Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Merry Spinster: Beauty is never private

Alice, aka Reading Rambo, put together a distilled list of the best books coming out in 2018 and among those was the book The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg. Given this recommendation and the fact that I follow the author on Twitter and she's pretty swell there, I hopped over to Netgalley to see if I could get a copy. And lo and behold, the request was granted and here we are.

The book is a collection of retellings of fairy tales. And since I think fairy tales are pretty swell and own a number of books about them: Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales, a number of Maria Tartar's annotated fairy tales and academic essays about fairy tales, because what's more fun than adding academia to something?
Anyway, stories based on Children's Stories Made Horrific, this seems like exactly the thing for me. Even though I am cautiously optimistic when it comes to retellings. Sometimes they work out well and I'm a big fan; but very often things don't quite work out. And some of the stories most definitely were. And others...less so. But isn't that the way with short story collections?

The stories aren't really scary stories. There more unsettling, but hey, aren't all all fairy tales, particularly those of the Grimm bros variety?

It's always difficult to review collections of short stories. I never really know how to tackle this, even though I've done it a bunch so you'd think I'd figure it out. But nope, not learning from the past is a thing I'm pretty good at so let's muddle through this.

Top 3 
The first story, "The Daughter Cells", a retelling of "The Little Mermaid" was a great way to start the collection and one of the stories I really enjoyed. You have the story you know (mermaid gets legs and tries to get a human to marry her without the use of her voice) but there's a lot less of the infatuation you get in either the original or Disney versions, with a little mermaid that has a lot more agency than other telling seem to give her.

"The Six-Boy Coffins" is based on the fairy tale "The Wild Swans" (sons changed into swans and a sister has to weave nettle shirts for them to turn them back into people) and was probably my favorite of the collection. It's very similar to the original story but wicked stepmothers are replaced with evil fathers (because why do women always have to be evil in these things?) and the ending is disturbing but pretty great.

"Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters" isn't from a single story I recognized but does feature a siren, like of the Odyssey variety. A man who falls in love and the way his mother deals with this news. It is very messed up, but in a good way.

Not so much
"Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Mr. Toad" is the story of some abusing and gaslighting woodland creatures. Maybe because I'm not super familiar with the Mr. Toad stories, this one didn't really do it for me.

"The Wedding Party" felt like the most modern story, with a couple discussing their upcoming wedding. I knew what was happening in the moment but never really understood what the point was? Perhaps someone can read and explain it to me and it will all make sense.

There were a few other stories that fell in the middle. Overall there were more stories I enjoyed than didn't so that's a positive balance.

If you like Ortberg's humor, if you like slightly disturbing stories and if you like fairy tales, definitely something to check out.

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 2032

Ortberg, Mallory. The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror. Henry Hold and Co, 2018. Netgalley

Monday, February 5, 2018

January Reading Wrap Up

I'm so behind on posting this. I don't have an excuse. It's not even like a review which take some time and effort and thought to put together. These roundups are wonderful because 1) I heart stats and 2) they are easy. And yet I still failed to put it up last week DESPITE having plenty of time. I have excuses. I won't go into them here but damn good excuses. Just trust me. (They are also excuses why things have been slow posting here. And reading all of your lovely posts and def leaving comments even when I do read. I hope that improves but I am holding back on making promises.)

ANYWAY. January. That was a thing that happened. Some things continue to be terrible*, some things are pretty great, there's a lot that just is. Reading was pretty good. I think this might be a year of re-reads. Not that it will ALL be re-reads. Besides, I just got a bunch of Netgalleys I am quite excited about. And while there are a ton of new books I absolutely want to read, in the spirit of "Hey, these are things I love" I want to go back to those. This isn't necessarily to go back and challenge old favorites, though that might happen. This is more "These were things that brought me joy. I like joy. Let's get some of that."

Now to the stats

Number of books read
5
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
The Girls by Emma Cline
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard

Total pages read
1,355

Fiction
100%
I thought to myself, "Wow, it's been a while since I read all fiction. I wonder how long." And then I remember, you know, I keep those stats and can just look. It was April of last year.

POC authors
20%

Female authors
80%
US authors
60%

Book formats
ebook: 60%
paperback: 40%

Where'd I get the book
borrow: 20%
indie: 20%
Kindle/Audio: 40%
Netgalley: 20%

Readalong/bookclub
20%

Rereads
60%
Review books
20%

Books by decade
1930s: 20%
1960s: 20%
2000s: 20%
2010s: 40%

Resolution
60%
Resolution continues to be read more POC, more people from outside the US, more translations, books published before 2000.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie - published before 2000, author from UK
Where The Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward - POC author
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard - published before 2000, author from UK

*Please, those of you in the US, keep reaching out to your representatives. Don't get tired, don't get discouraged, don't let up.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Where the Line Bleeds: Yes, they conformed to character, but these two traded skins like any set of twins

What is this? A review? An actual review? I know, it's been a while.

After reading Jesmyn Ward's latest book, Sing, Unburied, Sing I had an opportunity to receive a copy of one of her earlier works in exchange for an honest review.
The story is a character study of the twins Christoph and Joshua, from a rural town on the Mississippi Gulf coast. Raised by their grandmother Ma-Mee after their mother went to Atlanta and their father slipped further into drugs. The book opens with the boys graduating from high school, hoping to get some sort of job to support their grandmother. Their ambitions are modest, shaped by the world they know. They apply all around town, at fast food joints and the dock, with never a thought that they won't be working together. But Joshua gets a job while Christoph isn't so lucky, causing a rift between the two that goes mostly unspoken. Though really much of their communication goes without words, so it makes sense that their argument would be silent as well.

Ma-Mee senses the distance and hurt from the boys but all she can wish is the boys were younger.

Christoph goes more and more despondent as the days go by and the phone stays quiet, as he goes another day without a job, without contributing to the house. Eventually he takes up his cousin's offer to start dealing pot, a secret he keeps from Joshua.

The jacket description says something about a confrontation with their father Sandman either saving or damning the twins. I won't tell you what happens but I will tell you this happens in roughly the last 5-10% of the book. Most of it is the quiet day-to-day lives of the twins, flirting and getting their hair braided and getting high and playing basketball.

Understand this is not a complaint about the book, just a warning that if you're looking for action you should go elsewhere. That isn't to say that I wasn't sucked in; I wanted to know what was going to happen, even when what was happening was mostly a slow burn. Ward has a lyrical quality to her writing, though I unfortunately didn't highlight too many passages to use as examples. But I do have at least one and it's pretty good so enjoy
The sun would not leave them: even after it set, it left a residue of heat in the evening. Christoph, stone-drunk under the barebulb lights strung between the trees at Felicia's party later that night, thought the blanketing heat was a vestigial presence, something made even more present by its absence.
I may like Sing, Unburied, Sing better but this was still an excellent read one I was happy to be able to read. It was a book outside my comfort zone, populated by characters I don't read about often.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 4

Ward, Jesmyn. Where the Line Bleeds. Scribner, 2006. NetGalley

Monday, January 22, 2018

Admitting Some Favorites

I sometimes have a problem when it comes to admitting when I love something. Some things. Certain things.
I was thinking about this the other day when I was re-reading Attachments by Rainbow Rowell for the I'm-not-sure-how-many-times. I finished my other book but still had commuting time left and being bookless is unacceptable, obviously. And Attachments has been a go-to whenever I need something else to read, even if it's just a couple chapters. Which was my plan. But a couple chapters turned into a few more chapters turned into the whole book.

It was roughly at that point that I had to admit to myself that yeah, I think Attachments is probably one of my favorite books. But why do I have to admit it? What is it something I ever denied? Or not actively denied, I suppose (because no one was challenging me) but something I didn't really acknowledge.

This isn't the first time it's happened, although the first time I can think of with a book. The other 2 instances that come to mind are movies: Clueless and Jurassic Park.

Both are movies I've seen a million times from the time they came out to present day and yet for both it's been within the last 3-5 years I've acknowledged that these are favorites. I've always liked them. I have read the novelization of both movies. Yes, even Jurassic Park which WAS BASED ON A BOOK (which I also read). No, I don't know why the novelization exists.
Maybe I have an idea
Maybe I didn't acknowledge it at first because none of these are particularly high-brow things. I mean, they aren't especially low-brow things either. Distinctly middle-brow. Very average brows. And it's not like other things that I consider favorites are impressively intelligent (Lamb by Christopher Moore, The Martian by Andy Weir and also the movie, World War Z by Max Brooks). 

Maybe some things are just a slow burn. Some things are instant favorites and some are comforting and eventually you realize how much you rely on them.

I don't have too much of a point here other than maybe I should revisit other things I really like to see if maybe I actually like-like them. Also that everyone should read (or reread) Attachments because it is the most wonderful, sweetest thing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reader Harder List: 2018 Reading Challenge

Last year, Etudesque posted a book challenge list from PopSugar that I meant to update throughout the year and then managed to update all of twice. Whoops.
This year she's posted a list courtesy of Book Riot called Read Harder that I will attempt to remember this year. Or I'll do what I did before and forget about it until the last week in December.
  1. A book published posthumously
  2. A book of true crime
  3. A classic of genre fiction (i.e., mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance)
    • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. It was a reread but STILL COUNTS
  1. A comic written and illustrated by the same person
  2. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa)
  3. A book about nature
  4. A western
  5. A comic written or illustrated by a person of color
  6. A book of colonial or postcolonial literature
  7. A romance novel by or about a person of color
  8. A children's classic published before 1980
  9. A celebrity memoir
  10. An Oprah Book Club selection
  11. A book of social science
  12. A one-sitting book
  13. A first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series
  14. A sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author
  15. A comic that isn't published by Marvel, DC or Image
  16. A book of genre fiction in translation
  17. A book with a cover you hate
  18. A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author
  19. An essay anthology
  20. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60
  21. An assigned book you hated (or never finished)
OK so, when I saw how short the list was I was thinking "Yeah, I got this." And then as I looked at it closer I realized "Shit, yeah, this IS gonna be hard." Hence the name, I suppose. 
Well, one down at least. Let's see how the rest of the year goes

I swear, I'll get around to writing another real review soon. Scout's honor and all that. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reading Through the Years: 2013-2017

Alright, we've seen how things look this last month, last quarter, last year and now it's time for some totals over the last 4 years. Don't you just love an infographic? (Cos clearly I do).