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!

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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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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.