Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April - This Month in Reading

At the end of March, I wrote that I wanted to read at least another 12 books in April, focusing on challenge books. I ended up reading only 9 books, but I am happy with that, since the majority of the books were for challenges. Overall I feel good about the momentum I have now with reading and with making progress on my challenges.

For May, I plan to continue focusing on challenge books, including the Language Freak challenge if I can manage that. I'd like to aim for 12 books again, just to be ambitious.

How was your April reading? 

Ilustrado - Miguel Syjuco

One of the things I've always loved about browsing in bookstores (and libraries) is the way you can stumble on books that you may never had heard of but end up really enjoying. This was definitely the case with this book, one of my Borders last days haul. I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the narrative structure and the writing style. Yet another book I've had around far too long without reading it, and I'm so glad I finally read it. Recommended.

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? 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Making Up For Monday

It's time for another fun "Making Up For Monday" blog hop, as hosted by An Avid Reader; A Wannabe Writer.

This week's question is great:

How many books do you read at a time?

My response:

This is a real problem for me as I can't seem to focus on just one book at a time! I would say I typically have two physical books I'm reading at any given moment. Sometimes it's because I'll be reading on public transportation or have to take a book with me in a tote bag, and I don't want a brand-new-condition book banged up, so I'll grab a used paperback that isn't so pristine. Occasionally I might be reading a particularly heavy book (my copy of 1Q84 is a hardcover book and more than 900 pages, for example) so I want a smaller, lighter one to take with me someplace. And sometimes I just pick up another book off the shelf because it's what I'm feeling like at the moment. I really have to break that habit!

Another issue is that I'll have my couple of physical books on the go, and then I'll see a particularly tempting NetGalley email with an interesting-sounding book, and the next thing I know I've requested it, and ... well, you (may) know the rest! I guess it's all part of being an incurable bookworm.

Are you more disciplined about reading one book at a time - and finishing it before moving on to the next one?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

1Q84 - Haruki Murakami

There are so many things I love about Murakami's novels, but I have to say the main thing that comes to mind after reading this one is that underneath the surreal happenings, there is such a feeling of tranquility. Even when fantastical events happen, the characters do mundane things in the midst of them - have a "simple lunch" or listen to a classical music record. There is an element of calmness that I find very appealing in the writing - it's almost meditative. As usual, I have to say that I'm sorry it took me so long to read this book, but the good news is there is another one due out soon, so I won't have to wait very long for that. Recommended.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

We Are the Goldens - Dana Reinhardt

I couldn't resist this book when I saw the description in the NetGalley email - I had to find out the secret! This was a fast read, not the least because the pacing of the story kept me turning the pages. I really liked the sort of combined first- and second-person narrative; it made the story seem more realistic and immediate than a third person narration would have. I have to confess that at times the narrator's voice seemed much more mature than the average high school freshman, but in all honesty, an intelligent young person would most likely talk like this, so it worked for me overall. All in all this is a well written YA novel with appealing characters. Recommended. 

To be honest, another reason I couldn't resist this book is that I could use it for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge - hooray! And now back to my regularly scheduled reading. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Prince and the Pauper - Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain)

This was a fast, fun little read for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I read a bunch of books about Henry VIII and the Tudors a couple years ago so this was a nice little callback to those, even if it wasn't particularly historical.

My edition happens to be a vintage hardcover I scored on the Library Sale shelves. I'm not sure how old it is, as there's no date, but the illustration of a boy and girl reading a book on the inner cover seem like something from the 20s, so I'm guessing it's from the 1930s. Another clue might be that the author's name isn"t given as Mark Twain, but I don't know much about dating vintage books - if you do, please let me know in the comments!

Making Up For Monday

I have been meaning to participate in this fun blog hop for ages, but I keep forgetting until Wednesday or Thursday, and then it seems too late. It's hosted by Tiffany at An Avid Reader; A Wannabe Writer every Monday.

This week's question:

Do you like to eat or drink anything while reading? If so, what?

My response:

It depends on the time of day! If I'm reading first thing in the morning/before work, I'll drink my morning TaB Cola while I read. At other times of the day I will probably have a glass of water, and every now and again on a chilly day I'll have a cup of hot tea. I don't generally eat when I'm reading, unless I'm reading during my lunch break - but that depends on the book because some books just aren't conducive to reading and eating at the same time.

What do you like to drink or eat while you read?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

Readers, I feel as if I have been hit in the head with a shovel.

What an amazing book.

Do you see moving images in your mind when you read? I do, but to be honest the quality of these images varies from book to book, depending both on the skill of the writer and my own library of mental images I can use to flesh out the words on the page in my mind. Even though I have barely spent any time at all in the setting(s) of this book, and of course was not alive during the era in which it is set, this book produced unbelievably detailed, cinematic images the entire time I was reading.

And that doesn't even touch the story. The alternating chapters device worked very well for me. I was very drawn into the predicament of the Joad family, and all the others like them, and at times this book made me very deeply angry - angry that even today, the system is rigged by those who view anyone who is not part of their elite cadre to be a type of "Okie," a dunce who will toil for pennies under the threat of a "bad economy" that mysteriously takes away jobs. How the rich get richer and richer and richer while more and more of us "normal folk" lose our metaphorical farms. It's truly not hard to see the appeal of communism, and/or labor unions, in this era. It's a blight on humanity that there are so many shameless so-called human beings who will not hesitate to rip off someone who has an honest, hardworking nature; to take advantage of someone's need and use it against them to make a buck.

But enough soapbox philosophy! Suffice to say that this book has made a profound impression on me, and is an instant favorite. Highly recommended.