Once upon a time, I read books. Mostly, I read books during my bus commute. And when I had to stop commuting, I stopped reading. Sure I read for work and I read for my kids. But I haven't yet managed to find a time in the routine for reading whatever the heck I want.
However, one bit of good news for book lovers is that a pandemic isn't enough to stop book awards from being bestowed. I talked about the Minnesota Book awards here in 2014 and 2017, so now that another three years have passed, the time has come to once again bring up our fabulous literary community. There was, of course, no in-person gathering, but I was watching the livecast as it happened, and thanks to the accompanying chat, the event was surprisingly celebratory and truly did have a feeling of community and mutual support as authors cheered one another on. I even have it on good authority that the brother of a certain WGOM citizen was even in (virtual) attendance. (I kind of loved that cocktail attire was still recommended despite the fact that we were all in our homes.)
You can check out the livecast here if you'd like. And the full list of winners is here.
And, well, there's just one other little thing. I have a rather special connection with one of this year's winning books. And seeing it win may have been a little bit exciting. This particular book meant a lot to all of us involved with it. If you're curious, you can check out the story behind the book.
So what are you reading? Or wishing you had time to read?
Toward the end of last year, a colleague was asking us to vote on favorite books in different categories--e.g. favorite graphic novel, favorite poetry collection, etc. After trying to recall exactly what I'd read in those categories, I suddenly became very grateful for the partial record of books I'd read within the First Monday Book Day posts.
This year, I'm using a bullet journal for the first time (because an author recommended it!), so I've got a few pages set aside at the back for jotting down book titles (and authors and illustrators). It's no spreadsheet, but at least at the end of 2020, I will have a good accounting of what I've read.
Do you keep track of the books you read? If so, how?
I love a good book review. I read far more reviews of adult books* than I read actual books, though I do occasionally request books from the library based on a particularly intriguing review. Sure, I hear about books in other ways, but I like to browse through review in the New York Times over lunch, and a review is most consistently what gets me interested in a book.
However, my final read of 2019 was a book I came across by accident. I was searching the library website for Japan travel guides, and an intriguing book called The Sakura Obsession by Naoko Abe turned up. I read the description and put it on hold, and it came in just before my end-of-year time off started.
Translated from the Japanese by the author, who is from Japan and now lives in the UK, the book explores the significance of the cherry tree (sakura) in Japan and how an eccentric British guy named Collingwood Ingram came to be a proponent of the cherry tree (and lived to the age of 100). Particularly interesting to me was information about how the cherry tree was used in WWII propaganda within Japan to link the idea of blossoms falling with the idea of dying gloriously for the emperor. For a little more detail about the book, check out a review here.
Throughout the year, I read a lot of books that I feel like I "need" to read for various reasons and that's not to say I don't generally enjoy them, but it was wonderful to read a book just because I'd stumbled across it and became curious.
So how do you find out about books to read? And what have you been reading lately?
*books for grown-ups rather than children, thank you very much
I didn't feel like hassling our normal stable of Book Day authors, so here's a halfassed post:
I put this book on hold at the library after hearing an interview with the author while in traffic. Sounded interesting to me. My turn came, I picked it up, placed it on the table, racked up about $3 in late fines (and we have low per day rates), and then brought it back unread because that's just kinda what I do.
Anything you managed to crack the cover on?
I've been reading memoir in verse recently. In June I read Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson and immediately after that picked up This Is the Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy, both of which were excellent.
I don't always think poetry is a great fit for nonfiction topics--poetry is often works well to distill a topic to its essence and prompt readers to see something from a fresh perspective. I don't think poetry is typically good at conveying background information and putting events in a larger context, which is often what I want from nonfiction. But in the case of memoir, poetry can get to the heart of a story and keep things moving along--because even a really interesting life surely contains plenty of mundane details that readers won't really care about.
The latest books I have from the library are not poetry, and every time I look at them, I think about how very many words are on each page. I should probably start one of those books soon, though.
What have you been reading? Have you encountered books that you thought you wouldn't like that surprised you?
I recently read a fascinating article by Austin Kleon called "How to Read More." This article is no mere list of tips--I was pleasantly surprised by just how insightful it is. Clearly, Mr. Kleon is a big reader.
I was particularly struck by the first tip, which is "Quit reading books you don't like." As a child, I was a compulsive finisher. If I began a book, I felt obligated to see it through to the end even if I wasn't enjoying it. Of course, I had a lot more free time to fill as a child than I do now...
Kleon says, "If you aren’t getting anything out of a book, put it down, and pick up another book. Every hour you spend inching through a boring book is an hour you could’ve spent plowing through a brilliant one. When it comes to books, quitters finish more."
It's true that I read faster when a book really grabs me and I suddenly find "extra" time to read it by using time when I'm usually doing something else. I still remember taking the peperoncino to the playground one summer afternoon so that he could play with trucks in the sand while I perched on the edge of the sandbox, unable to stop reading Sweetbitter.
Do you stop reading when a book isn't holding your attention? Do you have your own tips or tricks on finding time to read? Do tell!
We've done this topic before, but it's come up recently, so it seemed workable.
What do you read to your kids? What are your goals in reading to your kids, and how does that inform your book selection? (My goal is calming my children down since they're often crazy, and so I read to them from the phone book. Not really, but I should. If only I owned a phone book... (wow the world has changed!)).
Anyway, books. We read them. Then talk about them. Let's do that here.
So, it's the last Monday (and day) of the year. Perhaps a book post can give us a little momentum heading into 2019? (Also, hj prodded me to post something here today.)
I've been reading a book that I kinda like, yet am sorta bored with, since November. This book and its author are both new to me, though I know a fair bit about the author, who was the best friend of one of my favorite poets. The book's not the sole reason I won't reach my reading goal for the year, but, well, it's been laborious. I'm not entirely stalled out — I make a little progress every day — but I'm definitely not going to finish it in 2018. It's a prominent book in a certain kind of genre, and 2018 was the 50th anniversary of the author's untimely, unexpected passing. I feel a bit obligated to finish it, both because, while it's not my cup of tea, it's not that bad, and because it seems like something I should read.
When I finally finish it, I've decided to create a new tag in my tracking system — Laborious Reads. I may retroactively tag a few other books like this, too; Chernyshevsky, I'm looking at you.
What books have you laboriously read? What were your initial motivations for reading them? What was your motivation to finish them?
As always, fill us in on what you've read since last time, and what you will be reading as we turn the page to begin Chapter 2019.
Do you listen much to audiobooks? I don't really, though it's not because I have something against the format.
But I do listen to audio stories (a.k.a. podcasts) with the jalapeño as he's falling asleep, and that's not all that different from an audiobook. The first podcast we tried was Little Stories for Tiny People, and I really like it--the stories are engaging and Rhea's voice is lovely and soothing. We've also listened to a lot of What If World?, and those stories tend to be wackier and not always relaxing as I'd ideally like at bedtime (though to be fair, it's not intended as a strictly bedtime podcast).
Just this weekend, we started on Circle Round, which is hosted by NPR affiliate WBUR, and...wow! There are stories from all over the world, and they're told by professional actors. So far it's keeping mother and son equally engaged, which isn't always easy.
Do you listen to audiobooks or other story-like things in audio form? Any recommendations?
I have found myself reading quite a few debut novels lately.
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
I'm kind of in love with this book right now. A Nigerian woman has multiple gods living inside her (some Ibo spirits, Jesus, etc.) and they sometimes take her over and sometimes fight each other and sometimes just comment on human affairs. It's not going to end well for the woman, that much is clear, but I'm really into this.
- Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes
It's a take on Mikhail Bulgakov and the censors in Soviet Russia. I just read The Master and Margarita during October, so I've enjoyed all the little parallels that crop up.
- Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagin
(finished last month)
This felt a little unfinished, but it was good. A "finding your way in the world" novel with just enough weirdos to make it interesting.
- The Strange Case of the Alchemists Daughter by Theodora Goss
(finished last month)
Dr. Jekyll's daughter teams up with Sherlock Holmes, and the daughter of Dr. Moreau, and Frankenstein's female monster, and some others to solve crimes. This was ... a lot. I kind of lost my patience in the climactic fight scene, so I struggled to the finish.
- The Pisces by Melissa Broder
(finished last month)
I've enjoyed Broder's poetry and essays, but this one wasn't quite as captivating. A woman suffers a breakup and house-sits for her sister in California where she falls in love with a merman. Broder is frank and sex-focused and a little bizarre. Interesting book.
There is something exciting about discovering a new author, and getting in early on their career. I follow a few early career awards (The Whiting Award, The Locus Award for First SF/F Novel, The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, etc.) where I found a lot of the books above.
What have you been reading? Any up and coming authors on your lists?