Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mom's Visit

A few weeks ago, Hunter went to Trieste, Italy for a conference. We decided it wouldn't really be efficient or cost-effective for Sadie and me to go with him. My mom came to visit for the time he was gone, as well as a few days after he got back. I know I *could* have handled Sadie by myself, but having mom there just made it so relaxing. I could actually get rest during the day, and I think I only had one headache the whole time she was there.

Sadie loved her instantly, and they played together a lot. She would usually want me back eventually, but I think they had so much fun! 

We got to eat lots of exciting food...

Get into all kinds of mischief...

Go out on adventures...

Just goof around...

And relax every once in a while!

We also got to go see the Harry Potter exhibition in Cologne, where they have a bunch of props and stuff from the movies. I would call this a must-see for Potter fans. They had tons of stuff you could see up close. My favorite was all the different wands--it was amazing how the designers made each one different! We also got to sit in Hagrid's chair:

And I had to get a picture of us all at Hogwarts!

We also visited the Cologne cathedral, which is pretty impressive.

Sadie loved posing for the camera!

Of course she was glad when her daddy got home...

But us girls sure had a good time! I can't wait until we go to visit my mom and dad this April!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Literary Lundi #10

Books Acquired:

Weirdly, I didn't buy any ebooks this week, but there were a few things on sale at Audible, so I got two audiobooks.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield-- This has been on my to-read list for a while (it's #13 of over 1000) so when I saw it on sale I figured it was time.

The Good Girl by Marie Kubica-- I don't remember where I'd heard about this, but I guess I read something that interested me and I don't read many thrillers so it diversifies my reading a little bit.

Books Finished:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm giving all the HP books the same rating, because even though there are some I like better than others, the difference from 4 to 5 is too big.... maybe if it were a 100-pt scale.

Anyway, a lot of people cite the third book as when the series got darker and that might be true of the movies (it's been a while since I've seen them), but I think this is where the books really get crazy. Not only is more at stake, for everyone, but the characters are starting to grow up and that is also reflected. JK Rowling's writing also matured starting here. There is a lot of foreshadowing, both to what happens in this book and in future books. It'll probably be a while before I re-read the 5th one, since I have other audiobooks for a while and they are quite expensive, but I really can't wait!

View all my reviews Chronicles, Vol. 1Chronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob Dylan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not like the world's biggest Dylan fan or anything, but I thought it would be interesting to read this book and it was. There are five sections, and each one details a specific point in time. It doesn't really read chronologically; it starts when he has just moved to New York and is trying to break through as a musician, then a later section goes back to before he left the midwest. The section about the making of an album was a little bit "inside baseball," but it also took place in New Orleans, which made it really interesting to me.

The writing style is really poetic, as I guess you'd expect from a poet. Probably if you are a huge fan, you need to read this, but I don't think there is a ton in it for just the casual listener.

View all my reviews

Currently Reading:

Audio-- The Good Girl by Marie Kubica
Ebook-- How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Up Next:

I'm thinking my next ebook will be The Riddle of the Labryinth: it's a book I've owned for a while and fills in a task on the Seasonal Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

(Late) Literary Lundi #9

Well this one is a day late because my mom has been in town visiting! In a day or so I will post some pics and thoughts about her trip, but for now, on to the regularly scheduled update on my bookish antics:

Books Acquired:

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale-- A narrative non-fiction mystery I had just heard about before I saw it was on sale.

Final Jeopardy by Stephen Baker-- Because I love all things Jeopardy!.

Authority and Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer-- These are the second two instalments of a trilogy. I haven't actually read the first one yet (which I also own), but I have heard such good things about it that I trusted myself to want the whole set.

Books Finished:

The Big GameThe Big Game by Sandy Schofield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was the first Deep Space Nine book I've read, and it's pretty true to the series. The basic plot is that Quark is hosting a poker game with the greatest players in the quadrant. But that may not be the only big game disrupting the station...

The Quark and Odo characters were the best developed, which makes sense because the main plot focused on them. Sisko also had a few lines that I could really picture Avery Brooks delivering. This definitely had the same goofy vibe as early DS9. I'd say if you're a fan of the series, it's worth reading.

View all my reviews Selected Short StoriesSelected Short Stories by Rabindranath Tagore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first book in my attempt at reading more diversely this year. I think the author won the Nobel Prize earlier in the 20th century. The most interesting thing about the stories was how different the setting was, and how many different cultural assumptions were present. They really did take place in a completely different world.

My favorite story was probably the first on in the collection; it had a creepy, almost Lovecraftian vibe to it. Most of the stories ended on pretty bleak notes. I mean, the "happiest" one still had someone die at the end, it's just that his death led to closure (and continued poverty) for one of the other characters.

So anyway, this is way outside my reading comfort zone and I'm glad I read it, but I would not describe it as "my thing."

View all my reviews

Currently Reading:

I'm still making my way through Goblet of Fire on audio. I haven't read as much this past week, since most of my reading gets done while I'm walking by myself and with my mom here, that hasn't happened too much. Also reading Chronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob Dylan. It's not bad, but kind of weird. Expect more when I write my review next week.

Up Next:

It's been a while (relatively speaking) since I've read a 2014 release so I think How to Build a Girl will be next up.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Literary Lundi #8

Books Acquired:

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran-- This seems to be sort of a modern-day The Bell Jar, which is one of my favorite books ever.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer-- I forget what exactly made me want to read this, or where I heard about it, but the synopsis seems a bit DFW-y, so that's a good thing.

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau-- Because I can't go a week without buying a YA dystopia.

Books Finished:

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Freakonomics, #1)Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, this might be more of a 4.5 but I'm trying to reserve the 5-star ranking for full-on favorites these days.

Anyway, I wasn't totally sure what to expect from this book. I basically knew it was a pop economics book, a genre I'd never read before. This is the kind of book I think would appeal to fans of Bill Bryson, in that on every page there is some fun fact that you have to turn to the person next to you and say, "Did you knoW?" My complaint would be that it was too short, but since my version was the revised and expanded, it did have a bit more content, plus I guess they have written some other books since this one came out.

This is much lighter reading than it seemed like it would be; I got through the main part of the book really quickly. If you are the kind of person who loves looking for connections between things I think you'll get a big kick out of this.

View all my reviews

Currently Reading:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire-- I'm really enjoying this re-read. It's the first book where they start growing up a bit, which is fun to experience again.

Selected Short Stories by Rabindranath Tagore-- This is the first book in my effort to read more diversely. The author apparently won the Nobel Prize a while back. The stories are definitely pretty different--they start with a different set of cultural assumptions, and I kind of wish I had an annotated edition or something because I'm sure there are subtleties I'm not picking up on.

Up Next:

I'm making my way through the audiobook as quick as possible, but it's a long one. My tentative next audiobook is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, since I've heard a lot about it and it sounds intriguing. I haven't really looked at what my next e-book will be, though.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

My Favorite Books of 2014

Just like last year, I figured I'd make a list of the best books I read this year. They weren't all published this year, just things I read. This isn't just a list of the books I rated five stars, and I'm not limiting it to a specific number, just making a list of what I enjoyed the most and thought was worth recommending.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski-- This book isn't for everyone, but it's perfect for me. It. Has. Everything. A fictional narrative within the narrative, footnotes, that thing where the index is part of the story. A must for people who are interested in sort of alternative formats, or books that absolutely must be read in print.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood-- I had heard so much hype about this, and thought it really couldn't possibly be as good as everyone said. I was prepared to be annoyed by it, really, but was pleasantly surprised. Claire Danes does an amazing job with the audio, and the story just deals with so many issues that haven't changed since Atwood wrote this almost 20 years ago.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel-- I don't usually end up reading award-contender type books, but I was so glad I had heard so much about this one. The post-apocalyptic setting really affected me, to the point where I was like, "Oh crap I don't have a plan for if this happens!"

California by Edan Lepucki-- Another post-apocalyptic narrative, but this one is really about a marriage, or a relationship, the setting just happens to be after society has mostly collapsed. If I hadn't been following literature, I probably wouldn't have heard about this, so I'm pretty glad I started caring more about what books were coming out and looked interesting.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle-- This makes the list because it was written by one of my favorite musicians of all time. It is a good book, and I'm not the only one to think so (it was long-listed for the National Book Award). The writing is interesting because really, the story could be the plot of one of his songs, but you get to know more than you would in a song. It's also a poetic sort of writing, and it's one of the few books that I read paragraphs over again just to enjoy the writing. 

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman-- Really, the whole series, starting with The Magicians. Read them. Read them all.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis-- Time-travel has been one of my favorite genres ever since I used to watch Quantum Leap with my dad. I read several other Connie Willis books this year, one of them in the same time-travelling universe, and she is quickly becoming a new favorite.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane-- Bookstores, technology, secret societies, typefaces... if those are all words that by themselves would have you picking up a book, imagine the power of them all combined!

The Martian by Andy Weir-- I can't imagine the plotting that went into this book. It's hard sci-fi, so if you're afraid of reading about a guy crunching numbers to see how many days he can survive on Mars, maybe don't pick this up. He actually calculates, like, how many potatoes he needs to grow, how long it will take, etc. For me, this was fascinating. It's almost more of a survival story, it just is fiction and takes place in space. If I had to pick one absolute favorite from this year, this would probably be it.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer-- I'm a bit late to this party, as several subsequent books in the series have come out by now. I was intrigued by the premise--robot Cinderella--but not sure about it. I ended up absolutely loving the book and can't wait to read the next.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald-- I don't read many middle-grade books these days, but this was a winner. I would totally give this to 9 or 10 year old me, who probably hadn't read enough books yet to be able to guess the ending.

I read so many other good books this year, but these are the ones that stuck out to me when I was going through my list.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Literary Lundi #7

So many bookish posts lately!

Books Acquired:

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia-- A mystery involving high school musicians and a hotel. The description says it's a combination of Agatha Christie, Glee, and The Shining, so sounds cool.

Jackaby by William Ritter-- I've seen this described as a combination of Doctor Who and Sherlock.

Twee by Marc Spitz-- A history of twee culture.

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters-- More mystery, this one with a pre-apocalyptic setting.

And, I gave in and got the audiobook for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so I can continue my re-read.

Books Finished:

Night Watch (Watch, #1)Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, I've read a few older, classic Russian works, but this is the first more contemporary piece of writing I've read from there, and it was pretty good (maybe a 3.5, but rounded down). At first I kinda thought the era in which it was set was a dystopia, but no, I think he's just describing how Russia is (I mean without like the vampires and people with powers and stuff). So anyway it was a pretty good story that I think would appeal even more to people who really like this kinda paranormal, urban fantasy-ish stuff.

View all my reviews

And I also finished The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, but I'm going to do a bigger review of that on the blog in the next few days.

Currently Reading:

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner-- I am loving this so far! Every page gives me a new little tidbit to turn to Hunter and say, "Did you know...?"

And, as I mentioned before, the audio of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Up Next:

I haven't decided what to read next, but I'm thinking maybe fiction in a more realistic contemporary setting, since the last few things I've read have been sort of paranormal and/or historical.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Three Years of Reading Habits

A few months ago, I was reflecting on my reading habits and decided it would be fun if I looked at the past three years and compiled some statistics about the kinds of things I read, make a few graphs, you know, typical nerdy stuff. I had a few predictions going into it, and wanted to see if I was right. My main predictions:

1. I read about the same amount of male as female authors.
2. I read about the same amount of fiction as non-fiction.
3. I read more "newer" books with each year.
4. I read woefully few authors of color.

Author Gender:

To my knowledge, every author I read identifies as either male or female, so I only have those two categories. (I realized while doing this project that my reading is more homogenous than I thought.)

In 2012, as you can see, my reading was overwhelmingly male. Looking at the actual books I read, this is at least partly because I read at least three series which were written by men, which influenced that a lot.

Book Genres

I only divided my reading into fiction and non-fiction; there would be too many genres to keep track of otherwise and I didn't think it would provide any useful information.

Again, my prediction was wrong. I read a lot more fiction. I'm basically OK with that, though, and I don't see it as something I need to work to change, just something fun to know.

New Releases:

So, for the purposes of my stats, I define "new release" as having come out in the same calendar year that I read it. This isn't a perfect system, because if a book came out at the end of a calendar year and I read it at the beginning of the next, it wouldn't show up in the data. But, the alternative was actually looking at when I read each book relative to when it came out, and that just seemed like more work than I was willing to put into a blog post that like 30 people are going to read.

So, from this graph, it looks like my reading of new releases actually went down in 2014. However, I read more books in 2013. So, when you look at the new releases as a percentage of books read...
The number went up and then stayed pretty much the same. I anticipated this, because I've been following the book world a lot more closely recently, and becoming aware of new books that are coming out. The mean year of publication of books I read also went up, from 1987 in 2012, to 2007 in 2014. In 2012 I read several books published over a hundred years ago whereas the oldest book I read in 2014 was from 1969. I know there are a lot of older books that are probably worth reading, but newer stuff is what I'm more interested in lately, so while I might pay more attention to older books that go on sale or whatever, I'm not going to worry too much about this part of my reading.*

*I know a lot of older books are available free through various sources, but if I'm reading something more than 100 years old, I would really like to have a scholarly introduction and notes so that I actually understand the context. Plus free versions are not as likely to have proper formatting.


So, as I suspected, my reading is overwhelmingly white. In the first two years (2012 and 2013), I read one book per year by a person of color.** In 2014, the number was three. Ultimately, just dividing this up by color doesn't give a whole picture, since I did read books by people of different sexualities and religions, as well as some books in translation, but this is one area where it's pretty easy to see what is missing from my bookshelves. This is the one habit that I think really needs to change, so my resolution for 2015 is to read at least one book per month by a person of color.

**Since I was teaching during 2012, there are actually many books I read to the kids that were written by people of different backgrounds. However, for my statistics I chose only to include books that I read for my own entertainment.


Another thing I thought it would be interesting to count was how many of the books I read each year were part of a series. I didn't necessarily go by the Goodreads categorization (because Doctor Sleep is not "The Shining #2") but just by common sense.

So, hanging around at pretty close to half. As I said before, in 2012 I read lots of books from just a few series, whereas in the later years I read one or two books from many different series.

So, that's everything I found interesting. You can see all my data by clicking here, but it's kinda messy and idiosyncratic. If you're just interested in seeing what I read, I would suggest checking out my Goodreads page. And let me know if there are any other stats you'd like to see me keep track of!

After this week's regularly scheduled Literary Lundi, I'll be posting my review of The Art of Asking and my list of the best books I read this year!