Category Archives: First Monday Book Day

First Monday Book Day: X

My family is often teasing me about my penchant for books that are "a surreal puzzle box". (A phrase from a cover blurb on some book I bought that has caught the family's collective imagination). And, if you had to assign one letter to embody that idea, it would have to be X, right? The classic algebraic unknown.

So, it tickled me that I read two different books with that letter as the focus of their title this week. Both were intricate structures and worth reading in my humble estimation.

The Story of X by Sarah Rose Etter - X is the narrator, the unknown is the self and the self is a woman. Sometimes horrifying, sometimes infuriating, sometimes loving and ecstatic.

Biography of X - by Catherine Lacey - X is an artist, the recently deceased spouse of the narrator, the unknown is the other, the other is society. This is an incredibly intricate and layered book, complex and ambitious.

As it is July 1, it has now been exactly 15 years since I finished my PhD research, stopped working 70 hours a week in the lab and started my reading spreadsheet. Time for some book facts!

1,021 books read (not counting re-reads) - 68 books/year

642 books of fiction (novels, novellas, graphic novels)
219 collections (comics, short stories, poetry)
160 non-fiction books

682 physical books (67%)
173 audiobooks
166 e-books

431 women or non-binary authored books (43%)
144 translated works

First Monday Book Day: Adaptations

Been a while since we had an FMBD post. As I washed my beard on Saturday I found myself wondering whether The Boss’ POTUS biography journey has made it into the hirsute Chief Executive era.

We’ve had some CoC chatter about the new Dune film adaptation. I’ve been watching & enjoying Foundation on Apple TV+, but I’m not familiar with Asimov’s series. The same was true for The Expanse (final season drops on Prime in December) and James A. Corey’s novels. I’ve been meaning to start reading those.

What previously-unadapted* novel or series would you like to see get the (home) cinema treatment? On my film list are: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, J. M. G. Le Clézio’s Désert, & Vonnegut’s Player Piano. Eugene Vodolazkin‘s Laurus, Richard Ford’s Canada, & Richard Powers’ The Overstory all seem ripe for a high-quality miniseries treatment.

My current read is Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Committed, which is a follow-up to The Sympathizer.

* We can hold ourselves to English-language adaptations.

First Monday Book Day: Half-Baked or Otherwise

Lucy Ellmann - author of the fantastic Ducks, Newburyport has an essay collection coming out.

Her publisher live-tweeted one of her essays in which she lists things which are "crap". 257 tweets, and it's fun to find the thing that makes you say "now, hold on."

Anyway, that's as much as I got for reading intro this month. Half-baked crap I tell ya.

What are you reading?

First Monday Book Day – Pretty Good

It's been quite a while since I've read a book that blew me away. I think the best book I've read this year has been The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald which was a beautiful little book of stubborn characters that I loved. But I read that book back in February, and it's been hard sledding since then for really exciting reading experiences.

Continue reading First Monday Book Day – Pretty Good

First Monday Book Day – All Unhappy Families

I started reading Anna Karenina.

I wasn't really planning on it, but Becca Rothfeld invited people to tackle a big long book and have a discussion group with her. Well, I find Rothfeld to be interesting and someone that has a different perspective. A big novel? A group of interesting thoughtful readers? Sign me up!

And then they chose Anna Karenina.

I read the first 10 pages in high school and never really had any inclination to go back to it, but I had recently read that George Saunders book about Russian short stories. And I had enjoyed The Master and Margarita and The Idiot in recent years, so maybe Russian literature could be my thing.

I'm not sure it's my thing.  I'm 550 pages in, I've got 250 to go, and it's a little bit of a slog for me.  The reading group is not quite as interesting of a group as I had hoped (there are some true literature snobs in there - George Saunders is not a serious enough writer for some in this group).  So now I will finish the book this month. There are parts of it that are really really good. I liked the observation someone made about how Tolstoy is pre-Freudian so he could not care less about anyone's backstory or childhood. That tickled me a bit.

Alright, what literature classics have you been accidentally roped into agreeing to read this month? Share it all below.

First Monday Book Day: Ghost Story

I actually had a long solo drive this past weekend for the first time in a long time. Took the opportunity to listen to the first 5 hours of the audio book of The Upstairs House by Julia Fine.

The narrator in the book has a new baby and an unfinished dissertation on children's literature. She is very ambivalent about both of those things. The result is that Margaret Wise Brown's ghost (author of Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny) has moved in upstairs.

There's just a touch of horror, and I'm not exactly sure where the story is going in the final third. I'm almost reminded of Victor LaValle's The Changeling, which is maybe my favorite horror fantasy novel, so that's a good sign.

March Books

I read A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders this month.  Saunders is a professor at Syracuse and he reflects on the stories that he enjoys teaching the most and then goes through seven examples by four Russian authors (Chekhov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Gogol).  It does read like a class on fiction writing at times, but it was also really fun to watch someone who is undeniably good at something pick apart how other people do that thing.  I also enjoy people writing and discussing teaching, so this was right up my alley. I heard about this book because Saunders appeared on the So Many Damn Books podcast and he sold me on it.

All of that aside, I did get a little bit tired of the perspective of seven stories all told by old Russian dudes. So if you are looking for a read that has diversity of perspective ... this ain't that.

As is required whenever I mention George Saunders, I have linked to my favorite of his performances below.

Book Day: Groundhog’s Eve

Well, the year is off and running. I'm still creating elaborate lists to figure out how to spend my bookstore gift cards that I got at the end of the year, but I did get a couple of books  in the mail this month:

Baseball's Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues by Andrea Williams

She's the only woman inducted into the baseball HOF, and I hadn't really ever heard of her until I came across this book. The little Ghost is pretty interested in the Negro Leagues, so we might dive into this one together.

Ellis Island by Georges Perec

The latest in the New Directions subscription that I got for Christmas and I'm excited to read another Perec book.  I loved "Life: A User's Manual" and I've committed myself to reading "A Void" at some point this year. Maybe I'll do that this month to pair with my new acquisition.

Some links to interesting things I read in January:

We Didn't Have a Chance to Say Goodbye - Sabrina Orah Mark - She's one of those authors that I read every time I see her name and I'm never disappointed.

My husband and I were on our honeymoon, and I thought I only wanted the plague doctor. I didn’t know I’d eventually need him, too. “You can’t be serious,” says my brother. “Who loses a plague doctor during a plague?” “I guess I do,” I say.

“We’ll find him,” says my husband. But we never do.

Corvid Vision - Barbara Tran - A poem from Conjunctions that I thought had a lot of interesting images in it.

When something is said to come full
circle does this mark completion or make
a new form

an O
through which another
could fly?

Reading with the Little Ghost:

The Girl and the Ghost turned out to be far too dark for our current situation.  Lots of bullying and jealousy and anger and it just wasn't the thing we wanted to read before bed. We switched after about 90 pages after the main character had a nightmare about eating curry with human body parts in it.

So, instead we are reading Pip Bartlett's Guide to Sea Monsters which is a series that G has enjoyed. This is the third book, and it's much more light-hearted entertainment.

He really liked Monstrous: The Lore, Gore and Science Behind Your Favorite Monsters. This was  a book where he would go quiet for a while and I'd go looking for him only to find him nose deep in a chart about how to tell if you are dead or undead.  Thanks, Pepper!

He also just finished The Atlas of Vanishing Places which was full of geography facts and just about perfect for the obsessions of this particular third grader.

Always Look a Gift Book in the Pages?

All right, all right, so I won't win any awards here for best post title. But it's a new year and we're going to have a first book Monday on the first Monday of the first month, gosh darn it!

So did you give books as holiday gifts? Did you get any books?

I got Braiding Sweetgrass, which I read last year and adored. So why get a book I already read? Because it was that good. And because there's a special new hardcover edition with a new introduction and--gasp!--deckled edges. *Swoon*

The other book I received couldn't be more different, though it's still a work of nonfiction: HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style by Elizabeth Holmes. I've followed Ms. Holmes's IG account for a while, and I'm a fan of the way she does close readings of the sartorial choices of the royals. I haven't started this one yet, but I feel like it'll be a nice distraction when I'm ready to dive in.

How bookish were your holidays?

First Monday Book Post On A Tuesday – Minnesota Authors

It just so happens that I am finishing my third consecutive book by a Minnesota author. It wasn't intentional, and one of them doesn't even really count, but it gave me the idea for this topic. Still, discuss whatever you want for books... this is largely just a place holder for the content that comes in the LTEs.

Briefly, my MN Books:

The Girl Who Drank The Moon - Kelly Barnhill - Young Adult fantasy literature. Newberry medal winner. It was good. Very lyrical in its language, which was quite enjoyable. That said, Aquinas read it and put his finger squarely on the problem: there isn't really a climax. The book is all build and rising tension, and then it reaches the climax, and it just sort of happens, without taking any real time or space or challenge. That aside, I highly recommend this one, because the build and rising tension and world building and lyrical writing is all fantastic.

Sharks In The Time Of Saviors - By Kawai Strong Washburn - I found this book because Kawai and I used to be in a writer's group together back in D.C. Apparently he started working on this novel shortly after leaving that group, so I never got to see any of the first work for it, but I read a lot of his other stuff, and it was really good writing. His descriptions are excellent, and really bring a world alive. He moved to MN a few years ago, after having lived in CA, and before that D.C., and Hawaii before that. This book is really a Hawaii book, not a Minnesota book, but I'm calling him a MN author now, because I can. Anyway, check this one out. It's a bit of magical realism, heavy on the realism, and about halfway through the book switches in a way I did not see coming, and that I resented a bit at first, but, ultimately came to peace with. Which, I think, was kind of the point. A very very worthy read.

The Master Butcher's Singing Club - Louis Erdrich - I've read a few Erdrich novels over the years, though I rarely know much about them before I pick them up. The strength of her reputation is enough to convince me to give them a chance. This was one I picked up for 25 cents at a library sale or something like that, and it sat on my nightstand for maybe a year before I decided to give it a go. I'm so glad I did. It's historical fiction (naturally), set in North Dakota post-WWI, and follows the lives of a German immigrant and another woman who was from the town where this is set. What strikes me is how much reading this book has been like getting to know real people. The characters are so fully human, so well-rounded, that as I'm writing this it is just now occurring to me that they are fictitious, because they occupy a space in my brain where they seem so real. I don't know that I've had that experience in reading for a while... too many science fiction/fantasy settings that prevent that, or authors who maybe aren't quite at the level that Erdrich is? Either way... wow.

Alright, other MN authors? What are you reading? What are you looking forward to? So on and so forth. Books, go now: