September 15, 2015

Read Harder Challenge

Over on Book Riot they have a 2015 Read Harder Challenge that I decided to join.  In the spirit of the thing, I also joined their Goodread's group where I am one voice among many recording my reading accomplishments.  Those posts get lost, though, so I thought I'd create a blog entry to highlight the challenges I completed.

Spoiler alert:  I completed all of the challenges!

Challenge:  Read a Collection of Short Stories
For this task I selected Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven.  I had picked up this Kindle version a few months prior and thought of it as soon as I read the challenge.  If double-counting a book were allowed, I could also use this to satisfy the "Read a Book by or About an Indigenous Person".  Instead, I've elected to count it toward my short story reading goal.

I've read Sherman Alexie's work before and quite enjoyed it.  This time was no different.  The stories were interesting and thought-provoking, granting me access to a culture I have understood only from the vantage point of stereotypes created on the silver screen and in romance novels.  I know Alexie has a bit to say about that latter category, but I can't seem to find a copy of the poem online.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Read my review here

Challenge: Read a Book Someone Else Has Recommended to You 
My mom has been recommending the Song of Albion trilogy to me for years.  When we were ready to travel home after Thanksgiving dinner, she managed to put her prized copies of the hardcover copies into my car.  As I was in the middle of reading something else at the time, I didn't pick them up until the New Year.  Once I did, I found they were quite as delightful as she had promised they would be.  I read them in quick succession and plan on returning the books the next time I see her, which should be in March 2015. 

The Paradise War The Silver Hand The Endless Knot (Song of Albion, #3)

Read my reviews here, here, and here.

Challenge:  Read a Book That Was Originally Published in Another Language
I had to do a little research to make sure that Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night a Traveler had indeed been translated.  My copy of the book confirms that I read the William Weaver English translation; it was originally written in Italian.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

Read my review here.

Challenge:  Listen to an Audiobook
Okay, so I realized a month or so into 2015 that I had several Audible credits that I needed to spend and a subscription to cancel.  I picked up quite a few audiobooks.  This just happened to be the first one I listened to.

Bad Feminist: Essays
Read my review here.

Challenge:  Read a YA Novel
I don't remember if this challenge had been issued yet or not when a friend posted a link to a novel one of her friends had just published.  Although I have no idea if this is true, I suspect the author in question is one of the members of my former (and hopefully future) writing circle.  Wanting to offer whatever support I can to our little circle of dreamers, I immediately grabbed a copy.  I'm glad I did. It was entertaining.

Reflection Pond

Read my very brief review here.

Challenge: Read a Comic Book/Collection of Comic Books/Graphic Novel
Another easy to fulfill challenge.  I had borrowed this compendium from a co-worker and wanted to get it back to her in a timely fashion.  Admittedly, I also wanted to get it back to her before any harm could befall it's gloriously glossy pages.  I have a dog that loves to chew on toilet paper and two less than careful teenagers.

The Walking Dead, Compendium 2
Read my review here.

Challenge: Read a Romance
This was an easy and quick challenge for me to complete.  I had picked up a Johanna Lindsey novel over Christmas.  When I realized I was ready for a paperback or hard cover bathtub read, I decided to read Lindsey's fiftieth romance novel.  It was quick, fun, and completely predictable, which was perfect for this HEA junkie.

One Heart to Win
Read my review here.

Challenge:  Read Something Written by Someone of a Different Gender
I debated on whether or not to count this particular book under this category or under the scifi heading.  Since the very next book I picked up to read was The Martian, which fits the scifi challenge so much better, I decided to file Aldous Huxley's Brave New World under this title.  After all, I'm a woman and Huxley was a man.  Mission accomplished!

Brave New World
You can read my review here.

Challenge: Read a Sci-fi Novel
I had heard good things about Andy Weir's The Martian from various online sources.  When it happened to be on sale a few months later, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.  I'm so glad I bought the book.  This hard scifi book had great pacing, suspense, tension, good characterization, high stakes, and just enough techno-babble to sell the premise.  The science - no idea how probable any of it was - was explained in layman terms and, in most instances, with a dose of humor.

I'd recommend this title to anyone looking for an alternative to space opera.

The Martian
My review.

Challenge:  Read a Book Published Before 1850
Finding a book to read for this one was easy enough.  One of the first things I did when I got my Kindle was to go find some Classic books in the freebies section.  When the time came to tackle this particular challenge, I went with the first one I came across in my Kindle Cloud.  According to Wikipedia, this title was published in 1796.

The Monk
Read my rather long review here.

Challenge:  Read a Microhistory
According to a microhistory is "a study or account of the history of a very specific subject; also, a study of a very small cultural change".  Given this, I think it's safe to assume The Secret History of Wonder Woman could be safely categorized as a microhistory.  Jill Lepore's research into what led William Moulton Marsten to create Wonder Woman is viewed through the lens created by Marsten's academic, professional, and personal history.  Yet, it's further complicated by early feminist movements and Wonder Woman's reflection of those emerging values.

I must admit there were so many factors influencing Wonder Woman's development that I don't think I could do justice to Lepore's work.  This book will require another listen.  Luckily, it is a permanent title on my Audible shelves, so a second or even third listen is not only possible, it's likely.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman
My sad little review can be found here.

Challenge:  A Collection of Poetry
Okay, not a fan of this challenge.  I don't really care for poetry and my selection for this task did not change my lifelong aversion to the art form.  Sorry, poet friends!  It's not personal!  I just prefer prose.

I thought the first poem in "Selected Poems by Oscar Wilde" was actually very good.  It was easy to follow and read like a short story.  Unfortunately, this was the exception and not the rule.  Most of the poems were densely packed with references to Greek and Roman Mythology, few of which I understood.  This made reading them more of a chore than a pleasure.  I had to Google too many names, which took me out of the poetical painting that was being crafted for my reading (dis)pleasure.

I guess the lesson here is that I need to make more of an effort to read and retain the Greek and Roman myths.

Selected Poems
My review.

Challenge: A Guilty Pleasure
Here's the thing about this challenge:  I don't feel guilt or shame or embarrassment when I consider my reading selections.  My love of books is big enough to include all genres.  I'll gladly share that I'm reading a historical "bodice ripper" as easily as I'll admit to reading an epic fantasy or a contemporary mainstream novel.

With this in mind, selecting a book for this category was difficult because of the very lack of guilt (or shame) that I feel.  In the end, I decided that I could pick any book that wasn't going to be counted elsewhere in this challenge and plug it in.

Because I just finished this library loan, I figured it would work just as well as any other book I've read this year.

Station Eleven
Review here.

Challenge:  Read a Book Published This Year
Oh, this one is a contender for best book I've read this year.

I thoroughly enjoyed my First to Read experience of Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine.  Maybe it was because it was a book about the power of books.  Maybe it was because in this alternate universe the great Library of Alexandria survived and even thrived.  Maybe it was because I really enjoyed the characters and the plot.  Whatever the reason, I loved this book and will be adding a paperback copy to my shelves when the paperback is released.

Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1)
The Goodreads review where I gush and swoon.

Challenge:  Read a Book That Has Won a National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, or a Pulitzer
I think Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson qualifies as it won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.  I was a bit surprised by the Young People's Literature categorization, though, as I really don't feel as if this book was YA.  Maybe there is a difference between YA and Young People's Literature?  There must be because YA in my experience has a lot more teenage angst and love triangles, which are delightfully absent from this book.

Notice that I haven't called it a novel?  Maybe you didn't.  But I haven't and here's why..this book is a collection of chronological poems told as autobiography.

Now, I have never been shy about acknowledging my aversion to poetry.  It's not my thing, and that's okay.  I don't apologize for it.  I don't feel guilty about it.


This book might have changed my mind.  Maybe I've been reading the wrong kind of poetry.  Maybe my soul is drawn to free-verse that reads like prose because this was a stunningly beautiful book.  It was evocative.  It was engaging.  It had tension, high stakes, and character development. Of course, it had these things as a cohesive whole.  As stand alone poems in any other order I'm not so sure it would have engaged my heart and mind in such a manner.  At least, I don't think so.

Brown Girl Dreaming
Read my review here.

Challenge: Read a Book Written By Someone Before the Age of 25
Finding a book for this challenge was more difficult than I had anticipated.  I finally decided to use the link provided by the Goodreads Challenge, which was rather limiting as it only highlighted twenty-five authors.  Also, because I am cheap, I was trying to find the book for free.  I eventually found S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders using the Overdrive app.  Gotta love library loans!

The Outsiders
And my review.

Challenge:  Read a Book Written by Someone Over the Age of 65
For this one, I was delighted to find an Alice Munro title listed. I first read Munro's work when I was in graduate school and found her to be a very skilled storyteller.  Her collection of short stories, Dear Life: Stories, was published in 2012 when Munro was 81-years-old.

Dear Life: Stories
I thought I wrote a review, but it appears not.

Challenge: A Book That is by or About Someone From an Indigenous Culture 
I used the link from the Book Riot challenge for this one.  It took me to an Indigenous Peoples listopia on Goodreads. This one happened to be on the list and already marked as "want to read", which indicated to me that I already owned this title on my Kindle. Sweet!  No need to buy something or borrow.  Considering it's not my normal type of read, I felt this was a very good thing as it might require some extra time and effort.  A library loan may have been too restrictive.

Of all the books I may have ended up with, I'm glad this is the one I selected.  It was well-written, seemed well-researched, and came complete with photos of the survivors and the indigenous people they ended up interacting with during their misadventure.

Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
My review.

Challenge: The Retelling of a Classic Story (Fairytale, Shakespearian Play, Classic Novel, Etc.)

No one said this one had to be a serious retelling.  Also, this got another book off my TBR pile.  Win, Win!

I was originally going to read Sense, Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but thought this might be a better choice as I have actually read Pride and Prejudice. It was a good choice as I don't think I would have been nearly as amused had I not read the original.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, #1)
My Goodread's review.

Challenge:  A Book That Takes Place in Asia
I've had this book on my TBR shelf for years.  I remember trying it once before but losing interest rather quickly.  Had it not been for this challenge, I'm not sure I would have finished it because I struggled to stay engaged.  Sure, there were some interesting bits, but the whole thing just felt rather disjointed to me.

The Joy Luck Club
My less than warm review.

Challenge: A Book by an Author from Africa
If you haven't figured it out yet, I much prefer fiction to anything else.  Yet, when it came time to read a book by an author from Africa, I thought I'd try my hand at an autobiography.  I don't regret that decision, but I do have to admit that as I read Leymah Gbowee's words I really wanted a sense of immediacy.  What do I mean by that?  How can I explain?

Leymah's recitation of events was just that, a recitation.  It was not a narrative.  The story lacked heart when it should have been weeping all over the page.  I eventually began to feel like the real point of this book was not about Leymah's experiences but more about the various organizations and their roles in the peace process.

I would have preferred more insight into the heart of the women and children, and less a focus on the administration of the various organizations Leymah worked in or with.

Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War
Read my review.

Challenge: A Book by or About Someone Who Identifies as LBGTQ
I will admit this was perhaps one of the more intimidating challenges for me.  While I'm an ally and celebrated the recent Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage, I did my best to select a book that left what happens in the bedroom between two same-sex partners off the pages I would be reading.   I felt stories of the heart, mind, and soul would be of more interest to me.  For that reason, I selected a short story collection by the Eclective.

The Eclective: The Pride Collection
My review

Challenge:  A Book Published by an Indie Press
I will admit, even though we've yet to meet face-to-face, I've been friends with this author for several years.  Maybe more years than I'd like to admit because...well, birthdays!

That being said, my review of this book is fair.  If I wouldn't have enjoyed the book, I wouldn't have given it a full five stars.  I also would not have read it in a short amount of time and ignored my family around the campfire over the holiday weekend.  I was like an addict.  I had to finish! Conversations with real human beings could wait.

Unfortunately, because I was camping and using my iPad mini to create my review, it was not as thorough and well done as I would have liked.  Also, remember the real human beings sitting in lawn chairs just a few feet away.  Not the ideal review setting.

Oh, and as you may have guessed by it's inclusion here, this title was published by an independent, small press: Samhain Publishing.  The book can be purchased directly from them or through Amazon, which is what I did because I wanted it on my Kindle and the iPad's Kindle reading app.

My Goodread's reveiw.

August 14, 2015

My Week of Walden

Okay, I'll admit I've never read Thoreau's Walden.  That doesn't prevent me from thinking I know what it's about, though.  It's about a guy who goes off to live in the woods near a pond and does some crazy, in-depth self-reflection, right?  Or are his thoughts more of a contemplation on humanity, society, and culture? Maybe he just needed some time alone to write?

Maybe I should read the book or change the title of this post because it's obvious my knowledge of the book is limited to a guy alone in the woods on the edge of a pond. 

Nope.  I'm sticking with the title. Reasons why:

  Reason #1: I vacationed by myself for a week.
  Reason #2: There was a pond and a forest.
  Reason #3: I was writing!

My week alone in the woods was spent in a lovely, modern campground with full hook-up, which means I had electricity, water, and sewage.  Temperature control.  A microwave.  Television. My fan. My computer.  Phone.  And chargers for all!

The only modern conveniences I had to do without were laundry, internet, and cell phone service.  Of course, all three of those could be had by simply jumping into my car and driving to the laundry room, the camp office with it's free wifi, or this place a few minutes down the road where I managed to find one to two bars of AT&T service.

Okay, and maybe I wasn't exactly alone.  I had company in the form of a four-legged fur baby.  He went most everywhere with me and was my movie buddy each night.  He sat through reruns of Guardians of the Galaxy, The Da Vinci Code, and the entire season of Firefly.  He snuggled with me while I read and relaxed next to me on the picnic table bench while I wrote.  Every now and again, he'd get restless and we'd go for a walk through the woods, along the lake's edge, or around the campground.

When I first mentioned to people that I was going to spend a week alone in our camper a few hours from home, I was met with surprise and even concern.  I was often asked if I was nervous or scared. Frankly, my biggest concern was having a bear show up near my garbage can.  I've been camping enough that I knew that I wouldn't really be alone.  With it being prime camping season in Michigan, I knew there would be other campers nearby.  I was also confident in the park staff and rangers being helpful if the need arose.

The only time I had the rangers at my camper was when they showed up with a message to call home. Remember, no cell phone service at the camper!

Other than that, I spent several days doing exactly what I had hoped to do during those quiet days.  I worked on my novel.   In the end, I wrote sixty-six pages on my space opera.  I developed a rhythm, writing from around 11:00 - 1:00 and again from 3:00 - 6:00.  In those hours of writing, I tended to produce between 15-20 pages.

I was thrilled.  Am thrilled.  I set out to do exactly what I wanted to do:  prove to myself that if I had the time and opportunity to dedicate to my writing, I would write.  I would produce.  I would be motivated to keep writing.

I'd love to leave the story there, to end on a triumphant note, but I only wrote for three and a half days because on Thursday, my fourth dedicated writing day, my grandma went home on hospice and I felt my place was there with her and my dad.  Spending hours on the road driving between the campground and my cousin's house, where hospice had been set up for grandma, cut into my writing. So did the worry and the heartache.  So, in reality, I only spent three and a half days writing.

But I wrote. And I'm pleased with how well I did in that short time. 

July 21, 2015

StoryCorps - Grandma Sherman - Take 1

I stopped by Grandma's little trailer to do more than check in on her. I had high hopes of getting her to agree to let me record her answers to a few questions. To my delight, she was willing!

We used my cell phone to record these StoryCorps audio files.