October 2014 Reading

Books Bought

Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947 by Christopher Clark
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie by Jean Rhys
War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Kraken by China Mieville
The Kill Order by James Dashner
Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
Songsmith by Andre Norton
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War by Robert K. Massie

Books Read

Clean by Dr. Alejandro Junger
The Balkans, 1804-2011: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers by Misha Glenny
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Unnamed self-help book
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (partial)
Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War by Robert K. Massie (partial)

Ah, October. My birthday month! Month of Halloween! This year, month of two back-to-back conferences, another book sale that I can’t talk about, a cold, and a gnarly case of bronchitis that I am still dealing with. (Sorry, Atlanta Writer’s Conference! I promise I will sound better if you invite me back sometime. ūüôā All in all a better reading month. I mentioned in September’s entry that I’d be having a lot more plane time – this was true, but less true than I’d hoped. The trip to Oregon for Sirens is one of the big¬†highlights of my year. If you’re not familiar with it, Sirens is a conference focusing on women in fantasy, and it’s a small (nearly intimate) gathering of around 100 people to just talk about books for two days. There’s a bit of a focus on writing, and I am always scheming to find new authors there. But mostly it’s talking about books, and why we love them, and what we love about them, all with handy access to a hot tub.

(On the way to Sirens I finished up with The Balkans, though I doubt that the Balkans are finished with me. I think my assessment of it from September stands – it’s an informative book, but a little hard to tell everyone apart, and the post-WWII years were not nearly as fleshed out as I’d have liked. The war in Bosnia in the 90s is the first war I remember, though I don’t remember it very well. Like many women my age I read Zlata’s Diary around that time – Zlata Filipovic was a little older than I at the time, and her diary was a harrowing account of war from a child’s point of view.¬†I’m pretty sure she makes documentaries now, which is awesome.)

This year the group at Sirens¬†was a little smaller, and Ellen Kushner wasn’t around to sing us Thomas the Rhymer songs on her guitar. I highly recommend that if you ever have a chance to experience Ellen Kushner playing the guitar, or reading, or doing anything at all, that you make all possible effort to do so.¬†It was at the wonderful bookstore that the conference runs that I picked up the first book in the Temeraire series, His Majesty’s Dragon. Confession time: this is a series that I am forever recommending to others without actually having read. I, like you, am¬†human, and I, like you and everyone else, am always trying to feel smarter and more connected than the people around me, so yes, sometimes I lie about having read things, and yes, I realize that makes me a bit of a shit. However! Usually I get around to rectifying my untruths and this is a time that I’m glad I did. The Temeraire series is about dragons helping to fight the Napoleonic wars,¬†which basically makes it a winning card in the game of “Things Jen Loves Bingo.” The language is suitably Jane Austen-esque and the friendship between the dragon Temeraire and Laurence, his rider, is just beautiful. I’ve heard mixed things about the rest of the series, but am now mad at myself that I didn’t pick them up for $5 each at the Sirens bookstore just so I could have kept going.

As it was, I ended up at Powell’s after the conference ended, so I can’t exactly say that I am lacking for reading material. Powell’s is one of those places that, like every branch of Half Price Books I have ever been in, I can spend all day in. Divided over several buildings and multiple floors they have every possible subject you could ever consider reading.¬†I’ve worked out a foolproof strategy for getting the most out of a visit:

Arrive. Grab a basket.
Start in Science Fiction/Fantasy (the Gold room). Grab anything that looks interesting, Consult the list I make beforehand to make sure I don’t forget anything.
Head down to the YA section (the Rose room, I think.) Start at the beginning of the alphabet and work my way down. It’s usually somewhere around the middle of the YA section that the first basket gets filled up, so I check it when I’m done with YA and go get lunch, usually at Deschutes Brewery around the corner.
In the afternoon I get a new basket and head to general fiction, which is usually a more haphazard search. At some point I text my parents to see if there’s anything they’re looking for. Then I head to history and tool around there for a bit. I have a friend in Portland that I try to see when I’m there, so I usually check out around 5 and go grab a drink or coffee or something before heading to the airport. They ship the books for you, which is really convenient.

Of course this system is now worthless¬†now that Sirens is moving to Denver, but hey, I’m sure I’ll be back someday. *sniff*

This year I spent about $70 at Powell’s, not including the shipping, which was an exercise in admirable restraint on my part. I was overjoyed to find Dreadnought in hardcover. It’s enormous and unwieldy, but the paperback is even more enormous and unwieldy and I figure it might as well be sturdy and unwieldy. Plus it was only $9.99. Robert K. Massie has an extraordinarily deft hand at personalities, illuminating foibles and feuds in a way that few histories are able to do. For instance, did you know¬†that Kaiser Bill had one arm that was shorter than the other, and that he was forever holding a pair of gloves to hide it, or that he thought his mother, Queen Victoria’s eldest child (and the smartest of all her children) was an interfering shrew, when all she wanted was for him not to be an enormous self-aggrandizing doofus all the time? I didn’t! Fascinating stuff! So if you only read one 1000-page book about the naval arms race between Germany and Great Britain, let this be it. (I bought Iron Kingdom earlier in the month but haven’t started it yet – it’s another Christopher Clark doorstopper, and I have the feeling that when this year is over I will have learned and forgotten a great deal about pre-WWII Germany.)

The rest of my haul from Powell’s was a bit of a mixed bag – some fantasy that I’ve been meaning to read, including another attempt at late-stage Stephenson (I could not,for the life of me, get through the Baroque cycle. Or Cryptonomicon. Does this make me a bad person?) I picked up Kraken because giant sea monsters, hello, even though Mieville is usually a bit of a mixed bag for me. I could not finish¬†Perdido Street Station but I passionately love The Scar and The City & The City. And Rae Carson is going to be one of the guests of honor next year at Sirens (along with Kate Elliot and Yoon Ha Lee!) so I figured I should finish reading the trilogy.

A quick note on War & Peace. I read it when I was sixteen and doing a summer volunteer program in Paraguay, though it must be said that I technically read only the peace parts (and skipped anything involving Napoleon. What can I say? I was a teenager, and teenagers make mistakes.) Last year I saw an amazing show called Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812!, which is based on a 100-page stretch of War & Peace and was one of the most thrilling theatrical experiences of my life. With lyrics and music by Dave Malloy (who also wrote one of my other favorite shows, Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage),¬†Comet¬†was moving, exhilarating, and mesmerizing, and that isn’t¬†just all the free vodka talking. You can listen to some of my favorite songs from it here, and the whole album is on iTunes. So I found a really nice used copy at Powell’s and am planning on reading it when I go to Houston for Christmas.

But it can’t all be huge Russian novels and dense histories about World War I, though I know that’s what you all come for. This month I read the first volume in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, Shadow & Bone. It’s a YA fantasy with elements of Russian fairy tales and magic. The characters felt a bit thin, but damn if I didn’t read the whole thing in one day’s worth of commuting. I’ll¬†definitely be reading the rest of the trilogy.

Clean is a book that my roommate recommended. Dr. Alejandro Junger is one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s advisors (he thanks her in the acknowledgments) and this is a book about fasting. Reading it made me hungry, and I think the night I finished it I ate pizza for dinner. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was lent me by my sister, who does actually occasionally run outside, for exercise and pleasure, if you can imagine such a thing. When I run I do it inside, on a treadmill in an air conditioned environment, as God intended. Instead of a treatise on the joys of running, however, this book is¬†more about the meditative benefits of running for Murakami as a novelist. He compares writing and running as being basically the same process, though they result in different outcomes. Each is a choice you have to make every day. At the end of one you get a novel, at the end of the other, a marathon. This was a short but lovely read.

Wrapping up the month I’m about 300 pages into Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs (full disclosure: he’s a DMLA client) and ZOMG IT’S SO GOOD. It combines two of my favorite things: weird cities and police procedurals, so basically I’m in heaven. Will have more coherent thoughts for you next month, because I’m probably finishing this sucker tonight.

November has a lot going on as well, mostly because of Thanksgiving and World Fantasy Con. I will be starting up recording Shipping & Handling with Bridget Smith again this month (and finally getting it onto iTunes!) so stay tuned for that.

Happy Halloween!

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September 2014 Reading

Books Bought 

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
Viriconium by M. John Harrison
The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers 1804-2011 by Misha Glenny

Books Read

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers 1804-2011 by Misha Glenny (partial)

Wow, I thought I hadn’t read much in August! September is, by that metric, 100% shameful. But I have deleted 2048 from my phone, so perhaps October won’t be a total wasteland on the reading front. As this post is going up on the 12th, I will leave it up to the reader to¬†judge the likelihood of that happening.

Viriconium was the first purchase of the month, an impulse grab out of the deep discount used¬†bin at BookBook in the West Village. If you’re in New York and, while wandering below 14th street, feel an overwhelming urge to visit an indie bookstore, you could certainly do worse than checking out BookBook. It’s on Bleecker and has an idiosyncratic but surprisingly broad selection of titles, and I wandered in just after visiting Cowgirl for brunch and just before visiting Carmine Street Comics, where I purchased Hawkeye #19. (Am I counting comics? Should I count comics? If so, that’s the only one, and can be added to both categories above.) M. John Harrison’s Viriconium comes with an effusive blurb from Neil Gaiman on the front, and though I know *of* him I had never read him. And for $3, I mean, come on. Needless to say I have not read it yet.

Because I’ve been reading about the Balkans! I picked this up basically on impulse because I had a coupon at Barnes & Noble- and I can’t just not use a 20% off coupon, you know? I remember thinking, after finishing The Sleepwalkers in August, that I didn’t know a whole lot about the Balkans, and boy wouldn’t that be something to do as a way of expanding my horizons. Well, The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers 1804-2011 is, if nothing else, 706 pages of horizon-expanding. I’m only 264 pages in, so that’s a lot of powderkegging to go, and I’ve had to take a short break just to clear the mental palate. Misha Glenny has an admirable handle on places, people, and events, but the reader could do with a bit more handholding. Not everyone has made this region their life’s work. Christopher Clark (author of The Sleepwalkers) did this thing where every time he referred back to someone the reader hadn’t encountered in a while, he’d refer back to a specific¬†trait – “the tubercular rebel” or something like that, so that I began to build up a sense of personality and personalities that helped me to keep track of the cast of thousands. Still, it’s interesting, especially looking at the various ways the Great Powers (England, Russia, France) really fucked over this region, and also to learn more about how truly ridiculous the Ottoman Empire was.

Still, I only got 264 pages into The Balkans and had to stop, mostly because I started to go to the gym again and carrying all the gym paraphernalia AND a two-pound book about an obscure history subject was a little much to schlep on a day to day basis. Fortuitously (ish) I read an article about Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, and if there is anything I am a sucker for, it is bite-sized looks at the lives of famous people, especially if those looks are at incredibly mundane things like how they got writing done and how much they drank while they were doing it. This book didn’t disappoint on that front, but it didn’t have much to say beyond that point, so it felt a bit like an extended lifehacker article. Still, it was interesting, particularly to track the various wives and partners who were tasked with feeding the geniuses while they kept to these schedules of writing and drinking. I bought it on the nook app on my phone, and I have to say that I really like the Nook app. I’m not sure what will happen with it now that B&N is spinning off it’s Nook division, but I hope it doesn’t go away.

You may notice, and declaim angrily, that the books I left half-finished in August remained half-finished in September! And it must be said, reader, that they remain unfinished in October. This happens to me sometimes – especially if it’s something I love, I don’t finish it right away. This is a stupid process, I freely admit, but since it’s my library and not yours, you’ll just have to deal with the uncertainty. ūüôā

This month brings a lot of travel to various conferences & things – I’m attending Sirens: Women in Fantasy next week in Portland, which means a trip to Powell’s, which means a shame-making trip to the shipping desk and the “Books Bought” category swelling to really obscene numbers. Then it’s off to Atlanta for the Atlanta Writer’s Guild conference. That’s a lot of plane time, folks – so maybe the reading-for-fun will pick up.