On Reading War & Peace: Part I, Done and Done

This is the first post of 12 to follow in My Friend Amy's War and Peace Readalong, which goes through the end of this year. I'll likely rush ahead towards the end to try to finish this one before my 26th birthday in mid-November, since it is also part of my 26-by-26 list.

Well, I am officially 112 pages into War and Peace, and, as Goodreads so helpfully tells me... 9% complete. It's a bit daunting to read 112 pages and feel like I haven't made a dent in the book yet, but so far, so good. At least for the parts I could follow.

Besides the length, what I find most difficult about this daunting novel so far is the characters and context; I know little to nothing about the Napoleonic Wars,* and, as I learned in reading Anna Karenina** last year, even less than that about Russian naming practices, which is making a lot of this hard to follow. But thus far, the Russians are going to war because Napoleon is, well, being too Napoleonic for their tastes, and the women are upset about it, and the men are valient and proud.

In the midst of all of this, Anna Mikhailovna has no money and her son is going off to war and her son's godfather, of an undetermined relation to Anna herself (can anyone help me out with that bit?), is about to die, leaving most of Russia and probably parts of Europe concerned with what the poor ailing Count will do with his vast fortune upon his death. Anna is simultaneously annoying as shit and admirable as anything in her perseverance in procuring some sort of money for herself, or her son, or the Count's illegitimate son, Pierre, who then may or may not turn around and give some money to herself, or her son.

Someone please stop me if I'm mangling Tolstoy, but writing it down seems to help make sense of it all.

As with Anna Karenina, I am again struck by Tolstoy's continued ability to make the most miserable of activities come so vividly to life that we cannot help but relate them to our own experiences; as the Count lays in pain, suffering from another stroke, we feel with full brunt force the awkwardness of Anna and Pierre's presence in his chambers, the inappropriateness of Anna's actions, and the embarrassment, or discomfort, or impatience of both father and son as the ailing father finds himself in need of medical attention---in this case, something as simple as being turned on his side--but is yet again unable to provide it for himself. Dependency is never pretty, even in Napoleonic Russia, it seems.

Other thoughts, in no particular order:

  • These Russians spoke a damn awful lot of French.
  • There's an awful lot of hubbub about the adjutant positions, and whether or not men should get them/want them/deserve them or not.
  • For reasons I can't entirely grasp, Tolstoy keeps referring to the poor little princess' hairy upper lip, which is quite distracting, and makes me wish I could march back in time/to Russia with some Nair so we can handle it and move along.
Other than that, and the length, I'm enjoying this. Though I'll probably need to do some very academic reading of the Napoleonic Wars on Wikipedia this week before diving in to Part II.

---

*What I do know comes from working for Osprey Publishing and seeing the names of battle repeated in book titles for 2 years.

**I read Anna Karenina as a warm-up, if you will. Get my feet wet with Tolstoy before diving into War and Peace. It was mostly a stalling tactic, though, to put off actually starting War and Peace

---

War and Peace | Leo Tolstoy, trans. Richard Peaver and Larissa Volokhonsky | Vintage Classics | 2011 (originally published 1865) | Paperback | 1248 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: Why We Write, edited by Meredith Maran

Anyone who has ever stared at the accursed cursor blinking on the blank page of a computer screen knows how frustrating the writing process can be. But there are those who dedicate their lives to it, and all of the joys and frustrations that come with it.
"We fill our journals and write our novels and take our writing classes. We read voraciously, marveling at the sentences and characters and plot twists our favorite authors bestow upon us. How do they do it? we ask ourselves. And why?"
This is the question, or set of questions, that editor Meredith Maran set out to answer in Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do, though ultimately the collection answers  many more besides. The twenty authors here, all successful and known to the literary community, offer a wide array of voices, adding the voices of contemporary writers the canon of Hemingway, Miller and Kerouac quotes on writing that grace the pages of Pinterest these days.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are certain themes that emerge as these writers talk about their craft:

They write because they have to, because there is an itch there that needs to be scratched ("The only thing that makes me crazier than writing is not writing." -Sara Gruen).

They write in an attempt to answer important questions about the world ("The unwritten sentence--perhaps that will be the one, the one that makes life comprehensible, the one that reveals the beauty & order under what can sometimes seem like a landscape of chaos and cruelty." -Kathryn Harrison).

They write through the uncertainties of the publishing industry. They write through their own insecurities. Is the last book I wrote my last book, they all seem to wonder? Will I run out of ideas? Inspiration? Words? Time? Focus? Will my next book be successful? Will anyone read it? Will they like it?

Most entertaining in Why We Write is the chance to go behind the pages of the books we know and love--or perhaps, the pages of books as-yet unknown to us--to meet the authors that gave them to us. What we find there is often surprising. Sebastian Junger recalls the number of readers astonished to learn that he was 5'8", having imagined him to be 6'3". "What was it about my book that made me tall?" he asks. Do we really know the writers we love so much? we wonder in response. Ann Patchett notes her adversity to writing rituals and habits, noting, in her characteristically dry way, "When you're a writer, it's so easy to become a freak."

Why We Write is a collection that can be taken piece by piece or read as a whole, sorted by author or genre or age at the readers' whim. Some writers seem to reveal themselves with a chip on their shoulders. Others veer so strongly from taking their work too seriously as to seem flippant. Some talk of the challenges of racism and sexism in the publishing industry. Most talk of the utter shock they first felt when realizing that their words were printed and bound and available for the world to read, and the struggle to balance writing with the rest of their lives, and the need to keep writing even when the writing is not going well.

These twenty essays contain enough inspiration to spawn an entire library of novels, a database of articles, and a bookstore of non-fiction titles; even for those not planning to write a book themselves, though, the insights into the writing process are full of promise and interest. Whether a writer or a reader be, Why We Write is a delightful romp through twenty worlds of twenty writers, condensing into moving tidbits about the power of dedication and hard work to bring something beautiful into the world--ultimately, a true expression of the person who gave it life:

"No one can take writing away from you, but no one can give it to you, either." -Meg Wolitzer

---

Why We Write is on sale today from Plume. The twenty writers included in Why We Write, in alphabetical order, are: Isabel Allende, David Baldacci, Jennifer Egan, James Frey, Sue Grafton, Sara Gruen, Kathryn Harrison, Gish Jen, Sebastian Junger, Mary Karr, Michael Lewis, Armistead Maupin, Terry McMillan, Rick Moody, Walter Mosley, Susan Orlean, Ann Patchett, Jodi Picoult, Jane Smily, Meg Wolitzer.

---

Note: Thanks to the publisher, Plume, for providing an e-galley of this title for review via NetGalley.
Why We Write | Meredith Maran, ed. | Plume | Paperback | January 2013 | 256 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Harrius Potter, Book 2 Part 1 (I think?)

So apparently I am not so good at readalongs, because last week I plum (plumb?)  forgot to read the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and then I also forgot to write about how I forgot to read it and THEN I had a crazy day at work on Friday and went to NYC for the weekend so I never even visited other people's posts. Sorry, guys.

(Also, while I am confessing my Harry Potter sins, I am just going to go ahead and admit that I *always* spell "sorcerer's" wrong the first time and then spellcheck goes all squiggly on me until I fix it.)


But here I am, ready to talk about the first part of Chamber of Secrets (which I spell correctly on the first try)! I've always thought of this one as my least favorite of the series (besides the last one, which we will come to in due course), but I rather like it this time around. Maybe it's because it's my so-called least favorite and therefore also my least re-read (again besides the last one).

Anyway, this is where we first meet Dobby, and I seem to be in the minority of readalongers because I actually like the poor guy! Or if I'm being really honest and admitting that I only like him because of later books, I can at least honestly say that I don't dislike him. I feel bad for the poor guy! Shutting his fingers in the oven and ironing his ears and generally self-mutilating and unable to use his awesome magic for himself?



Besides dear ol' Dobby, other thoughts on these chapters:

Why don't wizards have phones and email like Muggles? I get that they can Apparate, and send mail via owls who somehow seem to know where everyone in the wizarding world is at any given moment, but even with all that fancy magic, sometimes a quick call or email would come in hella handy. Like, you know, when Harry is locked in his room and can't unlock Hedwig to send a letter. Couldn't he just call Hermione who also lives in the muggle world?



I spent a good part of the mandrake-repotting herbology class trying to remember if I should remember Justin Finch-Fletchley's name with no luck. Also, Lockhart is the worst. Colin Creevey isn't so much better, come to think of it. Onwards to petrification!

Book Review: Pure, by Andrew Miller

In modern-day Paris, one can find no trace of les Innocents church or cemetery in their original location, instead finding the area of les Halles a shopping complex surrounded by restaurants and fast-food joints. The bones from the original cemetery can now be viewed in the Catacombs (along with bones from other destroyed cemeteries aross the city), the entrance to which reads 'ArrĂȘte! C'est ici l'Empire de la Mort.' (Stop! This is the empire of the dead., or something along those lines based on my college French lessons).


All of this is noted in Andrew Miller's author's not in Pure, his sixth novel, which centers on the dismantling and emptying of les Innocents. The result is a delightful if haunting and eerie tale of 18th century Paris, a city on the cusp of revolution. Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a pseudo-successful engineer with big dreams of bridges and collonades, has been tasked with removing les Innocents from the city, sweeping out the scourge of death that lingers over the graveyards. Baratte sets at the task with the mind of a modern man unencumbered by notions of the past and of traditions, but the power of the cemetery is no so easy to shrug off.

Miller's novel is carefully layered and extravagant, bringing to life a Paris we wish we could still visit today (though perhaps without some of the pervasive stink of the cemetery so notable in Pure). Though the French Revolution has captured our imaginations for years, with the likes of Les Miserables permanently entrenching the time in our imaginations, Miller turns back the years and focuses on a time slightly before the more famous decade of the 1790s, capturing a city suspended between past and present, tradition and modernity, religion and philosophy in a way that will leave readers craving more of Miller's work--hopefully Europa will be kind enough to bring more of this to the US in the future.

---

Pure | Andrew Miller | Europa Editions | Paperback | 331 pages | May 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova

This review originally ran in the Tuesday, January 8th issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

With Mastermind, Maria Konnikova (who writes the "Literally Psyched" column in Scientific American) promises to teach us how to think like Sherlock Holmes. Though the great detective might have been fiction, she argues, "his rigorous approach to thought was very real indeed."

It all starts with understanding our brains and their biases and their annoyingly practical tendency to choose the easiest path in any given situation. Once we understand those habits, we can work to change them, starting with observing the world around us more closely and purposefully, then moving on to combining that observation with imagination of what could be or could have been. From there, the art of deduction flows naturally, further proving Holmes's constant claim that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

Though it can feel repetitive at times, Mastermind ultimately succeeds in helping readers to understand better how Holmes is able to think the way he does--though putting it into practice ourselves may prove harder than it sounds. Mastermind draws on many examples from the Holmes canon, and so will be best appreciated by those already familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories; others may struggle fully to appreciate Konnikova's examples from the texts or be disappointed to encounter the outcome of a story before having enjoyed it themselves.

Mastermind | Maria Konnikova | Viking Adult | Hardcover | January 2013 | 288 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: Wanderers, by Edward Belfar

Edward Belfar's collection of short stories, Wanderers, focuses on just that--people (particularly men) who are wandering, at a loss. At times, this wandering is literal, as in the case of the title story, in which an aging law professor forgets his way home when shopping for milk and spends 7.5 hours wandering through Baltimore. In other stories, characters wander from their intended course; in "Roman Honeymoon," a new groom wanders into a night club without his new bride, and in "Leaving the Chesapeake," a divorced man finds himself estranged from his daughters, broke, and hungry--a long way from his work towards a PhD earlier in life.

While the stories here can be uneven and the treatment of women flat, Belfar's finest writing captures the sense of loss, anger, and urgency that can descend upon a man who has lost his way. In "Errors," he captures the story of a baseball player forever dogged by his one career mistake, down on his luck and run out by those who once supported him. In "Eviction," a doctor struggles to do the right thing in the face of an angry wife and a patient intent on taking advantage of his psychiatric services while groping for something, anything, to anchor him once again.

Wanderers is not what one might describe as an uplifting book, with each story dropping us in the middle of a seemingly desperate, sorry situation, but it does succeed in highlighting the battles we all must fight: running from our past mistakes, struggling to make the right decision, or learning to ask for help when it is most needed.

---

Giveaway: Thanks to TLC Book Tours, I have one copy of Wanderers to offer up to readers. Simply leave a comment to enter. +1 for followers. I will select a winner on Thursday, January 24th.

---

Note: Thanks to TLC Book Tours for a copy of this title to review.
Wanderers | Edward Belfar | Stephen F. Austin University Press | Paperback | May 2012 | 272 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

War and Peace: This is Finally Happening, For Reals.

In an effort to address two of my resolutions this year, I am joining up in My Friend Amy's War and Peace readalong. Because I promised myself I'd read this before I turned 26 (coming up in November), and because I also intend to participate in more readalongs this year, because I always enjoy them so much. And also because I don't know that I could get through a book like War and Peace without some sort of schedule, structure, and encouragement.

But where does one even begin? I've followed along as other bloggers have read the tome, and even as some other bloggers have started and abandoned it, and everyone seems to have different advice. Treat it like any other book. Make sure to read the historical context. Keep Wikipedia handy as you go to reference names and dates. Keep a character list handy to reference names and dates. Etc, etc, etc.

I read Anna Karenina last year, and actually found that it was not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated it to be, so perhaps I am ramping myself up for nothing in starting War and Peace. Or perhaps they really are different, after all.

Have you read it? If so, what is your advice for a newbie reader with little-to-no knowledge of the context of the novel? Are there any essays or criticisms I should read before starting that do not spoil the story?  I'll be reading the Peaver/Volonkhonsky translation (pictured above) - is that a good one?

---

War and Peace | Leo Tolstoy, trans. Richard Peaver and Larissa Volokhonsky | Paperback | 2008, originally published 1869 | 1296 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray

Three pages in to Skippy Dies, Skippy does just that--he dies. This is no spoiler, for it is both the title and the premise of Paul Murray's astoundingly beautiful novel about an Irish prep school. We, along with Skippy's friends, teachers, and family, are left wondering, "Why did Skippy die?" The answer to that question makes up the first part of Skippy Dies, as we take a deep dive into the life of Skippy, an awkward, nerdy middle-schooler with a deep-seated love of video games, a roommate trying to contact aliens, a collection of teachers who don't understand him and a family situation that leaves much to be desired. When he falls in love with a girl far outside his reach, the boundaries of his normal life stretch beyond his wildest dreams, until it feels almost inevitable that they must burst.

Caught up in this story are a host of rather unlikeable characters: the spineless history teacher who cannot decide what he stands for, the egotistical principal, the stereotypical campus drug dealer. But their unlikeability is also their charm, for we can see in each of these characters, and in Skippy, too, a glimpse of ourselves or of those we have known in our own lives.

Murray's prose is poignant and beautiful, sweeping us back into a world of awkward pre-teen years and boys lighting farts on fire while never letting us forget our own adult selves. At the root of it all lies an important conversation about choices, and why not making them is ultimately the same as making them. Early on, Howard (the spineless history teacher mentioned above), asks himself why he does not just propose to his girlfriend, knowing she expects it:
"So why don't they? It's not that Howard doesn't love her. He does, he would do anything for her, lay down his life if it came to it - if for example she were a princess menaced by a fire-breathing dragon, and he a knight on horseback, he would charge in with his lance without a second thought, stare the serpent right in its smouldering igneous eye, even if it meant getting barbecued there on the spot. But the fact is - the fact is that they live in a world of facts, one of which is that there are no dragons; there are only the pale torpid days, stringing by one like another, a clouded necklace of imitation pearls, and a love binding him to a life he never actually chose."
His crisis--that he has fallen into his own life and cannot seem to find a way out--is a near-perfect foil to the insecurities of the students we come to know, as they look out on the big, wide world and see in it nothing but possibility, endless possibility. For some (such as Skippy), this possibility is crushing, daunting, and overwhelming, but for his overweight, overwraught roommate, this possibility means that humans can contact aliens using the undefined m-theory and save the world from ultimate obliteration.
"Life makes fools of us all sooner or later," says one of the teachers. "But keep your sense of humour and you'll at least be able to take your humiliations with some measure of grace. In the end, you know, it's our own expectations that crush us."
This lesson is only further emphasized by the wit and humour Murray folds into each layer of his story, though I often found myself so caught up in the melancholy that it was not until I finished reading that I realized the hilarity of it all: the boys in foil hats attempting to contact aliens, the girls in slutty Halloween costumes at the mixer, the obscene, glowing donut-shaped sign that advertises Ed's, the local hangout.

There is no shortage of praise I could heap upon Skippy Dies, despite the occasional slow-going bits in the middle. For sanity's sake, I will limit my own ramblings, and caution you to look out for this one if you have not already read it--expecting something weird and poetic and physical and philosophical and ultimately important when you do.

---

Skippy Dies | Paul Murray | Faber and Faber | Paperback | August 2011 (originally published August 2010) | 672 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Harry Potter Readalong... and so it begins!

This is the second of who-knows-how many posts in the Harry Potter Readalong, hosted by Alice at Reading Rambo. See other readalongers' posts here.

So. The great re-read of Harry Potter has begun! We're exactly nine chapters in, and my first observation is that I forgot that only half of the first book actually takes place in Hogwarts. Rowling takes her time setting this all up! But not in a bad way, just in a way that makes us love Diagon Alley and Gringotts and all the wizarding world by the time we finally get to it!

Really, though, I do love the beginning of this book:

The Boy Who Lived (how dramatic!)

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that there were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense.


Right from the bat, we do not like these people! So snotty! So "thank you very much" and pinky out while drinking tea! And, of course, we know to expect something strange and mysterious, in part because we know they'll hate it, and in part because there is a picture of a boy flying a broomstick and catching a golden ball with wings on the front cover. Obviously, there will be lots of this:



The first few chapters of this first book are really some of my favorite, because we get to be on Harry's side and hate the Dursleys but also laugh at them, because they are downright hysterical caricatures of people when you get to know them, blustering along in their blustery ways. But! Then Harry (and us readers!) get to go to Diagon Alley, and Gringotts, and Platform 9 3/4, and Hogwarts! And it's pretty fun to snub the Dursleys like that.

Also, I forgot how Hermione really isn't a main character this early in the book. Like, at all. She's around about as much as Neville, and even then, she's not particularly likeable. Luckily we all know she gets to be super-important and super-attractive and featuring in Burberry ads by the time they are done making the movies.


Next Friday... the end of the first book! My, time flies.

Audiobook Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

I might, just possibly, be one of the last people on earth to read this book. And good thing I got around to it, too, because according to Douglas Adams, there is a very real chance that an alien race may just be planning to demolish Earth, simply because it is in the way of a proposed transportation route.

The premise of  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the first of a "trilogy in five parts," is actually quite simple: Earth is destroyed, and Ford Prefect (an alien previously stuck on Earth for lack of a ride on which to hitch-hike) and Arthur Dent (a normal human, just like you and me) are the only two survivors. Eventually, they find their way to the lone, abandoned planet of Magrathea, previously known for its planet-building exploits--except that it is not so lonesome and abandoned after all. The resulting storyline is comical in its twists and turns and most unlikely of coincidences (conveniently explained away by the existence of a devise meant to make the most improbable solutions probable after all), as Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent, a depressed robot, the two-headed President of the Galaxy, and a bunch of mice try to figure out the meaning of life.

What is so strikingly glorious about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, besides the fact that the first book is narrated on audio by none other than Stephen Fry himself, is the humor and the wit and the philosophy contained in what is otherwise a series of bizarre coincidences and strange plot turns. Adams can make one laugh out loud and think for long periods of time, all with the same sentence, and I'd argue there's not many an author that can do that (just as there are not many narrators who could have so well highlighted this humor as Fry does).

I'll definitely be back in to pick up the rest of the trilogy/series/whatever it is best called, and will continue to scold myself for having waited so long to finally start. Also, 42.

---

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Douglas Adams, nar. Stephen Fry | Random House Audio | 2005 (originally published 1979) | Audiobook | 5 hr 51 min | Buy from an independent near you


Book Review: Threads of the Heart, by Carole Martinez

This review originally ran in the Tuesday, January 8th issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

Frasquita has been given a gift that has passed down through the women in her family for generations. The gift comes in a small box that must be kept closed for nine months before revealing its treasure; when Frasquita opens it, she finds a sewing kit with threads of the most marvelous colors. For the rest of her life, she possesses unparalleled skill with the needle, creating for herself a wedding dress that draws beauty from the world, stitching a man back to his lost shadow, even sewing together her husband's rooster after it loses a cock fight. Frasquita's gift quickly becomes a curse, however, as her friends and neighbors brand her a sorceress and her husband descends into madness. And so she flees her small town, taking her five children, her sewing kit and her hopes of sparing her daughters her own horrible fate.

Carole Martinez's Threads of the Heart, a bestseller in Europe, tells Frasquita's story from the eyes of a daughter attempting to lay her mother's memory to rest. Martinez gives readers a whimsical, heartbreaking story of love and spells and beauty in which magic and reality are woven so tightly together that the two become inextricable. The result is a novel at once mythical in its scope and haunting in its realism, sure to be remembered long past the turn of the last page.

Threads of the Heart | Carole Martinez, trans. Howard Curtis | Europa Editions | December 2012 | Trade Paperback | 400 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Goals That Do Not Involve Books


I already posted about my reading and blogging goals, but in an effort to hold myself accountable to some unseen internet force, here are my non-reading-related goals for 2013:

Eat Real Food
In 2012, I stopped eating food with high fructose corn syrup in it. No, not because I think it is evil. Because I  started to realize that they put that shit in everything (Bread, I'm looking at you.). This made me start reading labels more closely, which basically made me never want to eat prepared food again ever. So this year, I plan to do a little learning (Michael Pollan, anyone? See how I made this about books, after all?) and really focus on eating real food with ingredients I understand and could locate without the aid of a chemist.

Plan Menus
If I'm giving up on fake food, I'm giving up a lot of convenience, which means I'll actually have to use my brain at the grocery store (actually, before I even go to the grocery store), which means maybe I'll start reading the seventybagillion cookbooks we own.

Walk the Dog
We got a dog last year (we love him!) and, as we both started training for various races in the fall, slacked off with the dog walking in favor of just throwing the ball for him to get his exercise. While this does tire him out, it does not exercise the humans or improve leash behavior.

Go 1,000 Miles
I'm totally stealing this from Sharon, but I love it too much not to. Her goal: Run 1,000 miles. My goal: GO 1,000 miles (which is basically the same thing, but I plan to include walking -- see goal above -- in my count).

Own Less Things
The stuff! It just keeps growing! So, one thing in, one thing out. Preferably even two things out.

Harry Potter Readalong: An Illustrated Introduction

Harry Potter, I am re-reading you. In toto. All of you. In order. For the first time. And I am excited! (NOTE: This is not my first read of the series. Or my first re-read of any individual book. Just my first re-read of the whole series in order start to finish.)

There will be a lot more like this as we progress, I promise you that.
I'll be participating in Reading Rambo's Harry Potter All the Gifs Readalong, which basically means there will be a lot of gifs and a lot of my looking for clues of horcruxes and Dumbledore's awesomeness and generally oohing over how adorbs Dobby is and a lot of remembering how I spent most of my adolescence waiting for an owl of my own (I read the first book when I was ten so my eleventh birthday was simultaneously the most stressful and disappointing birthday ever, because, spoiler alert, I never did get an owl).

Introduction-y bits: I am Kerry, from Maryland, and my Instagram account is pretty much all pictures of books I am reading, books I think are pretty, bookstores I like, and/or my dog wearing silly sweaters.

Other things of relative import that sort of qualify as introduction-y:

I once read Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis, which is Harry Potter in Latin. Now I can only read the first sentence (and by "read", I mean "have memorized in English and can therefore sort of translate.")


I read the first book when it first came out, which meant I waited for each and every single solitary book to follow, which meant I went to a lot of midnight book releases. I even worked at a local bookstore for one of them, and wore a homemade glitter-y Harry Potter tank top to work that night while decorating the store in all HP everything (including a snitch and a broom hanging from the ceiling).

Notice that we made the drink cooler into Hogwarts Cafe.
No corner of the store escaped undecorated.
Also, when the sixth book came out, my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I were too broke to buy two copies, so we bought one and read it out loud to each other since we didn't want to wait for the other to finish it before starting. #truelove

When my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I talk like our dog (that's a normal dog-owner thing, right?), we speak in Dobby's voice, because Indy and Dobby have the same crazy expressive ears. 
Indy will be going as Dobby for Halloween next year.

So, full nerd-dom confessed, I am setting out to re-read the whole series which I conveniently own in a boxed set with what promise to be some very fun fellow readalongers. Read on!

Book Review: The Child's Child, by Ruth Rendell (writing as Barbara Vine)

This review originally ran in the Friday, September 21, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

When Grace and Andrew Easton's grandmother dies, she leaves her sprawling Victorian home to the both of them. Rather than selling it, as everyone seems to think they should, they decide to move in, dividing the large rooms of the house between themselves. The two siblings, always close, never considered the possible complications of romantic relationships, if and when they arose--so when Andrew brings home his boyfriend, first to meet his sister and then to live there, they are unprepared for the discord the third party brings into the house. Grace, a student of literature, distracts herself from these problems with the manuscript of an unpublished novel from 1951--a tale of sexuality, illegitimate children and sibling relationships that bears striking resemblance to Grace and Andrew's own situation.

With The Child's Child, Ruth Rendell (writing as Barbara Vine) offers readers a story within a story, weaving modern times with a tale of the 1950s that casts our current social and cultural issues in a harsh light. As Rendell moves between the two stories, she subtly points out the differences--and in some cases, similarities--between the social taboos of the two generations, and not always in a kind light. Both stories within The Child's Child are sexual and violent and, as with most of Rendell's work, strikingly psychological in their suspense, resulting in an intricate novel that deals not-so-delicately with important topics of both the past and the present.

The Child's Child | Ruth Rendell (writing as Barbara Vine) | Scribner | December 2012 | Hardcover | 320 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Reading Goals, I am Making them Public

Goals! I has 'em, and I am making them public, because it is a new year and that is, you know, a thing that you do. These are my reading and blogging goals.

100 books, 30,000 pages
I beat this last year (109 books, 37,843 pages), and while it is pretty standard to try to push ourselves beyond previous limits, I don't want to do that here. See next goal for details.

Read Better
One of the reasons I'm not upping my goal number or page count is because this year I want to read better. More books I lovegushovercan'tstoptalkingaboutwon'tstoppushingonpeople. 2012 was a good year for reading, but in compiling my best of 2012 post, I realized it was not a great year for reading. I want 2013 to be GREAT, DAMMIT.

Less Challenges
Last year, I fell one book short of completing the Back to the Classics Challenge (I never did read a play, but really, I hate reading plays, so I'm not too surprised at myself). This year (and for the next four years), I am already participating in the Classics Club, and aiming to read fifty classics in a five-year span, and that's enough for me.

More Readalongs
Unlike my own failed challenge, I participated in--and LOVED--several readalongs this year. I get a lot more from the books read communally than those read alone, and since this whole blog started in an effort to find MAH PEOPLE with whom I could talk books all day, every day, readalongs seem the perfect fit.So, readalongs, here I come. Starting with you, Harry Potter.

Write More
This year, I only wrote 158 posts (it was 172 in 2011, and a whopping 217 in 2010). And sadly, I think a lot of what I posted here in 2012 was fluff, or poorly planned, or not as thoughtful as I'd have liked it to be. I also read about 25 books that I never got around to reviewing. I'd like to hit 175 posts this year, and make a concerted effort to make them better along the way. And leave less books undiscussed.

Oh Yeah, And Hemingway and Tolstoy, Too
I have less than 12 months left to complete my 26 by 26 list, on which I included "Read all of Hemingway" (I am woefully behind) and "Read War and Peace" (I am also woefully behind). So I guess those things are happening this year. I CAN DO THIS.

The Best of 2012

My best books of 2012, in case you weren't already overwhelmed with "best" lists. Here's to a year of great reading in 2013!

LITERARY FICTION

Best book I didn't review: Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. This book had been on the edges of my awareness since its release last year, but I didn't pick it up until this summer. I read the whole thing in two days, and loved every sentence, every phrase, every perfectly captured moment, so much so that I'm still not quite sure how to review it properly--and so I don't think I will. 

Best book published in 2012: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. I missed this one over the summer because I was focused on my Summer of TBR, but I received a copy as a birthday gift and promptly devoured it. Uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time, this one will make you slow down and think and think some more--one of the highest compliments I think we can pay a book.

Best Audio: Shine Shine Shine, by Lydia Netzer. I'm cheating by adding an audio category so I can get another literary fiction book in here, but Netzer's debut was the perfect balance of quirkiness and emotion and lovely storytelling that it can't be overlooked. Plus, it's great on audio.

CLASSICS

Best classic I can't believe I never read: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. This little book caught me by surprise--so much more linear, and yet more whimsical, than Tolkien's hefty trilogy. I can't believe I missed it as a child, but am ever-so-glad I got to it before the movie made a muddle of the simple story.

Best classic I *defeated* this year: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. Yep, I think "defeated" is about as good a word as I can use for Anna Karenina--but that's not to say I didn't like it. In fact, despite my initial hesitations, I found it to be accessible, relevant, and entertaining. And the movie was luscious eye candy, to boot.

Best re-read classic: The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. I read this as part of my 26-by-26 list, and gleaned so much more from it as a pseudo-adult (if I'm not yet 26, I refuse to consider myself an adult) than I did as a 13-year-old. 

GENRE FICTION

Best bestseller: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. This one's on a lot of lists, which, I'll admit, generally makes me hesitant to read a book. But Flynn's story is whip-smart and ceaseless in its twists and turns, and a chilling pleasure to read.

Best mystery: The Likeness, by Tana French. My first Tana French, and I'm hooked. Though I read this out of order (not realizing that In the Woods comes first), I'll be going back to fill in my reading of this series, and look forward to more from French.

NONFICTION

Best feminism: Why Have Kids?, by Jessica Valenti. Though I enjoyed Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman, Valenti's work was so smart, so to-the-point, and so head-spinningly-eye-opening that it easily tops the favorite of the nonfiction books I read this year. I'm looking for more suggestions in this vein, so feel free to share!

Best history: Island of Vice, by Richard Zacks. This history of Roosevelt's short tenure as police commissioner in New York City is detailed and well-researched, but never dry or dull.

Best biography: The Black Count, by Tom Reiss. Alexandre Dumas' father (yes, that Alexandre Dumas) lived a life so fantastical that it is hard to believe it is real--but it is, and Reiss captures every bit of it in this stunning biography.