In 2015, I decided to be more thoughtful and intentional with my reading choices by signing up for two Reading Challenges, one from Popsugar and one from Book Riot. Since I’m just wrapping up the first quarter of the year, I thought I’d touch base and see how I’m doing.
- A mystery or thriller (Popsugar): The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
- A book set in a different country (Popsugar): Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario
- A nonfiction book (Popsugar): A Circle of Sisters by Judith Flanders
- A book a friend recommended (Popsugar) / A romance novel (Book Riot): Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (recommended by Brittany)
- A book you can finish in a day (Popsugar): The Culture Clash
- A book with a color in the title (Popsugar) / A book written by a person whose gender is different from your own (Book Riot): The Devil in the White City by Eric Larsen
- A book with magic (Popsugar) / A book published this year (Book Riot): A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
- A book by an author you’ve never read before (Popsugar): The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King
- A book originally written in a different language (Popsugar) / A book published by an indie press (Book Riot): The Museum Vault by Marc-Antoine Mathieu
- A book set during Christmas (Popsugar): The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
So far, so good. I’ve been making good progress, but neither of the challenges have noticeably changed my reading habits. I’m still mostly slotting whatever I’m reading into the categories provided, but I hope as the year goes on, I’ll do more scrambling to top off the harder, more unusual categories.
How is your year of reading going?
It took me ages to start my full reread of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, better known as the inspiration for HBO’s A Game of Thrones. The series is nothing short of epic, five books and 4,272 pages of battle scenes, incognito heirs, queens in exile, twincest, secret shadows, knights on the run, and a mysterious supernatural threat to the Seven Kingdoms. Winter is coming.
This is not an easy series to wrap one’s head around. It is complex in the best possible way, and author George R. R. Martin demands a lot from his reader. You are meant to keep track of how one bannerman associated with one character in one storyline connects with a boy associated with another character in another plot; to remember hair colors and eye colors and what they can mean when they appear in unexpected places; to retain dozens of exotic-sounding names and peoples in a storyline happening half a world away from the rest of the tale; and to remember enough of what you are told about this world’s history to recognize the impact of it on the events currently unfolding. You’re meant to understand the rudiments of at least three religious belief systems, and evaluate and potentially accept the presence of various sorts of magic potentially derived from various sources. (more…)
I hardly know where to begin with V.E. Schwab’s fantastic A Darker Shade of Magic. The book is a delightful mix of the historical and magical, telling the story of three parallel Londons that exist on top of each other, like sheets of paper, and the few magicians who are able to travel between them.
With this logline, A Darker Shade was actually far different than I expected. I went into the book thinking it would feature three different historic Londons and magicians who traveled through time between them. I suspect my assumptions stemmed somehow from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a book with a somewhat similar premise.
Instead, A Darker Shade features one historic London (set during the Regency in the early 19th century) and two entirely magical places that share the name of London, but nothing else. While not what I expected, this bit of inventiveness allowed the book to veer tidily from the historical into the realm of the fantastical to good effect. (more…)
The book was given to me by someone with the best of intentions following a recommendation from someone else. This book apparently “changed” this person’s whole life, so that was a ringing endorsement. I dug in.
However, unless you are a woman who is actively leaning out, there might not be a lot in this book for you. Are you a woman who actively thinks about the amount of maternity leave you might get when taking any given job? Great! Are you a woman attended an Ivy League School and are therefore particularly well-connected, but you are wasting your education? Awesome! Read this book. It’s going to tell you to stop dicking around and make the most of the opportunities with which God has seen fit to bless you.
Conversely, are you a woman whose financial situation means you can’t afford to pay for child care, and you therefore must leave your job to take care of your kids for a few years? Then this book is not for you. Sorry.
Are you a woman not at risk of leaning out because you are not having children? Not for you, unless you needed the message to work harder (did you?).
Are you a woman who is working her heart out, but opportunities don’t seem to come for whatever reason? Maybe because you are a minority? Again, not for you. (You’re already leaning in, kiddo, but careful — you might fall off the cliff.)
In short, there are some poignant bits of wisdom in this book, a few one-liners you want to print out on note cards and tape to your computer monitor at work. But I was already a woman who didn’t need to learn to balance children and career, already a woman determined to succeed and already a woman ready to leap at every chance I got. According to Sandberg, I should be working at Google by now.
But I don’t know, what did you think? Did you read it? Do you feel like you are changed for the better?
I got a big haul in this week, although much of it is for professional development. Since I’ve re-started reading Middlemarch, I’m not so hard up for something to read recreationally, although I am over-the-top excited to start V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic (it had me at “parallel historic Londons”).
Also on the exciting scale is Marc-Antoine Mathieu’s The Museum Vault, a pretty excellent-looking graphic novel about working at a museum (in this case, the Louvre). I have no idea what the plot will be, but the book itself looks very mysterious and a little Alan Mooreish.
Check out the rest of my loot below and share yours in the comments!
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
“Step into a universe of daring adventure, thrilling power, and multiple Londons.” Don’t mind if I do.
FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT:
Registration Methods for the Small Museum by Daniel Reibel
General buiding-my-skills reading! I’ve never had formal “museum studies” training, so reading up on the basics seemed like a good place to start.
Museum Registration Methods by Dorothy Dudley, Irma Bezold Wilkinson, “and Others”
This is apparently the museum registrarial bible. And it has a very dramatic portrait of Charles Peale on the cover to further emphasize just how serious an enterprise Museum Registration is.
The Museum Vaults by Marc-Antoine Mathieu
Behind-the-scenes museum graphic novel? Yes please.
Modern Quilts Traditional Inspiration by Denyse Schmidt
Denise was the featured speaker at a wonderful NYPL Crafternoon a couple of years ago and, since I’ve been asked to teach a little course on quilting here on Nantucket, I thought I’d brush up on my stitches!
Full disclosure: I didn’t read this book. I listened to it on CD in my car while driving back and forth to work and to a freelance gig. And while there is much debate about whether or not audiobooks should count as reading, I think the format actually worked very well in this case. I got to hear Kaling read her own words in her own voice, much the way I imagine she’d sound if we were just chatting — though her “list” pieces may have worked better in book form.
Still. The book is sort of a memoir and sort of not. I’m not really sure what to call it — Kaling says it’s a series of short essays on her life and other “list-type pieces” such as a recitation of things that make her cry and things stylists try to make her wear. She talks about her childhood, about how she came up in comedy, how she started working at The Office, and how she is different from her character, Kelly Kipoor.
It does seem a little disjointed, but I think that’s because of the episodic nature of the stories. They start in roughly chronological order, but, when she reaches the present, it kind of turns into a ramble, like…like you’re on the phone with your best friend and suddenly the conversation has gone on too long and you’re both running out of material. If I was reading this book, I would have gone through it so fast that this wouldn’t have mattered, but in audiobook form, it was harder.
Still. I ended this book feeling like I’d just spent several hours with Mindy Kaling, which was delightful. She is insightful and smart and funny, and since she read her own book, I felt there was some added value from her acting, eliminating ambiguity in meaning.Even B. J. Novak got in on it. And I learned something! I had no idea that the executive producer for The Office created King of the Hill. I feel more culturally aware already.
If I had one criticism, it’s that I’m not sure what the goal was. Was it meant to entertain? Wreak revenge on those who have wronged Mindy Kaling? (If so, too bad she wrote it before that guy thought she was Malala.) Provide a road map for young women who are funny/big boned/smart/Indian and want to make it in comedy or screenwriting? To build the Mindy Kaling brand? I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, but I wish it had had more direction. Though maybe I’m missing the point.
M.R. Carey, author of The Girl with All the Gifts, wrote in a piece for Orbit Publishing’s website that horror that involves beings such as vampires, werewolves and other human-like creatures is truly only scary because, in essence, those creatures are us. They are all a reflection of various aspects of the human spirit and experience, or, as he says:
…we’re forced to confront, in the monster, aspects of our own nature that are disturbing, frightening or hard to acknowledge.
Which is an interesting point when you consider that a huge and growing segment of popular literature these days involves vampires, werewolves and zombies. What does it say about readers that we seem to be becoming more and more drawn to these monsters who exaggerate the qualities of which we are most ashamed?
One particular creature that fascinates me is the werewolf. From simple shape-shifters who retain human intelligence while in animal form to half-man, half-beast monsters who may or may not have to sacrifice their morals to the needs of “the beast,” werewolves run the gamut — and often say more about humans than the actual human characters do.