Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: 2018 Bookish Resolutions

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is bookish New Year’s resolutions.  

I know a lot of people dislike resolutions, but I’m a goal-oriented person, so they’re helpful for me. (If I can remember them. I usually forget them partway through the year.) Hopefully writing them down and forcing you to look at them will give me the incentive I need to accomplish something.

My 2018 Bookish Resolutions

The Books

1. Read at least 100 books. I did this in 2017, so I’m hoping I can do it again.

2. Read more translations. Most of the authors I read are from the US or UK. I need to do research and find interesting books from non-English-speaking parts of the world. (I’d love recommendations, if you have any.)

3. Read Newbery winners. I’ve been saying for years that I want to read the Newbery winners I haven’t read yet. I’m actually going to put a dent in my massive Newbery TBR this year. The books are sitting on my shelf, waiting for me. I can’t ignore them forever.

4. Maybe read more Stephen King. I eventually want to read all of Stephen King’s work, but he started his publishing career over a decade before I was born, so I have lots of catching up to do. I’ve read about 40 of his books in my life. I’m scared to Google how many he’s written. I’m pretty sure it’s over 100. I’m way behind.

5. 0 by 19. I got my TBR pile down to 0 in November 2017, and then I bought a mountain of new books. I’m hoping to do that again this year. It was fun. I’m really excited to read everything on my shelf.

6. Figure out the deal with Christianity. Considering how excited I was about Christmas, you’d probably think I’m Christian, but I’m not. I just celebrate with them. As a non-Christian in the US, I feel like Christianity influences everything. It’s in our politics, traditions, art, history, everywhere. I want to learn more about what Christians believe. I read The Bible in college, but it was in an ancient literature context and not a religious context. So, does anyone have book recommendations for me? Are there editions of The Bible that include context and background info for curious noobs?

The Internet

7. Add TL;DR to my reviews. TL;DR stands for “Too long; didn’t read.” If you’ve been on this blog before, you know that I write really long reviews. Most people probably don’t read the whole things. At the very end of each review, I’m going to attempt to sum up my thoughts about the book in 1-2 sentences. If you don’t want to read the review, you can scroll down to that.

8. Learn to use Instagram. I have a phone now! This is the first smartphone I’ve ever owned. Instagram seems like a thing that bookish people do. I posted some photos on my account, but they’re mostly of dogs and stupid Christmas decorations. Basically, I have no idea what I’m doing.

9. Maybe participate in a Twitter chat. I’ve seen the aftermath of Twitter chats, but I’m never online while they’re happening. I don’t even know how people know when they’re happening. They just appear like magic. I want to be included in the magic!

10. Figure out the deal with blog tours. I’ve seen other bloggers participating in blog tours, and I’ve seen people say they hate tours and never click on tour posts. I would love to do more to promote interesting books, but I’ve never been part of a blog tour and don’t know how to get involved. I assume there are tour companies I need to contact? *Scurries to Google.*

Do you have New Year’s resolutions?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Review: The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood returns with a shrewd, funny, and insightful retelling of the myth of Odysseus from the point of view of Penelope. Describing her own remarkable vision, the author writes in the foreword, “I’ve chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged maids. The maids form a chanting and singing Chorus, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of The Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey doesn’t hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I’ve always been haunted by the hanged maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself.”

Review: Honestly, if this book hadn’t been written by Margaret Atwood, I probably wouldn’t have read it. It’s a retelling of The Odyssey, and I usually don’t like retellings for two reasons.

Reason 1: They stick too close to the original story, and then they are predictable. If I already read a story once, I usually don’t want to read it again in a slightly different form. 
Reason 2: They stray too far from the original story, and then they are not a retelling. They’re an original story with some vague similarities to another story.

As you can probably see, it’s nearly impossible to impress me with a retelling. That’s why I usually avoid them. I decided to give The Penelopiad a shot because it’s Margaret Atwood. If anybody can pull off a retelling, she can.

This novel retells The Odyssey from the point-of-view of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife. It tries to answer all the questions that are left unanswered in the original myth. Who is Penelope? What was she doing during those twenty years when her husband was fighting wars, banging goddesses, and getting lost? How did she really feel about the suitors who came to compete for her hand in marriage? And, most importantly, what role did she play in the murders of her “maids,” the twelve slave girls?

“Daughters of Naiads were a dime a dozen in those days; the place was crawling with them. Nevertheless, it never hurts to be of semi-divine birth. Or it never hurts immediately.” – The Penelopiad

I read The Odyssey for the first time when I was in college. I remember thinking that Odysseus is less of a hero and more of a colossal jerk. He disappears for twenty years because he keeps getting himself into trouble. Then he randomly shows up at home, slaughters all the dudes who are trying to marry his wife, murders the slaves who were “disloyal” to him, and interrogates his wife to make sure she didn’t cheat on him while he was gone. Um . . . dude?! You went to war and disappeared for twenty years. Everybody assumed you were dead. Give them a break.

My review of The Odyssey.

In Margaret Atwood’s version of the tale, Odysseus isn’t a hero. Penelope has doubts about his over-the-top war stories, and she’s traumatized by the murders of her slaves, who were her friends and secret allies. They distracted the suitors and helped her escape from unwanted male attention. They made Penelope’s life less miserable while Odysseus was missing. Then Odysseus returns and murders them all. Understandably, Penelope is a bit angry at her husband in this story.

“Also, if a man takes pride in his disguise skills, it would be a foolish wife who would claim to recognize him: it's always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness.” – The Penelopiad

Like all of Atwood’s books, this one is quirky and full of smart wordplay. Penelope’s chapters are written in prose, but the other chapters are written in verse and narrated by a Greek Chorus of murdered slave girls. The Odyssey is written in verse, so I appreciate that Atwood wrote part of her retelling that way. It’s both creative and bizarre.

Remember when I said I don’t like retellings? This book is good, but it didn’t change my mind about retellings. For me, this novel is too close to the original Odyssey. I like that Penelope and her servants have backstories, but there were times when I felt like I was just reading a summary of The Odyssey. I wish this book moved farther away from the original. There isn’t much in this retelling that’s really different or surprising.

I also wish this story addressed the miscommunication issues between Penelope and Odysseus. The slaves weren’t being disloyal to Odysseus. They were following Penelope’s orders. I understand that Odysseus didn’t consult Penelope before he murdered her maids, but why didn’t she bring it up afterward? She’s just going to spend the rest of her life being silently angry at him?

This isn’t my favorite Atwood book, but I know she’s written other retellings, and I’m curious about those. I’ll get around to reading them someday.

“Happy endings are best achieved by keeping the right doors locked” – The Penelopiad

TL;DR: Good for hardcore fans of Margaret Atwood or The Odyssey. If you’re not either of those things, you probably won’t miss much by skipping this one.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Sunday Post #131

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

True story.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.
  • On Tuesday I list my 2018 resolutions.
  • On Wednesday I review The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry by Jon Ronson.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell, and Ararat by Christopher Golden. Right now, I’m reading This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee, and The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Are you doing the PopSugar or Read Harder challenge? Elliptical Man @ The View From The Third Floor has book suggestions for some of the prompts.
  2. It was warm enough to run outside without feeling completely miserable. Running in the snow isn’t fun, people.
  3. I was really hungry, and my parents just showed up with a pizza. It was like food telepathy or something. I got hungry and food appeared. I wish that always happened.
  4. New books. I didn’t need new books, but shhh.
  5. Whenever the world gets depressing, bookish Twitter finds a way to make things (slightly) hilarious.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The “Give Me More Nonfiction” Book Haul

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently.

It’s impossible to have too much nonfiction. Here are some of the nonfiction books I’ve gotten recently.

The “Give Me More Nonfiction” Book Haul

Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-Up World, One Long Journey Home – Leigh Newman

Part adventure story, part love story, part homecoming, Still Points North is a page-turning memoir that explores the extremes of belonging and exile, and the difference between how to survive and knowing how to truly live.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War – Mary Roach

Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier's most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds. At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee. She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you’ll never see our nation’s defenders in the same way again.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World – Steven Johnson

It's the summer of 1854, and London is just emerging as one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure—garbage removal, clean water, sewers—necessary to support its rapidly expanding population, the city has become the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease no one knows how to cure. As the cholera outbreak takes hold, a physician and a local curate are spurred to action—and ultimately solve the most pressing medical riddle of their time.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Discussion: Did I Actually Keep My 2017 Resolutions?

The 2018 Discussion Challenge is hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction & It Starts At Midnight

I make resolutions every year, but I’m not always the best at keeping them. I posted my 2017 resolutions last year, so let’s see how I did.

Did I Actually Keep My 2017 Resolutions?

Resolution: Read at least 100 books.

Result: Accomplished! I read more in 2017 than I have in any other year. Probably because 2017 was the first year since I was 4 years old that I wasn’t in school. School really interferes with your reading. In 2017, I had no required reading to slow me down. I got to read whatever I wanted. That was an unusual experience.

Resolution: Read more nonfiction.

Result: Accomplished! I read some pretty spectacular nonfiction. Here are a few of my favorites.

Resolution: Stay eclectic (read outside my comfort zone).

Result: Kind of accomplished? I read a lot of nonfiction, some fantasy, a YA romance, some experimental fiction, some poetry. Those aren’t usually in my comfort zone. I read a lot of stuff that was in my comfort zone, though.

Resolution: Reread Harry Potter.

Result: Accomplished! I re-watched all the movies, too.

Resolution: Find diversity.

Result: Accomplished! I probably could have done better in some areas. I’m pretty good at finding books with diverse characters, but I do very little research on the authors who write them. Most of the books I read were written by white American people.

Want to see more of my reading graphs? Click here!

Resolution: Promote small presses.

Result: Massive failure. I don’t have the resources to do this in a meaningful way. I read a few books published by small presses, but I didn’t really promote the presses. I discovered that books by small publishers are:
  1. Expensive.
  2. Hard to find second-hand.
  3. Require research. I spent a lot of time trolling publishers’ websites and looking at all the interesting books I can’t afford.

Maybe I’ll try this again someday.

Only 15.13% of the books I read last year came from small publishers or indie authors

Resolution: Promote the older posts on my blog.

Result: Mostly failure. I did get much better about remembering to Tweet links to my posts. Still, nobody reads the older posts on my blog. Or my Tweets, now that I think about it.

Resolution: Complete the Blogging From A To Z Challenge in April.

Result: Accomplished! I managed to post every day in April and find a topic for each letter. I kind of want to do the challenge again this year, but I probably won't. I’m not sure if I’ll have time. It took me months to write those posts last year.

Resolution: Organize my discussion posts in a logical way.

Result: Accomplished! I now have a Discussion Library. It’s up there ^, under the header. All my opinions about stuff are in one place.

Did you make resolutions last year? Did you keep them?