Monday, April 1, 2013

Hiatus Over!

I have been a terrible blogger. I can't believe I went all Fall without posting! I know you've all been longingly anticipating my witty insights into the world of fiction.

I'll been on a pretty eclectic reading schedule lately, especially since I've gotten addicted to Showtime's Homeland. Darn television show taking up my reading time. Below is my new favorite novel, just to convince you that television hasn't completely rotted my brain (although we're in a TV renaissance, people! If you haven't watched The Wire, you haven't lived). Speaking of TV, Maria Semple, a former writer for Arrested Development, recently published a scathing yet hilarious portrayal of Seattle: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

by Maria Semple
  • Five-way stops
  • A North Face jacket and jeans passing for "fancy" restaurant wear
  • A plenitude of tech nerds
  • Irritating earnestness
  • The most common response to anything: "no worries"
Sound familiar? Then you must be a Seattle-ite! and you must also read this book.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hark! A Vagrant

Recently I've been reading more nonfiction, which is a little odd because I've never really liked nonfiction. Then I experienced a terrible moment of truth: I'm reading nonfiction because I've reached the advanced age of 31. Soon I'll be confused by pop stars and horrified by new television programs!

Damn, I'm already confused by Justin Bieber and new television programs do horrify me (what the hell, 666 Park Avenue?). And I'm reading nonfiction? I may as well embrace old age.

Let me explain my reasoning; when I was working as a public librarian I noticed a decided correlation between a patron's age and the about of nonfiction he or she read. For example, the older the patron, the more nonfiction books requested and checked out. Thus, reading nonfiction = aging. I'm cool with this.  I'll wallow in my love of the BBC, being a curmudgeon, and eating dinner at 3:45PM. Oh, stereotypes!
Kate Beaton is rad.

Anyhow, to ramble back to the subject of books, Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant is the best sort of nonfiction: a hilarious take on history in comic form.

Beaton is Canadian, so I've learned quite a bit about the history of our neighbors to the North. She also touches on the French Revolution, Ben Franklin, Tesla, famous writers, and much more. I've always loved history but have had a difficult time keeping important figures straight; Beaton's humorous take on the subject really helps me remember who was who.

If the comic below doesn't convince you to read Hark! A Vagrant, something is probably wrong with you.

Kate B.'s amazing blog:
(Click to enlarge image.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kerry is a genius!

This is a super quick, gushing post about what great taste my Bookmate Kerry has. I just finished Code Name Verity (read Kerry's fabulous review here) and I DEVOURED it. I can seriously say that it is a beautiful book and I am not ashamed to admit that I cried at the end.

I just loaned my Kindle copy to my dad, as he is obsessed with World War II and I thought he would enjoy Verity. Speaking of my Kindle, I am very pleased that Amazon finally got with the times and now allows users to "loan" their Kindle book copies to one other person (14 day max period, the owner cannot read the title when it's loaned out).

It's entirely possible I just discovered this feature. I may not be giving Amazon enough credit.

Anyhow, I am about to go purchase Code Name Verity as a hardback. Adios, book friends!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The nerdiest injury of all time? Discuss.

Since Elizabeth bravely shared her traumatic Port-a-Potty experience at Sasquatch, I thought that it was only fair that I dish on my own most embarrassing moment of the past six months.

So I had been hearing good things about A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin for AGES. I bought A Game of Thrones about three years ago on the strength of several trusted book friend recommendations, but I just couldn't make it past the first fifty pages. First of all, there's the author's name. Seriously - he just HAD to go by both Rs?  Couldn't he just use one?  I mean how obvious of a Tolkien imitator was this dude? My BS meter was not pleased.

And then there was the book itself. It started out all right, but I kept getting caught up by the (SPOILER ALERT) incest in the first 50 pages. EWWWW. I mean really. So I stared and stopped it about three times and then mentally consigned it to the permanent "will never finish" pile, along with War and Peace and Pillars of the Earth.

But then the HBO series came out and people kept raving about it and I got curious. I should note that I am constitutionally incapable of watching something based on a book without reading the book first. And I really wanted to watch that damn show. So I picked up A Game of Thrones determined to do better this time. And I found that once I got past the first fifty page, I was hooked. 

Martin is a fabulous storyteller - able look at every situation from multiple points of view; to keep his characters consistent enough to be believable, yet changeable enough to be fascinating; and to weave a plot of ever-increasing complexity without ever losing me as a reader.

And that's where we run into problems. I made my way through the first and second books at a relatively brisk pace, but when I got to the third (my personal favorite) I was a little obsessed.  I had just started it and happened to have an entirely free rainy Saturday, so I huddled up in bed to do some serious reading.  And I didn't stop until I finished eight hours later. Which was great until I got up and realized that walking was a bit of a challenge because I'd strained my back rather painfully. Due to reading a Tolkien knockoff for eight hours straight in bed. What's worse is that it took me about five days to fully recover and I did not think of a suitable cover story quickly enough. Ahem, so that's the nerdiest injury I've ever sustained and one of the nerdiest I can imagine happening.

Elizabeth is all heart and told me that getting injured in a Ren Faire joust would be worse.  I think she's right.

Anyhow, that was a long way of saying, the hype is right. You should totally read A Song of Fire and Ice so you can join me in waiting impatiently for the next installment and praying fervently for the continued health of Mr. Martin. Even if I do still think the extra R is bunk. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Code Name: Verity

Hola Blog Friends! My apologies for the long blog silence and happy belated birthday to Bookmate Elizabeth. Her existence proves that, like fine wine, some things just get better with age. (I am older than her and have, to my horror, not found the same to hold true about myself.)

However, I did not emerge from my Sith cave of silence just to say hello. I was compelled to return because I have just read the best YA book of the year. I know it's only June, but I honestly can't imagine anything matching the fantastic and devastating splendor of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. It's up there with Jellicoe Road, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and Graceling as one of my favorite books of all time. And it's a heartbreaker.

Verity is set during World War II. Our narrator, whose name is one of the book's many mysteries, has been captured in Nazi-occupied France. She's being interrogated, painfully. And she's talking. Or at least writing. Her captors have provided pen and paper for her to provide all the details she can on war-torn Britain. Verity chooses to do so by telling the story of her friendship with pilot Maddie Brodatt.

Maddie and Verity are unlikely friends, their upbringings on the opposite scales of the British class system. But they meet under duress and the upheaval of the war allows them to see the kindred spirit in each other. The war also disrupts the firm lines keeping women in traditional roles and they both pursue callings that in different times would have been impossible - Maddie as a pilot and Verity first as a wireless officer and then with the Special Operations Executive. 

Verity's narrative, despite its stark beginning where she castigates herself as a coward for breaking under torture, draws you in. It's easy to forget during the long stretches set in Britain that, like Scheherazade, she's spinning these tales to keep herself alive at least for a few more days. Her wit, bravery, and joie de vivre, except when she's thinking about the information she's given up during torture and what it means to the war effort, make reading about her and Maddie's adventures together a pleasure. And her gallows humor, constitutional inability to avoid needling her captors, and quick wits make anything seem possible.

Writing anything more about the twist and turns of Code Name Verity seems unfair to readers, as discovering it for the first time is one of those reading experiences that don't come along often. I'd recommend giving yourself a long stretch of time to read it in one go and to prepare yourself for emotional devastation. Each of the characters, even the villains, are so well-drawn and human that when the fortunes of war visit them, you feel each loss like a physical blow. Despite the novel's narrow focus on a few characters in a small area of a huge canvas, it humanizes the horror of war with a visceral fierceness that leaves you completely wrung out.

I know that's on the face of things, that's not not the most appealing of recommendations. But a book that conveys such emotional impact in so few pages is one that I will press upon passersby until I'm blue in the face. Consider yourselves warned.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Nonfiction! (Kind of.)

Hola, BookMates fans. Or, you know, person who happened to stumble across our site. (If you stumbled across our site, Kerry and I are AWESOME. You should immediately bookmark us.)

So, lately I've been reading (gasp!) nonfiction. Kind of. Really I'm reading comedian and blogger memoirs, which I feel is equivalent to dipping your big toe in the ocean of nonfiction. I'm not against nonfiction, I just generally don't find it as entertaining as fiction.

I just picked up Jenny Lawson's (aka, The Bloggess) memoir, Let's Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir. The reason I picked up Jenny's memoir was because the title resonated with me. There are so many moments in my life (avoidable moments generally caused by me) which I would like to pretend have not happened. For example, I recently went on a date and somehow ended up explaining to my date why I hate music festivals. "Music festivals", you ask? "What could be so bad about a music festival?" (Actually, if you ask this question you've probably never been to a music festival.) Anyway, the reason I hate music festivals stems from my experience at Sasquatch years ago, during which I got stuck in a Port-a-Potty (horror of horrors) for what seemed like five hours but was really probably five minutes until this burly frat boy broke open the Port-a-Potty door, not because he was trying to help me escape but because he was angry that I was taking so long. Soon afterward I lost one of my favorite flip flops in the ten inches of mud covering Sasquatch and was forced to wander around the Gorge with one flip flop, traumatized from the Port-a-Potty experience, fending off a group of dudes who asked me if I wanted to "drink with them in their van" (answer: hell, no) until I found my campsite.

I really wish I could pretend telling that story on a date had never happened.

Now you all know that story! Telling it on our blog seems to make it seem less embarrassing (right?). I also just realized I am poorly imitating Jenny Lawson's mode of writing, but obviously I am not a good writer and she is hysterical and a fantastic writer. Read her memoir. And her blog.

I finally got my grubby little paws on Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). I have a huge crush on Mindy Kaling. I want to be her bff. Not only is she intelligent and humorous, she also just seems like an awesome person who would totally be down with hanging out in yoga pants, watching bad movies, and eating froyo directly out of the container while listening to Flo Rida (my new workout music love).

I just started her memoir, but so far it's all that I expected it to be: warm, hilarious, and peppered with adorable photos of Mindy as child. Purchase this (or wait for it in the absurdly long library queue, like I did), ASAP. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Stewart O'Nan

My long blogging hiatus is over! I have been consumed with everyday activities (work, exercise, doctor's appointments, etc.) and, somewhat appropriately, I have been reading Stewart O'Nan's newest work: Emily, Alone.

O'Nan writes beautifully about the minutiae of everyday life. He manages to make the ordinary fascinating and all of life worth concentrated attention.

The titular character of Emily, Alone is an aging widow accompanied by her dog, Rufus, and her sister-in-law, Arlene. I think many readers might be tempted into immediate pity and concern for Emily, but she herself rarely descends into self-pity. Instead, Emily enjoys the small pleasures of life and contemplates the process of aging and memory. I found myself also taking pleasure in Emily's pleasures: a comfortable routine, a daring walk in the snow, learning to drive again.

While nothing much happens in Emily, Alone, Emily's joy in her small adventures is both heartwarming and satisfying.

If you haven't already read Stewart O'Nan, definitely do so. You won't be disappointed.

Other O'Nan favorites:

Wish You Were Here
(The precursor to Emily, Alone. These books can be read independently.)