Recent Reading

I can never remember what I've read, so I keep two running Notes in my phone: Books to Read and Books Read. I try to find an emoji that best symbolizes the book before I add it to the Books Read list. I can't adequately explain why it gives me such satisfaction to do that, but it does. Here are the books I've enjoyed in the last few months.

[racehorse emoji] The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
I gobbled up the first book in this series (The Bear and the Nightingale), which felt so fresh and inventive not only because it was well written, but because I knew next to nothing about Russian folklore or medieval Russian history. The second book didn't grab me in the same way until the last third or so, but I am once again fully in its claws.

[palm tree emoji] The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermoût
My friend Katja posted a picture of this brightly colored paperback on Instagram and called it a "Gorgeous secret genius Dutch/Indonesian magical realist novel." I trust Katja in all things book, so I immediately ordered it through interlibrary loan. What arrived at the Amherst Jones Library was not a spanking new paperback reissued by NY Review of Books, but a clothbound hardback printed in 1983 by University of Massachusetts Press. It was like I'd requested a book and got a time capsule instead! It was just as gorgeous as Katja said, and also haunting and haunted and ghostly--I loved it. 

[pine tree emoji] The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
This was a re-read, but I enjoyed it even more the second time around, noticing all the little details that have their echos in the third and fourth books. The whole series is gold star.

[coffin emoji] Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin
What a tricky book this was! The lightness and humor kept me reading along happily, and then I would put it down to refill my glass of seltzer and suddenly find a two-hundred-pound existential millstone hanging around my neck like, How did that get there? This book made me think a ton, and it made me laugh.

[door emoji] Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
This was the first book by Neil Gaiman that I'd ever read. I could have read another hundred pages of the story easily. It was so much fun and got my imagination firing in so many ways, it made me very happy for Neil and all his success. Utterly absolutely very well deserved.

[shark emoji] Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
Even though there was plenty of darkness in this story, I felt such complete joy being carried along on the current of Sam's imagination. In this post-apocalyptic city, floating off what was once Greenland, a woman arrives riding an orca and transporting a polar bear with cages around its paws and muzzle. Finding out who she is and what she wants turns into the most fascinating rabbit hole of a story.

[pile of books emoji] Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
I really enjoyed Claire's first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, so I had been meaning to read SL for about a year. I feel stupid for waiting that long. This is the reigning Best Book I've Read So Far This Year, the one to beat. Gorgeous writing, heartbreaking story--I really hope that Claire Fuller has a long, long career that I can continue to enjoy for ages and ages. She's really just the bees knees.

The best two sentences I read today

From Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces

"Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."

Reading at Odyssey Books Feb. 10 with Lyndsay Ely!

It's my first reading in the Pioneer Valley, please come say hi! Gunslinger Girl's Lyndsay Ely and I will read at 4 p.m. on Saturday, February 10 at:

Odyssey Books
9 College Street
South Hadley, MA 01075

Odyssey is the bookstore of my dreams--two levels, an amazing YA and children's selection, plus book clubs and readings galore. Even if you can't make it on Feb. 10, I hope you get to Odyssey sometime soon.

Reading in 2017

A few years ago I started keeping a note on my phone with a list of books I had read. Part of that had to do with my resolution to read two books a month, but the main reason was that I have a terrible affliction where I forget what book I was just reading as soon as I return it to the library. The list-making has helped so much, and it's really fun to look back on my year this way. Here is my phone list from the past year, with a few annotations.

Books Read 2017

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (a very closer runner-up to the best book I read this year)
Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit (I finished this on the flight home from the DC Women's March in January, crying quietly in my seat and feeling SO MANY emotions)
Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire
American Philosophy: A Love Story by John Kaag
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers (only read half of, it made me anxious)
What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg (read most of, probably missed a story or two before I had to return it to my friend)
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (this was a standout favorite)
Never Ending Summer by Allison Cole
Monstrous Affections, ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello (this was research for my next book, but so enjoyable I kind of forgot to take notes...)
The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
On Monsters by Stephen T. Asma (also for research, but totally fascinating; it gave me mentionitis and I talked about it constantly)
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Steifvater
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (this was the best book I read this year; novels and novelists don't get enough credit for helping process history, and this book felt like a living history, important and heartbreaking and massive in scope)
Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan (I'm really excited to read her new book, In Other Lands)
Blue Lilly, Lilly Blue by Maggie Steifvater
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
The Raven King by Maggie Steifvater (as you can see, I made myself read at least one book in between MS's books so that I didn't devour the entire series in one gulp)
This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (I hadn't read this since the sixth grade and it brought back so many memories of being the new kid in school and escaping into the comfort of books that I hadn't thought about in probably a decade)
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (this was my second time reading it; I love it)
Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye
The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (half of)
The Long, Long Life of Trees by Fiona J. Stafford (so soothing, trees)
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

I'm currently reading A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, so that will probably be my last book of the year. 

I met my goal of two books a month, and that's not including the ones I didn't finish! Next year I hope to read thirty books, half by writers of color. That is my Official New Year's Resolution for 2018.

The Catskill Festival of Arts and Oddities

I'll be reading at The Catskill Festival of Arts and Oddities on Saturday, October 28, 2017. Come say hello!

I'm reading with Sam J. Miller, who is awesome, and just before we go on, Jedediah Berry will host a workshop on interactive stories. The festival's home is Magpie Bookshop on Main Street in Catskill. It's worth a trip just to visit Magpie! 

If you still need convincing, here is the subtitle of the fest:

A ONE DAY CELEBRATION
of the 
CHARMINGLY WEIRD
WEIRDLY CHARMING
MYSTERIOUSLY ODD
and
MAGICALLY REAL

So I'll see you there?

What!!!

I'm a little bit late to my own party, but! Melissa Albert at the B&N Teen Blog included The Grave Keepers on her list of most anticipated debuts of the second half of 2017! I am just tickled pink. I have been smiling ever since I found out. Such great company to be in, too. It's pretty much a list of what I will be reading all fall.

Also, I love the last line of the mini-review: "An odd and lovely story with magical realistic touches."

"Odd and lovely" is my ideal and I didn't even realize it until now. 

How to Write a Series Finale

I haven't even watched The Leftovers (I want to, but I've heard it's pretty bleak, and when faced with the menu of all HBO shows, I usually can't help toggling over to John Oliver's tile), so I didn't expect to gobble up this article about the final episode of the show so happily. Boris Kachka usually writes book reviews for New York, and this piece isn't so much about TV or even one show as it is about writing.

He writes, "For this story, I spoke with everyone who was in the writers’ room about the construction of the script; flew to Australia for a tense and emotional final week of shooting; and sat in with [Damon] Lindelof as he built his final cut, reshaping his creation virtually frame by frame."

It's the best thing I've ever read about the strange, sometimes strained, sometimes exhilarating process of figuring out what happens in the fabricated lives of made-up people, and the very real feelings that those made-up people will have in response. About the missing two percent of the population--the premise to the whole show--Kachka describes how even the writers were grappling with what had happened. "There was another thread of the story to resolve, too, the question of the 2 percent. Where had they gone, and would their loved ones — and the audience — ever get to find out? Whether there was an answer, avoiding the question entirely might have suggested it didn’t really matter — and to the characters, at least, it really does."

To the characters it really does! Even though I know how it ends now, I'm totally going to watch The Leftovers.

I wish there was a behind-the-scenes article like this for Mad Men. A behind-the-scenes BOOK.

 

Animal Internet

Can Animals Predict Earthquakes? Italian Farm Acts as a Lab to Find Out

Totally fascinating article by Elisabetta Povoledo.

"Tagging different species might be essential, according to Mr. Wikelski, as each one senses the environment in a distinct way. And together, he said, they might 'form a collective sensing system,' providing completely novel information.

"On a global level, such a collective could be described as 'the internet of animals,' he said."