All posts in: reading

09 Aug 2016

beach reads: 2016 edition

Once upon a time, I prepared for my family’s annual sojourn to the Atlantic Ocean by shoving as many books into my luggage as I could manage. Or at least spent a few fun hours thinking strategically about which handful books I might like to read while plane flying, porch rocking, or beach bumming.

This year, I thought I’d set the bar low. Flying and beaching with a baby wouldn’t leave as much reading time as usual, and we were flying Spirit – no carry-ons, and limited poundage in the single checked bag I’d now be sharing with two other humans. It would be silly to pack 5 or 6 books for a 5 day vacation. Damn. Parenthood does lead to a certain level of boring pragmatism, doesn’t it.

I decided on two physical books. First, A Feast for Crows. I told my sister I’d mail her my copy to borrow when I send her a birthday gift in September – one more incentive to actually make some progress in this series I claim to love and have invested so much time in. I’m about halfway through! There’s hope!

Second, Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk. I’ve been feeling a little disconnected from what’s going on in kid/YA lit lately, and this middle grade debut has been getting some steady buzz since it came out in May. Also, this is my book club’s next pick, so if I can figure out how to juggle a baby with social outings, then I shall be prepared to discuss!

Any supplemental reading would be relegated to my Kindle. I’ve been doing most of my reading on my Kindle lately – it’s possible to nurse while reading a physical book, yes, but only if you can comfortably one-hand it. Library books are tough. Big Fat George R. R. Martin books don’t really work out. A Kindle, however, is a breastfeeding bookworm’s best friend. I hustled to finish Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face before leaving and queued up another memoir – Beverly Cleary’s A Girl from Yamhill.

Once upon a time, I’d pack 10 books for a 10 day trip. Once upon last week, I whittled my expectations down to three. I even started writing a nice little blog post about my beach vacation reading!

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Once upon two days ago, I had to ditch A Feast for Crows because our checked bag weighed 42 lbs.

And left my Kindle sitting at home on the charger.

Ah, parenthood.

13 Jul 2016

seven post-baby reads

My sweet baby boy is now one month old. In that one month, he’s put on an impressive four pounds of adorable baby chub. While he guzzled sipped politely all the way to twelve pounds, I finished seven books.

I suppose seven books in a month isn’t terribly impressive – unless I’m in a true reading slump, I usually polish off about ten. But the last few months of my pregnancy weren’t exactly ideal for reading. There was travel, there were after work appointments and weekend errands. I was making a series of very stressful decisions, packing, moving, spending a lot of money, and oh, not sleeping.

Did I mention that? Shortly after finishing this post, my sleep took a real dive. I wasn’t adhering to my usual granny-like bedtime (too keyed up+busy) and between incessantly sore hips, peeing, and heartburn (if I didn’t quit eating by 7:30 p.m.) or hunger (if I did quit eating by 7:30 p.m.), I was up half the damn night. The sun would come up around 5 a.m. and I’d just throw in the towel. It was really sad. Now, everyone is asking me how the baby is sleeping and how I am sleeping, and I have to say, just being tired, falling asleep, and staying asleep for the 2.5 hours between feedings is GREAT. Nearly luxurious.

Anyway, my usual reading times were pretty much all foiled. Early a.m. reading over coffee? I was usually too grumpy to want to open a book. Reading lunches? Too busy running errands or writing book reviews. Audiobooks while commuting? My brain just couldn’t sit for very long. My time and my brain weren’t in the right place; in fact, I was starting to feel like reading was a bit of a chore.

AND NOW, I’ve read seven books. Mostly while nursing. Congratulations to me.

From what I’ve heard from friends, this period of SUPER READING! only lasts about as long as your child is still immobile with a tiny stomach. Which isn’t actually all that long. I should MAXIMIZE and PRIORITIZE my reading to make sure I make the most of this brief window! Oh, or maybe I’ll just read a truly random smattering of who knows what. And then write a way too long blog post about them all. I’m on maternity leave; I do what I want.

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What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam

I don’t even know if this counts as a book. It was so very short, and I’m just now noticing that the print version includes two other similarly brief pieces. I definitely just read the one. So what do successful people do before breakfast? Do they toss and turn for hours, heaving a giant pregnant belly around the bed and weeping in exhaustion? Do they nurse small children at 2 a.m. while checking Instagram and eating chocolate covered candy bars granola bars? No. They don’t. They do exactly what you think they do, if you’ve ever read a similar productivity article. Spoiler alert: they stay off the Internet, they attend to their personal projects and highest values, and they exercise. Still an interesting little read, if you are the kind of person who likes to unsurprising productivity articles (I definitely am). I do remain skeptical of anyone who does any of this stuff before breakfast. If I’m still in bed, there is definitely a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee standing between me and any of my higher values.

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Ninety Days by Bill Clegg

Hey, did I ever tell you that I got a new Kindle? I can’t remember and I don’t feel like looking through my archives. Well, I did. I decided I wanted a new, black and white Kindle to see if I could finally coerce myself into reading eBooks. I don’t know why this feels so important. I have so many paper books in my life that need to be read. I think it’s probably a Edelweiss/Netgalley related desire, even though the lousy formatting on egalleys still drives me bonkers. Anyway, I found the Vanderkam and this here run-of-the-mill drug addiction memoir while looking for “Available Now” titles on Overdrive: this book browsing tactic usually leads me to popular/mid-list titles published 1-4 years ago that I never got around to reading. I enjoyed Clegg’s Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, and I also enjoyed this follow-up. Because I like reading addiction memoirs, not because it was particularly spectacular.

(Apparently this has become my go-to critical analysis? “A good [fill in the blank] type of book if you are the kind of person who likes [fill in the blank] type books.” Oy vey. My brain cells may be atrophying.)

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Anne Enright’s Making Babies

Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother

Enter: the Mommy Books! This is a Mommy Blog now, right? The Waldman was another Overdrive “Available Now!” selection; the Enright was part of a stack of library books I’d checked out whilst quite pregnant to try to coerce myself into getting some reading done. I liked the Enright more than the Waldman; both are collections of personal essays, but Enright’s are quieter – more about the feeling and experience of motherhood, both personal and universal. Waldman’s are more about the public experience of motherhood – how society treats mothers and leads mothers to treat themselves/their children – but also about Waldman herself, but in a more autobiographical sense. Enright’s stories were about small moments in the daily endeavor of childbearing and childrearing; Waldman’s about how she met her husband and that time she wrote an incendiary article about motherhood and all of the associated outrage. I think I’m more into the Enright-type writing at this snuggly baby point in my mother-dom. Plenty of time for outrage later.

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Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart

You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

When I went into labor two weeks early, I left a truly staggering to-do list in my wake. Looking back, really far too much stuff to have actually been able to accomplish in two weeks… live and learn, I suppose. Anyway, Fantasy Dream Jessica was planning on finishing all of her outstanding professional reviews before giving birth. Actual Early Labor Jessica ended up with a handful of unfinished reviews, and two books that still needed to be read. You Were Here: a YA book with multiple POVs, illustrations, and a good cover that doesn’t quite transcend the “A Tragic Death Has Left Me Soul-Tortured! Please Help!” trope. Some Kind of Courage: a middle grade Western that adheres to the Dangerous Situation -> Just-in-time Save -> Another Dangerous Situation -> Another Save! school of adventure plots.

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All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue

And here we have Mommy’s First Post-Baby Audiobook. This one I was worried about – the stress-related brain fog during pregnancy was significant. I was really struggling to stay interested in audiobooks or to pay enough attention to absorb anything. This was disconcerting – I rely on audiobooks for a significant portion of my annual reading. My Mom/Reader friends were telling me that once that Snuggly Hungry Baby Stage ended, audiobooks would be even more important. I decided to ease back in. Something light. Low pressure. How about a somewhat fluffy beach read? I’m always on the hunt for the next Summer Sisters. This one didn’t come close – I found it entirely too predictable. However, it’s a character-driven book; while I could see where each character was heading, the characters themselves were compelling enough to keep my interest. Fun girls to hang out with, if you will. I finished during yesterday’s afternoon nap, whilst deleting entire GB of unneeded photographs from my hard drive. I didn’t even need to check it out more than once! Go, Mama, Go! I might hit up Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl next, if I dare…

 

29 Jun 2016

summer reading list 2016

My last post here was on May 10th. It took me multiple weeks to pull that one off, and that wasn’t even… like… a real post. I figured I had one or two more posts in me before the baby arrived – a summer reading list and something else. So I got to writing that something else – a lovely, timely little post about my “quarter 1 reading”… now that quarter 2 is over and done with – and started dithering over what books I might want to read over the summer. And this summer would certainly require extra dithering. I’m not known for actually completing my summer reading lists during the actual summer months – last year I read three (the Han, the Cline, and the Offill) and felt pretty accomplished – but who’s to say I’d be able to finish *any* books at all this summer?

Since I would be presumably a home-bound invalid, recovering from the wilds of childbirth with a newborn tethered to my breast, I decided to focus on reading some of the books from my growing To-Read Shelf – aka, books that wouldn’t require more than a few steps across my teeny tiny apartment to acquire.

Speaking of teeny-tiny apartment… of all of the myriad anxieties associated with my pregnancy, the WHERE THE HECK DO YOU LIVE IN BOSTON WITH A BABY question was definitely the most troublesome. I could really write a whole, boring, rage-filled post (novel?) about the situation. Just about a week prior, we’d decided, finally, that our best move was to stay in Chateau Teeny-Tiny – we’d ignore the lack of square footage, the lack of lead testing, and the somewhat discriminatory provision in our lease that required us to inform our landlords of a pregnancy in favor of stability, (relatively) teeny-tiny rent, and dealing with slight deception of the landlords we have rather than deceiving a brand new landlord. Or buying a condo we can’t afford.

Then along came something I’d heard of but never thought I would see in my lifetime – a true blue Boston Real Estate Miracle. An apartment – an unlisted, deleaded, in the city (a job requirement for me), barely-more-expensive-than-Chateau-Teeny-Tiny, HUGE-ASS apartment. And it was just down the street!

So on May 24th or so, we started packing. On June 1st, I left for work from Teeny Tiny Apartment and came home to our new address. I was just about 37 weeks pregnant, so not exactly equipped for manual labor. But I channeled any nesting energy I could muster and for a week and a half, I packed, I unpacked, I arranged, and I scrubbed. I also went to work full time, had two doctor’s appointments, a baby shower at work, finally took a Labor and Delivery tour, broke my iPhone and replaced it, went to City Hall to get a parking pass, paid my electric bill, filled out my maternity leave time sheets, and ate about 2 million Tums.

On June 9th, my water broke. 28 hours later, this little boy made his entrance into the world. Two full weeks early.

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This is all to say:

A) I have no idea what is going on in my life or the world and haven’t for a number of weeks (months? years??)

B) That shelf of unread books that was going to make my Summer Reading post so easy? Up until two days ago, it was somewhere in this mess:

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But never fear, my faithful readers! I am just three weeks into this whole motherhood gig, but I have found the time to score three bookshelves on Craigslist (for 25 bucks!), excavate that archeological dig of a library, AND throw together this arbitrary list of books that I may or may not actually read this summer.

All while keeping an infant alive! I am clearly superhuman.

So, without further ado, I present to you…

Summer Reading 2016

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross

Alright, let’s get the Mommy Blogging out of the way first. In terms of informative reading, I spent my first trimester in a protective shell of denial and read only horrifying medical information from Dr. Google and the excellent Great With Child. Second trimester, I dipped into a few childbirth-related books. Third trimester was all about breastfeeding (shout out to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding! My original skepticism still stands, but I also felt fairly informed once it was time to get started.) But after just a few days of caring for this little guy outside of my body, it hit me that I have to like… parent him all the way from squishy, hungry, sleepy baby all the way to grown-man-dom. What the what.

So I did like, 2 seconds of Googling and Simplicity Parenting recommended on two or three different blogs that seemed aligned with my general life philosophy. And that was that. I’ll let you know how it is. Hopefully some time before grown-man-dom hits, but given my track record round these parts I make no promises.

 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

At the end of 2014, I threw together a booklist I called “2014 or GTFO.” The idea was that in any given year, there are a handful of YA and children’s books that are getting buzz, attention, conversation, and potentially awards. If one wants to stay current, then read these books or GTFO. I’m throwing this children’s title on my list this summer in order to feel smug and satisfied when I inevitably write my “2016 or GTFO” post this November.

And by “this November” I mean “November of 2045.”

Okay, I’ve got to cut this out.

 

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Hey, here’s a book from that shelf of To-Read books that I yammered on about for a few thousand words up there! I’ve read Hemingway short stories but never a full-length work. This is a memoir about his writerly life in Paris that I bought *in* Paris, and I really ought to read the special books that I buy in special places instead of putting them on display.

 

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson

So, I just happened to notice that this is the second book that I juuuuust posted about. Not terribly surprising, given the nature of the previous list and also my mental capacity. Also, this is another sort-of-parenting book. Oops. Sorry.

With Malice by Eileen Cook

I went to ALA Midwinter in January with the same goal I’ve had at the last few conferences I’ve attended: acquire zero books. I failed, of course, but this credo seems to help me acquire only the juiciest of titles. Eileen Cook’s With Malice made the cut. The Italian setting appealed to me (love the cover) and the plot summary has a We Were Liars vibe. Also, a positive review from Janssen. I’m sold.

(Hmmmmmm… maybe I could just re-read We Were Liars instead? This is why I never finish summer reading lists, guys…)

Booked by Kwame Alexander

This follow-up to Alexander’s Newbery Award winning The Crossover fits not one but TWO categories – it’s surely a 2016 or GTFO title, AND it’s also another galley that’s been sitting on my To-Read shelf since January.

(Also, it’s a novel-in-verse for middle grade readers. So it’s short. I’ve got a newborn, guys, I’m not above stacking the deck.)

Semi-related fun fact: I wrote a professional review of Alexander’s debut YA novel and I thiiiiiink my review is quoted on the back cover of the paperback edition? I seem to recall discovering this while shopping at, of all places, Shakespeare & Co in Paris. It could have been a different book, though, so I might be lying.

 

A Feast For Crows by George R. R. Martin

Jessica, you are re-reading Game of Thrones AGAIN?!? What is wrong with you?

Oh no, dear imaginary, accusatory narrative voice that shows up from time to time to harangue me on my own blog. You are incorrect. You see, I’ve read and re-read the first three installments of A Song of Ice and Fire. But. I never actually got around to reading the last two.

Shame.

Shame.

After I read the first three, I thought that if my darling husband didn’t read the books, I might have to divorce him, so I launched a successful suggestive campaign. Now he’s read Book 4 and part of Book 5 and the tables have turned. I hereby commit myself to making it through A Feast for Crows this summer lest I destroy my marriage.

 

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

So after I moved in, birthed a baby, acquired a bookshelf, and assembled my To-Read bookshelf, I took a gander and decided the best place to start reading was the book that left me feeling the most embarrassed.

Aaaaand we had a winner.

(I’ve been busy! So very busy! Reading dozens, maybe even hundreds of other books! I really would have rather been reading LAST YEAR’S Sarah Dessen! But I wasn’t! Aghhhhhh I don’t want to talk about it any more.)

 

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Here’s a juicy galley that’s been sitting on my to-read stack long enough that it doesn’t feel quite as juicy anymore. It’s almost out for real! What good is a galley if you don’t read it WELL before the world can? Well, I have until August to enjoy the juice.

Gah, we are getting reaaaal close to the end of this post, if you couldn’t tell. I think I need a nap.

 

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST, the lowest of lowballs but also the best summer reading book of all time that I have read a bazillion times (but not since 2014…), the stunning, modern classic that will have you blasting Abba all summer long…

Summer Sisters.

Alright, my child’s time in this ergonomic baby carrier has drawn to a close. That is code for “my child has suddenly begun screaming at a disturbingly high pitch.” Good luck and good night, summer readers. See you on the other side of the millennium.

Summer Reading Lists Past

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15 Dec 2015

thoughts on the end of the year

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It’s December 1st today. I am taking that last calendar flip of 2015 as permission to do a little end-of-year contemplation. This year, man. This freaking year. Do I say this every year? I can’t find textual evidence at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised. When we moved to Boston in 2009, my life took off at a gallop. Thankfully, we’ve had a preternatural amount of good fortune during these last six years – much of what keeps my schedule packed is the Really Good Stuff – exciting career and professional activities, travel, time with friends and family, and good old-fashioned book readin’.

But busy is still busy. I’m still reasonably confident that I have enough hours in my weeks to accomplish some stuff while I’m kicking around on this good green earth… but I’m beginning to suspect that I might also spend those weeks (months, years) waiting for some mythical period of rest.

Is this just adulthood? A generational condition? Is it Boston? My genes? My life choices? An inability to say no? That pesky proclivity toward overachieving? Probably all of the above. Sometimes, my busy-bodiness irks me, especially when I find myself putting off tasks because I’m waiting to wrap up XXX or have a few spare moments to YYY; am I running myself ragged just so I have a good excuse to stay away from some of those bigger, scarier life goals? But I’m also the kind of person who enjoys a certain level of leisure in my daily life – I get up early so I can (re)-read chapters of Game of Thrones with my coffee, rarely do anything productive past 8:00 p.m., and am all too ready to trade my required reading for a fun book (orrrrr another episode of Master of None) when I’ve had a long day.

So, am I so prone to manic over-scheduling that my life needs a sea-change? Or am I better off manipulating my daily hours and habits so I can better utilize work and leisure time?

Well isn’t THAT a question?

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Way back in early October, I sat down in front of an empty page of a notebook to think about what would come next. I was just finishing up my Year of Reading Madly responsibilities, with three months left to spare. What should I accomplish now?

My mind started churning through that never-ending laundry list of Things to Do Later; the habits and hobbies and tasks to attempt in the event of that Mythical Time of Rest. I’d even made a list on some restless Saturday past. But there, in that moment with my notebook, there was a little voice in my head that said “Why not do nothing?”

And I listened to it.

So no arbitrary goal setting, no trying to squeeze in “Just One More…” before the end of the year, no new habit building or NaNoWriMo or anything else remotely aspirational. Not necessarily three months of wild indulgence or sloth or apathy. Just three months of getting the stuff I need to get done and then doing whatever. Three months of regular old living.

It felt like a good choice. I imagined that in between my normal activities (working, cooking, cleaning, exercising, book reviews, etc) I’d find some downtime during which I might flex my autonomy. Follow my interests. Read the books I felt like reading. Write whatever I felt like writing. Spend some quality time with my husband. Maybe watch a little more television than usual, and do some holiday baking. Regroup in January.

That was the plan, and… so far, on December 15th (God, these posts come slow…) I give myself a B-.

Points off for continuing to set the occasional goal and schedule.

And even more points off for… being too damn busy.

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So here’s what I’ve been up to.

I review books for a biannual review journal, so I’m smack dab in the middle of what I like to call Guide Season. The books are usually reasonably quick reads, the reviews brief, and I have a few years of practice now; the process isn’t overwhelming. But every four weeks – a deadline. Every four weeks – another stack of books to plow through.

I’m also preparing to participate in ALSC’s Bill Morris Book Evaluation Seminar in early January. I am really 100%, unequivocally geeked about this particular professional opportunity! We’ve got a reading list to work through before the day of discussion; thankfully, there are a lot of 2014 heavy-hitters that I’ve already read once or twice, but I’m still planning on giving each book another go around. Plus, there are articles to read, a professional book to revisit, and awards criteria to consider. Geeked, but… work.

This Fall I’ve also been doing some work for another ALSC joint – the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture Award Committee. This year, my committee selected the speaker for the 2017 Arbuthnot Lecture – which can be given by a children’s author, illustrator, editor, scholar, or anyone else equipped to write and deliver a lecture that would mark a significant contribution to the field of children’s literature. It’s a virtual committee, so there has been plenty of research, discussion, and fighting with technology to be had. The speaker will be announced in January at Midwinter, so look out for that! Then, we will move on to taking and selecting a bid for the speech’s location.

And last but certainly not least, I’m waiting patiently for January 1st, upon which it will be time for yet another year with the Cybils YA Nonfiction Award. I have read only a scant few of this year’s nominees, so I am guaranteed at least a few books to add to my docket quite soon, along with the associated discussions.

Add in a cookie competition at work, more holiday parties than I can actually physically attend, and five nights in Michigan for New Year’s… what a great time to take a step back flex one’s autonomy!

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It’s also the time of year where I typically buckle down and blog heavy for my annual end-of-year Best Reads Extravaganza.

This year, though, I am feeling conflicted. Yeah, I read a *ton* this year. 172 books completed and counting. Also, since I started my awards reading late in 2014 and wanted to avoid too much chatter about eligible titles, I set my fiscal cut-off date a little earlier than I usually do – even more books!

But it’s really been just such a strange reading year. I read so much and so fast that they are blurring together in my memory. I read some really good ones, yes, but many many many more that didn’t stand out, or that I liked but weren’t really my kind of book – books that I could gladly recommend, but few that stirred up the kind of passion that make me excited to sink time into blogging about.

The second half of the year has been even stranger. In June, I read entirely books for review. In July, more review books, plus a random assortment of other unremarkable titles – mostly adult. August was pretty good, but I only read 6 books. But in September, I only read 1! October was back to reviews; November reviews + graphic novels; December, reviews.

My busy life took over my reading life in 2015. There haven’t been too many hours in the day where I could read freely, and when those hours come, and episode of Great British Bake Off or going to bed an hour early is often more appealing. My attention span is too shot to handle dense audiobooks – podcasts and light adult nonfiction and memoirs are all I can handle.

But a year of reading critically has had an impact on what kinds of books I want to make time to read and what I think about those that I do. I feel significantly harder to please  – even if I had a magical reading holiday to tackle 10 books of my choosing, I can’t imagine that I’d feel passionate about a majority of them. Even if they were the most well-recepted, critically-amazing, just-up-my-alley kind of books. It’s harder for me to get amped up about any one particular book, but it’s even harder to decide what books to try out – to audition. I find myself wanting to wait for more and more critical input to arrive before I read something, lest I find myself wasting time.

This is something I’m hoping to work through in 2016. For now, I think I might swing back to the blog later in the month to do a Top Ten or a few fun lists. Something lower key than usual, but I can’t give up the tradition entirely after… ah… nine years? (NINE YEARS??!?)

And then… a crazy-short vacation.

And then… a crazy-crazy ALA Midwinter.

And then…

14 Oct 2015

seven half-read books

Three months left in 2015, and I have already read 140 books.

So I decided to take it easy last month. And read one book.

One single, solitary book. A statistical anomaly in my years of recorded reading life. Probably hasn’t happened since college, if then. High school? Never? I don’t know.

The book I read was Suzy Becker’s One Good Egg; a lovely memoir about trying to get knocked up (by way of science!) at 39-years-old. It was brief and illustrated and felt a little bit more like reading a magazine than a book, which I mean in a very good way. It was, indeed, the only book I’ve read in awhile that tugged at me from the coffee table whenever I passed it by. I know that all reading can’t and shouldn’t have that effect on me, but isn’t it just delightful when it does?

But yeah, that was it. The lonely only. But as much as I love writing the same books over and over and over again, one single book does not a blog make. So let me tell you about the other books I’ve been reading. The ones that I picked up for a train ride home and never opened again. The ones I’ve been chipping away at over the months. The ones I’m still on the fence about.

Seven Unread

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A last gasp of Summer Reading List pick, and one I was quite excited to read. Am quite excited to read! I’ve been trying to read a little before bed to tire out my brain, and picked this one up. I’m about 75 pages in, and I have to say that YES this is book is just Up. My. Alley. 100%. I could read about packs of 20-somethings traipsing around their lives for days. And Yanagihara’s prose is just that delightfully smooth narration that makes you forget that nothing is actually happening and then, bam, how have 75 pages gone by already? Love it.

But you know what? The book is really heavy. I have a galley, and even that is about 100 lbs. Trying to hold it up in bed is tiresome. And also, I look at all 736 pages of it and think to myself “are you really going to spend XXX hours reading a superfluous grown-up book when you could be reading XXX pages of kid lit?” and then I start to rethink my entire life and my choices and that is just not something one wants to do before bed. So I might let this one go.

Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

Do you like reading alarmist or anti-alarmist articles about American domestic decisions? Well I certainly do! I’m sure that is where I heard about this book. I was in the mood for some easy-reading nonfiction one fine afternoon and this one was on shelf, and I read about half of the essays before my attention was dragged elsewhere. I liked them okay, but like a similar read – All Joy and No Fun – I think the book could have been more accurately titled 100 Reasons Why Kids Are Terrible But I’m Trying Really Hard For This Book Not to Be a Downer. So, interesting, but somewhat depressing.

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Nothing says “FREE READING” like picking out a nice galley from your drawer of shame to read on the train home. I spent a few commutes falling down the rabbit hole behind Alice… and Ada… and then every other character? I don’t know, I didn’t finish it yet, but when I left there were a lot of folks down there in Wonderland. And also, above ground, Alice’s older teenage sister is gallivanting around. And also Charles Darwin.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

I read To All the Boys I Loved Before back in August, when I was still finishing books. I freaking loved it. So what better to bust a reading slump than picking up the sequel, which was sitting *conveniently* on my very own bookshelf?

Well, it worked for a few days, but it wasn’t a slump-buster. Perhaps because I read the first installment so recently? For me, this book was all about the warm tone and the enjoyment of spending time with the Song family; maybe some absence would have made my heart grow fonder?

I have no idea. This is turning into a strange concept for a blog post. “Why wasn’t this book the exact right book for me at this moment? Why couldn’t this book overcome my busy schedule and mercurial moods?” I have no idea. I’ll be back for you, Song girls, I will indeed.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Ooooookay. So this one is filed under Epic Library Fine Fiascos. You know that thing where you are trying-trying-trying to actually read the books you’ve checked out, but somehow 5 renewals are just not quite enough to finish a highly illustrated book with plenty of white space on each page? And then you have so many overdues that your Overdrive account gets shut off?

No? I’m the only one?

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

So I’m not blogging or reading… so what have I been doing lately? Going medieval on my family budget, with an emphasis on not spending so dang much on groceries. Since I haven’t had much time for experimental cooking this past year, I was excited to get back into the kitchen. The intersection of these two desires is Reese’s book, which breaks down which homemade goods are worth the sweat and which ones are just too laborious – and, interestingly, which foods are a pain in the butt to make AND cost more money.

I was expecting a useful text, but I wasn’t expecting to read this straight through. However, Reese weaves little narratives in between recipes; kitchen fails and successes, stories about favorite restaurants and shops, misadventures in chicken-rearing. Very readable.

But it’s also a cookbook, so I’m sure I got to a really interesting looking recipe for ricotta, decided I would become a home cheesemaker, and put the book down and forgot to pick it up again.

Also, forgot to make cheese. But that’s just the kind of life I’m living right now.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Toward the end of the month, I was starting to feel a little unhinged. So many unfinished books! None close enough to being finished! Why did I do this to myself? Whatever happened to my four book rule?

So I decided that what I needed was… to start another book entirely.

Yes, this made sense at the time.

But, here’s a SURPRISING TWIST ENDING TO THIS OVERLY LONG, NOT THAT INTERESTING POST! –

I finished it this weekend!

So yes. The title of this post is a lie. But that is what happens when it takes you more than seven calendar days to post a blog. I’m not giving up just because I just *happened* to undermine my central premise, folks.

Anyway, what did I think? I thought it was cute. It read smoothly, the plot was fairly compelling, and the romance was the good kind of YA romance. And by that I mean the of romance kind I like. Also, a two-boys romance.

Also, also, I officially need to finish more books so I get back to writing normal-person blog posts.

16 Jul 2015

Summer Reading List 2015

I kind of thought it would never show up. That the crazy-busy winter and springtime would never end. That the snow would never melt (oh wait, it didn’t) (update: it just did) That I’d never be released into the freedom that is “Summer Reading.”

I spent the official solstice on an interminable flight – San Antonio to Houston, Houston to Baltimore, Baltimore to Boston. It was still bright out when I got home, completely strung out. I stayed strung out for the rest of the week, then got back on an airplane and began the Great European Adventure of 2015.

Don’t worry, though, Summer was just on point in Europe. The sun didn’t set until 10 p.m, which was kind of delightful for a vacation… except for, oh, the crippling heat. European air conditioning = just as wimpy as European wifi, by the way. In Paris, our hotel brought us a 20 lb bag of ice in a foam cooler – old school AC? – but I still couldn’t sleep because sweat kept dripping down my face.

But now I am home, the land where snow never melts and as soon as I finish reading a stack of review books (eta: July 20th-ish) then my SUMMER READING CAN TRULY BEGIN!

Blargh. What kind of Summer Reading doesn’t start until July 20th? Book People Problems.

Because of my late start and my unusual circumstances, I’ve stripped all auspices of ambition from my Summer Reading list. I didn’t even aim very high when creating said list – I really just picked the first 10 books that I came across that sounded fun. Free. Fun and free reading. You know what that’s like, you unencumbered readers you, and I am jealous.

Also, by 10 books I mean 9. That’s the kind of life I’m leading.

 

 

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In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Summer Sisters is my ultimate Summer Read, so you best believe I’m excited about a new adult J. Blume. I bought an ebook copy – I tried to read it while I was gallivanting around Europe, but alas, alack, I made 6 flights in 10 days, so no I was not going to be reading a book about plane crashes. I think I’m grounded for the rest of 2015, though, so now’s the time for some Judy.

 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

My life has been lacking Directly Up My Alley YA lately. That is code for Girly as Shit (but not vapid whatsoever) YA – this series not only fits the bill, but pretty much all of my friends have read it and think it’s great. So I’m going to read it, yes, yes I am.

 

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson

You know what else is directly up my alley? A NONFICTION BOOK BY M. T. Anderson. Be still my heart. And I have a galley, so booyah.

This post is getting weird. Apologies. I might need to take a dinner break and come back mature and coherent.

 

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

This is one of those books that I actually know very little about but somehow feel is just The Book For Me. It’s the cover, the mystery, the Italian…osity, the popularity spike, the fact that it’s a story about friendship throughout a lifetime. Yeah, those are all things that I like. I bought my mama a copy for Christmas – maybe if I’m lucky she’ll let me borrow it while we’re at the beach next month? [insert endearing eyelash batting here]

 

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

The one BEA galley to rule them all. Which has been taunting me from atop a monstrous pile of books on my bedroom floor for OVER A MONTH now. Ugh. It’s just gotta be read, guys. It’s gotta happen. I’m a fangirl.

 

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Grown up books! Grown up books! Grown up, grown up, grown up books!

(That dinner break was not effective, I’m afraid…)

Anyway. Yeah. Books for grown ups about grown ups doing grown up things. Like getting married and having families and partaking in other domestic-y everyday dramas. Yes please. This one comes with friend recommendations, and while my current family domestic-y drama clocks in at over 600 pages, Dept. of Speculation is blissfully short. Body of a grown up, attention span of a small child – that’s me. Also, Offill’s previous publications include a sloth picturebook. So this one’s gotta be good, right?

 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara

Speaking of grown up books… here’s a bigger and fatter one that I am pretty geeked about for the following reasons:

  • Yanigahara’s debut: so dang great and so dang creepy.
  • The summary – “…four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way…” – is just 500% Jessica-bait

 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Okay, perhaps I couldn’t entirely avoid the obligatory read. But guys, it’s kind of embarrassing that I haven’t read this one yet, and I really could finish it it in about 2 hours if I put my mind to it. So this doesn’t really count as un-fun reading. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

(Has nothing to do with the tasty galley waiting for me at work. Nothing whatsoever.)

 

Armada by Ernest Cline

Last but not least, we have the new Ernie Cline. Loved Ready Player One so much, so this should be a no-brainer… but I’ve read mixed reviews for this follow-up. But you know what Fun Reading is about for me? Seeing for myself. Picking up books that don’t have unanimously amazing reviews and finding out if they spark my interest. Taking off my Professional Book Person hat for a minute. Reading an iffy book about video games because why the heck not?

So, that’s my summer. And by summer I mean July 25th-ish until September 21st. Or when snow starts to fall – whatever comes first.

Summer Reading Lists Past

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12 Jun 2015

BEA 2015

Four days after The Big Selection Day, I hopped a bus down to NYC for a quick trip to BEA. It was probably an ill-advised trip – yeah, strung-out Jessica, why NOT take a solo jaunt down to the city that doesn’t sleep to attend the craziest book conference available? Ahem. Anyway, I tried to make it as quick and painless as possible, spending one day at SLJ’s Day of Dialog and another on the floor at BEA proper.

 

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I started off my trip with a long, briskly paced walk through Central Park with my cousin the 19-year-old super model. I’ve been to NYC bunches of times but never actually made it to Central Park before? ?? Anyway, we caught up and I took pictures like a dirty rotten tourist and we visited Alice, and then I went back to my hotel room and collapsed.

I attended SLJ’s Day of Dialog last year and my previous praise still stands. It’s a fun little event. Brian Selznick started the morning with his keynote address. He posited his last three books – The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck, and the upcoming The Marvels – as a thematic trilogy about the triumph of the story – of triumph over chaos. Is there anything that intrigues and delights me more than a “thematic trilogy?” Possibly not. I promptly began kicking myself for not having read ANY OF THESE THREE BOOKS. Don’t worry – I started reading Hugo two days ago. It’s really good.

The next panel focused on environmental issues in books for children, and featured Paul Fleischman, Louis Sachar, April Pulley Sayre, and Anita Silvey. I want to pause for a moment and try to express how excited my inner 9-year-old was to be in the same room as Louis Sachar. And he even talked about Wayside School and There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom!! WHAT. WHAAAAT. Okay. Anyway. The panelists talked about why they write or illustrate various environmental issues, how they tailor their content to inspire and engage a young audience (rather than scare the crap out of them), and why it’s so dang important. They also talked about how writing about the earth and environment for children is tied intimately to ideas of history and a shared humanity – the “presence of the past,” as a panelist put it so eloquently. Learning about the physical world and how it has changed and will change is also learning about one’s place in the world. It’s not all reduce-reuse-recycle – it’s about community, connectedness, and social responsibility.

The panel on middle school fiction was heavy on the entertainment and the kidlit celeb factor. Lisa Graff! Rebecca Stead! Tim Federle! Luke Reynolds! Rita Garcia-Williams! Embarrassing middle school stories were shared and jokes were had. The more serious discussion, however, reminded me of all of the things I love-love-love about middle school lit – middle school years are about forming identity, saying goodbye to childhood, gaining new levels of awareness, and struggling to understand yourself and to be seen for who you really are. Great middle school books let their protagonists muddle around with these questions, even if the answers are messy and half-formed.

I took fewer notes at the afternoon sessions, as is natural. A. S. King gave this drop-dead astounding luncheon talk about feminism in her life, in her work, and in the world around us. There’s a recap article over on SLJ – still hoping that the full-text or a recording of this one will be made public. Patrick Ness razzled and dazzled all over the YA panel. Publishers pitched their Fall 2015 books, and the last panel of the day went distressingly long. And then, the Big Announcement. I was nervous and so happy. There was some hooting and hollering in the audience, and then wine.

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I hit BEA proper the next day, but the results were much less exciting. I popped into the YA editor’s buzz panel (Everything Everything looks like the definitive Big Fall Title, FYI) and a panel on ebooks in library collections. I checked in on the state of Hoopla ebooks. I tried to get publishers to talk to me about this little presidential ebook campaign you may have heard of, but it seems everyone is in just as much limbo as we are. I sat down for a quick minute at an adult fic panel moderated by Jami Attenberg (who I kind of adore), accidentally walked into a VIP networking event (where I proceeded to network with a reference librarian… who works in my building),  and then I hopped on the bus to go home.

My not-so-secret reason for attending: I wanted to take the chance to study the fine art of Panel Moderation. Because I am going to be called to the task this coming October. Gulp. Gag. Panic Panic Panic. I took notes! Because that’s the only strategic operative I have in my arsenal. If you’re going to be in the Boston area in October, you should definitely come to this really great event (*cough* it’sbetterthanDayofDialog *cough*) Even if I’m a panicked heaving mess, it will probably be pretty good.

Heaven help me.

03 Jun 2015

reading for the insane: i did, i didn’t

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  • I read first thing in the morning with my coffee, at my favorite bakery before work (with a cup of coffee), and at my favorite Starbucks during my lunch break. Most every work day.
  • Yes, I spent a lot of money on coffee. A lottttttt.
  • I ate the same five or six dinners on repeat. Half of which came directly from Trader Joe’s. Mmm… cabernet pot roast.
  • Actually, I kind of ate the same food every day. Eggs, leftovers, nuts+fruit, dinner, wine+chocolate. Lather rinse repeat.
  • For six weeks, I followed a fairly low-carb meal plan, for mood-control purposes mostly.
  • I gave myself permission to do whatever weird, nerdy thing I wanted to do related to books. Mildly necessary spreadsheets, obsessing over starred reviews (huge shout out to Jennifer Jazwinksi and her constantly updating spreadsheet of starred book wonder. If I could nominate you for sainthood, I would), and a lot of strange things involving index cards
  • Against my better judgement, I signed up for a [fill in the blank with your favorite online conglomerate] Prime account here. I don’t have a car, so I wanted a more time-efficient way to buy things like birthday gifts and watch batteries and more and more and more index cards.
  • I spent a lot of money on index cards.
  • I read on buses, trains, and planes. In airports, backseats, coffee shops, and bars. I read in four different states – Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Massachusetts. Mostly, though, I read on the couch or in my bed.
  • I brought a bag of picturebooks to a friend’s house to watch an NFL playoff game.
  • I gave myself permission to listen to anything that could hold my attention. Some children’s/teen books, yes, but a LOT of podcasts and also some true crime. I don’t know what that says about me, but there you go.
  • I took some personal time, including a day where I read a book for 20 minutes, took a 5 minute break, then picked up a different book for 20 minutes, took a 5 minute break, and did this for pretty much ten straight hours. That was a weird day.
  • I used a time tracking app to keep myself accountable. It was kind of addictive.
  • I tried to keep a 9 p.m. bedtime.
  • I discovered a few good mantras, including “Pressure is a choice,” “Why aren’t you reading a book?” and “You can worry about that in June.”

 

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  • I did not permit myself any exercise-related ambition. The last thing I needed was an injury or to spend my evenings exhausted and strung out on low blood sugar. 30 minutes on the elliptical, four times a week, book in hand. The end.
  • I did not go out much at all.
  • I did not blog. (Which I’m sure you all figured out. Assuming you are all still here. Knock, knock? Any readers left?)
  • I did not write anything for myself.
  • I wrote book reviews, but I did not permit myself to freak out about them. Because who has time for that? (Present Day Jessica: take note) (Present Day Jessica: stop talking to yourself in parentheses)
  • I tried very hard not to worry about my health, about money, or about anything happening after May 2015.
  • I quit Twitter and Facebook for 3-ish months.
  • I didn’t miss it too much.
  • I didn’t always keep my shit together.
  • I didn’t do much other than….. read.

(and it was pretty fun.)

02 Feb 2015

reading rockstar

This morning I woke up to a foot-ish of snow and the cold, hard reality that my employer was expecting me to show up at work. Also, a post-Super Bowl Too Much Food&Drink Not Enough Sleep situation. Read: grumpy as hell.

I did, however, make it into the office in time to watch the webcast of  the ALA Youth Media Awards. And wow, what a crazy set of awards. There were upsets! Some well-deserving sleepers! Some books I really disliked taking home gold medals! An arguably YA graphic novel on the Caldecott list, a graphic novel on the Newbery list, and six (SIX!!) Caldecott honors that still somehow managed to skip some of my 2014 favorites. Definitely a wild ride.

Now, because I am having such a crummy day, I am going to divert your attention from the authors and illustrators who put forth such an amazing crop of children’s and young adult literature this past year and brag SHAMELESSLY about how many of these freaking award books I have read. Seriously. Reader, I killed it.

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  • I read the Newbery Medal winner – The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – and both honor books.
  • I read the Coretta Scott King Author Award winner – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – and one honor.
  • I read the Coretta Scott King Illustrator winner – Firebird by Christopher Myers and Misty Copeland – and one honor.
  • I read the Schneider Family Book Award for middle school readers – Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin.
  • I read the Pura Belpre Illustrator Award – Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales.
  • I did not read the Stonewall Book Award winner – This Day in June by Gayle E. Pittman – but I did read two of the three honor books.
  • I did not read the Geisel Winner – You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant – but I did read one of the two honor books.
  • I read the William C. Morris award winner – Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – and one other honor book.

 

The only categories I completely whiffed on were the Pura Belpre Author Award and my beloved Alex List. Brag, braggity brag brag BRAG… but this is likely the only year this will happen, so thank you for indulging my self-indulgence and CHEERS to another great year of books!

 

09 Dec 2014

Best Reads of 2014

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Hello!

Hello!

It’s time to talk about my favorite reads of the year!

I have been at this particular game for a significant period of time. Perhaps too long? Maybe someday I will be so busy that I can’t be bothered to write a zillion posts about books in December. In fact, I have been veryveryvery busy. Busy enough that I really should not be undertaking any additional undertakings.

And yet.

Old habits die hard.

As usual, this is definitely not a Best of 2014 list. These lists include books published this year, next year – any year; they are assembled from the particular crop of books I’ve read in 2014. More accurately, they are assembled from the particular crop of books that I’ve only read for the first time – and only during my arbitrarily decided upon Fiscal Reading Year. FRY14 ran from late December to mid-November this time around. I’ve also chosen to remove some books from consideration this year for some non-blog related reasons. The authenticity of this particular Best Of list is even more in question than usual. But don’t worry – there are nearly 150 remaining books to choose from this year. There’s plenty of good stuff left! Also, I’ve planned a couple of Fun! New! Surprising! Lists! Am I the only one entertained by all of this? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. But this is my blargh – I do what I want.

Speaking of doing what I want, a reminder that everything I write here on this blargh is my own brain matter, my personal opinions, nothing at all that represents the opinions of my employers or anyone else with whom I do business. I relinquish all associations that may give you the impression that I am of any authority. These books are all about my enjoyment, my gut feelings, The Person I Am while Reading The Books That I Happened to Want to Read this year.

From now until Christmastime, here is what is in store for you!

~
Tuesday, December 9thBest Middle Grade Reads

Thursday, December 11thBest Adult Fiction Reads

Thursday, December 11th –  Best Adult Nonfiction Reads

Friday, December 12thBest Young Adult Fiction Reads

 

Saturday, December 13th through Saturday, December 24thTop 10 Best Reads!

 

10. This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

9. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Be happy! Be excited! Be prepared to forgive me if I get so backed up writing these blog posts that I finish next December 24th and turn my blog into a perpetual, yearlong “What Books Were Good Last Year” blog. Oh wait, that’s exactly what my blog is. Maybe I should just write nothing but End of the Year Book Blog posts, for the rest of time – a never ending cycle. I kind of like that idea, actually. Hmmm… Either way, time to get a-postin’. See you tomorrow!