Tag Archives: books

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:

On Reading (or Not) and Book Awards

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?

First Monday Book Day: Discoverability

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

The Debut Novel

I have found myself reading quite a few debut novels lately.

  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
    (currently reading)
    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
    (currently reading)
    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?

FMBD: Firsts

It's the end of the semester, so now I have some free time and I can really get after it and read some books.

I recently tried to quantify all the translated books I've read, and they pretty much fell into three categories: European, Latin American, and Murakami.* But there were no African writers and very few Asian writers (not even African writers writing in European languages).

This past month I listened to Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag - translated from Kannada (spoken in India) - it was a very short, but very well constructed family drama, with an undercurrent of violence.

And this month I'm picking up Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo. This is the first Malagasy novel that has ever been translated into English. Madagascar is already so strange and interesting, so I'm excited to see what the book is like.

So I've been expanding my reading in that direction, what have you all been reading?

* one notable exception was Han Kang's The Vegetarian (from S. Korea)- which is hallucinogenically great.

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?

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?

Summer Reads

Grab your books and head to the beach! Or . . . not. I've read on a beach once exactly once in the past six years. The book? Infinite Jest.

In theory, summer is supposed to be a time for fun, breezy reads. I don't know that this is true for me. (But then again, I have a particular tendency to gravitate toward overly serious things. The summer after eighth grade, I read Hamlet. But don't worry--I didn't understand it.) As a kid, my favorite thing about summer was that I could pick anything I wanted to read. And to be sure, I went through my fair share of Choose Your Own Adventure books along with those that were out of my league.

As an adult, I haven't noticed that my reading habits change much with the seasons. But perhaps I'm anomaly. Do you gravitate toward different reading material in the summer? If so, what?