Among Others by Jo Walton

From the Publisher’s Weekly starred review:

“World Fantasy Award–winner Walton (Tooth and Claw) turns the magical boarding school story inside out in this compelling coming-of-age tale. Welsh teen Morwenna was badly hurt, and her twin sister killed, when the two foiled their abusive mother’s spell work. Seeking refuge with a father she barely knows in England, Mori is shunted off to a grim boarding school. Mori works a spell to find kindred souls and soon meets a welcoming group of science fiction readers, but she can feel her mother looking for her, and this time Mori won’t be able to escape.”

I’m a month late in my Google Reader still, so I’ve only just read Aarti from Booklust’s wonderful review of Among Others. Mia and I read it last year in our YA book club and both really enjoyed it (good choice, Mia!), but I couldn’t find us ever talking about it on the blog. Aarti pretty much covered my feelings on the book, so I’d urge you to go read her review if you want to know more about the book! (That short synopsis above makes it sound more action-packed than it is. This is an often meditative book, so keep that in mind.)

(Hey, Mia, someone in the comments posted a link to a Pinterest pinboard with all of the books Mor mentions, mostly with great classic covers – isn’t it awesome?)


Themed Reading Challenges

Back to the Classics Challenge 2012

Read one classic from each category

  • Any 19th Century Classic – Middlemarch or North and South
  • Any 20th Century Classic – Cat’s Eye or Cat’s Cradle
  • Reread a classic of your choice – The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Invisible Cities, 100 Years of Solitude
  • A Classic Play – Sam Beckett?
  • Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction – Frankenstein?
  • Classic Romance – North and South
  • Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your language   – Invisible Cities, 100 Years of Solitude,
  • Classic Award Winner  – Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, Herman Hesse, William Faulker, Gabriel García Márquez, Octavio Paz, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Read a Classic set in a Country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime

The Dewey Decimal Challenge

This is a basic non-fiction challenge and I’ll sign up for the most basic level, which is reading one to five non-fiction books.

1) In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent

Reading My Life 2012 Challenge (okay, that’s not what she calls it, but whatever!)

I love the idea for this challenge! Pick one book that was published each year since the year of your birth. I’m going to go (everybody’s shocked) for the lowest level, 3 years. That means I’ll read one book each from 1986, 1987, and 1988, the first three years of my life.

1986 – Crap, a lot of books I *love* are from this year, like Speaker for the Dead and Howl’s Moving Castle. Oh, here we go. My dad got me Maus by Art Spiegelman for Christmas and the first one just so happens to have been published in 1986. Perfect!
1987 – Another great year for books – Watchmen and Beloved and Arrows for the Queen were published in 1987. Let’s see, what should I read? I could do Norweigan Wood by Murakami or Bluebeard by Vonnegut or Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks or The Forge of God by Greg Bear or Equal Rites or Mort by Terry Pratchett or Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe. This year will be harder to pick as I don’t own any of them. We’ll see what happens!
1988 – Sweet deal! Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood was published in ’88 and I own it! There are other possibilities, though – The Player of Games by Banks, a couple of Prachetts (Sourcery and Wyrd Sisters), or Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. also omg but Matilda was published in ’88 and you don’t even know how much I loved that book!

A Bit of Fry and Laurie Re: Jane Eyre

You may be one of those people who never bother to watch videos when other folks post them. (I know. I’m one of those people too.) It takes an agonizing five to ten long minutes when you could have looked at forty pictures of kittens in that time. It’s too much work! I know, I know. Shhhh shhh shhh. It’s going to be okay.

You’re going to watch this video and enjoy the hell out of it because it’s not somebody’s baby sneezing and then laughing at itself while the parents talk gibberish in annoying voices over the audio and ruin the whole thing–it’s a clip from “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” regarding Jane Eyre, and you’ll find it so funny it will suddenly restore your faith in watching videos online again. If not, then you must be dead inside.

(Please note: NSFW due to some language. Perfectly safe and even required viewing for all times outside of work.)

The Catcher in the Rye

Sometimes the best books are the ones you just grab off the shelves just because you feel like it.

On Friday I was shelving books in the library where I work, and I had this beat up copy of The Catcher in the Rye in my hands and I just thought to myself– why not? This is one of those books that I’ve never read that I should have read by now (I’m looking at all y’all: Moby Dick, The Sun Also Rises, and The Red Badge of Courage). So, I picked it up with apprehension. On the one hand, The Catcher in the Rye has John Green’s seal of approval. On the other hand, I was really sure I was going to have to drag myself through this novel hating every minute of it (ahem, akin to my experience with The Great Gatsby). But this copy was an old, well-loved, 1951 edition, and, in the end, it was the physical heft of the book that made me take it home.

This has been such a pleasant surprise. The Catcher in the Rye  is fantastic. I love it. If I was a good reviewer like Jessica, I’d review it. Even though it’s a classic. Instead, I’m gonna just quote one of my favorite parts, about the Museum of Natural History. This is a long quote, but I promise that it’s worth it.

“The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving the same blanked. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or  you’d have a substitute taking the class instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way — I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.”

This is poetry. This makes me understand why professors get all bent out of shape when someone says that poetry and prose are opposites. I love the way that this pivots, how you get all the detail about the Museum of Natural History and then it gives you the list of possible changes in a series of “or”s. Stasis followed by flux. And the images!! I don’t know. I just love it.

The Catcher in the Rye has also made me sad in a way– this is a novel for a younger person. This is a novel I should have read 5 years ago. I feel like the teenager who picks up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about because they missed it as a kid. I mean, I obviously still love it, but I think that if I’d read this a few years ago it would have been more powerful in my life. Maybe I’d be a prose person instead of a poetry one. Oh my god, maybe I’d be writing a thesis on Virginia Wolfe (like everyone else in my program, it seems like) instead of on Yeats and Stevens. So, as a  newly minted grown-up (hah, it feels like a joke as I type it out), I love this book, but I wish that I’d found it earlier.

It’s the exact opposite of my experience reading Anna Karenina at 15. 15 is too young to read Tolstoy. Let me just put that out there right now. And I fully support 8 year olds reading books marked as college reading level and beyond, it’s not that. Tolstoy is just so… dogmatic and subtle. Maybe it was just the type of teenager I was, but I hated that book. I literally did not finish it, and I never do this. I am a book conqueror, people. I want to go back to it and see what I can get out of it now, but I am afraid that it will defeat me again. Or that I’ll still detest it.My mom had a similar experience with Moby Dick, she read it last year and loved it after reading it in High School and hating it.

Are there any books that you tried to read too young or ended up reading too late? Are there certain books for certain parts of your life? If so, is there a list compiled somewhere that I can follow?!

It isn’t Black History Month.

It isn’t Black History Month, but I’m like 90% sure it’s okay to talk about Black History even if it’s not February. (/sarcasm)

So I’m reading Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis* and in the back she writes, “I was poking through military records to find information about my grandmother and I discovered an America I’d never seen. After slavery and the Harlem Renaissance, there’s a jump in the history we learn at school to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. What happened before the mighty river that was the civil rights movement is that little streams started trickling. I never found out about my grandmother, but I found others like her. This is the story of their time.” and I was like, “That is SO damn true. One would think that that Black history (in America) goes like this:

forever ago – 1865 – SLAVERY. Damn, this sucks.
1865-1920 – No slavery, so everything was probably okay for Black people, right?
1920-1935 – Harlem Renaissance! Who knew Black people were artistic? (Aside from spirituals, of course!)
1935-1955 – Nothing big happens, just a fuzzy sort of racism. Plus segregation!
1955-1968 – Civil Rights Movement! MLK, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, the end of segregation, etc.
1968-now – No more racism! Phew!” **

There and you’ve got it! Black History. Except… what about those big gaps? Like before the Civil War, in between it and the Harlem Renaissance, and then again in between it and the Civil Rights Movement. Black History isn’t just about those big movements. (And of course, let’s not forget that the Civil War, unlike the other two, was not fought by Black people*** and was also not fought for them. Banning slavery was a political move, a side effect of other goals.) What about Frederick Douglass? What about the great debate between W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington about how best to secure the future of Blacks in America? (There’s a great alternate history novel there, I’m sure of it.) What about the millions of other stories and experiences that I can’t even mention because I don’t know about them? And it made me wonder, reading Davis’ words, how much of that history we could fill in through fiction, poetry and biographies. I can think of four novels and a couple of autobiographies off the top of my head to start filling the timeline in and will add more as I think of them.


Books in this color are historical fiction.
Books in this color are not. (That is, they were written around the time the book takes place.)

1775 – 1803?
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume I: The Pox Party and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

1815 – Kindred by Octavia Butler
First half of the 1800s? Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
1818-1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
1850sWench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
1863 – A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott

1900 – The House Behind the Cedars by Charles W. Chesnutt
Early 20th centuryTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
1930sNative Son by Richard Wright
1940s – Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis

James Weldon Johnson
Langston Hughes
Claude McKay

Jean Toomer
Countee Cullen
Arna Bontemps

Nonfiction that I’m not including on the timeline for whatever reason
W. E. B. Du Bois – The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
Zora Neale Hurston – Mules and Men (1935)


SO HERE’S THE PROJECT: We are going to fill this timeline in! Going as far back as we can, and going up until the Civil Rights Movement (because I feel that there is plenty of literature for that time period, plus I have to cut off the window for historical fiction as some point… If I’m wrong, let me know!), let’s collect fiction, poetry, and biographies (because we’re interested in the people of these time periods. However, if there’s is non-biographical nonfiction that you think should be included, go ahead and suggest it! The one request I have regarding nonfiction is that it be very readable and accessible to the average reader.) chronicling the history of African Americans. (I’m specifying African Americans, but should we open it up to include the histories of the whole African diaspora? A similar project for other minorities would be totally awesome, but I’m going to hold onto my Ambition Hat here and just limit it to Black history.)

This is more important than it may seem. Part of the horror of being a slaves and other displaced/repressed person, or descendant thereof,  is that your history is lost. Only rich, privileged people had time to write, whether autobiographies, novels, or histories. That is why the trend of slaves and ex-slaves writing narratives in the middle of the 19th century is so rare and wonderful and why historical fiction written from the viewpoint of POC is also rare and wonderful. Any book that highlights these unique, mostly untold stories, deserves and needs to be spotlighted and applauded. (Sorry for all the bold, I just feel like that whole paragraph is damned important!)

Now it’s your turn. What books do you know of that will help us fill this timeline in?

~Here is a link to the page I made for this project. Please comment either here or there with your own comments, additions, and suggestions!~

*Tanita Davis is a native Californian who lives in Scotland, according to her jacket copy, with a baker! I have the one part of that that you can’t retcon (being a native Californian), so can I please request from the universe a baking Scottish boy who will fall in love with me and come take me away? kthxbai
**Please note that that is a very sarcastic timeline, espousing views that I absolutely do not hold to.
***There were African American soldiers, but I mean that the impetus for the movement was not from within, but from without.

Non-Review of Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Today I’m supposed to review Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald for the Classics Circuit.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to read a whole lot of it. I knew it would be a risk, given my dislike of The Great Gatsby, but I like to give authors, especially well-respected authors, more than one chance.

Fortunately, it’s April Fool’s Day!

APRIL FOOL’S!! No review for you!

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whether or not you want to read a review today), I still have a couple things to talk about.

So I guess that makes this a DOUBLE APRIL FOOL’S! (Maybe? I’m getting a little confused, to be honest.)

Alright, let’s get started. Fitzgerald spent almost ten years writing Tender is the Night, during which time his wife Zelda was in and out of mental hospitals. The book is about the troubles of a young psychoanalyst and his wife (who is also one of his patients), which is very clearly inspired by Fitzgerald’s own life. He wrote to a friend, “If you liked The Great Gatsby, for God’s sake read this. Gatsby was a tour de force but this is a confession of faith.” A lot of the discussion around this book is all about Fitzgerald and not about the actual book. On the back cover of my copy (which I got from the library) is a picture of Fitzgerald. The inside covers contain one half of a paragraph about the book’s plot and character, and then three and a half about Fitzgerald’s process writing the novel, his emotions and turmoils and crap. Also on the inside cover is a one-paragraph biography of Fitzgerald. Then there is an introduction, going into more detail about the history of the book and Fitzgerald’s process and turmoils and crap. I find it interesting that this book is considered, at least now, to be more important as a fictional semi-autobiography of Fitzgerald than to take it separately.

This is a brilliant transition (“Watch my hands! How beautifully they move!”), but here’s the biggest pro: his prose. Fitzgerald is a wonderful stylist. I sometimes wonder if people who lament the fiction of today are really just missing the particular stylistics of the past.

Biggest con: RWPWP. Rich White People With Problems. That is what this book is about. The characters and plot of this book (and Great Gatsby) may be stunningly complex or whatever, but I just can’t care. They are SO privileged and it turns me off so much, to the point where reading each page became an almost physical pain. Erg.

If you want to buy the book, here’s an Amazon link. I hope you enjoy it more than me!

Book List

Lost in Books hosts a weekly meme called The Book List. This week’s topic is:

Three Books I Should Love, but Actually Hate

1) The Great Gatsy by F. Scott Fitzgerald – It might not be fair for me to put this up here, as I read it in high school and not since… But, man, did I ever think that this book is overrated!

2) The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien – Okay, this is cheating, too, since I don’t actually hate these books. It’s just… The world he created is so complex and the mythology so deep and wonderful. I don’t think, however, that the writing itself stands up to the world-building. And, unfortunately for it, fantasy novels and worlds for many years based themselves off it and the plot and characters and, hell, the world itself has become cliche. I guess I feel like LotR is like Freud – the founder, the great populizer – and, again like Freud, we’ve moved onto bigger and better things.

3) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – Here’s a legitimate one. I cannot read this book. Fanny and Edmund are both such stick-in-the-mud IDIOTS and I don’t care if they ever get together. I hate this book!

I think it’s interesting that the books myself and others have chosen are either extremely popular (like Harry Potter) or classics (like all of mine). These are the books that we feel we “should” love.