Please Don't Ask What I'm Reading...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

...unless you really want to know!

I'm sure I'm not the only person this happens to.  Yesterday, when I was taking a few precious, highly-coveted minutes of reading time, an acquaintance asked me the dreaded question, "What are you reading?"

Why is that the dreaded question?  Aside from the fact that having to formulate a response meant losing out on the actual reading of the book in question?  I dread that question because the answer is never quite as easy as the asker might assume.

Part of the issue stems from the fact that usually this question is asked by an acquaintance.  My close friends know not to interrupt me when I'm reading, for starters.  But in my experience this question tends to get asked by someone who is looking to make some sort of connection with me-show they are interested by remarking on something they assume I care about-but are not usually serious readers themselves.  As a result, they don't understand how difficult it is to answer that question.

Well, the shortest answer, of course, is to just tell them the name of the book.  Sadly, this often leads to blank stares in response, since most of the time the person in question has never heard of the book or author, and now has nothing else to say.  This sometimes leads to the "What is it about?" question, which can be equally difficult to navigate. I have occasionally used the "title and author" answer as a way of shutting down someone who is attempting to talk to me while I read, my eyes immediately returning to the text in a very obvious signal to leave me alone already.  I try to only reserve this option for people I barely know-and don't necessarily care to know better.

But what about the others?  I usually feel obligated to say a little something about the plot of the book-but how much?  Maybe the person is really a reader on the DL, and I am going to ruin a perfectly good read for them if I say too much.  I love talking about the books I read with other people who are readers, so if I go into "book club" mode I could go on for a long time about the plot, style, author's voice, etc...That's usually when the casual questioner's eyes glaze over.  Kind of like asking someone how they are, and them telling you in detail about everything they did since they saw you last.  Either way-spoiler or oversharer-leads to awkward pauses, and gaps in the conversation where the person who had the bad luck to ask me the dreaded question has to figure out how to respond. 

Therefore, I'd like to make this announcement to the world!  Please don't ask me what I am reading unless you really want to know.  Because I will tell you, possibly in excruciating detail, both the plot and my analysis of it.  I know that you are just trying to be polite, making conversation about something that interests me.  But it requires too much thought on my part to navigate how much you really want to know, and how much time I want to take to tell you.  So be prepared, and ask at your own risk-just wait until I finish the chapter first!

To Review or Not to Review, or a Fellow Book Blogger Needs Your Opinion

Friday, September 24, 2010

So I've had my blog for about a year now.  I've enjoyed it, and I look forward to many more years of blogging about great books.

Here's my dilemma-my reading time has shrunk to almost nil.  In the past two weeks I have not finished a book.  This fact makes me cringe.  I was reading a book, One Day, by David Nicholls, for my book club.  Problem was, I didn't like it, so I kept putting it down.  I wrote a post last year about giving up on books I'm not enjoying, but since this was a book club book I figured I was obligated.  Well, not only did I not finish it for book club, I finally gave up and started another book, which I also haven't finished.  I just don't have as much time to read at this time of year, especially this year.

So, what to do about the blog?  I don't want the blog to sit here idle while I am not able to do as much reading.  I enjoy the community too much to be that disconnected, and frankly since I started a blog so I'd have an audience for my writing it would be nice if people were still around after this fallow period to read it.  Thus my question:  should I start writing reviews of books I read years ago?  Is that somehow cheating?  Will anyone care to read them?  If this blog is supposed to be an electronic book journal, does it make sense to start going backwards rather than forwards?

I know, I know-it's my blog, I can do what I want!  But I'm curious what my fellow book bloggers think.  Do you ever go back and review books from your past?  Do you think of your blog as a way to let people know about what's new, or do you review any old thing you read regardless of when you read it?  Do you ever recycle reviews? 

It's the Friday Book Blog Hop!

In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word!  This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!  (hosted by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books)

The Hop lasts Friday-Monday every week, so if you don't have time to Hop today, come back later and join the fun!  This is a weekly event!  And stop back throughout the weekend to see all the new blogs that are added!  We get over 200 links every week!!

This week's question comes from Elizabeth who blogs at Silver's Reviews.

When you write reviews, do you write them as you are reading or wait until you have read the entire book?
I always wait until I have finished the whole books before I write a review-unless I don't finish the book!  It is a rare occurrence, but occasionally there is a book that I just can't read.  Sometimes the writing is poor, sometimes the story is terrible, and sometimes it's just a mismatch between my mood and the book, but it happens.  In that case, I still write a review of what I read-though not usually reviews those authors would be happy to read!  I'll be writing one of those this weekend, as a matter of fact!

The Midwife's Tale, Gretchen Moran Laskas

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In the early 1900s, a young girl lived with her mother at the base of Denniker's mountain in rural West Virginia.  Her name was Elizabeth Whitely, and her mother was a midwife.  Even before she reached her own childbearing age, Elizabeth became her mother's assistant, and finally a midwife in her own right, following in the footsteps of not just her mother, but her grandmother and great-grandmother.  Elizabeth was also a bastard, never knowing her father.  And she was in love, with Alvin Denniker, for whose family the mountain was named.  But Alvin came home from a trip across the country with a Cuban bride, Ivy, crushing Elizabeth's hopes.  Despite this, Elizabeth and Ivy became close, and Elizabeth helped her deliver her daughter, Lauren.  When tragedy strikes Ivy and Alvin's family, Elizabeth steps in, raising Lauren as her own.  But when Lauren demonstrates a "gift" that could turn her into a tent-revival freak show, Elizabeth has to make the difficult decision to send her away, losing not only the daughter she has come to love, but the man as well.

Laskas has given us in The Midwife's Tale a story about the deep connection between mothers and daughters.  Rather than being sentimental, the relationships between mothers and daughter in this book are fraught with anger, resentment, and rebellion.  Elizabeth's mother rebelled by going with the man who gave her Elizabeth, and then again by moving herself and Elizabeth to their own house on the mountain-something unheard of for an unmarried women in the early 20th century.  Elizabeth's rebellions are similar-her decision not to become a midwife after learning about her mother's part in smothering unwanted babies, leaving her home to live with a man to whom she is not married.  But each woman, despite the anger and resentment they sometimes feel, are deeply connected by love, family, and tradition.  Elizabeth as a mother herself is devoted, continuing to live in less-than-ideal conditions with a man who won't marry her for the sake of being with Lauren.  Lauren really ends up being the catalyst for a lot of change in Elizabeth's life-where she lives, who her man is, what her job is, and ultimately her own pregnancy.

While I don't mind magical realism in a novel, in this one it felt superfluous.  When Lauren begins curing people, about midway through the book, it caused a strange dissonance for me between the story I thought I was reading and the one that Laskas apparently meant to write.  I suppose that using Lauren's gift as the reason that Lauren has to be sent away from the mountain was one way to go, but even that rational felt tenuous to me.  Frankly, I think that the story of a strong young woman finding her own way in the world, despite the sexism of the time period, would have been stronger if there has not been this attempt to explain at least some of her decisions away on her adoptive daughter's faith healing.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Welcome to another Monday morning!  Since last Monday was Labor Day, I chose not to labor on my blog, so this is a review of my reading for the last couple of weeks.

Books I finished:

The Midwife's Tale, by Gretchen Moran Laskas
(Review coming soon!)

Next on my literary horizon:

The Chalk Circle Man, by Fred Vargas

When strange, blue chalk circles start appearing overnight on the pavements of Paris, the press take up the story with amusement and psychiatrists trot out their theories. Adamsberg is alone in thinking this is not a game and far from amusing. He insists on being kept informed of new circles and the increasingly bizarre objects which they contain: empty beer cans, four trombones, a pigeon’s foot, four cigarette lighters, a badge proclaiming “I Love Elvis,” a hat, a doll’s head. Adamsberg senses the cruelty that lies behind these seemingly random occurrences. Soon a circle with decidedly less banal contents is discovered: the body of a woman with her throat savagely cut. Adamsberg knows that other murders will follow.  (from Goodreads)

One Day, by David Nichols

Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows? Twenty years, two people, ONE DAY. From the author of the massive bestseller STARTER FOR TEN.  (from Goodreads)

Bad Monkeys, by Matt Ruff

Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder.
She says she's a member of a secret organization devoted to fighting evil. She says she's working with the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons—aka "Bad Monkeys."
Her confession lands her in the jail's psychiatric wing and earns her countless hours of poking, probing, and questioning by a professional. But is Jane crazy or lying?
Or is she playing a whole different game altogether? (from Goodreads)

Have a wonderful reading week, everyone!

Whisper to the Blood, Dana Stabenow

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Inside Alaska’s biggest national park, around the town of Niniltna, a gold mining company has started buying up land. The residents of the Park are uneasy. “But gold is up to nine hundred dollars an ounce” is the refrain of Talia Macleod, the popular Alaskan skiing champ the company has hired to improve their relations with Alaskans and pave the way for the mine’s expansion. And she promises much-needed jobs to the locals.

But before she can make her way to every village in the area to present her case at town meetings and village breakfasts, there are two brutal murders, including that of a long-standing mine opponent. The investigation into those deaths falls to Trooper Jim Chopin and, as usual, he needs Kate to help him get to the heart of the matter.

Between those deaths and a series of attacks on snowmobilers up the Kanuyaq River, not to mention the still-open homicide of Park villain Louis Deem last year, part-time P.I. and newly elected chairman of the Niniltna Native Association Kate Shugak has her hands very much full."  (from'm cheating on my summaries today!)

If you haven't read Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak series yet, I highly recommend them for popcorn reading.  The setting is really what makes the book.  Kate is an Aleut Indian, raised by her grandmother in the Park-a generic national park in Alaska, miles away from anywhere, full of Aleuts, Athabaskans, trappers, subsistence fishermen, hunters, miners, and the occasional shady character running from something-spouse, bank, or police.  The four Aunties who are the unofficial heart, soul, and law of the Park feel like something out of Greek mythology.  While many of the Park residents are on the dissolute side, for the most part everyone bands together to survive and make a productive life in what is one of the most difficult places to live on Earth. 

The Kate Shugak novels always have layers-the Park is 20,000,000 acres of space for people to hide things.  There is a lot going on below the surface.  Usually I like a complex storyline, but this one felt a little crowded.  Maybe it's the start of school and my grad school work taking up most of my cognitive energy, but I found myself losing storylines, which almost never happens.  Even at the very end, during the "big reveal", I had to go back and re-read to make sure I remembered who had done what to who. 

The characters were, as usual, spot on.  Kate's character is sort of that stereotypical loner-female-PI, but something about the setting and her lifestyle makes that feel fresh.  Stabenow can make this eccentric cast of characters feel real and believable.  Kate's relationship with Trooper Jim is one of those tumultuous "should we/shouldn't we/am I too damaged/can I trust someone" romances that drive me crazy.  Generally speaking if the two adults involved just shared more words and less sex there would be no reason for all the drama.  But, for the most part that was underplayed in this book except where it affected the storyline, which I appreciated.  Overall, I'd say this is not my favorite of Stabenow's books, but I would still recommend her and it to anyone looking for a good location-based mystery series.

Shoot to Thrill, PJ Tracy

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Usually I don't really care for novels that have more than one author.  I tend to find them disjointed and without the flow that novels by one author have.  The rare exception is the Monkeewrench series by PJ Tracy.

PJ Tracy is the pseudonym of the mother and daughter writing team of PJ and Traci Lambrecht.  Together they have created one of the more unique crime-fighting teams in today's contemporary thriller landscape.  Monkeewrench is a company made up of four completely unique individuals.  Harley Davidson, Annie Belinsky, Roadrunner, and Grace McBride are computer geniuses with enough quirks and eccentricities to fill a football stadium.  They were fist introduced in the novel Monkeewrench, in which they were reluctantly dragged into helping the police after someone started killing people in exactly the same way as the serial killers in a serial killer detective game they had created. 

In this new novel, Shoot to Thrill, Grace and her team must put their considerable computer skills to work tracking someone who is murdering people, filming it, and then posting the video online.  While there are many possibilities (like every internet user in the country), what is more frightening is the idea that there could be a whole community of people who are participating.  Rolseth and Magozzi, along with new character FBI Agent John Smith, ask the Monkeewrench team to use their special (hacking) skills to try and trace the videos, and what they discover is closer to home than they think.

While I really enjoyed this book, I didn't think it was quite as good as the others.  It seemed as though the Monkeewrench people took a backseat to the law enforcement officers on this one, and they are so fascinating as characters it left the story feeling a little flat.  Not that Magozzi and Rolseth don't have their charms-they are some of the most likable police characters since Milo Sturgis from the Alex Delaware novels by Jonathan Kellerman (though any faithful reader of this blog knows I'm mad at them right now!).  When we did get to spend time with the crew at Harley Davidson's mansion, it was more about their work and how they interacted with the FBI agent in their space than about them as characters.  However, the way that the book ended gives me hope that some interesting changes are coming to the world of Monkeewrench for the next book, and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes computers and mysteries.  Go back and start with Monkeewrench, though, if you haven't read this author yet.  This particular series is better in order.

The Passion of Alice, by Stephanie Grant

Sunday, September 05, 2010

In her 1995 novel of self-acceptance, The Passion of Alice, Stephanie Grant paints a picture of a young woman stuck-not able to move forward with her life, and slowly fading away to nothingness.  Alice is a 25 year old librarian who is hospitalized at the eating disorders clinic at the well-known Seaview Hospital after a heart attack caused by her extreme thinness.  At 89 pounds and 5'10" tall, Alice feels that she is starving herself down to her very essence, shedding everything not about her that is not essential.  While at the hospital, she begins to gain weight while getting to know Gwen, a frail timid anorexic; Louise, a grossly overweight woman who is a compulsive eater; and finally Maeve, a risk-taking bulimic who forces Alice to confront her sexuality.  When Maeve escapes the hospital, Alice has her second brush with death, and when she gets a visit from an old friend, she finally realizes that in order for her to move forward with her life, she must accept all parts of herself.  She cannot starve away her feelings.

If this sounds a little bit like the gay version of Girl, Interrupted, you're not wrong.  It felt a bit like the gay version of Girl, Interrupted.  However, many of the things that made the book Girl, Interrupted powerful are also present in this story.  Grant focuses not so much on the disease of anorexia as the reasons for Alice's starvation.  When Alice goes to chapel on week, she shares with the nurse that escorts her that "passion" also means "suffering", and that becomes the major underlying theme of the book.  Anything that causes Alice to feel passionate also causes her suffering.  Trying to live up to her mother's expectations, her feelings about women and sex, her desire for food that she knows she won't eat.  Her anorexia becomes a way to control her passions, essentially trying to starve the feelings away until she is left with nothing but her most essential essence.  What she discovers is that her feelings, especially her feelings about women and sex, are an essential part of her. 

Loss of innocence and maturation is also a recurring theme throughout the book.  For Alice, that means coming out of a state of willful ignorance about herself-basically, she figures out it's time to put her big girl pants on and get on with things!  To some extent it feels as though most of the women on the unit are having a similarly hard time integrating into adulthood-even the ones who have been chronological adults for quite some time.  Their reactions to each other, their petty fights, their childish behavior when in public all lead to this sense of them being childlike.  The implication seems to be that perhaps the first step in being healthy was to grow up.  This can mean confronting some harsh realities-like when one of the doctors catches them off-grounds and offers to trade his silence for sex.

There is less accusation against the psychiatric community in this novel than in similar books, but as the example above shows not everyone in the hospital is portrayed in a positive light.  What the setting of the hospital did for me was provide a symbol of the way in which society tries to define what is healthy and normal, and how anyone outside of that definition is considered broken and in need of fixing.  It is my sincere hope that we are finally getting to a point in our country where gays and lesbians are no longer seen as broken, but are fully accepted for who we are.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

Welcome Friday Hoppers!  Glad you made it to my little corner of the blogosphere.  The Book Blogger Hop is a chance to check out new (or new-to-you) blogs hosted by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books.  Here's what she has to say about it...


In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word!  This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!  So, grab the logo, post about the Hop on your blog, and start HOPPING through the list of blogs that are posted in the Linky list below!!

The Hop lasts Friday-Monday every week, so if you don't have time to Hop today, come back later and join the fun!  This is a weekly event!  And stop back throughout the weekend to see all the new blogs that are added!  We get over 300 links every week!! 

Your blog should have content related to books, including, but not limited to book reviews.
This week's question comes from: 
Sarah @ SarahReadsTooMuch

Do you judge a book by its cover?
The answer is yes and no, as I imagine it is for a lot of us.  If the book is by an author I love, I don't really care if the publisher gave it a stupid cover-I'll read it.  Ditto with books that good friends have recommended to me.  Usually if someone knows me well enough to give me a serious book recommendation, they know me well enough to know that I will like it regardless of cover art.  When browsing for myself, I will admit that certain kinds of covers turn me off.  I think part of the reason I don't prefer romance novels is because the covers always look so cheesy.  Same with high fantasy novels, or some women's fiction.  Call me a snob, but there you have it!
I do not, however, ever choose a book JUST because of the cover.  I have read some books with beautiful covers that are real duds.  Clearly, it is in the best interest of the publishers to have their book jump out at you, your local bookstore being the crowded marketplace that it is.  They also seem to know that we as consumers are drawn to certain kinds of art on book covers, because once a book becomes popular with a particular style of art on it, suddenly every book on the shelves with similar genre or theme is doing copycat covers. Ultimately, the cover is irrelevant to the writing, and since it's the writing I'm purchasing the book for, the cover becomes an added perk if it's attractive or thought-provoking, and something to ignore if it's not.
Happy Hopping!