It should not be news at this point that I am open to reading YA fiction. Twilight, Matched, Uglies, The Selection, The Hunger Games, etc., all YA fiction with sort of interesting premises and huge fan followings. As a student of popular literature, I figure, if a book has a huge following, it has to be doing something right.
That’s also true of Veronica Roth’s Divergent. This is the first novel in a hugely popular series about Tris, a young woman who takes an aptitude test meant to help her choose one of five “factions,” which will determine her future. Born into Abnegation, the faction defined by selflessness, Tris is used to putting others first. However, when she takes the test, she discovers she’s “divergent” — not so easily sorted or categorized. Though Tris is free to choose whatever faction she wants, in theory, she shows qualities of three of the factions, which is apparently dangerous. Tris chooses Dauntless, a faction defined by fearlessness, and is launched into a world she knows nothing about while trying to figure out why she’s different.
On its face, this is an excellent story. (more…)
Today in the New York Times, Timothy Egan wrote a piece bemoaning the increasingly short attention span of us modern humans. In his article, he went on to boast that he had “found a pair of antidotes, very old school, for [our] shrinking attention span[s].” One was gardening. The other was reading.
The second [antidote] is deep reading, especially in the hibernation months of winter…Remember all those predictions that technology was going to kill book reading? It never happened. Paper books and stores that sell them are experiencing a revival of sorts. So, yes, I’m as screen-scrolly as the next guy when I’ve got the world in the palm of my hand. But put the thing aside, and…curl up with an 800-page tome, and you find that the desire for sustained concentration is not lost. If anything, it’s greater.
Of course, my bibliophilic heart swelled in pleasure at his conclusion. Reading as savior! Saving us from modern distraction and lack of focus! Books as antidotes to contemporary malaise! How wonderful!
Over the last decade or so, the evolving debate about e-readers, the death of books, the fall of bookstores, and how technology is always somehow ruining society has been interesting for me to watch and participate in. Over the course of said debate, I went from a staunch Kindle hater (a dislike based solely on loyalty to physical books back when e-readers and physical books were somehow viewed as an either/or proposition) to a grudging Kindle owner to someone who could appreciate the pros and cons of both e-readers and physical books. Could physical books come with me on a two-month backpacking trip? No. But could my Kindle ever replicate the pleasurable physical experience of a codex? Also no. They’re two different tools and I accordingly use them as such.
Timothy Egan’s piece today made me think about this old debate once more. Egan doesn’t recommend reading of any old kind — Kindle, book, Nook, or otherwise. He recommends reading a physical book. His argument is predicated on paying close attention (“deep reading”) to a big, old fashioned book (“an 800-page tome”). That sort of physically present type of reading will hold your attention and save you from having a shorter attention span than a goldfish, Egan suggests. (more…)
In many ways, this is the best of the first three books of Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel’s Legacy” series. It somehow manages to build off of the first two books without being annoyingly nostalgic, and while introducing new developments and difficulties without seeming cliched or contrived.
For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, the series can be summarized as such: In an alternative medieval world where all of the French people are actually descended from angels, a woman named Phedre is born in a brothel who is marked by a red spot (or “mote,” as Carey insists on calling it) in one of her eyes. This mark signifies she’s a chosen of Kushiel, an angel of punishment and mercy, and she is eventually adopted by a nobleman, trained as a spy, and dashes off saving the world on far-flung adventures. In this, she’s accompanied by a man who originally swore to remain a celibate warrior-priest, but who forswore most of his vows in favor of becoming her consort and also bodyguard.
I know, I know. And the reason this series isn’t taken more seriously is because there’s a lot of sex, a lot of which involves whips and wheels and other toys, due to Phedre’s unique affinity for submission. But usually, sex is beside the point — one of the “gods” Phedre serves is revered for giving up her body as a means to a noble end, and that’s Phedre’s m.o. as well.
In this case, the larger cause is rescuing the son of a former patron who happens to be third in line to the throne of Phedre’s country. (more…)
If there’s anything harder than reading a book as giant as The Count of Monte Cristo, it’s writing about it. Where do you begin, precisely? With the protagonist himself, who becomes more and more of an enigma as the plot progresses? With the reason for his revenge, a woman who, oddly, seems to become beside the point as the plot unfolds? With the younger people, who suffer as a result of acts carried out a decade before they were even born?
Perhaps all I can do is give you a brief summary and tell you to read it. A young sailor named Edmond Dantes arrives in Marseilles from a long sea voyage, bent on marrying his fiancee and starting life as the captain of his own ship. Unfortunately, there’s a man who wants to marry his fiancee, another who wants to prevent him from taking over the ship, and another one who is just a terrible person. These three conspire to frame Edmond for a horrible crime, which he’s convicted of after the prosecutor discovers that setting Edmond free would actually implicate the prosecutor’s own father in a crime.
Which books made our little readerly hearts sing this year? Which books did we finally finish — for better or worse? And which books changed our outlook? Check out Kate and Corey’s picks for their best (and worst!) reads of 2015:
Most Fun Read
Corey: Does having the most fun while reading it count? If so, my most fun read this year was Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. It isn’t a “fun” book, per se (mixed in with the magic and romance, there’s kidnapping, murder, and all-out civil war), but I still had tremendous fun reading it.
Kate: The Rosie Project, Uprooted and Kushiel’s Dart were all majorly fun for me. None of those are really…fluffy, persay, but I had a lot of fun reading them!
The Shock and Awe Award for Most Surprising Read
Corey: I’m not sure what I was expecting with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, but I was still surprised by it. Plot- and genre-wise, it is nothing like any of his previous work, but thematically it fit right in with Remains of the Day in its dealings with memory and aging. Reading it was an ongoing surprise.
Kate: Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. I expected a sort of porny, sub-standard, Fifty Shades of Grey-with-angels kind of thing, but wow. That’s not at all what it was. It was a sweeping, epic, woman-focused bildungsroman with themes of love, friendship, morality and loyalty. Amazing.
“Hey, I didn’t know that!” Award for Best Nonfiction Read
Corey: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson barely edges out Simon Garfield’s excellent On the Map. With one mind-blowing fact after another, it’s impossible to compete with Bryson’s accessible and fascinating take on nearly everything.
Kate: Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz. It gave me a lot of insight into the little wolf in my living room!
Corey: Oh man, I had so many great rereads this year! But I think The Magicians by Lev Grossman takes the cake. I loved it the first time around and it was even more meaningful in the reread. Plus, 2015 was my first time reading the whole series, which was an amazing experience.
Kate: I agree. It would be hard to beat the experience of rereading the first two and finishing with the third. I also enjoyed my A Song of Ice and Fire reread immensely.
Worst Reread (more…)
At the start of 2015, I set out to have the most intentional and thoughtful year of reading ever. I wanted to read with purpose, focusing on books both inside and outside my comfort zone that were engaging and mentally challenging as well as entertaining. I had goals and deadlines and aspirations — I even signed up for two different reading challenges to keep me honest.
And, for most of 2015, I read ferociously. I checked categories and authors off my list, I chose what I was reading with the challenges in mind, and I just basically read a ton. Travel helped — there were a lot of layovers and long train rides in 2015 — as did the fantastic local library I had access to for the first half of the year.
Then, in the autumn of 2015, I went back to graduate school and had a reading epiphany: reading isn’t a contact sport. It isn’t something to train for, it isn’t some kind of competition, and it isn’t something to kill yourself trying to do “best.” Since reading is something I love so much, I realized that it should be a treat, a pleasure, even a leisurely pursuit, not something you pull a muscle doing.
In consequence, my reading slowed down considerably after September, although what I have read since then, I’ve enjoyed a lot. I allowed myself time to enjoy each book and, if something wasn’t clicking, I didn’t force myself to finish it. Life’s too short!
And so I come to the end of 2015 with another year of reading under my belt, although not the one I originally pictured! For my first-ever reading challenges, out of the combined 75 categories in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and the Popsugar 2015 Reading Challenge, I checked off 55, which feels like a pretty good chunk. As I had hoped, the challenges did force me to read some books that I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise and to check some titles of my ever-growing TBR list. On the whole, life held a lot of changes for me this past year and I think it makes sense that my reading habits match.
When I was little, my parents would read aloud to me before bed. They read to me every night at bedtime until I was eleven or so and, in this manner, I was introduced to many of my favorite books. I first experienced Little Women, the entire Anne of Green Gables series, and most of the Harry Potter books, among many others, as sound, rather than as written words.
But from the time when my reading level allowed my bookish impatience to know what would happen next to eclipse the value of a bedtime story, books went silent for me. I was never one of those young readers who quietly read aloud, mouthing the words over the book. Instead, my eyes danced along the page, rushing and gulping up the words. There was no time to speak the words or even mouth along; I was sprinting through books without a glance backwards.
Bedtime story time ceased and, with that ritual, the pleasure of hearing a story aloud also disappeared. In the intervening decades, I can pretty safely say the no one has read even a short story aloud to me, let alone an entire book or a whole series. The best I got was senior year of high school when some friends and I obsessed over Shakespeare and would pace the halls, reciting and savoring his language spoken aloud. Other than that, books remained a silent and largely solitary activity.
And, for the most part, I found nothing unsatisfying in that. I was and am a fast reader and I considered reading out loud to be merely a slowing down of the reading experience best left to moments of dire necessity like road trips. It wasn’t something to miss. (more…)