I'm well on my way to become a librarian, or something like that.
What it means for all of you is that I'm on break and want to queue up enough reviews and posts so that the ...er...silence of this past semester
Until my brain fully recovers from final projects and discussion board posts I'll leave you with some thoughts.
I had an interview yesterday and it was one of the first times I had to actually articulate my reasons for going back to school, for wanting to work with books and people. It's a first because everybody who knows me, as soon as they hear about me being back in school, goes OH MY GOD YOU WOULD BE SUCH A GOOD LIBRARIAN. I mean a lot of them also tell me it's a dead profession and I'll never work, but I'm focusing on the positive.

Anyway, I had to articulate my reasons for wanting to be a librarian and besides the fact that I love to help people, and helping people locate information really feels a bit like a calling at this point.
But the books aren't to be overlooked. There are few consistence in life. People move, circumstances change. Books have always been there when life gets too big. They're there when I'm pensive and in need of mental stimulation or when I need something light and fluffy to take my worries away. They have the words I can't express and idea's that keep me up at night.
Books and reading are the reason I started this blog, a main part of why I took so many screenwriting courses in undergrad and the way I was able to develop my own love of writing.

I promise I was less wordy at my interview. I'm not a complete idiot.

Reviews and real posts coming soon! Happy December loves!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Life Update

Where to start?
I'm sorry seems as good a place as any.
I've neglected this blog. School got heavy and my free time got light. I took naps when I could have been reading. I watched every episode of How to Get Away with Murder four times over (guys are you watching? It's SO good!) I haven't finished a book in a month. 
This is the first time that I actually haven't had time for blogging here and it feels strange. I did many huge, time eating projects for my undergrad and somehow had the most productive reading years of my life. Now I'm straining to focus on a few pages of a novel as I wait for class or opt for checking twitter during breaks at work instead of sneaking in 15 minutes of book time.

In short:

I've been busy and obsessed with technology. Please forgive me.

Historically I read more in the winter. It's cold and I don't like driving in the snow - which is already on the ground here. Send help! So I'm hoping to get back into my old groove soon.

So look at this as a thank you for sticking around during an unplanned hiatus. I promise when I'm a full fledged librarian there will be posts all the time. It's just getting there that's proving problematic.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Literary Souvenirs

I love to travel. As much as I'll whine about trains and planes and car rides it probably doesn't seem that way. This year in particular I found that I needed to be constantly on the mood. Well, i guess constantly isn't a great word. I needed to be on the move as often as my budget and my job would allow. I discovered that if I was home for more than four months at a time I got antsy.
This year I've been to Chicago, Toronto, DC, Baltimore, and Milwaukee.

Now I'm sure you're wondering how this has anything to do with this blog.

To keep my visits cheaper I gave myself one rule.

The only souvenirs I can buy are books.
Reminders of my trips to Toronto, DC, and Milwaukee. *


More specifically: Books by authors from the place I'm visiting.

Honestly I wish I'd come up with this sooner. Last year I was in Texas and all I have is a plastic cup to commemorate the trip. Even my trip to Toronto left me browsing the Canadian Literature section rather than going in with a plan. By the time I got to DC I was more prepared. I now have a Michael Chabon novel that I'd never heard of. I researched Wisconsin authors for days trying to find someone I'd heard of and didn't already own. Now I have a used copy of plays by Thornton Wilder.

What makes this better is I am now forced to find bookshops on my travels. When I was in Milwaukee my best friend and I found ourselves in this amazing used bookstore that was packed from ceiling to flour. It had rooms and rooms. There were cats that followed us everywhere. It is a great memory to add to a great trip.

What do you all do for souvenirs? Do you go the keychains and commemorative mugs route or do you look for something specific from each location?


*Baltimore was part of the same vacation as DC and I was frantic to come up with an author from Maryland that wasn't Poe. In the end I didn't find a list before I left the city but I did get to browse a really stellar bookshop.  Also, for those of you who don't know I used to live in Chicago so my visits there are no longer about tourism, instead I'm visiting with my best friend. However I do own a couple Hemingway books from my time spent in Illionis. Also a Joe Meno book I did buy on a trip there.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Readathon Wrap Up

 Well I didn't make it. I tried but in the end my cold won over and I fell asleep around one thirty. So I missed out on six and a half hours and probably finishing another few books. In my defense I did attempt to listen to Emma on audiobook when my eyes got tired but that just made me more sleepy. Anyway I  had fun, I read a couple of good books and I got a day to just relax and do what I love without having to worry about school or work or calories.

So here's a slightly late End of Event post. Thanks to everyone who stopped by or read these posts.

End of Event Meme:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
    I fell asleep during hour seventeen so that should probably be my answer, right?
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
    This year I read The Anatomy of Dreams and it was really good and I was really compelled to find out what was going to happen next! Past years celebrity memoirs (like Bossypants) and old favorites (Harry Potter, that year I read most of Order and all of HBP) are really fun for events like this
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
    Nope. You guys know what you're doing!
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
    I liked all of the platforms that I could go to to post my readathon thoughts and progress. Here, tumblr, twitter, instagram, goodreads. I happen to have all of those accounts but that's not true of everyone and it makes this feel like a very inclusive event.
  5. How many books did you read?
    Just 2. Had I been able to fight through sleepy eyes I should have been able to fight through another.
  6. What were the names of the books you read?
    My True Love Gave to Me and The Anatomy of Dreams
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?
    They were very different but looking back The Anatomy of Dreams probably wins out.
  8. Which did you enjoy least?
    I mean I only read two and I still really liked My True Love Gave to Me...
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
    I was not. I should volunteer in April.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
    It really all depends on my schedule. With that said I'd love to be a reader again.