(Not Really a Review of) Fables, Volumes 1 and 2, by Bill Willingham

This has been a really hard week.  I don’t want to get into specifics, because it’s all too fresh and too personal, but just know that I’ve been feeling some intense feelings all over the place this week.  Of course, this has affected my reading.  I’m reading four books right now but my heart is not really in any one of them.  I know, undoubtedly, that I’ll get my reading groove back again.  And probably sooner rather than later, because I’m a capital-R Reader.  It’s what I do!

One thing I HAVE read this week was Volume 2 of the comic/graphic novel Fables, by Bill Willingham.  Jenny at Reading the End recommended it to me after I wrote about how much I dug the graphic novel Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.  (She also recommended Saga and Lumberjanes but I’ve not yet tried those.)

FablesI liked these two volumes.  Fables is set in modern-day (well, 2003, I guess, when they were published) New York City.  Fairy tale characters like Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf (now in human form, known as Bigby Wolf) and Bluebeard are living incognito, in a secret society they call Fabletown, in the big city.  They and all the other folklore figures (both human and animal) have been forced out of their homelands by The Adversary.  After reading the first two volumes, I have no idea who this Adversary is.  I assume I will find out eventually!  In the first volume, Bigby Wolf (Fabletown’s sherrif) is investigating the apparent murder of Rose Red, Snow White’s sister – there’s a lot of blood everywhere in her apartment, but no body.  In the second, called Animal Farm, some of the animals of Fabletown (Three Little Pigs, Brer Rabbit, Shere Khan from The Jungle Book, etc.) are staging a revolution because they want to be able to leave the secluded farm where they live and travel the world.  After all, some of them have been stuck there for thousands of years, and unlike the human Fables, they can’t travel easily.

I’m weirdly hooked on these now.  They’re not life-changing or deep (yet) or anything.  They’re just fun!   I’ve ordered the third volume, Storybook Love, from my main library.  I used to think that I wasn’t a graphic novel person.  Well, I’m here to tell you that THINGS CHANGE.  People change!  It’s pretty exciting to me that now I’m a fan of graphic novels, and podcasts, and a freaking BOOK BLOGGER, and two years ago I was none of those things.  We are all adaptable, is what I guess I’m getting at, and even if you’re pushing forty (ahem) or fifty or ninety, it’s not too late to try something new.  We’re not the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, as a poem by Lucille Clifton reminds me:

 

i am running into a new year

(By Lucille Clifton)

i am running into a new year

and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even thirty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

 

 

 

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Reading Challenge Fail?

Happy March!  This is the final month of the TBR Triple Dog Dare hosted by James at James Reads Books.  With my stated exceptions (a book on hold  at the library since October, and my book group books) I’ve only read books that I physically owned as of December 31.  But I feel like I may not make it through the month of March.  Okay, I know that I won’t – because I’ve signed up to participate in Reading Ireland Month over at 746 Books!

I don’t know what I was thinking – except, oooh, Ireland, I love Ireland!  (I’ve been there, once, almost ten years ago when my then-boyfriend/now-husband went with me to visit my aunt and uncle, who live there in County Kerry.  They moved back to the US – long story – for a period of years, and now they’re living in Ireland once again.)  Anyway, I don’t know when I’m going to read the book I’ve chosen – Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation.  I’m reading the hefty Middlemarch right now and I’ve got to read Super Sad True Love Story for my book group by March 20.  I suspect that Middlemarch will get put on the back burner and I’ll split my energy between the O’Brien and the Shteyngart.  Oh, a reader’s life!  Juggling all the books!

So I’m wondering what you all think about reading challenges and failure.  I have enjoyed reading some things that have been sitting neglected on my shelves at home.  I’ve finished six of my own books and am currently reading two more.  It’s made me think about how and why I purchase books, and made me re-think purchasing any more until I read more of the ones I already own.  So this Dare has been a win for me already, regardless of whether I stick it out until the end of the month.

Have you “failed” a reading challenge before?  Do you think that there is such a thing as reading challenge failure?  Or is any attempt at broadening our reading horizons automatically a win?  Yoda would say, “Do, or do not.  There is no try,” but I’m cutting myself some slack here.  No one is giving me a medal or a cookie for completing any reading challenges.  Eight books have gotten some well-deserved attention that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise gotten if I hadn’t accepted the Dare.  And I’ve learned some things about my reading preferences.  I just might buy myself that cookie after all.

Top Ten Tuesday: Going Against Type

For Top Ten Tuesday this week, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, our topic is books we enjoyed recently that are outside our usual type/genre/comfort zone.  Here’s the thing:  I like my comfort zone.  I think my comfort zone is actually pretty broad.  Part of the reason I read so voraciously is to learn and understand new things about the world, to experience life from another set of eyes than my own.  Being more mindful of what I’m reading – trying to read authors who are of a different nationality or race than I am – continues to be a rewarding and enlightening practice.  But I also know what I like, for the most part.  So as I choose my next read, I don’t tend to pick titles from left field.  I guess what I’m getting at with all this is that I had to think about this topic a while, dig a little bit for things that I’ve read in the last year that were a “stretch” for me.  So here goes.

  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.  nimonaI didn’t grow up reading comics as a kid, and I have thus far read very few graphic novels.  They’re just not a type of book that I naturally gravitate toward.  But I have been trying to branch out and read a few titles, and this one was nearly universally positively recommended.  I LOVED it.  It is simultaneously charming and moving while also being an exciting page-turner.
  • The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.  I also am not naturally inclined to read Teen/YA books.  Maybe because when I actually WAS a teenager (or pre-teen) this whole subset of fiction didn’t really exist.  I mean, there was Judy Blume, Christopher Pike, and those teen romances published by Silhouette.  But I pretty much went straight from reading The Babysitter’s Club to reading Agatha Christie, Victoria Holt, and Danielle Steel.  In any case, I try to read a couple of teen books a year simply to be able to recommend things to my library patrons.  This one was fantastic – it’s a mystery and a ghost story, with the right amount of suspense and not too much teen drama or romance.  I will definitely read the other two in the series – eventually!
  • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman.  I really resisted reading this book  – but it was a book group pick.  I didn’t feel like reading about the romantic “travails” of a narcissistic, privileged, young white man from New York.  It turned out to be one of the best book discussions we’ve ever had, and I was totally engrossed.  Waldman is a very skilled writer and I even bought (and really liked) the follow-up novella told by Nathaniel’s friend Aurit called New Year’s.
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James.  Y’all have surely heard a lot about this book – it won the Man Booker Prize for 2015.  Let me just say that this book is LONG and CHALLENGING, two adjectives that do not describe books I eagerly reach for.  But it was TOTALLY WORTH IT.  I wrote about it (rather glowingly) here.89717
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.  I’m a wimp, especially when it comes to scary stuff.  I was nervous about reading this even after I’d read We Have Always Lived in the Castle and discovered that I adored Shirley Jackson.  But it had the right about of scary – turn-the-lights-up bright scary, but not I-can’t-sleep scary.  Crazy good.
  • Gulp by Mary Roach.  Nonfiction is something I enjoy, but fiction is my first love.  I kind of have to make myself pick up nonfiction, even if it’s something that sounds really interesting.  This one was a great pick for someone who doesn’t normally read nonfiction.  Funny and interesting – I learned a lot, especially about the horrendous C. Diff infection and what really killed Elvis.
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  Boxes checked off:  YA/Teen, Fantasy, Paranormal, Audiobook.  All formats I have only taken baby steps in.  This book is SO GOOD, especially as read by the brilliant Mr. Gaiman himself.  Suspenseful and genuinely moving.  After reading this one, American Gods, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I count myself among Mr. Gaiman’s many fans.
  •  Tar Baby by Toni Morrison.  I’ve written previously about how Ms. Morrison’s works intimidated me.  This is the one that got me over my (unfounded) nerves.  CROSSOVER
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.  A YA novel about basketball told in free verse?  Not my usual fare.  But I’m profoundly glad I read this.  It’s about so much more than basketball.   I dare you to read it and not cry.  This is also a book that a “reluctant reader” would probably really like.
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.  Reading this captivating series has made me realize how much good contemporary fiction I’m missing that is not written in English.  So I chose this title because it awakened me to my lack of awareness of works in translation.  (BTW, I’m reading the third installment of this series right now and it continues to absolutely TRANSFIX me.)

So there’s my list.  Do you have any recommendations for the genres in which I’m a relative newbie (graphic novels, YA, audiobooks, science writing/nonfiction, scary stuff?)  How do you (or do you) make yourself read outside of your “comfort zone?”

The TBR Triple Dog Dare, One Month In

It’s February 1st!  Wasn’t it just Christmas?!  I’ve got one month of the TBR Triple Dog Dare Challenge under my belt, two months to go.  I’ve read three of my own books (Housebound, The Progress of Love, and Song of Solomon,) and one library book that was a built-in exception since I’d had it on hold for a while (Career of Evil.)  I have to say, being new to this particular reading challenge, that it’s harder than I expected.  Maybe if I didn’t work in a library and see all these new, shiny books (and simply new-to-me books) coming in and out right under my nose everyday it would be easier.  How they tempt me!

Last year I managed to read quite a few books published in 2015 and it felt really good to be in on the current book conversation.  I’ve realized that as much as I like to delve into the backlist, and I do, I really enjoy keeping up with books that will probably be on the end-of-year “Best Of” lists.  I’ve got a list going and will dive into some new releases as soon as April 1 rolls around!

So, if I’m reading the books I bought myself with my own money, why do I feel so constrained?  Perhaps I just don’t like being having limits on my reading.  It makes sense. I hate being told what to eat (or not to eat,) hence my inability to adhere to any weight-loss diet.  These books have been good – and in the case of Song of Solomon, truly great – but maybe I’m just in the mood for other things.

I willingly signed up for the Dare as a way to deal with these books on my shelf.  I need to read them sometime, right?  Alternately, if I decide I really don’t want to read them, I need to just let them go and find the right readers who will appreciate them.  Maybe my reading tastes have changed since I’ve bought some of them.  In any case, I’m going to see this Dare through.  I’m learning too much about my reading process to give up.  It’s sort of an eye-opener.

Do you enjoy completing reading challenges?  Or do you tend to shy away from them?  Let me know your thoughts.

 

Reorganizing The Bookshelves

This week has been weird.  I was off for MLK Day on Monday, worked Tuesday, and then… snow!  In East Tennessee things generally start to shut down if there’s an inch of snow on the ground.  We just can’t handle it. We got about 3 inches with the first snow storm, Ilias.  The library system was closed Wednesday and Thursday.  My branch is always closed Friday.  And the system closed again today for snow (we got just a little of Winter Storm Jonas – about an inch or two in the Knoxville area.)  Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of time this week to look at my humble abode. I’ve realized something – my bookshelves are a mess, and it’s getting on my nerves.

One of my problems is simply limited space.  We have a tiny house.  I have two main bookshelves, one in the hallway and one in the living room.  (I am not counting my bedroom bookshelf, which also functions as a nightstand.)  In both, books currently share space with board games, and the hallway shelves contain DVD, CDs, and most of our photo albums too.

IMG_2995
Hot mess hallway shelf.

I know that I need to streamline framed photos, hang some up on the walls and take some down permanently. So with all that said, I need a book organizing system.

The hallway bookshelf is just a damn mess, I freely admit.  Books are crammed every which way, with no rhyme or reason (although the bottom shelf consists mostly of my husband’s and little boy’s books.)  In the living room shelf, I’ve got a rainbow thing going on, along the ROYGBIV color scheme.  (Although I seem to have as many black and white covers as anything else.)  I am realizing that my nature craves more order than this.  I am leaning towards going with an alphabetical by author system.

IMG_2996
Rainbow shelf.

Trying to get ideas, I googled “how to organize your bookshelves.”  I took a quiz on Epic Reads about how to organize one’s bookshelf and my result was “Height.”

Organize your books by height and your shelf will look like the growth chart on the wall of your childhood home. Watch proudly as your bookshelf grows taller and taller, and reminisce on the times it was only “yea high.” In no time, you’ll realize how far your book collection has come.

I’m guessing my answers were a bit…whimsical?  I don’t really even understand this answer!

Alright, blogger friends.  I need your help.  I want to know how you organize your own bookshelves… by color?  Alphabetically by author?  By genre or subject?  Dewey Decimal system?  Or some other method?  I’m all ears.

 

 

The Physical TBR Pile

Tonight I gathered up my unread books in a pile on my bed.  It was smaller than I thought – 30 books.  You see, despite my passion for reading, up until fairly recently I didn’t buy books very often.  I pretty much only bought things I’d already read and adored, in case I wanted to re-read it.  They were almost always used copies.  I acquired all the rest of my reading material through the public library where I work.  I was there almost every day, surrounded by almost any kind of book (in the system) that struck my fancy.  So I told myself that buying books was unnecessary and frivolous.  I know, it sounds a little weird to me as I type it.  But I was okay with this system for a long time.

Sometime after the birth of my son, almost five years ago, I started buying books.  I viewed it as a way to treat myself.  I realized that in the grand scheme of things, buying books was a relatively cheap splurge.  I also told myself that by buying books, I was supporting a vital industry that needed all the help it could get.  As my son has grown, and become a reader himself, he and I regularly go to Barnes and Noble on weekend nights while my husband works (he’s a bar manager.)  Unsurprisingly,we both almost always come away from B&N with books!

IMG_296130 unread books in a book blogger’s house is definitely on the small side. Nevertheless, I am really excited to dive in as part of the TBR Triple Dog Dare Challenge hosted by James.  I’m reading two of my 30 books right now (Housebound by Elizabeth Gentry and The Progress of Love by Alice Munro.)  One thing that strikes me about my TBR pile is the overwhelming amount of fiction.  Only two of the titles are nonfiction:  Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s by Dave Marsh and My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead.  I do tend to read about 65% fiction to 35% nonfiction, but apparently I still get my nonfiction from the library.  I wonder if I’ll have to read one or two of my husband’s nonfiction titles during the Challenge just to keep from getting burned out on fiction.  Is that allowed?  (Note: I’m the boss.  I’m allowing it.)

I have done some book purges over the years, and gotten rid of things that I decided I wouldn’t ever read.  I am positive that if I didn’t work in a library, I would have many, many more unread books lying around.  My virtual TBR (on Goodreads) is over 500 titles.  Out of curiosity, how many unread books are sitting on your shelves?

 

 

Tackling the TBR in 2016

So I’ve signed up for a reading dare (not a “challenge”) for the new year.  I discovered it through Teresa’s post at Shelf Love about managing her TBR pile.  It’s the Triple Dog Dare hosted by James Reads Books.  It’s been going on for a while but obviously since I’m a new-ish blogger I haven’t participated before.  This is the last one, so why the heck not join?

The rules are this:  from January 1 to April 1, only read books from your TBR pile.  Books that are in your “stack” as of December 31, 2015.  He says you can make many exceptions:  books for your book group, library books you’ve already placed on hold and are waiting for, ARCs for review, etc.  The goal is just to clear out as much of your TBR pile as you can.

I love this idea.  I’ve got books on my book shelf that have been sitting there for YEARS.  And yes, many of those have already gone to the thrift store or the used book store in various purges, but many have remained.  So 2016 is the year that I’m going to read them!  Or as many of them as I can in three months.  Bruce Springsteen biography, (Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s) I’m looking at you.

I will make an exception for my book group picks.  And possibly for things I have on hold before December 31.  But I’m really going to strive to read as much from my physical bookshelves as I can.  This really is a great solution to my TBR problem.  I had been contemplating using a book jar, but this serves the same purpose and involves MUCH less paperwork!  (All those strips of paper!  Saving trees!)  So if you want some motivation to work through your TBR pile, head over to James Reads Books and sign up.