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TBR Library Pile Self-Challenge

I'm sure at some point or other, we've all looked at our library items and gone "Hm. I seem to be one away from the maximum number of checkouts, which is 50." 
I find myself therefore treading this, as we have just discussed, very familiar path of having 49 library items checked out of the library. Because of this situation, I have determined, like before, but with much more determination this time, to not check out any more (minus incoming hold items) until I have at the very least gone through the ones I have strewn about my girlfriend's condo. They are (almost in their entirety):

The books are in preferred reading order. Comics are, y'know, whatevs. I'm kind of amazed by Rick Riordan's fourth entry in Heroes of Olympus right now (House of Hades). He has a character come out in a pretty damn decent way, and he's such a mainstream middle grade white dude author, I reeeeally thought this character being queer was a fan invention based on subtext. 

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July 2017 Reading!


Also some regular books, but MAINLY a lot of comic volumes. Marvel knows what it's doing. It has you reading a story and then bam! The story doesn't make sense! So you have to read another character's story. And then hey, who's that guy in that story? What's his deal? AND YOU KEEP GOING. I am this close to reading Fantastic Four because they seem to have some dealings with the Inhumans and omg what is life now.
By far, my favorite of July was Doctor Strange, which is weird because I REALLY wasn't expecting to like him. But his storyline is compelling. Then Loki: Agent of Asgard was also surprisingly good. "Surprisingly" because I'm not one of those "I like the misunderstood villain dude" people (I like the misunderstood villainESS), and I'm definitely not a Loki stan at all, but again, it's well-written and the story's good. Basically Loki is trying to redeem his past actions by doing tasks for Fr…

American Eclipse: How an Intrepid Band of Ladies (and Edison) Saw the 1878 Eclipse

American Eclipse, the nonfiction book by David Baron about the 1878 solar eclipse, was published just this summer in anticipation of the August 21st solar eclipse that will be visible across the middle of America, cutting a horizontal swath across the country, lingering longest in Illinois (yes, of course I'm proud of this) and being most fully visible in what looks like Kentucky and Indiana.

The book's subtitle is "A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World."

So that's fun.

It's really readable, and I say that as someone who thought The Martian was way too damn sciencey. Baron keeps skirting the edges of my interest but does not go over the cliff into the pits of Too Much Science Don't Care. Because he also talks about humans! I love humans!

The main humans involved here are University of Michigan astronomer James Craig Watson, Vassar astronomer and comet-discoverer Maria Mitchell, and then Thomas Edison.

James Cra…

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert: Damn, This Book Was Good

We are in the middle of the Sixth Extinction. Also known as the Anthropocene period, or Age of Humans. "Age of Humans" sounds grand, but it's less us being the center of it all and more us mucking up everything we touch. But don't worry! We've literally been doing it ever since we began existing!

The Sixth Extinction picks one type of going-extinct creature/plant per chapter, and journalist Elizabeth Kolbert chronicles the history of extinction as a concept, while explaining how we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction event on Earth that we know of. Exciting, terrifying times.

I put off reading this for quite some time, because I thought it would just depress me. Strangely enough, it made it all seem kind of...normal. All while Kolbert and the scientists she interviews stress that this is very very not normal. Our oceans are being acidified, our global temperatures are rising, and we are almost OUT of Sumatran rhinos. But I did come out of it feeling that…

#24in48: Summer Time Reading Jamz

This past weekend was the 9th (??) 24in48 Readathon, where people try to read for 24 hours out of 48 total, because some of us are old and need sleep. Or young and need sleep. Basically we all like sleep.

As with Dewey's Sleepless 24 Hour Readathon, I always make some kind of halfhearted attempt to participate. Halfhearted because my attention span is as that of the highly distractable gnat and I do not think I can do anything for 24 hours in a 2 day period. Also because, y'know, it's summer, and there're usually competing plans.

SUCH AS I WENT WITH MY GF TO STARVED ROCK. Starved Rock is an Illinois state park, and the legend is that a band of American Indians were surrounded by two different tribes, and they made their last stand on a high-reaching rock. Where they then starved to death. And now we hike there and take selfies. The story isn't verified, but it's still depressingly called Starved Rock and we're all kinda like "okey dokey, let's hike.&…

Dickens's American Notes Summarized So You Never Have to Read It

Dickens's American Notes is the worst travel writing I've ever seen.

Do not read American Notes. Think of this summary as a service I can provide to humankind so not one more person needs to slog through the 250+ pages of Dickens saying things like "Philadelphia is most bountifully provided with fresh water," or this section, which is one sentence (don't read all of it):

That these visitors, too, whatever their station were not without some refinement of taste and appreciation of intellectual gifts, and gratitude to those men who, by the peaceful exercise of great abilities, shed new charms and associations upon the homes of their countrymen, and elevate their character in other lands, was most earnestly testified by their reception of Washington Irving, my dear friend, who had recently been appointed Minister at the Court of Spain, and who was among them that night, in his new character, for the first and last time before going abroad.

Here are some bullet points:


Wilkie Collins: In Summation

WELL HERE WE ARE. We have read an entire biography of esteemed Victorian Wilkie Collins. Was it good? Well, not really. Should this 420 page biography have been appx 100 pages? Yes. But now we have a list of Wilkie fiction to read! Wilkie fiction and also things like East Lynne by Ellen Wood, because do not think for a moment that we are not reading that. "It is remembered chiefly for its elaborate and implausible plot, centering on infidelity and double identities."

But again, Lycett seems to have taken random notes and then put them together into a book, and some of it's about Wilkie but most of it's tangentially related? I mean, sure, it's funny that troops were called in to protect animals in the zoos, but also WHY ARE WE HEARING A STORY ABOUT WILKIE'S EX-GIRLFRIEND'S DEAD HUSBAND'S PARENTS. 

I didn't feel like I learned that much about Wilkie from this, but also it really seems like he didn't want us to learn that much about him. Which I ki…

Who's That Girl by Blair Thornburgh: Yurts! Rock Stars! Teenage Angst!

"Everything weird started the day my dad brought home the yurt" is how Who's That Girl, a YA music-filled novel, begins.

First, a thing: this book was written by my brilliant friend Blair Thornburgh, editor at Quirk, author of this viral post about medieval Christmas carols, and one of the only people who shares with me a deep love for singer/songwriter/owner-of-many-scarves Loreena McKennitt. This is mainly being noted because my normal jam is nonfiction about the 19th century, so this might seem a little out of scope.

NOW. I mean, it starts with a yurt. That's already +500 points. Who's That Girl is an excellent blend of nerdery, throwback feelings of being a teenager, and queerness. No, the main character isn't queer, but she's a member of her school's version of what back in the day was the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) and here is the extremely-long-and-therefore-accurately-acronymed OWPALGBTQIA. 

The main character, Nattie (aka Natalie), has a crush …

Wilkie Collins is a Mysterious Man

Wilkie Collins wrote so many books, and this author insists on detailing the plots of all of them, which I must invariably skim over because I don't want them spoiled, thank you, sir.

As one reads through Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation, one gets the sense that this book could have been much shorter than it is, and therefore more satisfying, as much much much of it is filler. Yes! It is indeed sad that Dickens did not keep Wilkie's letters but instead burned them in some sort of pyratic ecstatical moment he apparently had with much of his correspondence, but that does not mean you then just summarize novel plots and talk about the histories of his friends' and acquaintances' families.

Some of this I am greatly enjoying, because I like knowing about The Bigger Picture and how everyone jigsaw puzzleish fits in, but I do not need to know about the family background of the man Wilkie's sometimes live-in girlfriend married for like a year.

Which brings us to another po…

A Radical 4th of July Reading List

It's easy for me to love my country, but it's hard for me to be proud of my country.
The word "patriotism" now makes me cringe. The 4th of July isn't making me want to celebrate our founders or listen to ridiculous songs like Celine Dion's version of America the Beautiful or eat a red, white, and blue cake like our ancestors wanted. I want to crawl under a blanket and wait for this tsunami of pain and embarrassment to end.

That being said, here are some books to read, some of which understand America as Emma Lazarus captured it in her famous poem "The New Colossus," and some that try to take us a step further:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

Can Wilkie Collins Manage to Star in His Own Biography?

Andrew Lycett's Wilkie biography has been accompanying me around Chicago-town.

It struck me last week that since Wilkie's life is so inextricably bound up in Dickens's, it might be good to read a biography of Dickens finally, so I checked out Claire Tomalin's Dickens: A Life, and it is excellent. Particularly since Wilkie and Dickens don't really meet up until Dickens is an Established Figure and v. famous, so it's nice instead seeing his background with his son-of-a-servant father being in debtors prison and his mother making him work in a blacking factory and, as previously mentioned, ruining his brain about women forever.

While I appreciate the difficulty in crafting a biography of Wilkie due to the relative scarcity of information about him, I applaud Lycett for trying. One of the benefits (?) of said scarcity is a biography of him becomes more a biography of his circle, so you learn about the Victorian literary set of the 1850s and '60s. Or one of its pa…

Harry Potter at 20: My Magical But Maybe Creepy Intro to Harry Potter

It all started with Anjelica Huston.

Like any normal 14-year-old, I was spending my summer obsessed with the then-48-year-old actress. It was 1999, so the internet was still experiencing growing pains, but it was advanced enough that a young teenager could find filmographies, interviews, and agent addresses where she could send letters detailing how much an actress's performance in Addams Family Values meant to her.

In one of these interviews, Huston said the last book she had read was Charming Billy by Alice McDermott. Charming Billy is an excellent novel about an Irish-American man who dies from alcoholism. Under normal circumstances, none of these things would appeal to me, but when you're 14 and obsessed, you will read anything that person read (see also: Enemies, A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis-Singer).

My family was going where we went every summer: the small, historical community of Chautauqua, NY, originally founded for Methodist women, but which has since become a summer …