Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Ready Player One

Holy hype, Batman! I've been hearing nonstop praise for this sci-fi cult favorite for forever... but especially now that the movie news - touting Spielberg as director and the book's author as one of the head scriptwriters - is picking up, I figured it was time to give it a read. 

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, transports its readers to the dystopian future year of 2044, where the online Oasis gaming and virtual lifestyle system provides a more livable environment than the dark and dangerous world offline. Teenager Wade escapes his own poverty-stricken existence by refurbishing computers for extra food rations, and hides out in the back of an old car all day, competing against users across the world to access one of the fabled Keys of Oasis lore, in a grand quest set forth by its creator. When Wade gets closer than anyone has before to unearthing the secrets of the game, his already hazardous real world turns deadly... and it's only a matter of time before he'll has to face it head on.

Let me say this first: I loved this book. I loved the action, and the quirks of the online world, and the super awesome pop culture references that were made at basically every turn. I actually liked it so much I convinced my Dad to read it, too. He was slightly unnerved by the fact that he was able to recognize basically every '80s-loving reference made, but it certainly didn't hinder his ability to enjoy it as well.

If I had to pick one word to describe it, I'd probably say "escapism." Not only would it summarize the interactions Wade had with Oasis, but the novel itself was one big sprawling world to climb into, with rules pre-set and dialogue and characterizations straight out of works you already know. Beyond the absolutely exceptional world-building, it didn't push too many boundaries, but that was okay. It was sci fi and fun and pretty meta, which made some of its minor problems all the easier to ignore.

In terms of what those problems might entail, I just thought that the dystopian outer-world clashed uncomfortably with the richness of the inner-world which, yes, I get was a part of the point. But what I mean is that the world of the game was simply given more detail and ground than Wade's offline reality, when I feel like both required a lot of foundation to build the fantasy to a comprehensive level.

Additionally, yes, okay, Ath3na's character was a badass, but she was also a little trope-y... essentially kind of hard to understand as more than just a cardboard character, to the point where I've been mulling over the idea of dedicating a separate post to her characterization... one that would also include her female counterparts from Frank Herbert's Dune and James Dashner's The Maze Runner, as well as the movie adaptations of The Giver and Ender's Game. (If you can name who each of those would be, you probably have a fair idea of what my problem is with this character).

However, these small issues with world-building and characterization of the lead female character can't trump the sheer FUN of Ready Player One. It's a great cult read, with a huge fanbase, and the author has been promoting his latest novel, Armada, like crazy, so, why not give it a chance? You'll probably like it.

Final Verdict: All in all, a super fun nerdy romp through an innovative online world with pop culture Easter eggs for major '80s enthusiasts. Cyberpunk done fun!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Blogoversary Celebration: Breaking my Resolution!

You see this face? Not the face of reason.
Face of absolute bliss and strung-out excitement?
So, this past Friday marked my Fifth Blogoversary... the 5th anniversary of me starting Playing in the Pages. Sad to say, I only realized this about two weeks ahead of the game, so any efforts to do something really drastic were laid aside, to see what a rational means of celebrating might look like.

There were a couple of good choices. I fluctuated between going down to Powell's in Portland, or even The Last Bookstore in LA, or whether I should buy only one book, or shirk my Resolution for a complete 24 hours. At one point, the plan was even to buy five books from each of my five favorite bookstores, spanning Seattle and Tacoma in one big book-centered day of driving.

Finally, it came to me: Five books from one bookstore, that was the decision I made. It seemed the most reasonable, and threw in a strict boundary that not only forced me to choose carefully, but provided a fun kind of tension once I started to actually pick the few titles I wanted immediately. And believe me, I had a list going in the Notes app on my iPhone for that entire two week period, of what kinds of novels I was going to invest my scant amounts of freedom into for the rest of the year. If 2015 was going to be the year I only bought five books, I was going to have to make them great ones.

I honestly cannot express to you the excitement I felt upon entering these doors. Kind of comparable to walking under the arches under the train tracks when you first enter Disneyland, I think. 
I hope to God someone over at the Pacific Place Barnes and Noble gets ahold of a good building layout specialist. Whoever organizes the shelves and tables over there needs a serious dose of organizational know-how.

The day before the celebration, I had a list of about 11, which I managed to whittle down to 7 in the car on the way there. The plan was originally going to feature notable Seattle bookstore Elliot Bay Book Company - maintaining that "wow" factor that might have come from a journey out of town, but preserving gas money and mileage - but unfortunately, the day's confluence with the Capitol Hill Block Party put that plan out of commission.

Instead, we made our way to the closest Barnes and Noble: in Downtown Seattle, at Pacific Place. In not purchasing books, and instead, learning to love the quiet patience, quick availability, and friendly service of the local libraries in Tacoma, I had completely forgotten what an absolute nuthouse a crowded bookstore is.

My chosen few! Aren't they pretty?
There weren't any rhyme or reason to the seemingly arbitrary layout of the store, and I was losing my mind, running between shelves and sections, thinking to myself, "If they've got the sequel hidden low on the table of New Releases towards this corner, then what the hell is its predecessor doing at the top of a shelf literally 100 feet away?" People were walking in front of my rows while I was doggedly perusing, and more than once, someone decided that the middle of an aisle was the right place to hold a conversation. Between an inefficient store layout, confusing shelving system, and infuriating clientele, I was losing my mind in Barnes and Noble. Naturally, I was also ecstatic.

Out of the 7 books that remained on my list, 5 of the titles were actually available in store that day... and 3 of them with only one copy to spare. Holding that many titles in the crook of my arm cramped my wrist - and doing my best to ignore the inflated price tags, especially for the hardcovers, gave me a serious headache! - but I can tell you, I hadn't been happier in a while.

Then, naturally, and because I will never be 100% satisfied with how my shelves look, I sped off to the library back in Tacoma half an hour before closing the day following, and picked up 8 more titles... not to mention the 4 that I downloaded onto my Kindle. 

The library additions. (More like addictions.)

(Hi, my name is Savannah, and I am a Book Addict.)

So, how do you think I should have spent my 5th Blogoversary? What do you think of the titles I picked up? Which ones would you have picked differently? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Bookish Birthday : 5 Years of Blogging

Naturally, I was suitably obnoxious on Snapchat.
This summer has given me a lot to think about thus far... between living on my own in Seattle, getting a job, and entering into my Senior Year of College, there's plenty of huge milestones I'm hitting in a very short amount of time. 

Though the one I was the least prepared for, hit this past Friday, July 24th: My FIFTH Anniversary of starting Playing in the Pages. 

Beyond finally catching up with my Goodreads Challenge for 2015 (YES!!!), I chose to celebrate this momentous occasion, by taking the time to reflect on my journey so far in blogging, reviewing, writing, and most importantly, reading.

Origin Story: How did I get my start in blogging? 

Let me just set the stage for the presence of BookWorld, in an online sense, back in 2010: Goodreads had been invented only five years previously, and was far from the reader mecca Amazon would later turn it into after acquiring it in 2013. Pinterest had just been invented the past March.

I was a 16-year-old Junior in high school, looking for a means of displacing the boredom that had set in with summer. This was before my sister or I had gotten laptops, and our Dad used his for work... which meant every morning, I'd make a large mug of tea, boot up our lone PC in my parent's room, and do a rundown of every fashion and lifestyle blog I followed, all transcribed carefully into a handwritten list, safe in the back of a composition notebook.

Major Influencers: Who inspired me? 

Absolutely tickled that a part of my Blogoversary shopping included this:
Cupcakes and Cashmere's fashion line, available at Nordstrom!
In these past 5 years, Emily has also produced two books, and a Coach collaboration.
(Her five years might have been a little more productive than mine.)
Back then, Cupcakes and Cashmere and Who What Wear Daily were just getting their start, too. I'd scroll through post after post, sometimes twice, if there wasn't that much new material that morning, and that same composition notebook became a haven for ideas for how to make my life better, according to these women across the world who shared daily outfits, favorite recipes, and makeup tips with me so many miles away.

Like it is with most  tech movements, the first person I knew who had a blog was my Dad. His focused on his job, and was partially an extension of the lectures he gave his students. When I first broached the topic of having a blog with him, it was kind of an off-the-shoulder remark, and I was standing at the top of the stairs while he was still setting his stuff down from work. "What are you going to write about?" he said. Books were honestly the first thing that came to mind.

Changes in Attitude: What has it become? 

I've always been a monster reader, and love to talk about the books I've read. The only thing I had to do now, was put my mind to spelling all those ideas out for other people to see. What it's turned into since then, has given me not just additional experience with plenty of books explored and plenty of words to describe them with, but also new abilities in the fields of website layout, social media design, and networking with other writers.

It also helped me land a contributing editorship position with College Fashion, which lasted for two awesome years, and spanned 53 articles. When I first started my blog, I was a voracious and dedicated College Fashion reader, but I would never have even considered the possibility of being a contributor. I even got college extra credit based around one of the articles I wrote - being that it corresponded to material we were covering in class - so there are real-world benefits to web authorship, too!

To be honest, I told a grand total of six people about my blog for the first two and a half years of its existence: my immediate family, and my awesome Aunt Nancy. The first time I even posted about it on my own Facebook page was when I published a poem I wrote for high school graduation, and then did more a little steadily when I wrote for CF. But for the most part, blogging has always been something for me first, and an audience last. It's my favorite hobby I've ever had, and my longest-lasting, too.

Tough Stuff: Has anything gone wrong? 

I'm loath to say that anything has gotten wrong, per se, because of what this blog has really come to mean for me: a learning experience. Through it, I've gotten so much better at both reading - critically, quantifiably - and writing - reviewing and creatively - that it would be a huge discredit to all that I've achieved thus far to say that any part of it has "gone wrong"... if anything, it makes me think about that one scene from Disney's Meet the Robinsons celebrating failure, because failing is what makes us try harder, and seek out new ideas.

(Thank you, Tumblr, and your seemingly endless sources of gifs.)

It's a growing thing. There will always be a part of it that needs a little tweaking... I know for certain that the Review Library is, like, a year behind on titles, and I'm a couple of posts behind on meeting this month's goal, and I still don't get as many ARC titles from publishers as other bloggers. But no matter how long that unending "To Do" List has gotten, as long as there's room for improvement, there's reason to keep improving.

(And that's why it's gone through about three major makeovers since then, with the most recent version occurring a couple of months ago!)

Fight to the Future: What's up next for the blog? 

I can tell you, for sure, that there's no master plan. I am blissfully umimpeded with any grand schemes or additional 5 Year Plans for how to develop Playing in the Pages.

What I will say, though, is that I'm glad it's here. I'm glad it's been five years, and I'll be overjoyed to spend another five years reading plenty of good books, and writing about them here. There may always be less blog posts per month than I'd like, or less page views per day than I want, but having a creative outlet and place for personal expression is always going to be something I need... just like that 16-year-old version of me needed it five years ago.

Here's a hint about that big Blogoversary celebration...
but you'll have to wait to find out more!

Pop Quiz

I've had a total of 4 authors comment on posts in which I've discussed their works. Can you name any of them?

Wow, that's a lot of words. Interested in seeing how I celebrated my big Blogoversary this past weekend? Keep posted for a new post up tomorrow! 

Got any guesses?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: The Opposite of Loneliness

In my efforts to tackle all of the reads I cannot purchase - as of right now... stayed tuned for details later this week! - I've been library-ing like a maniac, and this was one of the first holds I placed this summer once school got out. 

And it did not disappoint! 

The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of essays and stories, written by Marina Keegan... but you can glean all of that from the cover.

What isn't so apparent, is that this young Yale grad's work doesn't just make up her first book... it's also her last, as she died tragically, less than a week after she graduated magna cum laude, and before she could take her place at the job waiting for her at The New Yorker. The title is derived from one of Marina's most-read works, an essay she wrote for graduation. 

There's this weird jealousy that is so particular to English majors... we have this absolute passion for the written word, and love all of the ways beautiful sentences can be strung together, but match that admiration with an underlying sense of "Why didn't I write that?" This is one of those kinds of things.

As someone going into her senior year in college, and hearing about all of the amazing things Marina was doing - had already done, was going to do - I was impressed, and a little bitter. The works inside this collection are marked with a lot of very real talent, finesse for language, and flair with narrative, and as someone who was a couple years and a country's length away from this young grad, I was highly invested in this book.

And, I don't know. Maybe it was the picture on the cover, or the earnest eagerness of the writing inside, but this is a girl I feel like I could have been friends with. Or, she could have been one of my friends, one of the many amazing people I go to school with, too. In that way, its publication, as a genuine representation of its creator, is one hundred percent perfect.

Tragically, though, I'm afraid that she will be one of those people who will foremost be known for being dead, which is really unfortunate, because her work is good. This book was a New York Times Bestseller, and had a NYT column dedicated to her from one of the current writers, but the fact of the matter is, there isn't anything else that is going to come from what she was able to write before she died... unless her family releases more of the work they sifted through to create this carefully-curated time capsule, a perfect portrait of an artist who was just winding up.

She'd had other works published before, just not in book format: with a musical - for which she had written the book - and a play already under her belt by 2012, Marina was poised for more than just articles, or essays. There could have been so much more for us to enjoy. And that's something that is inextricable from the enjoyment of her work here... underlying the optimistic, bubbly, and energetic voice highlighted in its pages, is a sense of loss.

If you'd like to read the piece Marina wrote for the Yale Daily News that lead to the creation of this book, it's available online. Still, I hope you'll read the book, too!

Final Verdict: College students, this is a must-read, if only as a reminder that life is short and fleeting, and while we're spending as much time as we can building a successful future, there's always a reason to live for today, too. "We're so young. We're so young."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Foundations for Castles in the Air: Editing Hell

I've been trying to figure out a good method of editing the book I cobbled together this past NaNoWriMo, and so far... it's nearly impossible.

I guess the best way I can summarize my inability to tackle this important step - because let's face it, we all know editors are superheroes - is an issue of perspective. From one side, it looks like this mammoth task I am having absolutely no luck in chunking out into manageable portions. From the other side, all I want to do is edit, edit, edit... but I have no idea where to get started!

Here's what I do know so far:

  • I like what I've written. I guess one of my main concerns was that I'd start reading through it again, and lose all faith in my writing abilities. But no, I actually still think it's really good. (Go figure.)
  • I have no idea what kind of steps to take next. Every time I think about the 50,000+ words stuck in that Microsoft Office Word Document, my heart pressure skyrockets. Where do I go from here? 
  • I know I can do it... I just need the right kind of plan for getting it done. 

So, in an effort to seek out some guidance to this situation, I turned to the best advice-giving source I knew... Pinterest. 

After scouting through article after blogpost after listicle after internet rant, I found some ideas coming up again and again, that people thought made for some of the best motivational factors for editing.

Solutions to Editing Woes, according to Pinterest:

  • Make an organized time plan, factoring in other events and responsibilities, that allows for a certain doable number of words / chapters each week. The only way to get things done, is to make sure you're doing them, and the best way of ensuring your own dedication, is a plan for dedicated time for editing! 
  • Invest free time into getting it done, too. One of my least favorite time fractions is twenty minutes... too little time to do anything meaningful, but too much to just sit around doing nothing. Usually I spend that time on YouTube, or doing one last run-through of social media. During NaNo, that was my go-to last-minute writing time... I just need to get back into that habit.
  • Be excited! Don't go full daydreaming-about-trips-to-Ellen's-talk-show-couch mode just yet, but do allow yourself to think about what the cover might look like when you're all the way done, or run through another hundred title options.
Here's a fun universe-connecting-in-crazy-ways thing: yesterday, when I turned the page in my planner to write down my day's work - including on this blogpost - I found the following inspirational quote getting me ready to tackle the day:

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them."                                     - Henry David Thoreau

I'd like to take this as a message from the Universe, as a lesson in editing: yeah, you've got the lofty ambitions of grandeur hidden somewhere in the construction of that plot, and it might even be something pretty magnificent. Just because it's a tall order, doesn't mean that you can't give it something sturdy to stand on. And that's what I've got to do!

Does anyone else have any editing experiences they'd like to share? Advice? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review: Life, Animated

Do you like Disney movies? Do you like scientifically accurate terminology and complex social issues? Do you enjoy books that make you cry openly in public settings? Boy, do I have your next read all lined up... 

Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, by Ron Suskind, is a biographical account of one father's journey, as he discovers the ability to connect to his autistic son, Owen, through the power of the Disney movies and characters that the boy loves.

Because I'm going to have trouble getting through this review without getting overly emotional, let's start with the structural parts, and my few dislikes. Foremost, the writing style is kind of overly formal in a couple of distracting ways. The vibe is also very East-Coast-y, and a little bit pretentious sometimes, which interfered with the accessibility of some of the more technical aspects to the medical side of the story. However, I think that all of that just goes to the fact that the author, as it says on the cover, is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and I've got to figure that just kind of comes with the territory.

I guess I should point out one of the inherent personal aspects of my connection to this narrative: my family is Hardcore Disney. As in, we're the jerks who scoff at casual fans of the Parks and movies, absolutely dominate at Disney Scene-It, and god forbid anyone gets a character/setting/movie's name wrong, or mis-quotes a movie line. We're annoying and obsessed, and we revel in it.

Hence, why I definitely recommend this book to other Disnerds. It perfectly touches on the emotional cores to the Disney canon, on which my own moral sense is founded, and demonstrates them as a means of making a very confusing reality a little more translatable to Owen's sensibilities. It was honestly so exciting to hear about some of my favorite Disney movies providing a touchstone for Owen to hold on to, and hearing about how he enjoyed the Parks, too, just made me smile.

(Besides, there are very few of us who enjoy 2004's Home on the Range, so we've got to stick together.)

And I think the whole "eldest sibling" effect plays into it as well... some of my favorite parts about when Owen was really young, included hearing about the relationship he had with his older brother. I'd like to think that I've been there to stick up for my sibs about as well as Walt stuck up for Owen. Just one of the many elements of this book that made me get a little misty-eyed...

Ooh, boy, did this book make me weepy. And not just at any kind of climax at the ending - though I did tear up there, too - where it would have come into play in any other book, but just at the various stages of development with Owen, throughout the course of the novel. Seeing him learn and understand - and Suskind himself learn and understand - was a pretty powerful thing.

I've recommended this to three friends so far, fans of both Disney and of crying, and I hope they take the chance to read it. Coming into Life, Animated, I didn't know a whole lot about autism, and the ways that the subject is tackled and treated in the book made a complex disorder at least that much more accessible (as accessible as it can be).

And even beyond that, it's a powerful tale of the lengths we'll go to to connect with the people we care about... and make sure, like Stitch said, "Family means nobody gets left behind."

Final Verdict: This book finds its strength in strong emotional ties, and a complete and context-placed narrative of mental disorders that aren't easy explained otherwise. Fans of both Lisa Genova's Still Alice and Disney movies should definitely pick up a copy.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Link Love (and I Need Your Opinions!)

TGIF, amirite? I feel like this week's been an exhausting one, and I know there's a lot more to be done before I get the chance to chill out at all. Here's to getting some good internet reading in before you start onto your novel for the weekend!

I love TED Talks, and I love Jane Austen, and I love the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Really, the question is why I didn't find this "What Jane Austen Can Tell Us About Our Internet Selves" talk immediately after it came out.

Speaking of TED Talks, why not have a list of book recommendations from TED Talk leaders and attendees?

And speaking of Jane Austen, who doesn't love a new riff on an old classic? Here's a flowchart of Austenian-inspired picks to beef up your beach reading bag.

I let out a shriek after I saw this Buzzfeed post come through my Facebook feed... I remember the gilded edges of the pages and the satin ribbons that could hold your place in each edition of the Royal Diaries series, and this selection of Books Every Royal Diaries Fan Needs to Read are all checking in to my TBR list.

Andrew DeGraff has been an illustrator I've followed on Tumblr for a while, but now, he's got a book! Plotted: A Literary Atlas, got a write-up from Buzzfeed earlier this week.

I've been thinking quite a bit about the characteristics of a good scifi read after finishing Ready Player One, and this article, reflecting the transformative effects of gay heroes in science fiction, and written by a gay SciFi author, gives me a lot of hope for the future.

And the OFFICIAL GOOSEBUMPS TRAILER IS HERE! It kind of makes me want to revisit a few favorites sometime this summer, you know?

Blog Birthday Shenanigans

So, my very creative and bookish friends, I need your help! My Fifth Blogversary is coming up on the 24th of this month, and I think a momentous occasion like that is just too big to NOT be celebrated!

I have a couple of ideas on how to ring it in - ranging every which way from breaking my 2015 Resolution at one of my favorite bookstores in Seattle, hosting a book swap party with friends, or splurging on a couple cute bookish presents on Etsy for myself - but I wanted to hear from y'all first: What do you think is the best bookish way to celebrate a blog's birthday?

Let me know, in the comments below... and have an awesome weekend! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda

Real talk: I'll do my best impression of a car salesman to get you to read this book. I swear it will make you smile (the novel, I mean... the impression's kind of hokey). 

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli, follows the story of Simon, a teenage boy who, after accidentally leaving his email open in the library, is blackmailed into helping one of his classmates land a date with his friend Abby. At stake: the threat of revealing both Simon's closeted sexuality, as well as compromising the identity of his penpal - and massive crush - Blue.

This novel was one of those I was most looking forward to checking out from the library... I even renewed a library card to a branch that is 45 minutes away from where I'm living now, to get at it without bearing through a heinous list of placeholders.

Then, once I got my hands on my library copy, I read it in one sitting. About 75% through, I looked up, and saw the clock had just started to turn the edge of 1:00AM. I just snuggled further down in my bed and kept at it.

To be honest, here's the long and short of my opinion of it: despite the heavy subjects handled within its covers, it's a big ol' happy, squishy, smiley fluffernutter of a novel. There are stakes involved, and you feel Simon's pain in a lot of it, but thankfully, they didn't make things as dangerous as they could have been, widely thanks to the more tolerant cultural settings we have nowadays, when it comes to making something a contemporary teen novel that handles sexuality. But trust me, this book will make you smile like an idiot.

Not to mention I got a massive craving for Oreos the entire time I was reading it. (This led to an unfortunate discovery: there is such thing, in fact, as too much of a good thing, and that thing is Mega-Stuf Oreos.)

To tell you the truth, one of the reasons I wanted to read this book, was because how vehemently it was hyped by Margot over at Epic Reads. Then again, it was also hyped on every list I saw during Pride Week, and accompanied by several adorable "Love Wins" hashtags the day of the Supreme Court ruling. When it comes to being even-handed and well-reflective of the realities of contemporary gay teens in America, I'm not the only one who thinks this title fits the bill.

Not only is Simon a fully formed character - and an absolute idiot, sometimes -  but so are his friends. I was so pleased to see this kind of book treated not in caricature, but with well-rounded and culturally-reflective characters, taking on the problems that still face LGBTQ teens today.

Being gay serves as the primary focus of the romance, as does Simon's blackmail at the hands of a fellow teen, but while the subjects are heavy, they are treated with the respect they deserve, alongside a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that retains Simon's sense of reality and humanity. While diversity in YA is really stepping up their game these days, and it's amazing to see sexual orientation being handled, it's not his being gay that makes you want to read it, but who he is... and he is adorkably awesome.

I want so many people to read this book. In fact, I immediately thought of several people to rec it to while reading... I even sent my sister snapshots of pages of the book I thought she'd like (primarily because they directly reference Drarry fanfiction within the first 100 pages).

And, you know, it's just frickin' adorable. Seriously.

Final Verdict: Read this book in one sitting, like I did, while making yourself sick on Oreos. But don't worry: even if you don't have the opportunity to supply yourself with the appropriate snackage, this book is plenty sweet reading enough.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Well-Hyped Books I've Never Read

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Usually, if there's a book that's getting big attention, I'm going to want to read it. What can I say? I like being hip to the trends, and having a say in the popular discussions taking place in the bloggosphere once novels have hit max levels of hype is fun. However, being up on all the new titles can be a bit of an arduous and expensive venture... and that's not even counting, of course, the books that I don't want to spend much time reading anyways! Here's my list of hypable titles in various stages of my TBR (or not!) list.

Books I Have No Intention of Reading (in the foreseeable future)

Breaking Dawn (Twilight #4), Stephanie Meyer.
My younger sister and best friend made me sit through the second movie based on this novel around this time last year. I kept getting in trouble for laughing at parts that were supposed to be dramatic... I don't think the book would fare any better in my mind. It's the only Twilight book I haven't read!

Every Day, David Levithan.
This one makes me feel kind of bad, because it's one of the few book recommendations that I've gotten from my awesome younger brother. I've thrown everything I've got in my middle grade arsenal at him over the years, from Percy to Ga'Hoole, and this was his first attempt at returning the favor. Unfortunately, I DNF'd hard about a quarter of the way in. Sorry, buddy!

Books I Figure I'll Get Around to Sooner or Later

An Abundance of Katherines, John Green.
I mean, I've read every other John Green title. This is one I've just been less motivated to read, in the face of his other, more-hyped books.

Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham
I feel like even a lot of my non-bookish friends have read this collection of essays already, but I found out about this title coming off of a long block of memoirs, and I just haven't felt compelled to pick it up yet.

Isla and the Happily Ever After, Stephanie Perkins
This entire series is filled with well-written moments that just make you smile. However, I just haven't been in the mood for this kind of light-hearted romance in a while.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple
Like every other Seattlite who saw this on every book list of 2012, I bought this title, but it's been languishing in the recesses of my Kindle pile for a while now.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig
Lol. Hi, Mom and Dad! According to the mythos of my parents' first date, they stayed up until 3am at a local Denny's discussing this book; therefore, it's not just my Dad recommending it, but the very foundation of my own existence. Maybe this is the right summer for reading this one?

Books Where It's Only a Matter of Time

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
Maybe it's cheating, because I've already brought this title up in a TTT back when I was hitting my first real rough patch of my 2015 Resolution, but I still need this title, ASAP.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
Ditto to the above. NEED!

Saint Anything, Sarah Dessen
It's not really summer unless you've gone on some kind of vacation excursion with your family, shoved into an over-stuffed van, taking confidence in the fact that nestled somewhere among the swimsuits and beach towels is the newest Dessen. Right?

What hypable titles have you been avoiding? Or have you just been waiting for the right time? Are there any that you're dying to read? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Bookish Grumblings : Classics Classism

 "'Classic' - a book which people praise and don't read."    --  Mark Twain, prolific author and humorist; "the Founder of American Literature," according to William Faulkner

I'm sure a lot of collegiate book bloggers would agree, there's a bit of a divide between the kinds of work we read for class, and the novels we read for pleasure. (Think less of a sidewalk crack, and more of the Grand Canyon.)

While it's true there are occasional classes offered here in Seattle at UW, which explore the broader cultural significance of Twilight and Harry Potter, or briefly delve into the Elvish languages of Tolkien, the facts of the matter are, there isn't a whole lot of YA, or science fiction and fantasy, populating the reading lists of most of my classes.

I don't need to tell you about the attitudes most of my professors express for current fiction, either. I once had a (otherwise awesome) prof. express an absolute incredulity about the popularity of the works of Jane Austen, because he didn't believe she was a strong enough author... imagine what he would have to say about Meg Cabot! 

"Do not suppose, however, that I intend to urge a diet of classics on anybody. I have seen such diets at work. I have known people who have read all, or almost all, the guaranteed Hundred Best Books. God save us from reading nothing but the best."  -- Robertson Davies, Canadian author, poet, novelist, playwright, and founding Master of Massey College (associated with the University of Toronto)

Reading classics is great... it's awesome that you've taken part in this wider dialogue, where scholars the world over have had the chance to pore over these texts, and you're always going to have a title in common with people. You're the one who will astound at dinner parties, with your detailed theories about works that have been under discussion for over one hundred years, and you'll always have a title up on the next person you meet... or at least almost always.

But you're missing out!

Reading YA and contemporary releases are awesome, too. You get more recent examples of developing narratives, and the works you read fit in better with the worldview of modern times. Your books are quick, entertaining for their length, and are widely accessible with a ton of people. You also get to surf the wave of hype, and get excited about new works from favorite authors, without the pesky classics problem of them usually being long-dead.

But you're missing out, too!

"I'm a big believer in pairing classics with contemporary literature, so students have the opportunity to see that literature is not a cold dead thing that happened once, but instead a vibrant mode of storytelling that's been with us for a long time - and will be with us, I hope, for a long time to come."    -- John Green, author of popular YA standalone novels, such as The Fault in Our Stars 

There is nothing to gain from reading the same kinds of books all the time. It's one thing to have a certain taste for reading, but it's quite another to firmly ensconce yourself in only one shelf in the library.

Variation breeds innovation... new ideas and ways of looking at things can come from reading new material. New perspectives bring new vocabularies bring reflections of cultures and lifestyles that wouldn't be covered in works you find in other sections of the Dewey Decimal System, but have found their place in the pantheon of all fiction safely between two typewritten lines!

Pick up a different set of reading glasses for a change, and that goes for both those who revel in the long-lauded tomes of the Classics, or shiny new paperbacks of recent releases and popular fiction. Chances are, you might find something you've been missing.

"I get letters from college kids who have read Percy Jackson when they were younger who tell me, 'I just passed my Classics exam.' The books are accurate enough that they can serve as a gateway to Homer and Virgil."   -- Rick Riordan, author of middle-grade Percy Jackson series, involving Greek and Roman mythology

What do you think: have you had enough of the Classics? Or is the problem that you just can't get enough? Let me know, in the comments below!  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: The Year of Reading Dangerously

You know when a story that has the potential of being semi-decent gets garbled by the person telling the story? And you know those stories that just kind of drag on without having much of an adherence to what you thought they'd be about? This is both. 

In The Year of Reading Dangerously, Andy Miller has a job already involved in the subject of fiction, but doesn't make much time of his own to read. When he finally fills this perceived hole in his life with the power of the printed word, he decides to make a project of it, and explore specific literary titles on his self-composed "List of Betterment" to further his grasp on his favorite subject: books!

I'm usually a pretty big fan of both Memoirs, and Books About Books; I'd probably say they're two of my favorite subset genres. However, what's entertaining about a Memoir, is that the voice and the storytelling ability makes the book both personable and personal, and what's so enthralling about Books About Books, is listening to someone else's take on works that you have informed opinions on, as well.

Therefore, the long and short of it all is that I didn't really love the way Miller discussed the books he read, and I didn't like the kinds of books he was choosing to explore. I thought he was a little more elitist than absolutely necessary when talking about classic fiction, and that the book selection he read wasn't something that would appeal to a whole lot of people beyond himself (which is something he admitted, saying that the selection wasn't representative of classic fiction or all-inclusive in any way).

I think it was the inherent pretentiousness in his manner of discussion that did me in. Not a lot of the books he chose could really be described as "accessible," but then again, that was part of the challenge of them, wasn't it? Still, when he mocked his wife's pick of Pride and Prejudice as being boring, and I thought back to an earlier section when he reveled in discomforting his mother with a copy of the Communist Manifesto, I cringed inwardly.

(It seemed like there were more than a couple of sentences I underlined, that almost could have been quotes from the Guy in Your MFA parody Twitter account.)

I don't want to dig myself too deep into the negativity, because at the heart of the matter, I admire what he did: saw a problem in the lack of good reading material in his life, acknowledged that he was only masquerading as someone who really had a thorough knowledge of books, and sought to correct that by making a list of the titles he thought would help better himself. And then he actually read them!

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, I just kept finding myself speed-reading. I managed to get through the whole thing, which, as Miller himself found a couple of times in his own selected material, is the real battle of it. However, I didn't enjoy it myself, and I can't think of anyone off the top of my head that I'd recommend it to, because even if the more stalwart among my English major friends would appreciate what he had to say, they probably wouldn't appreciate how he said it.

 Still, there's a reader for everything, I guess? Was that the moral?

Final Verdict: This memoir had a voice that was hard to listen to and a topic that wasn't evenly explored, which made it, for me, a dud.