Looking Back: February Reading & Writing

01 March 2015

February gets me EVERY YEAR, dammit. How can it be almost March?

Despite the shorter month, I had some great reads. I'm feeling a bit burnt out keeping up with deadlines, so trying to get a bit ahead and manage my time better moving forward... plus, I do like to read things for fun, too, not just for review. But that doesn't mean what I have read hasn't been great:



Trigger Warning, by Neil Gaiman: Ya'll know I'd never pass up an opportunity to read Gaiman's short stories, and this collection did not disappoint. It's like a map of Gaiman's incredible imagination, sure to delight long-time fans and those new to his work alike. Full review.

Find Me, by Laura Van Den Berg: I *still* haven't managed to read VDB's short stories, despite having checked them out from the library multiple times, but I did pick up her novel, and proceeded to devour it. Her words! Her language! Her ideas! The story of Joy's experience in a post-plague United States is not as post-apocalyptic as you might imagine, and therein lies the strength of Van Den Berg's debut novel. Full review.

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, by Laurie Chang: This was the second pick for Curious Iguana's Our Women, Our World book club, and though it wasn't what I expected, I did enjoy Chang's account of migrant culture in China. Chang's approach is very matter-of-fact: here are the facts, make of them what you will, and at times, I longed for more in-depth exploration of some of the topics she breezes past (prostitution? unwanted pregnancies? the Cultural Revolution?). The book club seemed to agree, but overall, I'd call this educational--and never dry.

My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh: Walsh's debut novel has been getting lots of praise, and for good reason. It's a compelling story of memory and guilt and friendship and first loves and small-town America. Full review.

Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn: I'm reading this for the Estella Society readalong, and I'll be the first to admit I won't be finished in time. I'm still not sure what to make of Dunn's strange story; it's interesting, weird, and a little stand-offish--though I think perhaps that's the intent. More thoughts to come.

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So far this year, I've finished:


Of the 27 books I've picked up so far:

  • I've finished 17
  • 4 were DNFs (the rest I'm still reading... shit, am I really in the middle of six books right now?)
  • 16 were by female authors, 11 by male authors
  • 25% were written by non-US authors
  • 22% were written by non-white authors

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Other February activity (here and elsewhere):

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What were the best things you read in February? 



Shelving Systems

27 February 2015


I've always been fascinated by how people shelve their books, and I am an admitted judger of others' home libraries. In New York, I had such limited space that I could only keep one bookcase of books (I made a lot of trips to The Strand to sell off old titles), which were all alphabetized by author. In our first house in Maryland, I had a few Billy bookcases and a few ladder bookcases generally broken out into fiction and non-fiction, with classics and Irish lit (we both had minors/concentrations in Irish Studies... we have a LOT of Irish lit books) pulled out.

In our new house, we have a 12-foot wall in the dining room that was just crying out for bookshelves, so my amazing, incredible, bearded husband set out to build me industrial-style shelves with stained boards and black pipes. (A later post will follow on the actual building of the shelves, but right now he's actively avoiding all shelf-related speak... it was a bit of a frustrating process, complete with exploded spray paint can in the garage).


The best part: I can finally unpack my books after they've been in storage for 18+ months. Which brings me to my question: how do you organize your shelves? I've heard of people who keep TBR shelves separate from their main books (Leah, I'm looking at you); I don't do this, though I do keep unpublished ARCs on a separate "to-do" shelf in my office. I know some people mix classics and fiction together, alpha by author; I also don't do this (sorry, but those Coralie Bickford Smith Penguins really look best when shelved all in a row, folks). Nonfiction is interesting in its opportunity for in-depth categorization: do you create a "history" shelf, or a "World War II history shelf"? Of course, it all depends on what you own.

Here's where I netted out:

I settled on a basic fiction/classics/nonfiction system (the case on the left is all fiction, with Irish lit and Irish history sharing the bottom shelf; the case on the right is half classics and half non-fiction).

Irish Lit and Irish History

Fiction is alpha by author, with a few exceptions where spacing didn't allow for that to work well (I'm looking particularly at that horizontal stack of Robert Jordan tomes). Mass markets, though, are pulled out and stacked on the ends of the shelves because I hate the way mass markets sit when shelved vertically.



The classics are broken into series (see again: Coralie Bickford Smith editions, and those black-spine Penguins), and those not in series are alpha by author across one shelf. Antiquities (The Odyssey, The Illiad, The Aeneid, and--because where else do you shelf them?--Harrius Potter et Philisophi Lapis and my Latin-English dictionary) are pulled out into their own stack, and authors whose works we own major collections of (Shakespeare, Hemingway and Fitzgerald) are shelved independently based on shelf space.
Antiquities + Books in Latin
(because where else do you shelve them?)

Classics Collections


Poetry has its own (small) stack, though Irish poets are--you guessed it--with the Irish lit.

History, essays and memoirs are grouped together and honestly not even alphabetized by author. Science books, albeit a small collection of them, are pulled out into their own section. Sailing books, self-help-esque (The Happiness Project, The Art of Happiness) are similarly separated. The Beard has his own mini-stack of trivia books on the main shelves (all his Star Wars books--of which there are many--are in his office downstairs).

Upstairs on my dresser I keep a small stack of "books I'd like to read next," and for pure decorating purposes, I have a ladder bookshelf of brightly colored books in the master bedroom. Up in my office (I work from home) are a few shelves of business books (everything from financial management to non-profit foundation law to Bill Clinton's Giving) and a separate bookcase of upcoming ARCs and books on deadlines. I clear out that latter shelf every month based on pub date.

The moral of this, of course, is not just that everyone shelves their books differently--of course based on their preferences and collections--but that no one will be able to find a book in this house except for me and maybe The Beard (maybe). Well that... and the fact that I have a LOT of books to read.

I've seen some people shelve their books by color, by genre, and by any number of other categorizations... so, tell me:

How do you shelve your books?



TBR Tag: What's on My Pile?

25 February 2015

Andi at Estella's Revenge tagged me in this TBR Tag post last week (oh wait, shoot, that was two weeks ago....), and I was so behind on work and reading and other things that I'm only just getting around to responding... so, here we go!



1) How do you keep track of your TBR pile? 

Poorly. I've written before about how I eschew the traditional "TBR List", opting instead for an amorphous collection of post-its, notebook entries, Goodreads tags, and storing titles in my brain (that last one's not always ideal, but hey, it makes for fun bookstore browsing). I tend to grab e-books from my "TBR" when they are on sale, and others as they catch my mood.

I do keep a separate shelf in my office (I work at home) of books with upcoming deadlines and/or pub dates, just as a visual reminder, but that's as close to one set "pile" in my house of just TBR books.


2) Is your TBR mostly print or ebook?

I was tempted to say print, but I've accumulated so many unread e-books on super-sales lately that I'd say that's no longer the case (which was part of my motivation for starting the Clean Your Reader challenge this year!).


3) How do you determine which book from your TBR pile to read next?

I'm with Andi on this one: mood! Sometimes I'll limit my options for my next read based on upcoming pub dates (or in some cases, specifically to backlist titles), but I read mostly based on what I feel like reading next. Which is probably why I am traditionally so bad at completing reading challenges.


4) A book that's been on your TBR list the longest?

Because I have such a wonderfully faulty TBR list, I can honestly say I have no idea.


5) A book you recently added to your TBR?

Just one? Ha. Ok, The Fatal Flame, by Lyndsay Faye--third book in her Timothy Wilde trilogy--because it came in the mail last night and I'm super excited to read it.


6) A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover.

Birds of a Lesser Paradise, though also because so many people rave about Bergman's work.


7) A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading.

If I didn't plan on reading it, it wouldn't be on my TBR pile, now would it?


8) An unpublished book on your TBR that you're excited for.

See above: The Fatal Flame. Also, Hausfrau and Little Life and SO MANY OTHERS.


9) A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you.

Miss Marvel.


10) A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you.

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed.


11) A book on your TBR that you're dying to read.

Um... all of them? Ok, I guess When Women Were Birds, because it looks lovely and wonderful but I keep setting it aside until I have the brainspace to give it the attention I believe it deserves.


12) How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?

Ha! This is embarrassing: 1,065. And counting.


I'm not tagging anyone specifically, but I'd love to hear about your TBR piles... how do you keep track? What are you most excited to read next?

Week in Reading: February 24, 2014

24 February 2015

I'm coming off a winter weekend (we got eight inches of snow on Saturday followed by 48-degree weather and lots of melting on Sunday followed by 18-degree highs on Monday with lots of icing) that didn't include a lot of reading, though I did finish Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China for a book club meeting tonight. I missed a lot of the internet (specifically Twitter, it seems) drama because I had family visiting, so was offline most of the weekend. Based on the little bit I saw floating around today, I'm pretty grateful to have been offline for all of this noise and enjoying the snow and the fireplace instead... a trend I plan to continue this week.



In Print:

I'm about fifty pages into The Illuminations, by Andrew O'Hagan today, and plan to finish that this week, and have started to look out to April (!) review copies that just flowed in. Up first: Orhan's Inheritance, by Aline Ohanesian (Algonquin Books, April 7th). I'm also slowly working my way through Michael Paterniti's essays in Love and Other Ways of Dying; I've been reading an essay here and there, and have found I really love Paterniti's use of language to bring both the mundane and the incredible to life.

On My Headphones:

And, because technology is thwarting me (I'm looking at you, OneClick Digital app), I currently can't continue to listen to Geek Love for the Estella Society readalong. In the meantime, I've started James McBride's Song Yet Sung on audio--and I'm loving it so far. I've also started to dabble in The Nerdette podcast, per Shannon's recommendation. If you pick just one episode to listen to, let it be the Margaret Atwood one.

What are you reading this week?

Adventures in Time & Space (My Bookish Problems)

17 February 2015


My top ten book-related problems, in no particular order:
  1. Time: I will never have enough time to read all of these books.
  2. Time: I will never finish my stack of to-be-released books before they all publish.
  3. Time: I will never read all the books on my shelf.
  4. Time: I will never get to all of the classics on my list.
  5. Time: I will never stop acquiring books and expanding the TBR list, which means I will never not have a TBR list.
  6. Time: I will never read all of the backlist of my favorite authors.
  7. Time: I will never discover all of the new authors I wish I had time to discover.
  8. Time: I will never read all of the impossibly long novels I want to read.
  9. Time: I will never have read 100% of the must-read lists of the world.
  10. Space: I will also never have enough space to store all these books.
I love each and every one of these facts with so much of my readerly heart, because combined, they mean I will never stop learning, exploring, and expanding--and I will never know how it feels not to have something to read next.

What are the bookish problems in your reading lives? 



Writing Elsewhere: 13 Books on Love

13 February 2015

With Valentine's Day right around the corner (oh wait, is that tomorrow? That's tomorrow. Huh.), I compiled a list of 13 books on love for Martha Stewart Weddings. My picks:

books on love, romance books, romantic books, martha stewart weddings


After I finished it, of course, I realized I should have included Wedding Cake for Breakfast: Essays on the Unforgettable First Year of Marriage (given its venue, after all...).

Tell me, what else did I miss? What are your favorite books on love?

Book Review: The Mime Order, by Samantha Shannon

12 February 2015

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

samantha shannon, the mime order, the bone season, the bone season sequel
The Mime Order is the second novel in Samantha Shannon's Bone Season series, a planned run of seven books set in a dystopian future where half of the population has clairvoyant powers and is hunted by the government because of those powers. Shannon picks up where The Bone Season left off: Paige Mahoney is racing back to London after narrowly escaping Sheol I, where she had been held prisoner for months because of her unusual clairvoyant powers. In London, she must decide whether to rejoin her old crime syndicate or go it alone--with the full force of both the government and the criminal world set against her.

Shannon spends little time rehashing the events or explaining the world established in the previous novel, so those new to this world will likely want to start with the first book. Those eager to continue Paige's story will not be disappointed by Shannon's sophomore showing, which boasts all of the suspense, intrigue and mystery of the first volume as well as an addictive storyline that will leave readers clamoring for the next chapters in Paige's ever-intensifying life.

The series characters have matured, which means Paige and those around her are becoming more nuanced, and their motivations clearer, as the story unfolds. Similarly, and perhaps more excitingly, Shannon's prose has also matured, and this deft effort to build on the complex world she constructed in the first installment will solidify the series' rightful place among the best of fantasy, sci-fi and dystopian fiction.
(Read my review of the first volume in Shannon's Bone Season series, The Bone Season, here.)

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Note: Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book to review.
The Mime Order | Samantha Shannon | Bloomsbury USA | January 2015 | Hardcover