Wednesday, October 1, 2014

2014 Reading Thus Far

We are 3/4 through the year! That's a little exciting. And through the magic of Goodreads, I know what I've read (oh, thank you, Goodreads, for no longer making me keep a bedraggled piece of paper in my book journal as my tallying sheet). SO. How's it going, 2014.

So far I've read 48 books this year. Last year was 61, so...ON TRACK TO BEAT THAT. I am competing with myself. It is fine.

I have one 1-star book (you'll never encounter it, so don't worry about it), two 2-star books, and a MILLION 3-star books, because that is my "I liked this just fine" rating. Maybe I even SUPER-liked parts of it! But it is probably not going to stay with me in any lasting sort of way.

Then 13 4-star reviews, and y'know what, I think I stand by them. That means I reeally liked them, but would I read them again? Probs not. Are they important to my overall life? Mayyybe not. But I very much enjoyed reading them. I mean, how many people are going to say Behind the Candelabra, Liberace's boyfriend's tell-all book changed their life? Maybe that person is out there, but they are not me. But it was still a super-fun book. Virgin by Hanne Blank was GREAT but it also took me for-ever because despite being short, it feels dense and I kept worrying I was missing something if I didn't super-concentrate on it.


5 star reviews so far include World War Z (WHY ARE WE NOT RE-READING THAT ALL THE TIME), Old Mr. Flood (review here), Ella Enchanted, Adam by Ariel Schrag (review forthcoming, people), and:

Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Bleak House, Dickens
Meaty, Samantha Irby
The Time Tutor, Bee Ridgway (can we PLEASE have the River of No Return sequel)
How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran

All my 5-star books

Also, 33/48 of those books are by women. And...five are by women of color. That part's probably not great. Especially because only one of the 15 male authors I read was a POC. And his book sucked (SORRY SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL BUT YOU DID). 

People talk about the contemporary trend of everyone being in their own echo chamber because you can so carefully tailor your news, etc, but this has probably been done more or less throughout time. You pick which books you feel like reading and read them, which is why school is important, despite the fact people usually hate books they're forced to read OMG HOW TO GET AROUND THIS PROBLEM. We should most definitely make ourselves read books we're pretty sure we'll disagree with or at the least which are outside of our own realm of experience. I read so many books by white ladies.

2015, you are going to be the year I read some out of the box shit. Someone start suggesting things.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Frances Willard Weekend in Evanston, Illinois

Some of you might just possibly be aware that I have a passing interest in 19th century feminist and reform leader Frances Willard. And by "passing" I mean I volunteer with her house museum and archives and do some of their social media and spent eight hours this weekend at events for her. Because it was her BIRTHDAY! 175 years old and still no one outside her own century really has any idea who she is, BECAUSE -- because she is linked to the temperance movement, and people think the temperance movement is a buzzkill.

I mean, as they probably should, since the point was to stop people from drinking. But what people now do not care to think about is the fact that this wasn't just a group of hundreds of thousands of women who suddenly decided alcohol was evil and people should stop having fun. Men were drinking three times as much as they do now. They were usually the sole providers for their families. Domestic abuse, poverty, starvation, all these could be linked back in many cases to an alcoholic husband.

So the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) got these hundreds of thousands of women together, organized them, and made them try to fix the reasons men were drinking. So they worked on labor reform, they advocated for an eight hour workday, they wanted America's prisons fixed, they wanted the age of consent raised from seven years old to 16, they wanted public drinking fountains so people would be able to get clean water easily, they wanted clothing for women that wouldn't pinch and suffocate them so they could actually get things done in life, and they wanted the vote.

Wanting the vote was still seen as radical and unwomanly, and Frances Willard was a genius and framed it as something she called Home Protection. You don't want to vote? Hm. But do you want to protect your home? Do you want to have a voice in issues that affect your family? Then you need to vote. By voting you can save your family. It would be unwomanly of you not to want to vote.

Saturday was a five hour session on Frances Willard, which consisted of two lectures and then three discussions. I met basically all the women who have had anything to do with FW for the past three decades, INCLUDING Carolyn De Swarte Gifford, who transcribed all her journals, thereby enabling them to be available online. She is amazing. We talked for probably too long in the back room of Frances's house, eventually joined by the woman who co-edited the book of Frances's speeches, Let Something Good Be Said. No biggie. It's all ok. I freaked out only slightly.

My friend Cate and I also selfied with Frances. It's totally fine.

The discussions were about domestic & substance abuse, and closing the gender pay gap. I never go to events like this, and it was strangely empowering sitting there and talking about what we can do to fix these problems. We talked about Twitter's #WhyILeft and #WhyIStayed and why it's so important to get something like domestic abuse talked about and not seen as a silent issue. The director of the Evanston YWCA said since the Ray Rice tape came out, calls to their emergency hotline have tripled.

Sunday was a 9:15 AM lecture in Evanston (sooo far away, but we had coffee) and then the unveiling at her home of a new SIGN (very exciting) and more talk with Frances scholars and eventually cake (see beginning of post). 


I've talked before about how amazing it is walking around Frances's home in Evanston. They made it a museum RIGHT after she died, so things that are in photographs in 1898? They're still right there. It's not "Oh, this is a museum reproduction." No. It's the same thing that's in the photo. She wrote a book called A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, because she had to learn how to ride a bike in her 50s as a way to exercise. She had a bicycle named Gladys, she refers to it all the time in the book, and Gladys is RIGHT THERE in the museum.

This is the thing that terrified her for ages

If anything can be accomplished regarding Frances Willard, I want it known that she was not some sanctimonious, cranky woman who wanted to take away people's happiness. She was a brilliant woman who headed an international organization, she helped everyone she came across, ALL she did was try to make life better for people. That was at the bottom of her work. How can we all come together and live in a way that will give everyone their best chance. She described herself as a Christian socialist, and we should give her nothing but respect.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Mississippi is Huge and Maybe Books Should Make One Travel

I went to Iowa this past weekend, and while my girlfriend drove (...the entire way), I fell asleep, because that is our division of labor. BUT! She is very nice and woke me up when we crossed the Mississippi, because MISSISSIPPI. I very much like lakes and rivers. Ohh so very much. And I never see the Mississippi even though it forms the western boundary of Illinois because I go west Approximately Never.

BUT IT IS SO BIG. The Mississippi is massive and awesome and MARK TWAIN I still do not like you very much, but I understand your weirdo fascination with it. If someone had then said "Hey, I have this raft made out of slightly unstable logs; would you like to go down this giant river on it?" I would say "YES YES I WOULD" because with the current state of water traffic it looks extremely possible to float down this wide wide river unmolested by barges and other large watercraft.


I wonder if there are other literary places where when you see them, you get it. I want to see George Eliot's countryside, even though it will be extremely extremely different from when she lived there. But it's still the reason so many of her novels are pastoral (despite her brother laughing at reporters and saying she never did jack shit around the farm). The moors around the Bronte parsonage are probably pretty badass, and maybe they'd make me dislike Wuthering Heights less.

(I'd be better at naming American lit places if I read American lit)

Oh! Georgia. Let's all go to Georgia and look at the red hills and be all like "I get you, Scarlett O'Hara. Ok, well, not really, because you did some messed-up stuff, but I get that this is pretty." I've spent so much time in Illinois that it's really easy to not realize how different the scenery can be in other places, especially since the main place I vacation is New York, and it's just flat flat NYC and concrete everywhere, so like a bigger Chicago with more bagels.

But Iowa has hilly cornfields! And different plants! I'm fairly sure now that we all have to travel a lot and gain some kind of knowledge of other people's homes. People loving where they live is one of my favorite things in art ('art' here containing all the arts). When people paint/sing/write about the places they love, it usually is the best and results in humanity being able to appreciate those places in a better way for centuries. So. Well done, artists. I will visit your places.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Their Eyes Were Watching God: Some people could look at a mud-puddle and see an ocean with ships

Their are certain books that seem so weirdly divorced from their authors, no matter how autobiographical they may be, that they appear to exist solely to speak the truth about humanity. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of these. Their Eyes Were Watching God is another.

The narrator is Janie, a woman in her 40s, who comes back home and tells her story to a friend while they sit on the porch. The best description of her life, I believe, is the following. It's one of many examples of Zora Neale Hurston taking words and shaping them into something real and beautiful. It exemplifies why we need poets and authors, despite them being increasingly devalued in our society. Who else is going to carefully articulate how we feel and give us the unified thought of "THAT'S it; I thought it was just me." Writers help bind us and let us understand each other in ways we sometimes cannot through simple conversation.

When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Then after that some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So the covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks made them hunt for one another, but the mud is deaf and dumb. Like all the other tumbling mud-balls, Janie had tried to show her shine.

Even scenes that could be melodramatic to the point of teenager-ish instead ring true. When the man Janie falls in love with disappears for a time, "[s]he plunged into the abyss and descended to the ninth darkness where light has never been." You COULD say that's melodramatic. Or you could just be honest and say "Yes, that's exactly how it feels when someone you really like doesn't call you back after you thought you had a wonderful time together." Saying the person you're in love with is "a glance from God" is...amazing. Yes. A glance. That's exactly it. Zora Neale Hurston, I hereby put you in charge of All the Words.

I believe this is one of those books where it's especially true that you should re-read it throughout your life. One's understanding and view of Janie will shift. I know many people had to read this in high school, but that seems almost a shame, because then you can stick it on the "I've already read that" shelf and feel done with it. I highly encourage you to read it again if you haven't since you were a teenager. Because it will be an entirely different experience.

Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston. One of the greatest American writers. Pick this up.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Books for RIP except I don't quite remember what RIP is

I am informally MAYBE participating in RIP. I don't even remember who hosts it. Or if it's hosted anymore. BASICALLY, these're the September/October, kind-of-scary-I-guess books I'm hoping to get through. Because themes are the best and I love them.

NUMBER 1. Is Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix, which I have already begun and it looks like an IKEA catalogue and is an enjoyable experience. I'm 100 pages in and waiting for it to get scary, though. So in that respect it feels like Night Film, and HOPEFULLY THINGS WILL CHANGE.

NUMBER 2. Eat Your Heart Out by Dayna Ingram. Someone posted the back of this book on Tumblr and I said I would read it, because lesbians fighting zombies. It's a novella, and I will finish it by Halloween.

NUMBER 3. No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale. I LOVE KATHLEEN HALE SO HARD. She's super-weird, which I appreciate, and she wrote that defense of YA that was hilarious and wonderful. This is about the murder of a girl in a small town in Wisconsin, but it's...kind of light-hearted? And unsurprisingly, YA.

NUMBER 4. Poisoned by Steve Shukis. "A gripping tale of murder, sorcery, and criminal justice in turn-of-the-century Chicago," and it is NON-fiction, which is the best. Turn of the century Chicago/1880s-1890s Chicago is the best Chicago. Everything happened then. Except the Fire. That happened in 1871. I guess that was kind of important. BUT ANYWAY, basically a whole family dies due to poisoning and it's all "Who did this! Was it this charismatic family doctor? But WHY" and I am muchly enjoying it.

I can't read for-real scary books because then I will be terrified for forever. I can't even watch scary X-Files episodes by myself (i.e. most of them) and X-Files is my JAM. It's a complicated situation. By which I mean I watch for character development, kissing, and the occasional Flukeman because I'm not scared of him.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Survey That People I Esteem Have Done

1. What is your favourite fictional food or drink?
C.S. Lewis made Turkish delight sound so badass and then you get some for real and it's gross and you're like "Is this because there was a war on and no access to actually good candy?" And I guess it's not fictional food anyway, it's just IN fiction. Ummmmmmmmm. Omg I'm gonna be terrible and cliched and say butterbeer.

Awesome picture taken from here

2. How long did it take you to finish your last book?
I finished Their Eyes Were Watching God on the Metra to Kenosha, WI and I think it took at leeeeast three weeks? Because it was on Oyster and I don't binge-read on there. But. Amazing. Amazing book. Obvs. Will review soon.

3. How many times do you stare at your books or bookshelves each day?
Most are in one of the apartment's front rooms, which has no working lights in it right now because #lifepriorities, so...maybe a few times a week? I'm usually reading other stuff. It's only when I'm running somewhere and need a book and somehow don't have one floating around in one of my bags that I scan my overloaded shelves of books I'll probably never finish I AM DEPRESSING MYSELF.

4. How many Goodreads friends and books do you have?
Don't care about Goodreads friends. I think I'm the only person who comments on people's statuses on goodreads, so FORGET ALL Y'ALL. But books...I'm slightly worried because my already-read pile is at...*checks* 390 and my TBR is at 363. I REALLY DON'T WANT TBR TO SURPASS THE ALREADY-READ PILE.

5. Do you ever quote books in public?
I'm the kind of douchey where sometimes when I see a dead bird I -- IN MY HEAD -- go "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/By the false azure in the windowpane." And sometimes I quote my favorite Pickwick Papers exchange, which is "Sir, you're a fellow!" "Sir, you're another!" And soooometimes I quote Jane Eyre's "Laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation," because the SECOND I am tempted by something, laws and principles don't count for squat. But I try to remind myself anyway.

6. Do you ever re-read books?
As with almost everyone who has a book blog, no, not really. THERE IS SO MUCH TO READ. I used to re-read Gone-Away Lake every so often, and there are sections of Jane Eyre I used to have memorized, because 16 years old.

7. Do you judge a book by its cover?
YES I was in a Facebook group back in the day called "I judge books by their covers." Also their typesetting. I read The Monsters of Templeton solely because it has a badass cover.

aw, yeah

8. Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr?
I talk to the most people on Twitter, but TUMBLR I LOVE YOU SO.

Tumblr gives unto the people things like this

9. Which genres take you the longest to read?
Gonna echo Laura here and say classics. I've been working on Barnaby Rudge for yeeeears. But it is not good. So it is just gonna take forever. But I WILL FINISH IT, because Dickens completism. 

10. Who are your favourite BookTubers (or Book Bloggers)?
Who wrote this? BookTube comes first? I don't watch NOTHIN' on BookTube, because I am a grownass lady. My favorite book bloggers are in my sidebar. I love them. May they book blog now and forevermore, amen.

11. How often do you pre-order books?
Ok, so I have hundreds of unread books at my apartment. And because I rarely get actual-excited about new books coming out, I either wait for them at the library, or get an ARC. Pretty sure I'll pre-order Amy Poehler's new book though, because ARCs of that are probably going to be immmmpossible to get unless you're Emily.

12. Are you a shopaholic?

13. How many times have you re-read your favourite book?
BEING KINDA REPETITIVE, SURVEY. Don't know, don't care.

14. Do you own a lot of books?
I own too many books and get mad whenever someone says "Oh, you can NEVER own too many books." Really? Really. Because I feel like when you keep buying books with no probable intention of ever reading them, that's when you own too many books. Also your bookshelves are full and just look messy instead of cool and omg just give some away, just do it.

15. Do you take pictures of your books before you read them?
Before I read them? Uh. Is that a thing? I mean, sometimes when I get them in the mail. If they're pretty. This question has made me so paranoid WHY WOULD I TAKE PICTURES BEFORE I READ THEM.

16. Do you read every day?
Oh of course not, because I'm someone who loves being BORED. Yes, I read every day.

Also this

17. How do you choose a new book?
I choose a new book to read by scanning Oyster or going to my shelves and standing there indecisively until I vaguely remember the reason I got a certain book in the first place, then I pick it up, read 15 pages and don't touch it again for months.

18. Do you always have a book with you?
Yes. Today it is The Cuckoo's Calling by Secretly J.K. Rowling and Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris that I took while catsitting for my friend.

19. What are your biggest distractions from reading?
Is anyone's answer to this "Life" instead of Netflix? Because my answer's Netflix. 

20. What is your favourite place to buy books?
HOKAY, so, if you're in Chicago, we've got a number of places. First off, obviously, Open Books. It's the best. Otherly, there's Powell's in Hyde Park, which has an awesome selection and is pretty big and fun to walk around in. And then I just went to Ravenswood Used Books in (surprise) Ravenswood, which is small but SO LABYRINTHINE. So they can fit a lot in there. It's cool going there with someone else, then parting ways and trying to find each other again. 

OK THEN SURVEY, you weren't the best ever, but you totally weren't the worst. Good times, my friend.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Criminal Minds, Currently Reading, and It's Getting Cold

You know, I've been watching Criminal Minds on Netflix, and I don't know how the later seasons are, but season 1 seems...weird. Weird in that no one aside from the profilers seems to know these incredibly violent crimes are happening.


There was one case where all these upper middle class women were being murdered DURING THE DAY in their nice suburban homes, and it was something ridiculous like six in a five mile radius and women were STILL LEAVING THEIR PORCH DOORS OPEN. I'm sorry. A guy tried to break into my apartment ONCE, did not even succeed or murder anyone, and I still wouldn't let my roommate put the air conditioner in the window all summer. (love you, roomie)

In another one, whole families were being murdered and the news was seemingly just NOT AROUND FOR IT. Yeah, I guess that's kind of boring. People probably shouldn't be told. I'm seriously worried about the world in which Criminal Minds takes place. You guys have to stay on the alert or I'm pretty sure that eventually everyone except the CM profilers is going to be murdered. Nine seasons? How is anyone left. It's gonna end up being an And Then There Were None situation.

THIS WEEK I have been reading The Paying Guests (reviewed yesterday), Their Eyes Were Watching God on Oyster (SO GOOD), The Cuckoo's Calling (ALSO SO GOOD, but in a different way), and endless tweets about Swan Queen drama. Did you all know that some people vastly prefer the chemistryless and patently forced pairing of Robin Hood and Regina to the relationship that's been carefully cultivated and developed throughout three seasons of television? BUT NO, GOOD CHOICE, OUTLAW QUEEN SHIPPERS.


Wisconsin this weekend, because why would you go south when it gets cold? That's apparently ridiculous. On the plus side, all those winter clothes I just proactively packed away I can now get out again. MIDWEST PRIDE.