First Monday Book Day: It Was a Good Reading Month

My dad always tells me that he can pretty much figure out when classes end for the semester for me just based on my activity on goodreads.  Since the first Monday of May, we've eased into summer vacation here, which has done wonders for my "to-read" pile.

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisen - The world is destroyed by a never ending series of natural disasters, and now a newer, bigger disaster has occurred. The world building is really cool, which I'm always a sucker for, and the magic (magicians can draw power from the earth, and cause or quell earthquakes and volcanoes) is super cool.  As of right now, this has my vote for this year's Hugo.

The Dirty Dust by Mairtin O Cadhain - Billed as the best book ever written in Irish, it was translated twice in the past year, making it available in English for the first time.  I really liked this. It's certainly modernist (the entire book is dialogue that weaves in and out of comprehension) and the characters aren't particularly likable. They are all dead and interred in the local graveyard, but they are no less petty and provincial. Old insults fester and new insults bloom throughout and watching the dead continue on in their profane, affronted, unproductive afterlife still somehow makes for a dark comic narrative that was an enjoyable read.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson - This was a short novel about a caravan crossing a dangerous wilderness and the love between the sorcerer (wielding some kind of outsider black magic) and the captain (who it appears is a god in disguise).  It was whirling and new and pretty great.

So Sad Today by Melissa Broder - Switching gears quite a bit here, this is a collection of personal essays, with the emphasis on personal.  Broder is a poet (I read her collection "Scarecrone" last year and really liked it) and she really opens herself up here.  Body dysmorphia, monogamy, open marriage, anxiety, depression, vomit fetishes, everything is on the table.  But rendered in a really distinct, vain yet somehow vulnerable voice.  I thought her poetry was very internal when I read it, but these essays expand out into her world without losing that self-centered perspective (and I mean self-centered in as positive a way that I can).

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard - The story of the second atomic bombing told from the perspective of those who survived it.  It is intense, and a story that I did not know.  Seeing the Japanese dealing with an atomic bomb that they didn't understand was horrifying.  The scale of these weapons is awfully incomprehensible to me.

The Sublime Object of Ideology by Slavoj Zizek - The English department's philosophy reading group's pick for the spring semester finished up this month.  I thought it was very interesting, the idea of "they know it, but they do it anyway" being explained in philosophical terms.  As always, half the fun for me was getting to listen to a bunch of people who know what they are talking about talk about this stuff.

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerly Nahm - Two Dollar Radio might just be the best indie publisher out there.  This is another wonderful book from them.  A man appears claiming to be the narrator's brother who disappeared as a child.  A fractured psychedelic journey through childhood in small town Kentucky results and the final half of the book is incredible.  Another book that I loved.

Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson - Another Two Dollar Radio book.  This one was very strange, the voice of this book was the best part. Jackson tells a nightmare version of his childhood in a voice that is almost calm, while at the same time being bizarre and dreamlike. The note from the author's introduction is an almost perfect summation - "Sometimes it's been difficult to tell my memories from my fantasies, but that was true even then."

Tinkers by Paul Harding - Pulitzer Prize winner from 2010 or so.  This was good, but for me, not something great.  Old man lies dying in his home surrounded by family, while the stories of his latest three generations are told.

The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by David Graeber - The same guy that wrote the history of debt.  Graeber has interesting ideas about why we like bureaucracy even as we profess to hate it and why we need it and turn to it to try and fix problems that we know it can't actually make better.  In dealing with administrators at my university, I enjoyed the thoughts on the power and violence inherent in bureaucracy.  The last essay on Batman is all kinds of dumb though.

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson - Six long short stories.  Johnson is a pretty good writer (if you've read The Orphan Master's Son you probably already know this). The characters in every story become real very quickly.  I recommend this one too.

The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi - I grow weary of genetically engineered apocalypses as settings for science fiction.  However, of that genre, this is a pretty great entry.  The story moves quickly and it was an easy read to get engrossed in.

Beatrice by Stephen Dixon - The latest from Publishing Genius (another favorite indie press).  Beatrice accomplishes what it sets out to do very elegantly, I think. A short novel from inside an aging writer's head as he attempts to deal with the death of his wife. Finding a way through is an enormous undertaking, and that way can be so easily lost.

Nobody Dancing by Cheryl Quimba - Poetry from Publishing Genius.  It was ... OK.

Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii by Susana Moore - Another history where I came in knowing very little.  This book was a bit scattered, which took some getting used to, but the subject was an interesting one, so I made it through.  Hawaii is a pretty interesting place, I might have to seek out more info on this.

Like I said, it's been a good month for reading.

53 thoughts on “First Monday Book Day: It Was a Good Reading Month”

  1. Started, but made little progress, on 3 different books. Furthest along in Xenocide, but not far enough to speak of it.

  2. Unusual for me, but re-read Moving Pictures and Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett. I was disappointed, somehow, in that I was hoping to enjoy them more. There was much I had forgotten and plenty of fun details in there, but it just didn't seem as fun as I recalled and was expecting.

    1. !!! Even though I know it's a small world, I'm always amazed by how often these "serendipity" things happen.

      So ... I hate to admit it (seeing as how he was a stunningly prolific and - apparently - much-admired author) but I wouldn't know Terry Pratchett from Adam. I was introduced to Neil Gaiman by the basement readers and have progressed through all of his solo novels. Grabbed a copy of Good Omens, co-authored by Terry Pratchett, which was one of the other two books I started but made only halting progress on in the past month.

      1. I have a copy of Good Omens I got from a pile of stuff someone left while moving out. I might start that next.

  3. I got a lot of reading done on the trip.

    In progress prior, finished while traveling = In The Name of the Rose
    Started and finished on the trip - The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, A Burglar's Guide to the City, and Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store

    Elaborations to come, I have a sales meeting.

    1. Interested to hear about Burglar's Guide. I have always loved Geoff Manaugh's mix of out there thought experiments and really grounded architecture he had on BLDG BLOG.

      1. I was hoping for a little more of a How-to, I guess, less architectural theory. I liked the parts of the burglaries more than the more philosophical musings on what space and buildings mean. So sounds like you'd like it.

    2. The Spy - I should know better than to read these. I woke up the night after reading it having a nightmare I was a spy in Moscow on the run from the KGB, who'd cornered me in a train. Not the greatest way to wake up. That said, don't let my crazed psyche dissuade you. If was an entertaining and quick read. I got my copy for free, so I paid it forward and left it in the common area of the place we stayed in in Granada.

      Rose - Lots going on in this one between the philosophical & religious discussion and murder mystery. My biggest problem was keeping the characters straight, since I couldn't form mental pictures of them. They all just looked like Friar Tuck in my head, not to mention there were like 5 "A" names I kept confusing. To me, a rather areligious person, was the way every aspect of the monks lives they viewed through such strong lenses of God's will and sin.

      Mr. Penumbra - Probably the most entertaining of the ones I read. If you liked "Lexicon", I'd recommend this one too. Not as intense, and the stakes weren't near as high, but same sort of feel.

  4. I read a book! I'm struggling with fiction right now. Maybe Play with the Prose is burning me out.

    Anyway, I read The Only Rule Is It Has To Work by Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh. My goodreads review is that it's a cross between Moneyball and Ball Four and is on my shelf between them. Probably more of a fun read for listeners of the podcasts--not due to referential humor, just knowledge of the writers' personalities--, but it has great reviews from non-listeners. If you like this type of baseball book, you'll probably like this.

    1. Maybe Play with the Prose is burning me out.

      You should talk with the guy who has been setting those word limits . . .

      As it happens, I've been devoting a fair amount of my commuting time to writing PwtP stories, but (un)fortunately I now have more time to read books again during my bus ride. I made some progress on IJ last month, but I still have many, many, many pages to go.

  5. Read two excellent graphic novels recently: Maximillian Uriarte's The White Donkey: Terminal Lance (my review here) and The Photographer (*****, review forthcoming), by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre, and Fréderic Lemercier. I recommend either without reservation, which is not something I typically do with graphic novels about war.

    I've also spent some time reading children's books, enough to start forming new opinions about books I previously remembered fondly. Neither Scuffy the Tugboat (**, my review here) or Tootle (*, review forthcoming) have fared well in my revisit as an adult. I don't think we'll be reading them again. Harold and the Purple Crayon (*****), my all-time favorite, thankfully is as good and sweet as ever. The Monster at the End of this Book (*****) remains endearing (though who knows if that lasts under many multiple readings) and feels less...commercial?...than later Sesame Street properties. Go, Dog, Go! (****) is still wacky fun, Jimmy Buffet's The Jolly Mon (***) is still gorgeous to look at and interesting to contemplate against the trends in children's books in the thirty (!) years since it came out. I can remember reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (****, praise the serial comma!); Moo, Baa, La La La (*****); and Barnyard Dance (*****) to my younger siblings. They remain excellent. Best of the newcomers: The Paper Bag Princess (*****), The Little Blue Truck (****), and The Big Orange Splot (*****).

    Reading Goodreads reviews of books I've regretted reading to the Poissonier has become a new, often amusing hobby.

    1. I've taken a bit to poetry books for bedtime. There's something about it that keeps the kid from engaging in the words/story - allowing for brain calming, but Dad's still talking (and present) - so we're not going to complain about that.
      I had a pretty good streak going of Die Kleine falling asleep without fuss to Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs. This was a big deal for us.

    2. For more children's book ideas, you might want to check out librarian/blogger Betsy Bird's Top 100 Picture Books.

      I'm a huge fan of Harold and the Perfect Crayon--as far as I'm concerned, it's pretty much perfection. Corduroy is another big favorite. We also have A Pocket for Corduroy; while I don't dislike it, it doesn't have the magic of the original.

      Some of my favorite recent picture books to read aloud are The Sleepy Little Alphabet, The Boss Baby, All the World, and Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes.

    3. If I'm ever along the ranks of parents of the WGOM, I'd have a steady bit of "Go the f*** to sleep" in the rotation.

      At least until the PR found out.

      1. 1. So glad you didn't change her nom de WGOM to CW.
        2. It'd be fun if you replaced "F***" with different words each time through.

    4. For a short time I had The Little Blue Truck memorized. He was really into beeping. Speaking of Sandra Boynton, her The Going to Bed Book is the wife's favorite. Her only complaint is that it's too short.

      Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel was my favorite as a child but reading it now isn't the same. Whatever I got out of it then isn't there anymore.

        1. Barnyard Dance and Moo, Baa, La La La were my brother's favorite books for a few years. I read them to him so many times I still had them memorized 25 years later when the Poissonier clocked in.

          'Linds dancing to the book reminds me of this:' SelectShow
          1. Heh, I've had the same thought. I'm sure it might get there at some point, right now, it's pretty funny, though.

            1. If I compiled a list of children's books I've read in the past 5 years, and compared it to those I recall from my own childhood, I don't know how much overlap there'd be ... now, in the next 5 years, there will be tons because I will be selecting from my own collection.
              Everything Boynton is a charm. The recent, regular rotation for Kernel and/or Niblet is both Little Blue Truck titles, Goodnight Moon, The Napping House, The Monster at the End of this Book, Press Here, and a recent fun find (though better pictures than story) - I Am a Bunny by Ole Risom, Richard Scarry.

              1. I Am a Bunny is one of his faves, too. I'm glad, because Richard Scarry books were always high in the rotation with my brother and I way back in the day.

                I always try to note the author before we start reading. I don't know why, but it just seems like a good thing to do.

                1. I remember on April 30, 1994 and May 1, 1994 Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna died in racing accidents, and a USA Today commenter pointed out that Scarry had died on April 30 and was a much greater influence on his life, and his death barely got a passing notice.

              2. Looks like a grisette (Amanita vaginata) on the cover. If I'm right, it's very good to eat; if I'm wrong, it could kill you before midnight.

                1. I found this picture from the inside of the book.
                  Where exactly are they? The Eastern Bluebird and Yellow-throated Vireo put them in North America, and the (introduced) Eurasian Tree Sparrow puts them in the general vicinity of St. Louis, MO.
                  But there's a Common Redpoll! In summer*! They're relatively unlikely that far south in Winter! Other possibilities (which require assumptions of being poorly-illustrated, contrary to the carefully-illustrated other three birds) would be Purple Finch (also a winter-only bird in STL), Cassin's Finch (possible, I guess as a Vagrant from the Rocky Mountains), or House Finch (which first showed up in MO in the 1980s... yet the book was published in 1963!).

                  *Bluebirds arrive early enough, but the Vireo is a late migrator, and to reinforce that, note the ripe strawberries! Also, note the text "In the summer,..."

                1. Rhinoceroses snort and snuff and little dogs go [cue Niblet] RUFF RUFF RUFF

    5. The Paper Bag Princess is a great piece of feminist literature. It was a favorite in our household.

      I have a tremendous soft spot for Ferdinand the Bull. (more properly: The Story of Ferdinand)

      1. Ferdinand will be a big part of the rotation. I remember loving the illustrations when I was little (and experience leads me to love the message). It's one of those picture books (like Mike Mulligan & HIs Steam Shovel or The Little House) that has little rewards for many re-readings.

      2. Munro Leaf has a few weirder, self-illustrated books about grammar and manners.
        I thought they were fun, but I don't remember how the kids reacted.

      1. Thanks. Don't think you'll be disappointed in any case, but I suggest reading some of the strip if you're not familiar with it already. The graphic novel doesn't incorporate much of the strip's comedy, but getting to know Abe & Garcia's dynamic heightens your investment in the characters.

    6. Re: The Monster at the End of This Book. I always read that like I want to listen to Grover and give up on reading any further.

    7. Another one I recommend is Ten Apples up on Top by Theo. LeSieg (Dr. Seuss).
      I give each animal it's own voice. You can tell which animal is speaking by whose mouth is open on the page (subtle but it works).
      The dog is my regular voice (because it's first), maybe a bit brighter and peppier. The lion gets a lower register. The tiger (a Bengal?) gets a subcontinental accent (I try to be honest with it and not caricature).
      [When I was younger, I had a pretty good (or so I was told) South African accent, based on a summer of watching Nelson Mandela after his release from prison. I've since lost that.]
      The mama bear gets a gruff growly voice that often leaves me coughing. When one of my girls once complained that a lady bear should have a higher or prettier voice, I said, "She's a bear!" (It was the voice I've used for Papa bear in a Goldilocks book.)
      I don't like Berenstain Bears books, but end up reading them often anyways. That Papa Bear is more like Homer, but more certain.

      Another good book from "LeSieg" is Hooper Humperdink...? Not Him!, about the joys of cliques and exclusion, as well as party planning.
      Fun fact: the name of each of my children is found in that book.
      It's been re-illustrated in the past decade, I wonder if I'll hate that.

      My favorite book when I was young was Polly's Oats. We've got a copy. I should read that again soon.

      I wish I liked Jan Brett's writing better, but it's so flat. When she's illustrating (almost illuminating) someone else's words, like in the Owl and the Pussycat, the results are fantastic.

    8. Taking this the other direction...Frederick brings out the curmudgeon in me: "'Frederick, you are a poet!' 'I know it.' Later, the starving mice died, but they ate Frederick first. The end."

  6. I read another book!
    (Well, a free pdf of) Cory Doctorow's Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother.
    I liked it, though I feel the end was a bit anticlimactic, in the literary sense. It had builds and minor denouements, but the last one didn't seem biggest or most important, and the resolution was sortof halfhearted.
    Half Stuart Little, half Back to the Future Part 2.
    I immediately went to see if there was another one in the series. There isn't (but it's only been 3 years). Maybe there will be?
    I might try his Pirate Cinema next.

  7. I'm in the middle or The Sympathizer at the moment. It's been a rewarding read, at times laugh out loud funny while also being incredibly tragic. Lots to chew on.

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