Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Reading Envy 178: Precarious Pile with Ruthiella

Ruth joins Jenny bright and early in January, which gives us the chance to discuss reading goals for last year and this year a little, reading classics, and what happened when a friend dared Ruth to read a book! This is the first episode of a new strategy where Jenny is bringing two books to discuss to the guest's three, so feel free to let me know what you think.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 178: Precarious Pile with Ruthiella.

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Books discussed:

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddney Ratner
Inland by Téa Obreht

Other mentions:

Ruth's Booked for LIfe blog and her 2019 Back to the Classics roundup
Ruth's Booked for LIfe blog and her pile of 21 books 
Books and Chocolate Blog - Back to the Classics 2020 challenge
Man Booker Prize 1999
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
How to Feed a Dictator by Witold Szablowski 
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The Duke's Children by Anthony Trollope
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Related episodes:

Episode 033 - An Undulating Thrum with guests Ruth and Elizabeth
Episode 053 - The Pool I Rarely Swim In with Luke Christie
Episode 086 - The Queen of Bailing with Shawn Mooney 
Episode 067 - Rain and Readability with Ruth(iella)
Episode 134 - A Pastiche Romp with Ruth(iella)
Episode 167 - Book Pendulum with Reggie
Episode 172 - The It Book of NYC with Jon Laubinger 

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Ruth at Goodreads
Jenny at Goodreads
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Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Review: Flags in the Dust

Flags in the Dust Flags in the Dust by William Faulkner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm auditing a Faulkner class this semester to help me read and understand some of his catalog since I've always failed when I've tried on my own. Flags in the Dust, published in reduced form as Sartoris in 1929, lays the groundwork for the setting of several more novels. I say that allegedly because I haven't read them yet. This one is set immediately after World War I with characters dealing with the aftermath, and of course the impact on already tense race relations. Faulkner focuses on a handful of characters and the novel has the feeling of opening doors to observe the characters and checking back in on them to see what else has transpired. I like to think of this as lazy afternoon teatime with a few car rides in between. It's a bit of a mess but gets better as it goes. (Since I read all 400 pages in a day I think I need to reread the last quarter.)

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Review: Cleanness

Cleanness Cleanness by Garth Greenwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An early morning Instagram chat with Hardcoverheartsblog helped me solidify my feelings about this book. Much like Garth Greenwell's last novel, What Belongs to You, which I admit I never finished, the narrator feels like the author sharing stories from his time teaching English in Bulgaria. In a few he is quite young, some are during revolution, and in some he is older (but the narrator is the same.) His (very explicit and often challenging) sexual encounters, relationships, and friendships are only with first initials, shrouding all stories in a layer of secrecy that suits the plight of a gay man in Bulgaria. The limits he pushes in risk-taking behavior, violence, and so on also manage to show how perhaps Americans also aren't as free as they think they are, and how deeply we internalize homophobic narratives and more.

I had a copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley and it came out January 14.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Reading Envy 177: An Unnamed Middle Eastern Country (Goals 2020)

Jenny starts off the year by discussing reading goals - how did her reading goals end up for 2019, what additional goals did she end up adding, and what goals has she set for 2020? As always I love to hear about your goals for the year. As the Reading Envy Podcast rolls over into its sixth year, there are many more reading adventures to explore.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 177: An Unnamed Middle Eastern Country (Goals 2020).

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Episode 140 - Woman Greets Bear (Reading Goals 2019)
Back to the Classics wrap-up post
Reading in Asia 2019 wrap-up post
Episode 157 - Joint Readalong of Gone with the Wind with Book Cougars
Book Cougars - Joint Readalong of Sapphira and the Slave Girl
Recommended Reads in Memoir (April 2019)
Recommended Reads in Poetry (April 2019)
Recommended Reads in Music (May 2019
Recommended Reads for Women in Translation Month (July 2019)
Recommended Foodie Reads (November 2019)
Episode 174 - Cozy Holiday Reads and TBR Explode 4

Middle East TBR 2020

Books under consideration for readalongs:

The Odyssey as translated by Emily Wilson (592)
Possession by A.S. Byatt (576)
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (1040)
Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko (786)

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Middle Eastern Reading 2020 TBR

This is a place I wanted to list the books I'm thinking about or know about for my focus on the Middle East in 2020. I would love more recommendations, particularly of native authors, translated into English.

To read: The Meeting Point by Lucy Caldwell (the 1 Bahraini author translated into English has super bad reviews)

To read: Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

Already read: Reading Lolita in Tehran, Persepolis, The Blindfold Horse, Suvashun, The Temporary Bride
To read: The Blood of Flowers, My Uncle Napoleon, Persian Girls, Moon Brow

Already read: Fifteen Iraqi Poets
To read: Without an Alphabet, Without a Face; The Corpse Exhibition, Nostalgia My Enemy; Frankenstein in Baghdad, The Baghdad Eucharist

Already read: Sadness is a White Bird, Some Day, The Girl Who Stole My Holocaust, Second Person Singular

Already read: Salt Houses
To read: Inside the Night 


Already read: Pearls on a Branch, Unnecessary Woman

To read: Celestial Bodies

Palestine, Gaza Strip, West Bank
Already read: Sadness is a White Bird
To read: A Woman is No Man, A River Dies of Thirst, The Blue Between Sky and Water, Time of White Horses, Wild Thorns, Rain Inside, Inside the Night


Saudi Arabia
Already read: Habibi, The Wrong End of the Table, A Sinner in Mecca, 

Already read: No Knives in the Kitchens of this City, A Tree Whose Name I Don’t Know
To read: The Crossing by Samar Yazbek

Already read: so many

Already read: The Dog by Joseph O’Neill, Minutes from Miracle City by Omar Sabbagh
To read: Temporary People

Already read: Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed
Could read: Henna House by Nomi Eve

Kurdistan and all other border places
Already read: A Tree Whose Name I Don’t Know, 
To read: stuff from Red Emmas, Women from a Non-State Nation, I Stared at the Night of the City

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Review: A Castle in the Clouds

A Castle in the Clouds A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book I requested in my flurry of trying to read as many holiday reads before the holidays as I could take. I didn't get to this one but since it's set up to New Year's Eve and a bit beyond it still works. Also this is translated YA, which I don't see all that often. (Apparently some know the author from a time travel historical romance series, this seems more contemporary.)

Overall a feel-good read set in a Swiss mountain luxury hotel, with balls and mystery cats and snowstorms and afternoon tea. Sophie is an intern who moves between roles as chambermaid, spa receptionist, childcare, and other duties as assigned. She stumbles into awkward situations like money laundering, jewel heists, kidnapping, and more.

It comes out at the end of January from Henry Holt Books - I had a copy through Edelweiss.

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Review: How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks

How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks by Witold Szabłowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book doesn't come out until the end of April but it hit the spot for a different sort of read (and my first read of the year) connecting the Cambodian novel I finished on New Year's Eve to my new focus on the Middle East.

"Witold Szablowski tracked down the personal chefs of five dictators known for the oppression and massacre of their own citizens: Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Uganda’s Idi Amin, Albania’s Enver Hoxha, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and Cambodia’s Pol Pot—and listened to their stories over sweet-and-sour soup, goat-meat pilaf, bottles of rum, and games of gin rummy."

The stories are unnerving sometimes in their details but sometimes because of the perspective of the chef (ranging from fear to mental deterioration to complicity to... love?) It's an interesting combination of politics and food. The author provides considerable context in which to understand the situations involved.

This comes out April 28, 2020 from Penguin. I had an early copy through Edelweiss.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Reading Asia in 2019

It's time for a long overdue post about my ongoing Around the World reading project. In 2019 I focused on Asia, with the hopes of finishing my goal to read a book from every country that I hadn't gotten to yet. I got pretty close, and definitely knocked out some books I collected back in 2012 when I started dreaming up this project. I gave up long ago on feeling the need to try to do it all in a year, because the more I get to know about some of these countries, the longer I want to stay. And sometimes I accidentally read a lot from a country I wasn't even trying to read (Japan is that country this year!)

I've been keeping very careful track since 2012 (books read prior to 2012 are not "counted" in the project) so this map attempts to capture that - the orange is what remains to be read - Afghanistsan, Azerbaijan, East Timor, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, The Maldives, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan (some of these I might be able to include during the focus on the Middle East, particularly the -stans), the blue is what I read for the first time in 2019 (and some, like Thailand and the Philippines, I read multiple books), the green I had read previously and also read additional titles in 2019, and the pink are countries I'd read previously but did not read more of in 2019.

I do not have one picture with all the titles, because I used the library, both in print and for ebooks and audiobooks. But this first picture shows the titles from the major publishers that I had at home. Some I collected intentionally for this project, while others came in for other reasons.

I was really impressed by the number of titles I found from independent presses this year. I subscribe to Restless Books, Two Lines Press, and Milkweed Editions, and both Restless and Two Lines sent me books from Asian countries that I was able to include. (Two Lines sent me Bright, I purchased Mina on sale.) Feminist Press also put out a book of short stories from the same author Two Lines published a novel from. Tilted Axis had several of the harder to find countries, which was a thrill. I applaud all these publishers and the work they are doing in translation and in English to raise up the voices we would not hear otherwise, truly impressive.

And this last picture are the books I did not get to. A few are Western titles by non-native authors, and those weren't as high priority as reading what we call "own voices" authors. I did want to get to the Lukyanenko because I try to include genre fiction when I can... it's just that it's not really set in Kazakhstan, but the author is from there. I read another book for Bhutan, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, and both Seven Years in Tibet and Chef are set in places that aren't "countries" but rather distinct regional locations with their own stories. I still want to read all these books but I did have reasons to prioritize some of the others. When I was dedicating time at the end of December to squeeze a few more in, I went first for books from countries I hadn't touched yet - Cambodia and Bangladesh. The book about finding George Orwell in Burma only makes sense if you read George Orwell's first novel based on his time in Burma, and I struggled to do so.

Here is the list. This is just the titles I read this year so those other titles I've hinted at on the map in green and pink can be found in Goodreads, as can reviews of all these titles. If you go to my profile, you can look at my books and search by title or view the shelves by location (all of these are under "Location-CountryName.")

A Golden Age by Tahmina Anam

The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction edited by Ken Liu
Double Awesome Chinese Food by Margaret Li
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

After Dark by Haruki Murakami
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada
The Guest Cat by Takato Hiraide
My Brother’s Husband, V. 1 by Gengoroh Tagame
My Brother’s Husband, V. 2 by Gengoroh Tagame
The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa 

Korea, North and South
Blood Sisters by Kim Yideum
Mina by Kim Sagwa
The White Book by Han Kang

Jamila by Chingiz Aitmatov

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang 

The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag

The Long Path to Wisdom by Jan-Philipp Sandlear

The City Son by Samrat Upadhyay

Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie

The Philippines
America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
The Body Papers by Grace Talusan
Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu
The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang

Sri Lanka
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

The Lost Garden by Li Ang 

Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana
Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad
The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth by Veeraporn Nitiprapha
Bright by Duanwad Pimwana
The Sad Part Was by Prabda Yoon
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

The Devil’s Dance by Hamid Ismailov

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 Reading by the Numbers

This year, I used the Book Riot 2019 Reading Log to track my reading in addition to using Goodreads. The built in charts and graphs allowed me to see at a glance data that used to take me hours to compile in previous years. Huzzah! The Book Riot 2020 Reading Log is available now and I highly recommend it - you can just use the parts that work for you. For instance, I don't log books I DNF, or at least I didn't in 2019, but might do that this year as an experiment. (This is not a paid advertisement, by the way, just a tool that works for me!)

Overall, I read 305 books that I logged in 2019. I read another set of books for my duties as a member of the Over the Rainbow Booklist Committee but since I don't publicly rate those, I didn't find it useful to include them in the log if I planned to share it, which you know I did.

Some celebrities think end of year booklists are bullshit, but I persist. Sharing what I read is the greatest joy in my life, but I also have goals that I like to see coming to fruition through carefully kept data. (Those who know Gallup strengths, and know mine, would not be shocked.)

So the first piece of data is pretty simple, fiction vs. non-fiction. I'm not surprised that fiction is almost 80% but my book club and some reading challenges keep me dipping into non-fiction.

The format is at just a little over 50% digital (and by digital, Book Riot means eBook; my audiobook listening is exclusively digital as well, but I only used "audio" for them.) I think the number of eBooks I read has a lot to do with the number of ARCs I read, since most of them are digital. I'm actually pleased that I read 10% audio, as I wouldn't have thought it was that high.

Age is not so surprising at 3% YA, one title total that is "middle grade," because I mostly read books for adults.
I read a lot of ARCs. A lot! This 50%ish number includes eBooks and physical books. But I also am using my libraries heavily - my academic library where I work, the statewide academic library consortium, interlibrary loan when I need something outside the state, and my public library system. The library number also includes all digital books I get through library subscriptions, largely Hoopla but also Libby, RB Digital, and the occasional academic eBook title.

Next is the gender of the author. The last few years I'd read about 50/50 male/female with a sprinkling of multi-author or non-binary authors. Last year female dominated male. This year that trend continues, with a higher number of non-binary authors.
More about the author - whether or not they are a Person of Color. Why does this matter? I suppose I want to make sure I'm not just reading white people. I don't do well in tracking the #ownvoices column of this spreadsheet so I won't include it, but they are also interested in knowing if a book containing a person from a specific community is written by an author also in that community. I wasn't sure if I should only include it for race and ethnicity or also sexuality, etc., so I found it more straightforward to look at these numbers for now. Some of what helps my number in this category is the reading I do for my Around the World challenge, and Women in Translation Month.
There is also an option to track LGBTQ+ authors. I definitely have a greater awareness of works in this category because of my committee role, but sometimes feel awkward going in search of this information if I don't know it already. It is absolutely possible that I missed some queer authors because I didn't think to check, or they do not include that information in their biographies.

Just like the author matters, the characters matter too. Full disclosure: I edited the labels of the next two graphs, because the spreadsheet asks to select if the main character is a person of color or a queer character, so I did not include gay best friends or a token character on the sidelines. (The graphs originally made it look like it was differentiating between books having any characters of color or queer characters, and I didn't look at it that way.) We want centrality, we want focus.
I've never tracked either of these categories before so I will just list them here for comparison with next year. I definitely believe in reading diverse books.

So what kinds of books am I reading? First we can look at form. With 80% fiction it's no surprise that I'm almost 60% novel but how about 8.5% poetry? Awesome.

When it comes to genre, general/contemporary is king (I put most poetry in this category too.) A few years ago, I was running 18-24% science fiction and fantasy so that number is lower, but I'm not surprised by it. I'm pleased by almost 12% memoir as it is one of my favorite forms, and probably my memoir focus in November is largely to blame. This year I read more romance than I ever have before, and it shows!
A few numbers I don't really need graphs to show - I read 14% books in translation and give most books 4 stars.

Page number wise, I'm guilty, I will read four 200-300 page books before I'll tackle the 400+ page book. I wish I could get past this feeling! That said I did read a few mighty tomes this year, just not a lot in comparison.
And these monthly numbers are a bit deceiving. I may have read more in April, but that's total number of books, not pages. And April being poetry month, well, I might have read a lot of short ones.
I'm not sure how accurate these final figures will be, as I'm often reading multiple books at a time and I'm not sure how the data can account for that, but for comparative purposes:

Average days per book5.931147541
Average pages per day196.28
Average books per month25.50
Average hours per day0:43:58

So it's working well to track this information. Which categories do you think I should track that I haven't? What do you track, and how?

Books Read December 2019: 273-305

Here are the books I read in December 2019.

 Pictured: December's 5-star Reads

273. We Met in December by Rosie Curtis ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
274. The Night Swimmers by Peter Rock ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
275. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (print galley; my review)
276. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
277. 25 Days 'Til Christmas by Poppy Alexander ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
278. Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (library book; my review)
279. Willa & Hesper by Amy Feltman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from publisher; my review)
280. The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Audible audiobook; my review)
281. Holiday Greetings by Ana Gasteyer ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Audible audiobook; my review)
282. The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from publisher; my review)
283. Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
284. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Audible audiobook; my review)
285. Alone by Christophe Chaboute ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (interlibrary loan; my review)
286. The City Son by Samrat Upadhyay ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
287. The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (postal book swap; my review)
288. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
289. Ghost by Jason Reynolds ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (postal book swap; my review)
290. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (print galley; my review)
291. Jamila by Chingiz Aitmatov ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (purchased eBook; my review)
292. St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
293. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Audible audiobook; my review)
294. The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
295. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (podcast audio; my review)
296. The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
297. Felon: Poems by Reginald Dwayne Betts ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
298. Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
299. The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
300. The Devil's Dance by Hamid Ismailov ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
301. The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eBook; my review)
302. The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
303. A Golden Age by Tahmina Anam ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
304. Beginner's Greek by James Collins ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
305. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vadney Rattner ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)

Books Read: 33

Audiobook: 8
eBook: 14
Print: 11

ARC: 14
Library: 4
Purchased: 15

Asia 2019 project: 9
Tournament of Books long/shortlist: 3