Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Dark Side of Camelot - Seymour M. Hersh

If you wonder why I despise politics in all forms, look no further than the contents of this book. Basically a tell-all account of the Kennedy presidency (the "Camelot" of the title refers to the Kennedy presidency's nickname, not the Arthurian legend), this book discusses the corruption, lying, and greed of the key players. Of course, as a cynic who hates politics, I tend to believe ALL politicians could have such a book written about them at any time... Exasperating.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

World and Town - Gish Jen

If I had to sum up this novel in one word, it would be "undecided." To be honest, I had trouble with the writing style in the first part of the book - it seemed choppy and staccato and I had a hard time following it. The story won me over somewhat as the book went on, but my overall impression is sort of ... well, undecided. I'm just not sure of what I was supposed to take away from the book as a reader.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Making Up For Monday

This fun blog hop is hosted by An Avid Reader; A Wannabe Writer.

This week's question is interesting:

How do you decide what to read next?

My Response:

I changed my approach for 2014. Before this year, I'd just read whatever book seemed most interesting at any given moment. This method seemed to work out OK until last year. I inadvertently blew off my reading challenges somewhat in 2013, realizing in mid-December that I had a big pile of books I needed to read in order to complete the challenges. I really didn't want to have challenges I didn't finish, because since I started this blog in 2011 I have completed every challenge that I signed up for. To fix this, I made a list of all the books I needed to read - and then read them in the order in which they were on my list. As you might imagine, I read a LOT at the end of December - but it worked, and I completed all the challenges, by the skin of my teeth!

I didn't want to repeat this experience in 2014, so for this year I created another reading list that I use to determine which book get read next. This way I concentrate on challenge books (and TBR pile books) and I am not so tempted to read other books. Of course, I do read other books from time to time, but I have made much better progress on my reading this year because I mostly stick to the list.

How do you decide?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Cold War: A New History - John Lewis Gaddis

Obviously written by a cold war scholar, this book was an excellent distillation of the cold war, why and how it ended, and why it never escalated into an actual war. The writing was a teeny bit dry, but generally very accessible. Having read this book, I would like to someday read the author's longer, more in-depth books to delve into the details a bit more. Recommended.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut

This book is a deceptively quick and easy read that is really a very sly satire. Despite the subject matter and the time period in which it was written, it doesn't seem dated, but I do suspect it had much more of an impact when it was originally published. As soon as I finished it I wanted to flip to the beginning and start reading it all over again - sadly, I have too many TBR books to justify that. However, if I ever get a handle on that TBR pile, I'd like to read or re-read all of Vonnegut's books in the order in which they were originally published. Highly recommended.

See the cat? See the cradle? Genius!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Language Freak Summer Challenge

What a fantastic challenge! I just stumbled on it last night and I can't believe I missed it last year. It's hosted by Ekaterina at In My Book. As I've mentioned, I have several books in foreign languages that I've been meaning to read for several years now, but haven't done so. This challenge will really help me motivate myself to read these books.

Here are my answers to the questions (sorry, I am going to ramble, these will be long answers):

What languages do you know? Note: even if you are a beginner, it totally counts! And don't forget to mention what your mother-tongue is!

Obviously, I speak English - it's my native language. Aside from reading, studying languages is something I adore. I also speak French, Russian, and Dutch at a beginner level, and I know a few words/phrases/etc. in a dozen other languages. I can really only read actual books in French, Russian, and Dutch at this point.

What is your history with these languages?

Sadly, I was raised in a house where only English was spoken, and in my day/where I grew up, foreign language classes weren't offered in schools until high school. I started studying French when I started high school, and I started Russian when I went to college (university). So I had 4 years of high school French + some classes at college, and 4 years of college Russian (most of which I have forgotten at this point, к сожалению). I was lucky enough to travel to France in high school and Russia in college.

After I got my college degree, I continued taking college classes, and one of the classes I took was a year of Japanese. Unfortunately I moved after that first year so I wasn't able to continue that class with the second year or beyond. :( 

Over the years I have taken many community education type classes in various languages, so I can maybe say a few words/phrases, but that's all. Mainly these classes help me feel like I can pronounce places or character names properly if I read a book that features places where those languages are spoken, ha ha. 

In all this time, I had always wanted to study Dutch, but could never find a class until a couple years ago. I was able to take a couple classes and also work with the teacher independently (the classes were discontinued - grr!). I have some books in Dutch that I have been meaning to read but I have been worried that they will be too hard. 

Do you use them or are you out of practice?

In the past 2-3 years I decided it was important to really improve my French, mainly because I travelled there twice. I wanted to be able to communicate as much as I could in French while I was there (I don't believe in speaking English in foreign countries unless it's 1) the native language already, e.g., the UK, or 2) it's totally necessary because I can't be understood in my attempts at the local language). So I have been taking French classes and occasionally going to a French meetup group to practice. I was able to communicate reasonably well in French when I was there last year, and people were speaking to me in French as well, which I felt good about. At this point I can understand at least 50% of conversations spoken by native speakers, although I can't reply in a fluid way :( I am much better at reading, I can read and comprehend things fairly easily if they are at an intermediate level. 

I'm out of practice entirely with Russian. I put it aside to focus on French, but I don't want to completely forget it either. I need to figure out a way to practice or study on my own a bit. 

Dutch is definitely a beginner level language for me, but I just have to be more disciplined about studying on my own. I need a lot more practice. Last summer I listened to Dutch radio over the internet every morning and I enjoyed that, but I could only understand about 25% of what I heard. 

Have you read some books in these languages? Did you like it?

In high school we read a book in French in a class, and in college we read Molière and various French poets. I loved it! I love reading in other languages, it's just hard for me if the vocabulary is at too high of a level. 

What are your plans for the challenge?

I am not going to overcommit to this challenge - I don't want to set myself up for failure. I am going to commit to the Beginner level, which is 1 book. I secretly plan to do more, but this way, as long as I read one book, I will have fulfilled the challenge. :)

So there you have it! I'm really looking forward to this. It's a great opportunity for me to practice, and to finally read the foreign language books I have on hand. большое спасибо Екатерина!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop

This fun hop is hosted by Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

This week's question:

Are your reviews more of a rehash of the story or do you comment on writing style, characters, and reflection?

My response:

Before I respond, I should explain that I like to know as little as possible before I read a book, so I can experience it with a totally open mind. If I know too much about the plot, or about a plot twist or something (or I've heard a bunch of spoilers), I find that while I read I'm busy wondering when that twist is coming, or wondering when some event will happen, and I feel distracted from the reading. 

I've also found that many book summaries from publishing companies give away a lot of what happens in the book - in fact, that happened to me with a recent NetGalley read. It was a bummer, because if I hadn't known what to expect, I think the book would have been much more effective. I still enjoyed the book, but I would have preferred not to know so much, so I could have discovered it on my own, as I read. 

So because of that, I do whatever I can to avoid spoilers of any kind on my book blog. Consequently, I do more of the latter type of review. My reviews are usually pretty brief and are more about my overall, general impression of the book. I try to comment on specifics of writing style if there is something that jumped out at me, or focus on the characters I enjoy - stuff like that. 

How do you create your reviews?