The Bookshelf Test

You know how you can get to know someone just by looking at their bookshelves? It’s my favorite part of meeting someone new. So here’s my shelf—these are some of my favorite books (in no particular order), the ones I love and own, or plan to own, and feel like I should say hi when…

Backpacking through Europe in Books

This summer, I spent my reading time in a part of the world I’ve never explored before. Setting aside the two books I’d been reading at the time, I started in the Netherlands and read through Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. It was a lot of fun, and…

Wrapping Up Summer Reading (Mini Reviews)

The Door, by Magda Szabó Three and a half stars, read in August 2018. The story of a strange, dysfunctional relationship between two strange women who are both uniquely intimate with and completely closed off to each other. I found it difficult at times, how deeply (and pretty frequently) they hurt each other, but the exploration…

The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk

The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk Two stars, read in September 2018. I planned on two stars throughout the book and then was tempted to do more based on the last few pages—two and a half stars if not three—but for now, I can’t bring myself to rate it any higher. It’s only 145 pages…

Hyperindividualist Circle Jerk

There’s a worldview that puts only one person, oneself, in the lens. People who think this way are entirely self-centered, as in, they are incapable of seeing themselves in any role but protagonist. The other view is one in which a person sees herself as relative to other people. Those who think this way are…

Nine Rabbits, by Virginia Zaharieva

Four stars, read in August/September 2018. Practically incomprehensible at times, but at others, perfectly describes situations and emotions I’ve never seen articulated elsewhere. My perception of the protagonist kept changing in surprising ways, and I ended up making a lot of unexpected connections with her. I dream that I’m traveling to a seminar in Varna…

A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism, by Slavenka Drakulić

Three and a half stars, read in August 2018. Though I don’t know what the author’s intent was for her readers, I wish I’d had more background knowledge of how communism and socialism were implemented throughout Central Europe before reading this book. The format—eight fables, each told by an animal from a different country—makes for…

Beware of Pity, by Stefan Zweig

Three and a half stars, read in July and August 2018. This is one of those books in which perfect strangers sit down to tell each other their—or other people’s—life stories. Like Mr. Lockwood in Wuthering Heights, the narrator we first meet turns out to be nothing more than the impetus for one such story, that…

Mendelssohn is on the Roof, by Jiří Weil

Four and a half stars, read in July 2018. I’m tired of World War II stories, because their popularity in our culture seems saccharine, nationalistic, almost fetishistic—an excuse to pat ourselves on the back and fawn over the “glory days” of the “Greatest Generation”—while generally managing to sideline the sickeningly-relevant lessons we should be learning from…

Accident: A Day’s News, by Christa Wolf

Four stars, read in July 2018. Second stop on my literary backpacking trip through Europe: East Germany in the 1980s, the day after the Chernobyl accident. I’ve been wanting to read Christa Wolf for a while now, more especially Cassandra and Medea, but—once again—my choice was made for me by the limited collection of my local libraries. (For…

The Storm, by Margriet de Moor

Four stars, read in July 2018. I picked up this book for my first stop on the Reader’s Room Backpacking Across Europe Summer Reading Challenge, as I flew into the Amsterdam airport. I don’t tend to read disaster stories, so I probably wouldn’t have chosen this book if Utah public libraries had a better selection…

Harmless Like You, by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Four stars, read in May 2018. Good book, well-written, poignant, frustrating, a little heartbreaking, with a pretty satisfying conclusion. Emily Woo Zeller is an excellent narrator, but I didn’t care for P.J. Ochlan, who does irritating pseudo-falsetto for female characters’ voices. (Given that I already didn’t like Jay, the character he was narrating, I think…

Home, by Nnedi Okorafor

Three stars, read in June 2018. Good, but not as compelling as the first book was. I’d been thinking I might not read the third, but it turns out that this trilogy is more like one book split into three; since there was no conclusion here, I may end up finishing after all. Maybe. The world…

Reader’s Room Summer 2018 Challenge

Backpacking across Europe (challenge page) Netherlands—The Storm, by Margriet de Moor Germany—Accident: A Day’s News, by Christa Wolf *Czech Republic—Mendelssohn is on the Roof, by Jiří Weil Austria—Beware of Pity, Stefan Zweig Hungary—The Door, by Magda Szabó Croatia—A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism, by Slavenka Drakulić Serbia—The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht Bulgaria—Nine Rabbits,…

Updates

We moved! From Texas to Utah. It’s a two-day drive, unless you drive overnight, which we didn’t because we don’t hate ourselves (at least no more than people who make themselves drive from Texas to Utah hate themselves; it is not a fun drive). I listened to Amy Chozick’s Chasing Hillary on the drive, finishing it…

Imagine

We think of ourselves as civilization accomplished, but I’ve come to believe that we’re not even close to civilized yet—rather, we’re just barely out of our infancy as a species. Civilization means “an advanced stage of social development and organization,” and while the present is nearly always more advanced than the past, “more advanced” is…

No two people are not on fire

No one should have to handle YA all at once. In general, I disagree with the claim that the genre is “getting too dark”—the real world is pretty fucking dark and teenagers have to deal with that just as much as adults do, with fewer resources. But as a cataloger for a public library, I…

On “Trying to Understand” 

It was a common topic over the last year and a half, as liberals devoted particular attention to learning about, becoming less judgmental of, and humanizing the Trump voter. It’s been bothering me, though it took me a while to recognize and articulate the problem, and then to wade through my own anxiety-induced mental fog…

Will Everyone Complaining About “Identity Politics” Please Shut Up

I don’t understand how white intellectuals are so dense on the subject of “identity politics.” Sam Harris was the first to frustrate me (he’s done it again recently), and a little while ago I read this whole piece at Brain Pickings on the tragedy of “imprisoning ourselves in the fractal infinity of our ever-subdividing identities,…

Storm Front, by Jim Butcher

First read summer 2010, read again summer 2018. Approximately four stars. Oh, Harry Dresden. I still really enjoyed this, but the way I read is so different now from eight years ago, when I first read it—fresh off the heels of N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Becky Chambers, Garth Nix, Rat Queens, Saga, and all the other incredibly…

We shall have to be philosophers, Mary

Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable—bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. You might…

Readathon 2018

Tomorrow, Dewey’s 24-hour readathon is going to break my reading slump. I guess it isn’t a slump, really—just six weeks in which I only read three books, two of which were audio. I just haven’t wanted to pick anything up since I finished the last batch, and for the most part I’ve actually been fine…

Fast Forwarding

I’ve always been a completionist. I cannot stand starting a series anywhere but the absolute beginning (one reason it was so difficult for me to break into the world of comics), and once I start something, I have a strong need to finish it. So it is pretty crazy for me to tell you that…

We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Five stars, read in November 2017. This book covers the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. For each year, there is an article Coates wrote for The Atlantic, preceded by an essay (“a sort of extended blog post,” I think is how he describes it) in which he looks back on his own work and assesses…

ME, by Tomoyuki Hoshino

Five stars, read in January 2018. I’ve had this post in my drafts for a few months now, because there was so much for me to work through. I did not expect the direction this book ended up taking, on more than one level. It was brilliant, disturbing, astonishingly incisive commentary on human nature and identity—and…

And Marian Was Wounded Sore

Written in January 2014. A few years ago I was watching Robin Hood with my family, the 2010 version with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. During that scene at the end where Marian joins the battle on the beach, I heard my dad—ever the selective movie critic—say something about how of course, they never would…

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

Two and a half stars, read in March 2018. I found this book very stressful. Given how long and sprawling it is, following so many characters throughout four generations, it often seemed strange how long we lingered on specific, not particularly meaningful conversations before jumping through time and space to continue the story. It just…

Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi

Five stars, read in February 2018. Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy. Despite one of the best first lines I’ve ever read, I’m certain I wouldn’t have finished this if I hadn’t read, and been so impressed by, What is Not…