2013 Reading Challenge Update

Cross-posted from my tumblr

At the beginning of the year, I got overly ambitious and challenged myself to read 60 books this year. Very quickly, GoodReads told me I was epically behind… so I updated it to a goal of 52, which had been my (successful) standard the last two years.

I am on track (actually one book ahead, thanks to my recent vacation) at 36 out of 52. (Now if I had read all the Book Club books I was supposed to, I would be at least 4 ahead of this… fail.)

I posted that on facebook, and was asked what my favorites from the year were. When I think generally about the year, I don’t have any that immediately jump out at me, but when I look through the list I enjoyed the following. In no particular order:

  • After the Quake – Haruki Murakami – Short Stories
    I am always searching for books that totally envelop me. After the Quake did so. Lovely magical realism, interesting portraits of Japan and great, quirky characters. Murakami never explains too much… instead he just let’s things end where they end.
  •  The Fault in Our Stars – John Green – Young Adult Novel
    Oh the feels!!, as they say. I read it in less than a day, stayed up late to finish it, and cried through most of the last 1/4.
  • Equivocation – Bill Cain – Play
    I saw this performed at MTC in 2010, loved it, and was happy to return to it. A deliciously complicated examination/thought experiment about Shakespeare’s writing of Macbeth, the Gunpowder Plot and a father’s relationship with his daughter.
  • Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel – Novel
    I really liked Mantel’s epic novel about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII’s court. (Super excited about the BBC/Mark Rylance adaptation). I spent a lot of time reading it, as I had to, and felt very immersed in her universe. I would like to do some follow-up and see what sources it came from. Combining this with another historical fiction piece I read this year (The Daughter of Time), I have a totally different perspective on Sir Thomas More.
  • The Story of a Marriage – Andrew Sean Greer – Novel
  • The Magician’s Book: a Skeptics Adventures in Narnia – Laura Miller – Nonfiction
  • Hawkeye, vol 1: My Life as a Weapon – Matt Fraction & David Aja – Graphic Novel
    When I was a kid and first got braces, there was a comic shop down the street from the orthodontist. My dad would take me to get comics after appointments, and at that time they had just re-booted the Avengers. Since then, I have always liked Hawkeye, and think this book was just wonderful – interesting, different, and beautifully created. Vol 2 was also great (Pizza Dog!)
  • Saga vol 1 – Brian K. Vaughn – Graphic Novel
    Another brilliant graphic novel that had been recommended all through 2012. So glad to have read this unique/weird love story. Still somewhat creeped out by the TV-head people.
  • Deathtrap – Ira Levin – Play
    I have been slowly working my way through all of Levin’s work, since moving back to California. I love his novels (especially A Kiss Before Dying) but his plays are just delightful in a very mischievous and somewhat disturbing way. Deathtrap is all about writing a play, within a play, with murder plots intertwined with love and fame.
  • A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan – Novel
    I was the only one in my book club that liked Egan’s novel. It was certainly off-putting at times, but I liked her universe and the weird connections and interesting storytelling.
  • **The Big Disconnect by Giles Slade & Drift by Rachel Maddow – Nonfiction
    I didn’t really like either of these books – covering the history of technology and the US military, respectively – but I learned a lot and I’m glad I read them.

I did not like:

  • The Magicians – Lev Grossman – Novel
  • City of Bones – Cassandra Claire – Young Adult Novel
  • Ex Machina – Brian K. Vaughan – Graphic Novel
  • Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie – Novel – (couldn’t finish)

I’m always looking for recommendations, so if you have thoughts on how I should finish out the next 20 or so, let me know!

Brief Book Rec: Anya’s Ghost

Just finished Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. It was a lovely graphic novel, with an interesting story. I had it my wish list thanks to a rec by Glen Weldon from ages ago – very glad I used it to round out my book club book order.

Here’s what he said:

This debut YA graphic novel about Anya, a bright if sullen schoolgirl who falls down a well and befriends the ghost she finds there, stakes out an unusual patch of narrative real estate: it’s both seriously creepy and … really kinda sweet. From the very first page, Brosgol’s artwork charms — Anya is a real kid, navigating the emotional minefield of high school

Recommended! Here’s the Amazon link.

(I’m at 48 of my goal of 52 books for the year – I’m still hoping to make it, as I have 3 book club books to read before the end of the year. Plus, I still need to finish the last three volumes of Y: The Last Man.)

On a love of Book Clubs

This past weekend was really lovely. I celebrated my one year anniversary of being back in California by going all over the Bay Area – seeing my dad’s show in Orinda, visiting friends in San Rafael, spending time in Pacifica for the gym and at Syche & Drew’s – and by doing some serious yard work with my parents. (I should probably be doing more of the latter, as I have fully enjoyed a year of living rent-free. Thanks Mom & Dad!)

As you can see in the screen shot above, I also spent part of Sunday in a Google Hangout with Book Club, Both Coasts. I love the moment that Joe caught with this picture, as we are all laughing so hard! (Does anyone remember this part of the convo? Was in reference to traveling in our minds with a Mouse God?)

This moment was an important part of my anniversary weekend, because last September I worried A LOT about my friendships – how would I integrate back into the lives of folks on the West Coast? And how would I maintain friendships with people now living far, far away?

Surprisingly, for … 97% of people it has gone well. And really, book club has helped a lot. Nothing I’m saying here is new – but  I’m a big fan of book club, or any scheduled gathering of friends. It means you get to see people you care about at least once a month, in an organized fashion, and with book club, you get to have serious conversations while still open to tangents and gossip. I know, even when work is really crazy or friends are popping out babies, I will get to see these friends once a month at the bare minimum. So, go book club!

However, as I approach year 2 of my California life, I may be at a point of critical mass. How many book clubs is too many?

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A blog post in lieu of other blog posts

Friends and me at Hendry Wines a couple of weeks ago. One of many things I meant to blog about….

OK, so I have this friend, and she has a great blog.

Why is it great? Well, she writes well, has a good sense of humor, talks about interesting things and isn’t afraid to have an opinion. But, I honestly think that is only 50% of why it is a great blog. The other 50% is because she posts very regularly.  She wrote four times in July, actually a small amount for her, but still once a week. When you go to her blog, you know you are likely to see a post, and be entertained.

Now, me on the other hand? I think I have an ok blog. I am still trying to find a good balance from being enthusiastic over stuff, and talking too much, and also writing about whatever is interesting in the moment, and not just when something is amazing. But my number one problem is I do not do it enough, and I do not blog on a consistent schedule. I’m a little bit better at keeping my tumblr going, but that is mostly because of reblogs.

I’m trying to change that, but it seems unlikely.
So this post is a round up of things I have meant to blog about, basically since January.
Some may end up being posts of their own eventually, but most will not. As it is kind of a ramble, I will put it behind a tag.

2012 Things I Meant to Blog About:

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Plays: Be A Good Little Widow by Bekah Brunstetter

Before I left New York earlier this month, I loaded up on plays. I borrowed a bunch from my best friend who works for a play publishing company, so has a ton on his shelf, and bought 7 or so more from the Drama Book Shop.  I read David Henry Wang’s Yellowface on the plane.

Today I read (kind of devoured, actually) Be A Good Little Widow by Bekah Brunstetter. It was great. Slow, beautiful, funny – even in the midst of tragedy. A good sense of dialogue for a person today in her late twenties – lots of exclamation points and tangents. I recommend checking it out.

A great stage direction from the first page:

CRAIG enters, weary from a flight, in the crisp French blue of corporate America.

And a touching moment from the end:

Hope: Tell him about Craig.
Then you should probably cry on him and see how he takes it.
If he takes it: let him take you to lunch.

I also really like this cover – the image is nicely evocative of the tone of the play and the colors are great.  It is by Michael Lum.

I have always liked Brunstetter – her play You May Go Now was one of the very first things I ever say in New York. I will have to read more of her stuff.

(Plays are also a great way to up my books read in the year – currently at 30, and hoping to reach at least 52 by the end of the year.)

crossposted to my tumblr.

Art in Transit – Literary Journeys

So, as per usual, I have a million half-written blog posts. But today, like a month ago, what is actually getting me to blog is transit-related-art.

Last week, I noticed an interesting ad in the Montgomery BART station, or what I thought was an ad – this illustration had wolves running through a snow-filled BART train. Upon looking closely, I noticed that the person in the foreground was reading Jack London’s Call of the Wild. And indeed, the poster was not really an ad, but an artistic interpretation of reading on a train, and imagination taking hold.

I meant to research what these were or who had done them, but forgot until I saw a second one this morning:

Pretty neat!!

Not only does this capture one of the joys of a daily transit ride, but the books are all from Bay Area authors. So, when I got to my desk today, I did a little poking, and learned a little bit more about the posters.

The full article is available on the BART blog here.  The posters are created by artist Owen Smith, and are the third in a BART public art project.

Smith took the broad mission of the poster art program – providing riders with the opportunity to enjoy original artwork while traveling through the BART system – and pitched an idea inspired by literary icons with Bay Area connections.  The series “Literary Journeys” depicts BART riders immersed in books by Dashiell Hammett, Jack London and Amy Tan, with scenes from the books coming to life in their imaginations. “I love the idea that there could be something interesting and different to look at while you are waiting for a train,” Smith says.

 

Smith’s art posters – like the previous two series – contain no explicit messaging, which is an important concept of the series.  “If it’s a little mysterious, that’s OK,” he says.

Gina DeLorenzo, a member of BART’s communications team who manages the poster program, said train stations provide “a unique gallery setting” for Smith’s art. The posters, 60 in all, are placed in unused advertising spaces throughout the BART system. “We want the artist to really think about the rider experience, and then bring to it their own interests and interpretation,” she said.

I recommend keeping your eyes peeled for the posters as you go about your daily commute. I haven’t seen the last in person yet, so I will be searching for it over the next few weeks. I think this is a great project – a simple way to bring some joy to the daily commute.

Packages in brown paper…

… or at least brown packages from Amazon have a habit of appearing at my door, now and again.

And I love it, every time! Getting packages in the mail, even merely books I ordered for myself, still brings a ton of joy. And today was no exception.

I got home late-ish, because I had been in the East Bay seeing Moshe Kasher perform a kick-ass set for his one-hour Comedy Central special. It had been awesome and hilarious and vulgar and awesome, so I was already a little jumpy. And that I hadn’t eaten much since the afternoon, and perhaps it was crossing into loopy. Still, I don’t think Carolyn was expecting the bouncy energy that erupted when I saw the Amazon package. I let out a little yip of joy and ripped into it! (And, for once, the package was actually easy to open – perhaps the gods, or truly the Endless, were smiling at my enthusiasm).

Inside was (the surprisingly large) Annotated Sandman, vol.1!

Now, I’ve fangirled before about my love for Neil Gaiman on this blog, and this certainly won’t be the last time. But I, like most, first came to love him through his early 90s masterwork – Sandman. This graphic novel series tells the story of Dream and his siblings the Endless, as they deal with the present, the past and the future and more than us mere mortals can understand.

And sometimes it is frightening, and sometimes it is beautiful and always it is fascinating. I recommend reading it as soon as possible. Truly a great piece of literature.

But – when I read it – I knew I was never quite getting the whole story. Gaiman has millions of references, and while I got a few, I knew there was always more.

As Gaiman notes in the volume’s preface:

Sandman was filled with oddments. That was just the kind of thing that it was – stories that you could always, I hoped, enjoy, but that you might enjoy more if you know something about, say, the traditions of Shakespearian theatre, or the French Revolution, or horror comics. And things that were common currency at the time – an offhand reference to a comic that came out a month or so before – were becoming the obscurer sort of arcana as time passed. It was a snapshot of the inside of my head, and all sorts of peculiar things live in my head.

I can’t wait to reread this book that I adore, now with all sorts of new information. The book was annotated by Les Klinger and laid out lovingly, with the panels in the center of the book and annotations on the side. (In the original volumes, the panels were in color, but they have been reproduced in black and white so that the book does not have a staggering cost).

I can visit favorite scenes:

Ones that delighted me:

And ones that were terrifying:

Learning all sorts of new information.
(all photos above were taken with my phone, so I apologize for poor quality)

Sandman 6 – Page 21

The lyrics are from “Spread a Little Happiness,” written by Vivian Ellis …. It was recorded again by Sting in 1982 for the soundtrack of Brimstone & Treacle, a strange allegorical film about the effects of a heavenly (or devilish) visitor on a seemingly normal family. similarly, Dee’s visit to the All-Nite Diner has severe consequences for the seemingly normal patrons of the diner.

I can’t wait to get cracking, and journey again with Morpheus and Gaiman through the worlds of Dreaming. If you haven’t read the story yet, you should check it out, and if you have, I recommend checking out this new volume!