Top Ten Tuesday: Outside My Comfort Zone

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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September 3: Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone (i.e., a genre you don’t typically read or subject matter you’re not usually drawn to)

I have a lot of respect for all these genres but generally they’re not where my personal taste tends to take me.  But there are exceptions to every rule!

Sciencey Nonfiction

I had some no-so-good science teachers in school that gave me a negative feeling for it for a long time. I’m trying to push myself out of that mindset because I do find some scientific topics interesting, but it’s a process. My knee-jerk reaction is still rather negative. For the most part these books aren’t hard core scientific but they have scientific portions or content.

51bven7uisl-_ac_us218_The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shalin

 

 

 

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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

 

 

 

71zpcrwzwel._ac_uy218_The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

 

 

 

 

Romance

I’ve always enjoyed romantic subplots in books, but I think for a while I bought into the whole idea that romance as a genre was somehow less than other genres. I’ve come to see that’s not the case (I posted about it here and here) and I’ve been venturing into it a bit more, but I wouldn’t call it my comfort zone. I’m still figuring out my tastes in this genre.

51ldcwuzjyl._ac_uy218_Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale

 

 

 

51em7j9uqel-_ac_us218_A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux

 

 

 

91vhsxkxe7l._ac_uy218_An Extraordinary Union  by Alyssa Cole

 

 

 

 

Poetry

I like poetry a lot in small doses but I’ve never been one to sit for an afternoon and binge it. These are the exceptions to that rule.

51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_Crush by Richard Siken

 

 

 

817xb3ojwvl._ac_uy218_Transformations by Anne Sexton

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Owned

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

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August 27: Books I’ve Read That I’d Like In My Personal Library (perhaps you checked it out, borrowed it from a friend, received it for review, etc. and want to own it yourself.) (Submitted by Annemieke @ A Dance with Books)

Most of these I got from the library originally

51i6ln7tmul-_ac_us218_1. The Library Book by Susan Orlean– I got this (rather fittingly) from the library. But it’s a beautiful book physically. I want my own copy.

71pwec3g0ol._ac_ul436_2. Flush by Virginia Woolf– I read this as an ebook, and I still own it that way, but I really liked it and I want a physical copy.

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_3. Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield- I’d like to read this one again at some point.

51wn17e1xil-_ac_us218_4. Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– This is a novel in letters so it’s easy to pick up anywhere and just read one. They’re really funny so I’d like to have it on hand to read bits and pieces from time to time.

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5. Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson- Some of these lesser known stories and essays are better than others,  but I’d like to have them on hand, especially since some of them highlight Jackson’s humorous side, which we don’t often get to see.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_6. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This book was beautiful but difficult to read. I’d like to revisit it at some point,  knowing the plot, so that I can appreciate some of the other elements.

51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_7. Crush by Richard Siken– I’m rather fussy about poetry but Siken’s work is vivid and compelling enough for me to want to revisit it often.

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8. M Train by Patti Smith– I have Smith’s other book, Just Kids, but I actually like this one much better.

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9. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr– I read a book dealing with similar subject matter shortly after this and as a result they’re sort of blended in my mind. But I remember this one was vastly superior so I’d like to reread it and have it clearer in my memory.

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10. Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak– This is a childhood favorite that I’ve been trying to find forever. I may just order it from Amazon at some point.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books To Break A Slump

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 21: Books to Pull You Out of a Reading Slump

We’ve all had reading slumps. Those times when you’ve read several disappointments and you’re having trouble losing yourself in something new. Here are my suggestions to help get your reading rhythm back.

41wjujfmkyl-_ac_us218_1. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman– Instead of trying to dive into another novel right away try this excellent book about books. Fadiman’s essays are short and easy to digest. It’s perfect for dipping into in small doses, and as a bonus, she might discuss a book you’ll want to tackle next.

 

 

51wdp-epb5l-_ac_us218_2. Up The Down Staircase by Bel Kauffman– This book about a first-year NYC high school teacher tells its story entirely via letters characters write to one another, memos, and papers found in desk drawers or in the trash. That format makes it a very quick read. You plan to just read one note that one student passed to another, but the next thing you know you’re halfway through the book.

 

51s4merpcjl-_ac_us218_3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– The plot here has been done many times: ten strangers are invited to an island where they’re killed one by one. But Agatha Christie does it better than anyone. It doesn’t take long before the reader is along for the ride, trying to figure out whodunnit as the cast of possible suspects dwindles. Once that happens it’s hard to let go!

 

51wyqwsukzl-_ac_us218_4. No Angel by Penny Vincenzi– A 700 pager might not seem like the thing to get you out of a reading slump, but this saga of a wealthy British family is the kind of thing that just sweeps you up with it. While you read it, you’re immersed in this soap opera-ish world. There’s not a lot of intellectual depth, but who cares?  It’s a fun way to break a slump!

 

31yhicomrpl-_ac_us218_5. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson– This is 1930’s era chick lit that’s lighter than air. While in some ways I prefer the film because it has more emotional heft, the book is perfect for times when you want something so frothy that you can almost float along as you read.

 

 

51wn17e1xil-_ac_us218_6. Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– This novel consists of humorous letters sent to the main character by members of her eccentric family and friends over the course of several decades. Each letter is short and funny. It’s hard to put down when you start reading and see that the next letter is called “The Gerbil You Drowned in 1990 Would Like a Word With You”, “Your Intrauterine Device Has Some Thoughts on Your Love Life,” or “Your Uncle Figured a Mass E-mail Was the Best Way to Discuss His Sexuality.” Each one is only a page or two (the whole book is less than 200 pages) so it’s quite possible to read this in one sitting.

51bugqmhyql-_ac_us218_7. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– This is one that just draws you in from page one and you get caught up in the atmosphere and romance and mystery. It opens with a young boy whose father is taking him to a place called The Cemetary of Forgotten Books, from that point the boy grows up and tries to discover who is destroying all the works of a favorite author. The setting of the story is so vivid that when you put it down the real world sort of comes as a surprise!

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_8. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– The main character of this book becomes sort of enthralled by a group of students at his college. Even though the reader has a sense that there’s something “off” about this clique we become engrossed in their concerns in the same way that the narrator does so that by the time things go off the rails, the reader is along for the ride.

 

51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_9. Crush by Richard Siken– I’m not usually a poetry reader. I mean there are poems and poets that I like but I’m not one to just dive into a book of poetry for hours. But that’s why it’s perfect for a reading slump! You can dip into it for a short time, read a full poem, and put it down (or continue if you choose!) and repeat as desired. It doesn’t require the commitment of a novel. I chose this one because Siken is one of my favorite contemporary poets, but if you have another favorite go for that!

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_10. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery- Another way to break a slump is to revisit an old childhood favorite, whether it’s Anne or Harry Potter, or something else. There’s something that’s comforting and familiar about revisiting an old love, and as you read you can remind yourself what made you fall in love with books in the first place.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: New To Me Authors I Read in 2017

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

January 2: Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2017

  1. 51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_Mary WebbPrecious Bane– I read Precious Bane at the end of 2017 and loved it. It’s a beautiful story about Prue Sarn, a girl with a harelip, her (crazy) family, the village where she lives and her seemingly hopeless love for the weaver Kester Woodseaves. It’s been compared to the likes of Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy. While I see some parallels in terms of setting and theme, I think Webb’s work has its own identity. Author Kate Forsyth recommended Webb’s Gone to Earth as a follow up read, so that’s on my 2018 TBR.
  2. 515vcf5e7ol-_ac_us218_51bn96akpgl-_ac_us218_CL Wilson– Tarian Soul series- I suppose that I’d call these books romantic fantasy. I had some issues with first one, Lord of the Fading Lands, in that it was a bit too Cinderella-ish. But some of that was changed in the follow-up Lady of Light and Shadows. It’s still not perfect mind you, but it’s got my interest enough to keep reading the 5 books series.
  3. 51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_Lyndsay FayeJane Steele– After finding Jane Steele to be a lovely surprise (I recommend it to anyone who wonders what Jane Eyre would be like if Jane were a serial killer), I definitely want to check out some of her other work. I’m not sure if I’ll get to Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Jack the Ripper Killings by John H. Watson (basically Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper) first or The  Gods of Gotham, the first in her Timothy Wilde trilogy about a police officer in 19th century NYC. But both are on my TBR.
  4. 61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_1Marisha PesslNight Film– Night Film was like a crazy fever dream of a read. It was entertaining, disturbing, and innovative. I definitely want to read more of her work in 2018. Her debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics received a lot of acclaims, so that might be where I go next. But there’s another book coming out called Neverworld Wake that also looks good…
  5. Marina WarnerFly Away Home- I really enjoyed Marina Warner’s short story collection Fly Away Home. Like many collections of short work, some stories were, of course, better than others.  But I liked how she played with the line between fantasy and realism in different ways in these stories. Next up, I may go for a novel or some nonfiction like From Beast to Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers.
  6. 51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_Hanya Yanagihara A Little Life– I’ve spoken about this book before. Even people who say that it’s too dark have praised the beautiful prose. Personally, I found it dark, but appropriately so, and ultimately I took something hopeful from it. I hope to read Yanagihara’s first novel, The People in the Trees in 2018. Hopefully, that’s got something equally beautiful to offer.
  7. 41hn3x56n9l-_ac_us218_Ali SmithAutumn– Autumn was the first in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. While it wasn’t perfect, I appreciated the emphasis on how art and current events influence our perceptions of what is temporary and transient and what is eternal and unchanging. I also appreciated that the crux of the story was about the platonic friendship of an older man and a younger woman. Platonic relationships don’t get much attention! Anyway, I definitely want to pick up the follow-up, Winter in 2018. Preferably before spring hits!
  8. 51t-vfynk1l-_ac_us218_Susan Bishop CrispellThe Secret Ingredient of Wishes– Well done magical realism- especially when it’s not the highbrow Gabriel Garcia Marquez/Isabelle Allende/Salman Rushdie kind- is hard to find. I enjoyed The Secret Ingredient of Wishes enough to want to read some more of Crispell’s work, though with titles like Dreaming in Chocolate I suspect it might make me very hungry…
  9. Johanna SinisaloTroll: A Love Story– This was a weird book. Actually, her work has been dubbed “Finnish Weird”. Troll is about a Finnish man who stumbles across an injured, sick troll (a rare species but not unheard of) and takes it in. The events of the story are mixed with excerpts from “sources” about troll folklore and scientific “sources” about where and how they live. Her only other book that’s been translated into English is called The Core of the Sun, and it sounds equally strange.
  10. 51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_Richard SikenCrush– I’m  not usually a poetry reader. I mean I’ll read a poem in a magazine here and there but I’m not usually someone who goes out and buys a volume of poetry. But Siken’s collection is a ferocious look at love and obsession. Some poems had an almost violent linguistic impact. For that reason, his follow up War of the Foxes is in on my TBR for 2018.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2017 (So Far…)

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

June 27Best Books You’ve Read In 2017 So Far (break it down however you want — by genre, strictly 2017 releases, whatever!)

So far 2017 has been good to me in terms of books. Hopefully that’ll continue! Here some of the best I’ve read this year (so far).

  1. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff- Lotto and Mathilde married at twenty two. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends. Many people say that honesty and openness are needed for a successful marriage, but in this book, Lotto and Mathilde are kept together by what they don’t share, what they keep from their partner to protect them. We see the story first from Lotto’s perspective. Then it shifts and we see it from Mathilde’s point of view. It’s not the marriage I’d want, but it does work for these two….

    “Please. Marriage is made of lies. Kind ones, mostly. Omissions. If you give voice to the things you think every day about your spouse, you’d crush them to paste. She never lied. Just never said.”

  2.  Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood– Felix Phillips lost his job as the artistic director of a theater company while he was grieving for his lost daughter. He disappears to lick his wounds, and emerges from his self imposed exile to teach literacy in a local prison. He teachers Shakespeare to the inmates, and a prison production of The Tempest gives his excellent opportunity for revenge against those who once wronged him. Atwood re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a contemporary setting. Not only does she prove that Shakespeare’s work is truly universal, but she also shines some light on aspects of the original play that I’ve missed before.

    “The rest of his life. How long that time had once felt to him. How quickly it has sped by. How much of it has been wasted. How soon it will be over.” 

  3. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye– I think I’ve mentioned this book before. Think Jane Eyre meets Dexter. Jane Steele, much like her counterpart, is “poor, obscure, plain and little.” She’s not heartless but sometimes she has to do some bad things. It’s usually for a good reason. When she falls for her employer, Mr. Thornfield, she gets in over her head trying to reconcile her past and future. 

    Reader, I murdered him….”

  4. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara – I put this on my TBR list for this summer and I got to it sooner than I thought I would! It’s not an easy book. It asks a lot of readers. But it gives a lot too, in terms of beautiful language (some sentences I’d just read over to experience them again) and characters you care about in spite of their faults. It’s about Jude St. Francis, who survives a childhood of horrific abuse to find success as an adult. At least outwardly. He has adoptive parents, a thriving career, great friends, but he can’t accept that he’s deserving of any of it. He waits for the day that everyone else realizes it too.

    “He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.” 

  5. Crush by Richard Siken– I’m not usually a poetry reader, but someone recommended Siken a few months ago, and now I’m obsessed. It’s about love and anxiety and violence and how those three themes intersect. It shows us the ugly side of love and the beautiful side of obsession. It explores a “crush” in all its meanings; a romantic infatuation, a force that destroys or deforms,  and to subdue completely.

    “Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us./ These, our bodies, possessed by light./ Tell me we’ll never get used to it. “

  6. Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman– This is a collection of essays about Fadiman’s lifelong love affair with books and language.  As a child she built castles out of books rather than blocks. As an adult, she only truly considered herself married when she and her husband merged libraries (never mind that she and her husband had, at that point, been married five years and had a child together; merging libraries means intimacy…commitment!) In these essays, Fadiman reflects on the appeals of mail order catalogs, the urge to proofread everything and report typos, and why second hand books are nicer than new ones.

    “[T]here is a certain kind of child who awakens from a book as from an abyssal sleep, swimming heavily up through layers of consciousness toward a reality that seems less real than the dream-state that has been left behind. I was such a child.” 

  7. The White Album by Joan Didion– In this book Joan Didion reflects in the culture and counterculture of America in the 1960’s and 70’s. She explores her subjects on a number of levels, revealing not just the intelligence and skepticism that she’s known for, but also her dry, self deprecating sense of humor. Her subjects range from the Hoover Dam, to the Manson family, to migraines, to water in the desert, and biker exploitation films.

    “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” 

  8. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue–  I’m a long time fan of Ms. Donoghue, but initially I had trouble getting into this book. It starts off rather slow, and has a protagonist who we don’t like right away. But I’m glad I stuck with it. It has a great atmosphere and we build toward caring about the characters. In the late 19th century, Libby is a nurse, trained by Florence Nightingale. She’s asked to come to Ireland to care for, and observe 11 year old Anna, who hasn’t eaten in four months and has become a local sensation and even tourist attraction. She plans on exposing Anna as a hoax as soon as she figures out how Anna’s doing it, but as she sends more time with Anna and her family, Libby finds herself confronting local legends, lore, and religious belief.  It draws on various cases of “Fasting Girls” that turned up throughout Europe from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

    “A fast didn’t go fast; it was the slowest thing there was. Fast meant a door shut fast, firmly. A fastness, a fortress. To fast was to hold fast to emptiness, to say no and no and no again.” 

  9. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente– I would recommend this to readers who are new to Valente. Some of Valente’s work for older readers is harder to embrace because the emphasis is more on feeling that plot. The prose is beautiful but sometimes hard to follow. Though this book is intended for middle grade readers, I think that readers of all ages can find something to enjoy here. It’s about a girl named September, who is brought to Fairyland by the Green Wind. There she makes several friends, and must find a talisman for an evil queen. It recalls works ranging from Alice in Wonderland to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to The Wizard of Oz.

    “Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.” 

  10. The  Brontesaurus: An A-Z of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte (and Branwell) by John Sutherland and John Crace– I’m a major Bronte fan, as I’ve said before. I’ve read several biographies of the Brontes, but this was more of an encyclopedia of trivia. Did you ever want to know the never discussed, implied origins of Mr. Rochester’s wealth? Curious as to what “Wuthering” actually means? It includes an “abbreviated Jane Eyre” as well, and it’s got a nice sense of humor and wit.

    “There is no fate worse for fiction than to come and go into Shakespeare’s ‘wallet of oblivion’. Everything from ‘Jane Hair’ salons to Jane Eyrotica confirms that will never happen to the Brontës’ fiction. Their novels will last as long as there is money to be made from the novels, which are wholly uncontaminated. Long live ‘tat’: it bears witness to long life.”