Clean Your Reader: A Challenge!

'Tis the season of mulled spiced things, long books... and e-book deals. And deals. And deals. And if you're anything like me, you're a sucker for those e-book deals. Even though, let's be honest, we all have dozens of unread e-books on our e-readers already. So I'm putting out the Clean Your Reader Challenge, because my (admittedly half-assed) Google searching for a comparable short-term reading challenge yielded nothing, and I do better at these kinds of things when I can convince/bribe other people to join me in my follies.

The goal is simple: Spend January reading some of those e-books you bought because you just had to read them someday and they were only $1.99! We can do this, right?

I'm not good at managing multiple levels and all that jazz, so to sign up, link to your sign-up post using the Linky below.

Sign-Up Post

What's your e-reader of choice?
What e-books or e-book deals are you incapable of saying no to?
How many e-books are you going to try to tackle in January?
(Feel free to grab the image above to use in your post, if you want!)

I'll be posting here about my progress, and updating on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #cleanyourreader.

Along the Way

It would be awesome to hear what you think of those e-books you've been collecting along the way, but you don't need to post reviews of each title to participate (or be eligible for contest prizes... see below). Simply post at the beginning about your goals, and the end with your outcomes. Anything beyond that is invited but not required!


Everyone who completes the challenge (that is, links up at the end of January on how it went) will be entered to win an e-reader cover, valued up to $40, for the e-reader of their choice. Due to shipping costs, this prize is limited to US residents--but if you are international and win, I'll gift a comparably valued gift certificate so you can purchase one yourself. If you're not international but prefer an e-book gift certificate to your e-book vendor of choice instead of a new cover, that's fine too!


Let me know.

European Adventures | Ireland | Rock of Cashel and The Jameson Distillery

It's been nearly three months (three!) since we left for our month of European adventures, and I'm still (slowly) working through all the photos of our trip. It's taking longer than anticipated, but it's an delightfully meditative process; going through each day in photos is like reliving the very best parts of each day, and then picking the best of the photos is picking the best of the best.

And so, the best of the best of our day in a rental car, spent driving through County Tipperary (to see the Rock of Cashel) and County Cork (to visit the Jameson Distillery, of course):

The Rock of Cashel

I've been known to read while walking. In this case, Rick Steves.

Right about here is where I exclaimed, "I'm so glad we rented a car!" Old stone things and I get along.

Isn't it picturesque?

I honestly might not have been surprised if a leprechaun had come frollicking out from behind that tree.

The town of Cashel. That hot pink cafe -- Grandma's Kitchen -- is where we had lunch.

The Jameson Distillery

If I'm perfectly honest with myself, 99% of the reason we rented a car was to go visit the Jameson Distillery, and we just happened to stop at the Rock of Cashel along the way. Maybe that's not such a bad thing...

Like the Guinness brewery, the Jameson distillery does not allow you to tour the actual working facility--though you can see its sage green towers behind the old distillery buildings. Instead, it's a tour of the old distillery buildings as they used to be--which contain the world's largest pot still--and a museum to the history of Jameson and Irish whiskey.

The most important room of all?

The home of the Master Distiller.

Someone was excited...

What I'm Reading This (Winter) Week

I'm heading up to New England this week to visit family for the holiday, and having gotten a wee bit ahead of my assigned review copies, I'm so excited to be packing only pleasure books for the trip. Of course, I'll have my Nook along for the ride, so have plenty of galleys and alternative titles to choose from, but here's what I'm most excited about:

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed: I have a slight obsession with Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things, so have no excuse for not reading this. It's been on my reading lists for #24in48, Dewey's Readathon, #NonFicNov, and so many other reading events, but I just keep putting it off, afraid it will disappoint me somehow. No more. I'm doing this. Leah (Books Speak Volumes) and Shannon (River City Reading) have assured me at various times that it's different than TBT, but not disappointing. 

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey: I bought this on Nathan Dunbar's recommendation. That was six months ago, and I still haven't read it. It's cold out, and it's a cold-looking book, SO LET'S DO THIS.

Etta & Otto & Russell & James, by Emma Hooper: I should just attribute my reading decisions this week to Nathan Dunbar, because this is another he recommended. I've got a galley and it looks strange and lovely and weird and wonderful and I can't wait.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens: I've made it an annual tradition to read this each year in December, in part because I love it, in part because I love Dickens, in part because it reminds me of the season. For the last few years, I've been circling through various audio versions--last year was Sir Patrick Stewart, the year before that Jim Dale--and I'm excited to give the Tim Curry version a try. 

Not pictured: The last five episodes of Serial (not a book but just as fun), which we've been stockpiling for the drive to Connecticut... DON'T TELL ME HOW IT ENDS. 

A Year in Reading: Best of the Books

It's that magic time of year, friends! When book lists and best-of lists and year-end lists and round-up lists abound. Always a sucker for a good list, here's my attempt to narrow down my reading year into a few don't-miss-'em-can't-miss-'em favorites:


Most Powerful: Redeployment, by Phil Klay
Klay's book tackles the subject of war and its lasting impact on those who fight it with a bluntness that is startling and effective. I cried after most, if not all, of these stories, and have been pushing it into the hands of everyone I know ever since. (Full review.)

Hardest to Talk About: An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay
It's impossible to recommend a book so brutal, and impossible not to recommend it at the same time. (Full review.)

Best Prose: Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill
Offill's short novel of a marriage reads more like vignettes than a narrative story. And that's a wonderful thing. Couple that with some of the best stand-alone sentences I've ever read, and how can I not recommend it? (Full review.)

Most Unexpected: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
This is a post-apocalyptic novel for people who don't like post-apocalyptic novels. And for people who do like post-apocalyptic novels. And for everyone else, too. This snuck up on me in a way I wasn't prepared for, but that I adored. Smart and impeccably imagined and I can't wait to read more of Mandel's work.

Feminism at Its Finest: Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton
I read Florence Gordon solely at the urging of Shannon from River City Reading. And hot damn, she was right. The crotchety, particular old lady who gives the book its name is a stunning, compelling character--and the family surrounds her is just as nuanced and refined. Morton's done something amazing here, and I wish all feminists, would-be feminists, anti-feminists, and others would give this one a chance.

Backlist Pick: The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russel
It was hard not to pick The Wife by Meg Wolitzer for this slot, but ultimately, The Sparrow proved one of the most powerful and thought-provoking books I read all year. It had been on my shelf for ages and I'm kicking myself for not picking it up sooner.


Memoir/Biography: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs
Hobbs' account of his college roommate's life--and untimely death--is the story of a man, but it is also the story of poverty in our country. Peace's life ended early, but the lessons we can learn from it don't have to. Read this. (Full review.)

Nerd Out: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor
Kind of a no-brainer for anyone with a passing interest in Star Wars. But it's also an interesting account of how one of the most unlikely movies--the original Star Wars--became a pop culture sensation. (Full review.)

History: Hotel on the Place Vendome, by Tilar Mazzeo
There was something fascinating to me about this account of the history of the Hotel Ritz in Paris. Mazzeo's account spans the entirety of the 20th century (and some of the 19th and 21st) through the lens of one building, and it is astonishing to realize how central and important four walls and a ceiling can be. (Full review.)


What were the best books you read this year?

Watch and Read: The Princess Bride Edition

The Princess Bride is impossible to summarize or place in one genre: a farmboy is hopelessly in love with the most beautiful girl in the world, so goes off to seek his fortune; a princess is captured by a group of criminals-for-hire; a swordsman is sworn to revenge the death of his father by killing a six-fingered man; the Dread Pirate Roberts is terrorizing the seas and capturing ships; a prince wants to start a war with a neighboring nation; etc., etc., etc.

If you haven't read the novel, by William Goldman, that's a good place to start: though the beloved movie remains relatively close to the novel (as movie adaptations go, at any rate), there are some gems in the book that don't make it onto the big screen (Prince Humperdinck's Zoo, for one). Goldman structures the novel as an abridgement of an even older novel by S. Morgenstern, compiling only the good bits; this framing can sometimes be distracting (the "original" novel by S. Morgenstern is an invention of Goldman's imagination), but is mostly entertaining, as Goldman interjects with his own "author's commentary" throughout the story.

Post-novel: the movie. If you somehow have made it through the last 25 years without seeing The Princess Bride, I'm... not even sure where to begin. It's simply inconceivable. But whether you've seen it or not, it's worth watching the movie after reading the novel to see how Goldman adapted the story for the big screen (Goldman wrote the screenplay).

Post-movie viewing: Cary Elwes' memoir, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. If you're an audiobook fan, I recommend this one on audio (it's narrated by Elwes himself, with guest appearances from Robin Wright, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal, and others from the cast of the movie). Elwes tells all about the making of the movie, and it's an absolute delight to be treated to "insider" stories of this beloved film.

Some fun facts: 
Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin trained for nearly 40 hours a week in swordplay so they could perform the big duel--noted in the novel to be the greatest swordfight in history--themselves (and, with the exception of a few large gymnastic-esque tricks, they did it, even though Cary had a broken toe at the time).  
Cary Elwes had to be replaced by a dummy of Cary Elwes in the Miracle Max scene (when he's mostly dead on the table), because he couldn't stop laughing during the cuts with Billy Crystal and Carol Kane (all of which were improvised, by the way). Mandy Patinkin had to be on the set for that scene--he has lines there, and isn't mostly dead, after all--and tried so hard to stop laughing on camera that he bruised a rib during the shooting. 
And one more, for good measure: The ROUSes were actually played by men in rat suits. Who knew?
Reading (or listening to) As You Wish is something like attending a cast party rolled into the kindest high-school reunion imaginable. Elwes has nothing but praise and compliments for the cast and crew of the film, and his insider stories are delightful, not scandalous. It's an absolute treat for anyone who's been interested in (or in love with, take your pick) the movie for any period of time.

For good measure, it's worth it to go back and watch the movie again after hearing Elwes' stories of the making of. There are things there you never would have noticed before, and things you'll appreciate more because of his account. Plus, it's the kind of movie made to be watched again and again... and again and again and again, as you wish.


The Princess Bride | William Goldman | Mariner Books | Mass Market Paperback | 511 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review:
As You Wish | Cary Elwes, narrated by Cary Elwes (introduction written and read by Rob Reiner) | Simon & Schuster Audio | ~7 hours | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Bookish Gift Bows: An Annual Reminder

I've run this post in holiday seasons past, but it seemed fitting to re-post it again as a reminder or refresher for anyone who'd like to try a (really deceptively simple) holiday craft. The perfect topper for all the gifts you're giving this year!

Just in time for the holidays! Because we all know that no matter how early we finish our shopping (or how late we start it), there's always the wrapping to follow. Modified from original instructions in Playing With Books, I've been trying my hand at some handmade bows made out of book pages:

Let me begin by saying this: I am not a particularly crafty person. I do not have a lot of patience for small, difficult things. Like knitting. I hate knitting. And anything that involves threading a needle. I like shortcuts. I like crafts that involve minimal steps, minimal supplies, minimal tools. If I can do this, you can do this.

To start, you'll need:

  • Tape (preferably double-sided tape, but you can use single sided if that's what you have on hand. I did, and it worked fine. Just be prepared to roll lots of little tape circles so you can mimic double-sided tape.)
  • Scissors
  • A book you are willing to cut up (this is the hardest part, I promise).

Step 0: Take a deep breath. You are about to cut pages out of a book. My only recommendation for making this easier is to go to your local library and buy a book out front that you intend to cut up, which prevents forming any attachment to it. I chose The Naming of Names, a book about the history of plant names, because it had nice typesetting and a luscious, creamy paper stock, and is a subject about which I have zero interest. So.

Step 1: Cut 9-12 strips of book pages, approximately 3/4 inches wide x 7-9 inches long (you can be flexible in the size of your strips, but you'll definitely want them all to be consistent). If you cut longer strips, you'll most likely need more strips to fill in the bow. Longer strips = taller bow. Shorter strips = less required, but smaller final product.

Step 2: Place a small piece of double-sided sticky tape (or a small circle of single-sided sticky tape) in the center of the strip. Fold one end down, and twist end 180 degrees before affixing to the tape. Think of the twist in the Breast Cancer Awareness ribbons. Do that. Make sure that when you do this, you don't cover up all of the tape, as you need some to stick down the other end, too.

Step 3: Do the same thing on the other side. Note: If you don't think in 3 dimensions, as I don't, you might have to twist it a few different ways to figure out how to get the ends to align in the middle like this. You're not alone.

Step 4: Repeat step 3 over and over and over again.

Step 5: Place a small square of tape in the center of one of the loops, and place another inside it perpendicular to the first one. Place another piece of tape inside this next one, and keep layering loops on top of each other, varying the angle of the strips. They'll naturally push themselves up into a bow shape as you get taller and taller.

Presto digito! You have a book bow. Happy Wrapping!


Playing with Books: The Art of Upcycling, Reconstructing and Reimagining Books | Jason Thompson | Quarry Books | 9781592536009 | $24.99 Paperback |152 pages | April 2010 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Clean Your Reader: Sign-Up Post

I'm hosting a #CleanYourReader challenge in January, the goal of which is simply to read some of those accumulated e-books that I bought when they were on super-sale and promptly forgot I owned. So without further ado... my own goals for the month:

My e-reader of choice...

... is a Nook. Specifically, I have the e-ink Nook and the Nook HD+. I take the little one to the beach and when I travel for long periods of time, because it stands up to the sun and holds a battery charge for long periods of time. I take the big one when I travel for shorter periods, often in place of my laptop, because it multi-tasks as a tablet. I use the Oyster app on the HD+, but I get most of my e-books through Barnes & Noble these days.

I can't say no to...

... e-books at the $1.99 price point. I buy plenty of full-priced e-books, but those are rarely impulse buys--they are books I want to read for a specific reason at a specific time, so I find them, buy them, read them. The ones that accumulate are the ones that I see and think, "Oh! I've been wanting to read that! And look--it's only $1.99! I'll buy it now so I have it and read it later when I feel like it." At which point I promptly forget about it.

My goal for Clean Your Reader...

... is to read 5 of the e-books on my reader in January. I have the benefit of being slightly ahead of schedule on my review copies, and the fact that several of the books on my e-reader are short, so I'm hopeful I can do more... but at the very least, plan to do 5. 

Are you joining in to Clean Your Reader, too? Sign up here!

Bookish Causes for #GivingTuesday

I have no affiliation with Giving Tuesday; this is not a sponsored post. I just think it's a good idea, a rallying point for non-profits during the holiday season, and a reminder to all of us that even a little bit can go a long way towards helping those in need.

We've had Gray Thursday*, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and now, it's #GivingTuesday. From the day's official website:
We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. 
It’s a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join us and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.
If you're interested in spreading a love of literacy, books, and reading this #GivingTuesday, a few options to consider:

Find a local literacy organization

Where I live, that's the Anne Arundel County Literacy Council. There are often literacy organizations at the city, county or state level. It may take a little Googling (start with "literacy council" and your town's name), but think of the gift of reading and how powerful that can be for a person. 

Pick a national organization

There are dozens upon dozens of organizations out there working to promote literacy and bring books to people and children in need. Three big ones that tend to pop up time and again in the bookish world, all of which are great candidates for today's giving:

Reach Out and Read: Reach Out and Read prepares America's youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together. More information about what they do can be found here, and online donations can be made here.

First Book: First Book provides access to new books to children in need. They have an interesting model, fighting to overcome illiteracy and foster a love of reading. Learn more about what they do here, and make an online donation here (bonus: donations made now through December 31st will be tripled by a matching donor!).

Girls Write Now: The Girls Write Now mission is to provide guidance, support, and opportunities for at-risk and underserved girls from New York City’s public high schools to develop their creative, independent voices, explore careers in professional writing, and learn how to make healthy school, career and life choices. They do this by pairing students with NYC-area writers and authors. Pretty cool stuff. Learn more about the organization here, and make a donation here.

Spread the word

If you make a #GivingTuesday donation, help spread the word about the day and the cause you picked online! Use the hashtag #GivingTuesday to spread the love. The Giving Tuesday website also has more ideas and a toolkit for sharing information about the day.

If donating isn't in your budget, you can still help by spreading the word about #GivingTuesday and a cause you care about. Individuals are more likely to give to a cause or organization they already care about or know a friend cares about. There are lots of ways to help that don't involve a single penny.

What are you doing to celebrate #GivingTuesday?


*Didn't you hear that's what they're calling Thanksgiving now? Not sure what was wrong with calling it "Thanksgiving," but hey, there's a reason I'm not a local news anchor.

Nonfiction November: New to My TBR

After a month of McSlumpsALot over here, the last thing I needed were more titles to add to my TBR. Not that that's ever stopped me before, and it certainly didn't stop me this time around. There have been some amazing collections of nonfiction titles floating around out there for Nonfiction November. Some that stood out to me:

Alice + Freda Forever, by Alexis Coe: So, so interested in this.

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson: Shannon at River City Reading had lots to say about this one, which has it immediately added to my list. Add to that the fact that it seems to blend with my own reading list on poverty in the United States--something that can rarely, if ever, be entirely removed from our justice system--and I am all over it.

The Good Girls Revolt, by Lynn Povich: Florinda at the 3 R's Blog pulled this nonfiction review out of her archives, and boy am I glad she did. The story of how 46 Newsweek women filed an EEOC complaint for systematic discrimination against them in the workplace sounds so important (I'd never even heard of the case!) and relevant to our continued discussions about feminism and equality.

Pro, by Katha Pollitt: Another shout-out to Shannon of River City Reading for this one, which she called the best piece of nonfiction she'd read this year at the start of Nonfiction November. That's enough for me, but combined with the subject matter (the subtitle is "Reclaiming Abortion Rights"), I just can't resist.

The Crimes of Paris, by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: Trish at Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity noted that despite the clunkiness of some of this book, the subject matter--crimes in Paris, of course--was fascinating enough to make it worth it. I'm learning how much I love true crime (and I'm always fascinated by Parisian history), so this went on the list.

The Restless Sleep, by Stacy Horn: Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness nominated this one for a Nonfiction November readalong that I promptly signed up for and then didn't participate in. I'd never heard of the book before, but I have it from the library waiting for me to read just as soon as I get some reading motivation.

Lives in Ruins, by Marilyn Johnson: Leah at Books Speak Volumes reviewed this one, and I love finding books on compelling but slightly obscure subjects that don't usually find a spotlight--like archaeology.


What books did you discover during Nonfiction November? Or what books did I not discover that I should have?

Slumping Through November

November is usually one of my favorite months for reading. Because December tends to be such a light publishing month, I'm off the hook for most (not all, but most) of my review commitments, because those are usually due to my editor a month before pub date. Which means November can be backlist or frontlist or nextyearlist or whatever I want it to be.

Except this year, "whatever I want it to be" is apparently incompatible with "what my brain is capable of focusing on." I've read twelve graphic novels this month (the second half of the Y: The Last Man series by Brian K. Vaughan and all of Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire), and watched two full seasons of Gilmore Girls. I reviewed a few cookbooks for Shelf Awareness for Readers (really good cookbooks, too, like The Cook's Illustrated Meat Book, which, let me tell you, will make a carnivore of us all). I sloooooooowly managed to finish The Working Poor, a book about the working poor in the United States, which, while not exactly uplifting, was at least eye-opening.

And that, my friends, is it. My big month of read-what-I-like has turned into a slump month of read-very-little. The slump has also carried over into my writing, which is why my Nonfiction November posts have been up late (if at all--I missed this week's entirely), I haven't submitted to Bloggers Recommend (I forgot until this morning... deadline is the 20th), and the blog has been rather quiet overall.

I'm picking up a re-read of The Bone Season next (to prepare for the January release of the second book in the series, The Mime Order), and planning to read The Princess Bride over Thanksgiving (to complement my recent read of As You Wish, Cary Elwes' tell-all about the making of the movie). Perhaps one or both of these will kick me out of this slump in which I find myself--or perhaps not. If the former, huzzah! If the latter, I expect I'll be catching up on Blacklist and more Gilmore Girls and generally enjoying whatever is hitting the spot, as it were. And I guess that's ok, too.

Nonfiction November: Focus on Poverty in the United States

We've all heard it, or some variation of it: "I don't give homeless people money because they should just get a job." What statements like this fail to acknowledge, however, is eternally complex question of the root causes of poverty; it is, unfortunately, no guarantee that a job will prevent you from being homeless, any more than it is a guarantee that being homeless means you have no job.

Though we have stopped the Dickensian tradition of jailing debtors, the stigma that accompanies poverty doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime fast. But there are authors out there who are doing their damnedest to at least shed a light on some of the actualities of life in poverty, peeking beyond the myths and the stories and the stereotypes to see the people of poverty, the system of poverty, and the cycle of poverty:

poverty in america

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeffrey Hobbs: Hobbs wrote this biography of his college roommate, Robert Peace, after Peace was murdered in the basement of a house in Newark, New Jersey, where he was working as a drug dealer after graduating from Yale with honors. Hobbs exploration of his friend's life is at once an attempt to understand how this young man, so seemingly poised for success despite overwhelming odds, ended up back where he started, as well as a study of the power of poverty in the United States today. Seriously, incredibly eye-opening. Full review.

Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich: Ehrenreich went "undercover" in 1998 to see what life was really like for those American workers putting in full-time hours (often more-than) in the "unskilled" jobs of our country. She worked at Walmart, she cleaned hotel rooms, she waited tables. She made readers reconsider how their everyday amenities--big box stores, hotel stays, the food on their tables--came to be, and nearly 20 years later, the book is just as important as it was in 1998. Which is saying something about how far--or not--the world of American poverty has come in the last 16 years, isn't it?

The Working Poor, by David K. Shipler: Shipler's book is similar to Ehrenreich's in that it explores not the most destitute, but those hovering just around the poverty line while working as hard as possible to make ends meet. I'm halfway through this one, and while some of the facts seem like they should be obvious, Shipler's support of assumptions with numbers and data and anecdotal evidence really brings things home.

Fire in the Ashes, by Jonathan Kozol: Subtitled "Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America", Kozol's newest book returns to the children he wrote about in Rachel and Her Children and Amazing Grace to share their "journeys and unexpected victories as they grow into adulthood."

Hand to Mouth: Living in Boostrap America, by Linda Tirado: I'm not even going to try to summarize this one, I'm just going to give you the jacket copy: "We in America have certain fixed ideas of what it means to be poor. Poor people live in shelters. They are on welfare. They go to soup kitchens. To some, poor people are lazy. And even the most enlightened of liberals have wondered aloud, 'Why do poor people make such bad choices?' Linda Tirado, in her signature frank yet personable voice, takes these preconceived notions of what it's like to be poor and smashes them to bits."

Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America, by Leon Dash: The story of Rosa Lee, a woman falling deeper and deeper into poverty in Washington, D.C. The book is based on a series of Washington Post articles that ran beginning in September of 1994, and though the title is less well-known today than others (Nickel and Dimed) of the same decade, I'm very much intrigued.


Interestingly, most of the books about poverty that have come across my radar are a) written by white people (even though poverty disproportionately impacts non-white people in the United States (in 2012, the overall poverty rate in the US was 15%; for Whites, 9.7%; for Blacks, 27.2%; for Asians, 11.7%; for Hispanics (of any race), 25.6%))*, and b) are written from an outsider's perspective (even when said outsider is embedded deep within a group, as in Ehrenreich's case).

If anyone has suggestions for books that address the potential one-sidedness of this list, I'd love to hear them! In the meantime, rest assured that I'll be a-Googling this.

* Source:


This post is part of Nonfiction November's week 2 theme: Be/Become/Ask the Expert on a subject

Nonfiction November: The Year in Review

My reading stats this year skew heavily towards fiction, as they always do (I'm currently hovering around 18% nonfiction). While I haven't read a great number of non-fiction titles, perhaps the fact that the volume is limited means I'm more selective in my non-fiction selects, because a surprising number of these 18% are stand-out books that I've recommended time and again over the course of the year:

But my favorite of the year so far? The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, a book I haven't yet spent much time discussing because it has taken me the last few months to truly process the powerful story within its pages. Jeffrey Hobbs' biography of Robert Peace, his college roommate, is heartfelt and powerful, well-researched and well-written, and reveals not only a life, as all biographies due, but the context in which that life was lived, which only the best biographies accomplish. I barely scratched the surface of this in my full review, but the story of Peace's short, and indeed tragic, life has stayed with me for month after month.

Interesting, my favorite nonfiction read of the year has not been the one I've recommended the most. That title falls to either Hotel on the Place Vendome, which tells a story of World War I and World War II history through the narrow lens of the Hotel Ritz in Paris, or Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay's amazing and inspiring collection of personal essays on everything from race to sexuality to Scrabble.

Though I've read several memoirs and a few history books this year, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace marked the only true biography in my list--and given how much I loved the biographical approach to learning about a subject (in this case, poverty in America) and a time period, I wish I explored more biographical histories in my nonfiction reading.


Which brings me to this year's Nonfiction November, kicking off this week (and thanks to Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness for hosting this week!). Because my nonfiction reading has been so low overall, my only goal for the month is to make a concerted effort to read more of the nonfiction on my list.


My curious mind wants to know, as I dive into Nonfiction November, what your favorite nonfiction reads of the year have been?

Book Review: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor

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

The Star Wars franchise is no small thing, with an estimated 1.3 billion tickets sold to the six theatrically released movies worldwide, $6 billion in VHS/DVD sales and $20 billion in merchandise sales. But how did it grow from the impossible dream of a young filmmaker to a multibillion-dollar franchise? Journalist Chris Taylor answers that question in How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, which covers not only the "past, present and future" of what might be the world's most ubiquitous franchise, but also how it has made an impact on--and been influenced by--its ever-growing fan base.

Taylor weaves George Lucas's biography with a history of science fiction and space fantasy in print and on screen, which he then fits into an exploration of Lucas's creative approach to each of the six films and the timely political undertones in each story. He then turns to the Expanded Universe (the body of Star Wars books, games, TV shows and other sanctioned stories) and how it interacts with Lucas's big-screen creations.

Taylor doesn's shy away from criticisms of Lucasfilm or the movies themselves, such as flaws in the plotlines or tensions on the film sets. But at its heart, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe is a love letter to a franchise that has become entrenched in contemporary culture in more ways than we could possibly count (just think how difficult it would be to find someone, anyone, who does not know the identity of Luke's father), and a testament to the power of space fantasy to capture our imaginations.


A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review.
How Star Wars Conquered the Universe | Chris Taylor | Basic Books | Hardcover | October 2014

Looking Ahead: November Books

October set the bar pretty damn high for November reads, but I have confidence that this list contains some (ok, I've read a lot of them already, so I can safely say many) gems. These books will make perfect companions for longer nights and the chillier weather that is settling in on the mid-Atlantic.*

As You Wish, by Cary Elwes: Ok, I cheated here, because this is an October book, but as I'm halfway through the audio version (read by Cary Elwes, with appearances from Robin Wright, Christopher Guest, and other cast members), I'm sneaking it in anyway. Because HOW COULD YOU NOT LOVE A BOOK ABOUT THE MAKING OF THE PRINCESS BRIDE?

GB84, by David Peace (Melville House, November 4): I had never heard of Peace before BEA this year, when I heard him read from Red or Dead. And though I still haven't started that (or The Damned UTD, which I own), I'm already jonesing to dive into GB84, historical fiction that the blurb promises "depicts a real-life 1984 more violently dystopian than even Orwell imagined." Um, yes.

In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Leslie Klinger and Laurie King (Pegasus, November 28): I read (and adored) Klinger and King's first Sherlock-inspired collection, A Study in Sherlock, so you can bet I was jumping up and down all over the place when I saw there was a second volume in the works. I've already read it, and I can tell you it's just as delightful as the first collection, so gear up for some wildly inventive Holmes-inspired fiction, friends.

Information Doesn't Want to Be Free, by Cory Doctorow (McSweeney's, November 18): Who here thought it was impossible to make copyright interesting? Right. All of you raising your hands have just been proven wrong by the inimitable Cory Doctorow, whose exploration of copyright law and how it affects art and artists and the market and our everyday lives is just downright fascinating.

The Art of Asking, by Amanda Palmer (Grand Central, November 11): Palmer is a fascinating artist to watch, and actually appears on this list of books twice, in her way (she wrote one of two introductions to Doctorow's book, above). I don't know much about this book yet, but coming from her, I know it will be interesting.

See You In Paradise, by J. Robert Lennon (Graywolf, November 3): I nabbed a copy of See You in Paradise, a collection of short stories by an author Ann Patchett calls "a writer with enough electricity to light up the country," the same way I found The Wilds: at Book Expo, by asking the staff at the Graywolf booth what one book I should walk away with given my limited suitcase space. This was that book, and the stories are weird and strange and delicious and memorable, and, just as Patchett said they would be, electric. Read this if you love short stories, or if you think you'll never love short stories.

The World Split Open, an anthology (Tin House, November 11): I said in my wrap-up of October books that I would read anything with Margaret Atwood's name on it, even an IKEA catalog, and that's what brought me to this title. But Atwood's not alone in this collection, subtitled "Great Writers on How and Why We Write." Other authors include: E. L. Doctorow (author of Ragtime, among others); Marilynne Robinson (Gilead ranks among my favorite books of all times); Ursula K. Le Guin (a fantasy author I've always meant to read but never quite got around to); and many others.


What books are you most excited about this month?


*Though remember, nothing lasts forever in a cold November rain.

Nonfiction November: A Reading List

November is truly and fully upon us on the East Coast (translation: we've reset our clocks and it is chilly out there), and with it comes Nonfiction November. I've never gotten my act together to participate in this event before, but I'm looking forward to it this year--especially because November tends to be a slower month for me in terms of review obligations (there aren't many books with December pub dates).

So, though I'm sure I'll deviate from this list, some books I'm considering for Nonfiction November. With kudos to Shannon for providing a) an amazing list of non-fiction by women, which plumped up my TBR list considerably, and b) a guide to scanning Edelweiss for non-fiction titles, which helped me discover new titles without getting bogged down in academia.

The Working Poor, by David Shipler: I changed careers this summer, leaving the world of ad men behind in favor of a position with a small charitable foundation, where I oversee our grants process. It's the first time I've ever been able to say, hands down, "I love my job," and this book is evidence of that: it's technically work research, but I'm actually enjoying it.

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown: This is another that technically falls in the category of could-be-for-work, but after hearing so many other bloggers loving on it, I figured I should see for myself how great it is.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, by Karen Abbot: This book (which sounds fascinating in its own right, especially for those history lovers among us) sparked an interesting discussion about women writing non-fiction. It was on my list to read before that, and now it's even higher up. Plus, girl power + Civil War history + spies = probably awesome, right?

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed: I will just keep putting this on every reading challenge list it possibly fits on and eventually I'll pick it up... my only hesitation has been fear of disappointment, because I have so much love for Tiny Beautiful Things that I don't want to accidentally knock Strayed off of the pedestal on which I've placed her.

The Restless Sleep, by Stacy Horn: One I'd never even heard of until I saw that Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness (one of the hosts of Nonfiction November) is hosting a readalong of this one in honor of th month-long challenge. A deep dive into the cold-case squad in New York City.

What We See When We Read, by Peter Mendelsund: With promises to explore how our minds process what we read, how could I not fall in book love?

We Should All be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie: One of the books in the new Vintage Shorts series, this is a sleight book but one that's been chilling on my e-reader since its publication this summer. I think the title just about says it all, right?

Against Football, by Stephen Almond: In years past, I've gotten more and more into football as I learned to understand the rules and the calls and the art of the gameplay. But recently, I've become totally disillusioned with the sport, between the possibilities of long-term brain injury players face every day, the horrors of abuse seen in the NFL, and the way the "machine" around the sport handles every controversy that arises. So Stephen Almond's book against that very sport, subtitled "A Reluctant Manifesto," seems liked timely reading for one fan on the fence.


What nonfiction are you excited for?