Category Archives: First Monday Book Day

The YMAs, baby!

So, are you all set for Monday? Got the webcast bookmarked so you're sure not to miss a single moment? Don't forget, it begins at exactly 9:00 a.m., central time!

Wait, what? You have no idea what I'm talking about? It's the YMAs! (Yes, I realize that the all-caps of the post title makes it look like I merely misspelled "yams." Hush.) It's one of my absolutely favorite days of the year! This is the day when the American Library Association (and a number of related groups) announces the winners of the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal, and a host of other awards.

Were you a kid who went right for all those books with a shiny award sticker on the front cover? Or did you stay as far away form them as possible? Do you have a favorite Newbery or Caldecott winner?

While I loved both my elementary school library and my public library as a kid, I didn't care all that much about seeking out books that had won awards. That said, if I had to pick a favorite Newbery winner, it would without question be A Wrinkle in Time. Following that would probably be The Black Cauldron, in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series. What about you?

Cooking the Books

We've talked about books, we've talked about cooking, but have we talked about cookbooks? I have my eye on the new cookbook from Smitten Kitchen (a.k.a. Deb Perelman) and am hoping it shows up under the Christmas tree later this month.

I know that there are approximately a bajillion recipes available on the internet for free, but I do still love a good cookbook. And far better to spill on a book than on my laptop! Do you have favorite cookbooks? Are there cookbooks you're eager to take a closer look at? Do share!

And of course, please share anything else you've been reading lately.

BOO-ks!

Did I scare you? Hey, I'm a little frightened by how long it's been since we've had a book post! Given that it's October, I figured it might be a good moment to talk about spooky books.

As it happens, I'm pretty much a wimp when it comes to scary books (or movies or whatever). I still remember the summer day when I was about 16 and I decided to read Jurassic Park because I had nothing else to do. I got through more than half the book that first day, and I then had nightmares about dinosaurs that night. I finished the book the following day and never picked up anything in that vein again!

At least I am able to handle scary picture books. Here are a few recent favorites:
Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, illus. Peter Brown
Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds, illus. Peter Brown
Hailey's Halloween by Lisa Bullard, illus. Holli Conger
Hallowilloween by Calef Brown
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illus. Christian Robinson

So what have you been reading since the last book post? Anything scary?

Time and Place: Books Edition

The topic of "Time and Place" songs and albums has come up around these parts a couple of times, but today it struck me that certain books fall into this category as well.

When I think of A Four-Sided Bed by Elizabeth Searle, I recall eating Reese's Pieces while sprawled my bed--a mattress on the floor of an unair-conditioned* apartment--in the summer of 1999.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows brings to mind a trip up north in the summer of 2007 when I could hardly tear myself away from the book to do anything else (including speaking to my family) until I'd finished it.

I love those books read during long hours in the summer when I could read with barely an interruption. There's little opportunity for that at the moment, but I trust that someday I'll be able to read that way again.

Are there books that take you back to a certain time and place? And what are you currently reading?

*I had no idea how that word was spelled until I looked it up just now.

FMMD – The Economist

First Monday Book Magazine Day - The Economist

I’ve been a subscriber to The Economist for many years. I like that it has kind of an external view of things (a different perspective than what I read in the daily online broadsheets). I also watch BBC World News.

I usually get it in the mail on Saturday, and a goal has been to get through the prior week’s version before the next one shows up (a goal often missed). In fact, one time I got so backed up that I cancelled the subscription, but then caved and re-upped. I’m at parity this week.

It’s where I often learn new words, like Iftar (first meal after Ramadan), bête noire (a person or thing that one dislikes), liguica (Portuguese smoked sausage with garlic), poisson d'avril (April fool), civvy street (civilian life).

I generally share the world views of The Economist editors (open markets, free trade, cultural liberalism).

I read The Economist from back to front (the obituary, world market charts, exotic job postings, book reviews, articles about natural selection (in markets, economies, insect-world, shopping behavior, etc.), then country-specific blats, and if I can’t get to the first part (recent news) that’s OK as I’ve heard all of that stuff on the Internet or radio.

They’ve got some standing opinion columns I enjoy – Johnson writes about language (e.g. Oxford comma – “We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.” “We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.”) Schumpeter (business), Babbage (technology), Buttonwood (Finance), Lexington (US stuff), Charlemagne (EU stuff), Bagehot (British stuff).

As an analytics guy, I like their charts/graphs. Big Mac index is good. I find it interesting how they selectively pick which countries to include on their graphs. I’ve made several investment decisions based on their articles (SQM – huge win; NBG – win but right before Greece went kaput; and several disasters - genomics  startups comes to mind).

So, WGOM peeps, what books/magazines are you reading?

Books, Books, Books

Did you know that April 29 was Independent Bookstore Day?

As a kid and teen, I could spend ages at Waldenbooks or B. Dalton at the mall, and I was blown away the first time I visited the Hungry Mind in St. Paul. I don't make it to bookstores as often as I'd like these days, and I was thinking about where I have gone within the last year or so. The Red Balloon is the store I go to most often, particularly for events. They provide free gift wrapping year-round, which I appreciate every time I don't have to frantically wrap a birthday present at the last minute. I took the boys to an event at Wild Rumpus last spring and they loved it, though they were so caught up in looking at—and following—the various animals that inhabit the store that they hardly noticed the event.

It occurs to me that there are bookstores for adult books (as in: non-children's books) as well. Most of my books come from the library—I feel so lucky that Hennepin County has a fantastic library system and that I work just a short walk from Central Library. I did make it to Common Good Books for the first time last fall, and it was fun to see what they had on the shelves.

On my list to visit locally:
Ancestry Books
Birchbark Books
I'm not sure if Babycake's Book Stack has opened yet, but I'm curious about that one as well.

So . . . where do you get your books?

Minnesota Books

The Minnesota Book Awards took place last weekend, and I'm pleased to say that in 2016 I read two of the winning books. Hey, so what if one of them is a 32-page picture book with rather sparse text? It's also a delightfully transgressive tale of annelid love.

Laurie Hertzel summed up the awards better than I could--her article in the Star Tribune begins:

The finalists for the Minnesota Book Awards this year included a National Book Award winning-novelist, a New York Times bestselling writer, and a Newbery Medal-winning writer of children’s books. But this year’s Minnesota Book Awards bypassed these venerable writers and bestowed honors on a mostly new crop of authors.

The rest of the article--including a full list of winners--is here.

While the event is largely a celebration of Minnesota's literary culture, the speech that will stay with me the longest came from poet Sun Yung Shin, who spoke about the importance of listening to the voices of those who have long been marginalized. If I find her speech posted online (and I really hope it will be posted), I'll share a link here. In addition to being a poet, Shin also edited the anthology A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, which I read last summer and highly recommend.

Along with recognizing writers (and occasionally illustrators), there's also a special award for a Minnesota book artist. This year the award went to Steven McCarthy for his project Wee Go Library. The project involved "harvesting" books from Little Free Libraries and modifying them in various ways. (Not to worry--he left a replacement book for every book he took from a LFL.) You can read more and see some photos of the finished projects here.

So what have you been reading?

First Monday Book Day – The Comic Book Store

So far, 2017 has turned out to be the year of the comic book for me.  Here's five series that I've been reading.


Monstress
This is my favorite new discovery of the year. It's kind of steampunk, kind of high fantasy with definite Asian influences and a dash of Elder Gods thrown in for good measure. It's a little gory, and a lot convoluted, but I've really enjoyed it. I've read through issue #10, and I'm struggling over whether to wait for the collections, or buy the issues as they become available. The art is really really good. Although the story seems like something you've heard before (orphan girl struggling against forces much greater than herself), there are plenty of factions and intrigue to keep it interesting.

Mooncop
It's sparse and a little funny and a little sad. A policeman on the moon drives through his patrol. The moon is emptying out, but still there are just enough people around to create small stories.

It's not a big book, but you will be pulled in.

Trees I didn't really know of Warren Ellis, but reading this and the next series on the list, he has a pretty incisive way of world-building.  Trees are alien spaceships landed without explanation that seemed benign until the end of volume 1.  Volume 2 gets a little bit more into how governments and other systems are reacting to a threat they don't understand.  Volume 1 was very good.  Volume 2 I hope is building toward something else that's as good.

Injection
Another Warren Ellis book.  Another fantastic introduction to a new world.  In an attempt to spur more global innovation, The Injection occurred, and now it has taken on a mind of its own.  It sounds like its the singularity, but probably not in a good way.  I was really into the first few issues of this, and I have another 3 or 4 sitting on my bookshelf to read soon.  Ellis loves a dystopia that's not quite a dystopia yet, and he does it pretty well.

Paper Girls
I have only read the first issue of this one, but it seems very cool.  Set in the 80's, a group of four newspaper delivery girls are defending their routes from Halloween pranksters when they find a ... time machine? maybe?  I don't really know yet, but when I get the chance I plan to keep reading.

So, what have you all been reading?  Comic book/graphic novel or otherwise?

FMBD – February 2017

I got in some interesting reading over the holidays:

Flashman – George MacDonald Fraser

A wild romp of a book features Flashman, a swashbuckling, womanizing, scoundrel in Victorian England’s Army, on assignment to a cantonment in Kabul. A raunchy coward, he bumbles his way miraculously through thick and thin. This is the first of a series. I just started another book in the series (Flashman in the Great Game) where Flashman gets caught up in the middle of the Sepoy Revolt.

The Last Moriarty - Charles Veley

We were at my next-door neighbor’s house for a pre-Holiday soiree and got to talking with this couple who live across the street. The conversation somehow got to Benedict Cumberbatch and the BBC’s Sherlock series.

I’m a big fan of the canon, and recalled a recent A.C. Doyle story I had just downloaded from Project Gutenberg and read on my newly purchased Kindle. The main jist of my observation was about what an a**hole Holmes could be to Watson.

So this couple both start to smile broadly, and it turns out he is a UTC engineer by day, but a fiction writer by night, and a big Doyle fan.  He had also recently written (and had published) a Sherlock Holmes ‘continuation’ story which fits into the canon with historical precision.

The Last Moriarty picks up after Reichenbach Falls, when Holmes finally comes out of hiding, and gets involved in an intrigue involving several industrial magnates from America, some Connecticut connections, and even a reference to Farmington’s Miss Porter’s school.

The Noise of Time - Julian Barnes

I’d read Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending after a positive review in the Economist (+ Man Booker Prize winner) and really enjoyed it.  I’m also a Dimitri Shostokovich fan, so when I saw this book reviewed, I immediately ordered it and devoured it.

The book starts with Shostakovich in a panic as he has just had his first opera performed (Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District) and the three figures in Stalin’s box seats walk out after the first act (including Stalin).  Shostakovich'  music is soon after denounced in Pravda.

He proceeds to dress up every night and sit in a chair next to the elevator with his kit and toothbrush, because he expects to be taken away by the secret police at night, and doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of his wife.  A lot of Soviet history mixed in with the musician's life and music.

A Whole Life - R. Seethaler

A tender read about a simple man who lives a simple life in the Austrian Alps, overcoming adversity, and yet persevering. Well written - a sad story but not a bummer.

So Nation - what have you been reading?

Book Day: Award Season

Before I get to the somewhat traditional recap of the science fiction and fantasy awards from this year, I wanted to take a moment to recognize a book on the longlist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.  I was furnished a copy of this by the editor (someone we probably all would recognize if she didn't go around in a trench coat and sunglasses all the time).  It's a really affecting story and a gorgeous book (as much as any book about the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki can be gorgeous).  If you don't believe me, you can read the review in the New York Times.


This year, all the sci-fi and fantasy awards actually got handed out, so there was improvement from last year.  Some of my favorites, and lots of links, below.

SHORT STORY WINNERS:

Nebula and World Fantasy Winner - Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers - by Alyssa Wong - (link)

Just read it.  The title kind of sums it up. This was a really good and deserving winner.

Hugo and Locus Winner - Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer - (link)

Finally, an explanation for the internet's fascination with the feline.

SHORT STORY NOMINEES:

The Dowager of Bees - by China Mieville - I have Mieville's story collection (Three Moments of an Explosion) sitting on my bedside table, and I'm very excited to get into it. The title story and this one are both really really good.  This one involves the presence of secret cards that can appear in any regular deck.

The Game of Smash and Recovery - by Kelly Link - Link is such a master of revealing just one more thing as you get further and further into the story.

Madeleine - by Amal El-Mohtar - The narrator remembers being someone else.  And it keeps happening more and more often.

The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill - by Kelly Robson - Tiny aliens trying to keep their host alive.

NOVELLETE WINNERS:

Hugo Winner – Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang – (link)

A very cool idea, Beijing is three cities, each only active while the other two sleep, and travelling between them has dangers.

Nebula Winner – And You Shall Know Her By the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander – (link)

A kind of tech crime/virtual reality/love story?  I don't know the best way to describe it except that it moves fast and is a lot of fun.  Definitely worth checking out.

Locus Winner – Black Dog by Neil Gaiman –

Can I tell you a secret?  I don’t like Neil Gaiman’s novels.  On the other hand, I have consistently enjoyed his short fiction.  “Black Dog” is a good ghost story where a traveler stumbles upon a town with more to it than meets the eye.

NOVELLETTE NOMINEES:

Our Lady of the Open Road - by Sarah Pinsker - A band on the road in a slightly more post-apocalyptic world than our own.

Another Word for World - by Ann Leckie - A recently anointed ruler is shipwrecked on an unfriendly planet.  (scroll to the end of the linked post for a download link)

NOVELLA WINNERS:

Hugo & Nebula Novella – Binti by Nnedi Okorafor –

Standalone book. Very good.  The main character is the first of her family/community to attend a university on another planet.  The trip there is hijacked by an alien menace.  An exploration of what is alien.

World Fantasy Novella – The Unlicensed Magician by Kelly Barnhill –

Standalone book.  A 1984-like state has been rounding up magic children.  Written in a very particular style (an affected, self-aware childlike tone) that made the world interesting, this still told an engrossing story.

Locus Novella – Slow Bullets by Alistair Reynolds –

Standalone book. A generational starship of war criminals, soldiers and settlers from the recently concluded space war begins to wake up. Reynolds is a pretty good sci-fi author, and he delivers some pretty good sci-fi here.

NOVELLA NOMINEES:

Penric’s Demon – by Lois McMaster Bujold – A country boy is unwittingly tapped as a vessel for a demon and the magic that comes with that.  This might have been my favorite of the novella nominees.  The audiobook is a brisk 4 hours and it tells a good story.  Bujold has published two more in the series this year, which I keep meaning to check out.

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn – by Usman Malik – A story of multiple cultures and generations.

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls – by Aliette de Bodard – A space station disappeared years ago, and now it seems it might be possible to find it, visit it, or maybe bring it back. I'm just going to keep recommending de Bodard's short fiction every time I write one of these. This is in Asimov's SF magazine, whose stories sometimes appear and disappear online if you search them.  I couldn't find it right now, but keep an eye out.

Guignol – by Kim Newman – Horror story revolving around a theater of the grotesque in Paris.  This was terribly gory, but still did a great job of creating suspense and payoff.

The New Mother – Eugene Fisher – Genetic mutation and what it means to be human and to tolerate those on the other side of that line.


Honestly, this year there wasn't one story that I was over-the-moon excited about, which is kind of rare.  Hungry Daughters and Folding Beijing were both really good, but I don't know that either rises to that level where I will remember them when I write a recap like this next year.

As far as novels go, I'm still working my way through the nominees there a little bit, but N. K. Jemisen's The Fifth Season is probably my current favorite.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik was also really good.  A good old magic story.

I'm currently reading The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi and I'm not too impressed.  It's like a re-setting of The Wind-up Girl.  Which I don't mean as a compliment.

The thing I'm most excited to read from the nominee lists is K. J. Parker's Savages.  I really liked some of Parker's novellas (A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong and Let Maps to Others), so I'm looking forward to reading this longer effort.