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A follow-up to my best books I read in 2016 post: The Fire Starter Sessions was on that list, and I got around to reading it because Danielle offered the audio course (the audio version of the book minus the introduction plus fillable/printable pdf versions of the worksheets) for free last year. I already had a copy of the book, so I read the chapter the evening before, listened to the audio in the morning, and worked on the worksheets off and on during the day. She's offering it for free again this year (you have to sign up for her email list, but you can always unsubscribe if you don't enjoy it), and if it seems interesting to you at all, I definitely recommend it. I enjoyed spending focused time on it every day so much that I've since made it a practice to do/read/listen to something inspirational at least a few times a week.
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I read either 40 or 44 books in 2016, depending on whether you count unique books read or instances of reading a book. Of those, a little more than half (23) are things I read for the first time. (Methodology note: this only considers books finished; I left out the one I gave up on halfway through.)

Top 5 books/series I read for the first time in 2016
Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst - YA mystery/thriller with magic that does some amazing things with point of view and verb tense.

The Graces by Laure Eve - YA, witchcraft, mysterious/charismatic family, new girl in town, somewhat reminiscent of The Craft.

Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson - YA dystopia with magic that I both enjoyed and kept thinking about for days afterwards.

His Fair Assassins trilogy (Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, Mortal Heart) by Robin LaFevers - This is the medieval assassin nuns of the god of death YA trilogy I never knew my life needed.

The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte - I found this very inspiring, even taking into account that parts of it are more directed at entrepreneurs.

Top 5 books/series I re-read in 2016
The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy - By far my favorite Maeve Binchy novel.

Chalion series (The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, The Hallowed Hunt) by Lois McMaster Bujold - Good fantasy novels with a fascinating theology and people with intense feelings.

Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold - Sci fi, interesting politics, including the gender politics. The only scene I vividly remembered is on page 563. The book is 590 pages long.

The Labyrinth Gate by Alys Rasmussen - This is my second favorite fantasy novel built around a Tarot-style card deck, and I enjoyed rereading it.

Attolia series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings) by Megan Whalen Turner - This is another excellent fantasy series with an interesting fictional religion.
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Andrew Conte's Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Rebirth arrived in my house as part of a hockey-themed gift from [ profile] lakeeffectgirl. I read the first two chapters, and then it lingered by the couch waiting for me to get back to it. One afternoon, I decided I was going to read at least one more chapter. A couple of hours later, I'd finished the whole thing. (It helps that chapter three is about Sidney Crosby, and you know I'm fond of him.)

Parts of the book cover players - Sid, Geno, Marian Hossa - and Conte gives time to Ray Shero changing the culture of the team to one that does its best to provide comforts to both players and their families, but the central story is about how the Penguins got Consol Energy Center. The path to a new arena is mostly politics and financing, and yet Conte makes it absolutely riveting. I knew that the Penguins stayed in Pittsburgh and got a new arena, although I didn't know all the details, and I was still in suspense for the last couple of chapters wondering what would happen.

Of course, the questionable thing about my reading this book is that I was reading it the day before the last Pens-Flyers game and I was worried that I might be overcome with Pens feelings and unable to properly cheer for the Flyers. But then, at the very end of the book, the Flyers appeared. The book ends with the first game played at Consol, which was a game against the Flyers:

Moments later, Lemieux and Bettman walked across a red carpet toward center ice. Burkle was supposed to be with them, but his plane had been delayed. They dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff between Crosby and Mike Richards, captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, the first opponents to play in the arena.


As the game started, Crosby won the first faceoff, passing the puck to defenseman Brooks Orpik. Fans had little to cheer about after that, with the home team missing opportunities and the Flyers' Danny Briere scoring the Consol Energy Center's first goal at 2:51 in the second period. The Flyers went on to win 3 to 2.

On a not about the content note, I really like the physical aspects of the book. It has a dust jacket with pretty color photos, but the under the dust jacket is a book with the binding, paper, smell, and questionable book design of an academic work.

If you're interested in the Penguins, hockey history, Pennsylvania politics, or accounts of political deal making, I highly recommend the book.
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Best of the Year

Here are the five best books I read last year, alphabetical by author's last name, with first lines. I'm cheating again by including two separate series as one book each, and by including a series whose first book made this list last year. (And which will probably make the 2013 list again if the third book is as good as the first two.)

  • The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, The House on Durrow Street, and The Master of Heathcrest Hall by Galen Beckett.
    It was generally held knowledge among the people who lived on Whitward Street that the eldest of the three Miss Lockwells had a peculiar habit of reading while walking.
  • A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce.
    When my father died, I thought the world would come to an end.
  • Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta.
    A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed that he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.
  • Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin.
    A "happiness project" is an approach to the practice of everyday life.
  • Cast in Ruin by Michelle Sagara.
    The worst thing about near-world-ending disasters according to Sergeant Marcus Kassan - at least the ones that had miraculously done very little damage - was the paperwork they generated.
All of the Year

A decade ago, I decided that I would keep a list of all the books I read. It would be, I thought, interesting to see how much, and what, I actually read. So when I read a book, I wrote it down in my notebook. I liked the whole project so much that I've been doing it again each year.

What's here:
  • Books I read in 2012.

  • Authors of the books.

  • Dates I read the books.

  • Short notes about each book or links to my reviews if I did one. Note: reviews all contain spoilers.

  • Approximately how many times I've read the book.
What's not here:
  • Magazine and newspaper articles.

  • Fan fiction.

  • Short stories and individual chapters I read to remind myself of what the book was about.
This year, I read 43 books. For those of you playing along at home, that's 3 fewer than last year. 36 of those, or 84%, are books I read for the first time. 21, or 49%, were Young Adult novels. 9, or 21%, were nonfiction. 4 were written by a PoC author; 38 were written by a female author. Of the 34 books for which I counted protagonists, 3 had a PoC protagonist; 29 had a female protagonist.

The List )
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I've had The New Bottoming Book and The New Topping Book, both by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, on my to-read list for years, and sometime in the recent past, I bought both of them, and I finally got around to reading them.

I need to put a disclaimer on this review so you know where I'm coming from: I have an interest in kink - I read these partly out of personal interest and partly for writing research - but I'm not part of the kink community and I've never actually done anything kinky.

I read The New Bottoming Book first, and I sped through it. If you know anything about my interest in kink, that shouldn't be surprising. The New Topping Book took longer to read, and I found myself more and more annoyed with Easton and Hardy as the book went on. I'm not sure if that's because I was reading it with a more analytical eye or if that's because their biases really are more obvious in The New Topping Book than in The New Bottoming Book.

I think there's a lot of good information in both books, and there's a lot of opportunity for you to notice things you might like or dislike. (For example, they mention earplugs at one point, and I had a very visceral hell no reaction to that, which isn't something I ever would have thought of as a limit.) The books are complementary - each book covers different things, and each perspective would be useful to people whose interest lies with the other side of things - and I would suggest reading both if you're going to read one. The books are also very much from Easton and Hardy's perspective, and, despite their disclaimers that different people do kink differently, seem to be about their idea of what kink is. Some examples:

Complaints )

It's also worth noting that the books are several years old - The New Bottoming Book was published in 2001 and The New Topping Book in 2003 - and that means some of their information, particularly concerning the internet, is quite out of date just because the world has changed so much in the intervening years. I found myself laughing at their explanation of websites: "These sites resemble magazines in many ways; they may feature pictures, text, and sometimes even video and audio, and they allow you to move from one page to another as your interests dictate."

Like I said, there is good information in both these books, but I'm not sure I'm glad I read them. I've occasionally thought about seeking out the local kink community, but by the time I finished The New Topping Book, I thought that if Easton and Hardy really are representative of the kink community at large, then finding that community is the last thing I want to do.
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For the holidays last year, [ profile] siryn99 sent me a copy of Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature by Emma Donoghue. It was an interesting sounding book, and the best thing about it was that it meant she'd been paying attention to my talking about wanting to read more lesbian fiction.

Donoghue's premise is that there is a long history of desire between women in literature. She divides the book into six parts, each focusing on a different kind of story:

Travesties: Cross-dressing (whether by a woman or a man) causes the "accident" of same-sex desire.

Inseparables: Two passionate friends defy the forces trying to part them.

Rivals: A man and a woman compete for a woman's heart.

Monsters: A wicked woman tries to seduce and destroy an innocent one.

Detection: The discovery of a crime turns out to be the discovery of same-sex desire.

Out: A woman's life is changed by the realization that she loves her own sex.
Even though the book is arranged around themes and each theme encompasses literature from varying eras, the book also goes somewhat chronologically: "Travesties" starts with a story from Ovid (around 8 C.E.) and "Out" ends with Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet from 1998.

I read the whole book in three sittings, because it is completely engrossing. I've only read a couple of the pieces of literature Donoghue talks about, but she gives enough of a plot overview for each story that you can follow her history/argument even without the literary background. If you do want to read any of them, her selected bibliography includes lists of primary and secondary sources as well as a suggested further reading list: "I warmly recommend the following titles (given in the order of composition), because they are available and highly enjoyable."

Donoghue has enough examples over time that I definitely bought her argument for the long history of desire between women in literature. The part I'm a little iffy on is the way she treats endings. (I will freely admit that I have a bias here; story endings are very important to me.) Sure, there's a history, but in most cases, the women don't end up together at the end. For many of those stories, Donoghue's argument is that the return to the heterosexual norm doesn't logically fit with the rest of the story. For example, the convenient brother in female bridegroom stories (a woman dresses up as a man and another woman falls in love with her) doesn't quite make sense, because the woman fell in love with personality, not looks. That's an interesting argument, and points toward a long history of compulsory heterosexuality, but I thought it also glosses over the fact that there's a long history of thwarted desire between women in literature.

My mother wants to borrow the book next, but if anyone else wants to read it after her, let me know.
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A friend quoted Pema Chodron at me and said Chodron was one of her favorite writers on Buddhism. I'd never heard of her, which led to two things: my mother bought me a copy of the issue of Shambhala Sun with Chodron on the cover, and I checked out The Pema Chodron Collection from the library. The book is actually three of Chodron's books in one volume. I skimmed through bits of the first two and they didn't catch my interest, but the third, When Things Fall Apart, did. I did enjoy it, and I think reading some of it on Thanksgiving helped me enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. I also kept thinking about something Gretchen Rubin often says: that she often learns more from one person's idiosyncratic story than from more general advice.
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When I returned Happier at Home to the library, I skimmed the shelf for its call number and picked up The Wishing Year: A House, A Man, My Soul - A Memoir of Fulfilled Desire by Noelle Oxenhandler. I love these kinds of one-year books, and the author bio on the back flap let me know she's a practicing Buddhist, which also appealed to me.

I sat down to read The Wishing Year and couldn't put it down. Oxenhandler starts with two wishes - for a house and for spiritual healing - and adds a third - a man - after a month. Oxenhandler talks throughout the book about her skepticism about wishing, both in that she doesn't know if it will work and in that she is a "wish snob" and has reservations about wishing for material things. Over the course of the year, she learns to wish more readily, which is one of the things that makes it so engrossing. I think the weakest of her wishes is for a man. I'd be interested in knowing if the relationship lasted; she spends a lot of time talking about ways in which he isn't such a great fit for her, particularly with his relationship to money.

If you like year-long memoirs or find wishing interesting, I highly recommend The Wishing Year.
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Today I'm thankful for the Dewey Decimal System. A few weeks ago, when I returned Happier at Home, I noted the call number and browsed the shelf for books that would be filed near it. I ended up picking out The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler, which I absolutely devoured today.
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Those of you who've been around for a while know that I'm a fan of Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog, and you may further know that I wasn't as excited about her first book on the subject, also titled The Happiness Project. She now has a second book on the topic, Happier at Home, which I was able to request from my local library much faster than I thought was going to be possible.

I liked Happier at Home much more than The Happiness Project. (Keep in mind that I read the first book two years ago, so it is possible this is a change in me more than a change in her.) I thought it was a more useful, concrete book. One of my problems with the first book was that I felt I didn't learn anything I didn't already know from the blog, where I didn't feel that way about this book. I've been reading her blog all the way through the time she implemented the happiness project for Happier at Home, and somehow that worked better for me with this book. I recognized things in the book that I'd read posts about on the blog, but instead of finding that repetitive, I got a thrill out of it, a little like I was an insider. I do still wonder how it would read to people who haven't read the blog - there were places where I could practically see the hyperlinks to previous posts that would explain her basic philosophy (and she did just post about her abstainers vs. moderators distinction in response to a lot of book tour questions about it), and there are patterns to how she talks about things that are familiar if you read the blog - but I think it would still be a useful book even if you aren't a regular reader.

As the title implies, the focus of the book is on being happier at home. As she usually does, Gretchen (side note: proper book review etiquette would involve using her last name, but I feel like I know her too well from her blog for that) breaks her project into several thematic areas that she then focuses on one at a time on a month by month basis. She then has four or five specific resolutions within each thematic area. I found the resolutions for this book much more concrete - and, in many cases, more widely applicable - than the ones in the previous book. I finished the first chapter on "Possessions" and put the book down to reorganize a nearly-unusable cabinet. I also finally threw away my broken umbrella (although I haven't yet replaced it).

There are three of her specific resolutions that I've been thinking about. The first is "give warm greetings and farewells." This is one of those resolutions that doesn't seem particularly applicable to me: I live alone, and I have people over about once every other month. However, we already have mandatory warm greetings at work: when someone comes into the main office area, everyone has to say hello to them before they can fully enter the room, and they have to go around and greet everyone individually (originally, the options were handshake, fist bump, or high five, but it's devolved to everyone just exchanging fist bumps). It really has made a difference in the attitude of our office, and it's exactly what Gretchen talks about: taking a moment out of whatever you're doing to greet someone. I've been trying to do the same thing when people leave for the day, although I have to admit I'm terrible about looking up from what I'm typing to say hello or goodbye.

The second resolution I've been thinking about is "make the positive argument." The idea behind it is what she calls "argumentative reasoning": "When a person takes a position, he or she looks for evidence to support it and then stops, satisfied." Gretchen specifically talks about this in the frame of her marriage: whenever she's upset and tempted to think something like, "Jamie isn't very thoughtful," she then thinks to herself, "Jamie is very thoughtful," and can come up with a lot of evidence to support that argument as well. "Make the positive argument" fits right in with a lot of similar advice about seeing the positive side of things, but it's one of those things that you hear over and over again, and then you're in the right place and it's said in just the right way that it sticks with you.

The third of her resolutions that I find interesting is "enter into the interests of others (within reason)." The basic idea is to take an interest in other people's interests by listening or asking questions: "entering into other people's interests is an important way to show respect and affection." I've been thinking about this in two ways. One is that I've been trying to be a better listener over the past few years, and paying attention to and asking questions about other people's interests (which is not something I'm good at, particularly the asking questions part) is one way to do that. The other is that one of my coworkers, who I don't know very well at all, brought in a craft project for us when it was her turn to lead our weekly teambuilding activity. One of the things I really liked about it as an activity was that she told us that the craft supplies she'd brought for us to use were just a small portion of the supplies she has, and that she has an entire room at home devoted to crafting. Crafting is very much not my kind of thing, but knowing that about her and seeing what kinds of things she brought in for us to use has made me feel much warmer toward her.

I would definitely recommend Happier at Home, and if you read it without having read the blog, I would especially love to know what you think about it. I liked it so much that I might actually buy myself a copy to have on hand for reference when it comes out in paperback.
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It took me six weeks and two vacations to read Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans. That has nothing to do with quality. Instead, it has only to do with the length of the book. It's 648 pages long, and even though the last hundred pages are endnotes, bibliography, and index, it still makes for a lot of dense reading.

Homans takes us from the beginnings of ballet in the seventeenth-century French court all the way through the death of Balanchine in the 1980s, with an epilogue on the state of ballet today. At every stage, she intertwines the history of ballet with the history of the places she takes us, which gives the reader a context for what happens in the ballet world. Although it's a relatively dense history, it's not a hard read. The style is not quite conversational, but it doesn't read like dry academic prose, either. It reads much like a lecture. There is an audiobook version; if audiobooks are your thing, I imagine this one would read well.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the book, and don't have much to say about it, but it does have three flaws worth talking about. First, it doesn't have a ballet glossary. There aren't really that many ballet terms in the book, but there were a few I didn't know, and a glossary would have been helpful. Secondly, her grasp of sexual identity terms is pretty shaky. She refers to someone as "homosexual (at times bisexual)" and says that someone else "was homosexual (although he also loved women and married one)." Unless she was relying on people's self-identification (which, given the time periods, I somewhat doubt), both of those sound like bisexual people. Thirdly, the book falls apart a little bit toward the end. Homans was herself a dancer trained at Balanchine's School of American Ballet, and she doesn't quite have the distance to talk about the more modern choreographers she covers. She also makes a lot of assumptions about the reader's knowledge of more modern ballet - one section begins with, "Everyone knows Jerome Robbins," and I didn't - where the book would have been stronger if she'd continued on with the assumption that the reader didn't know anything about ballet's history. The epilogue is a particular disaster. Homans bemoans the state of ballet today and doesn't have much hope for the future. The problem with this is that I wasn't sure if I could trust her judgment or if it was just a case of "things were so much better in my day." It's almost too bad the book was written two years ago; I'd be interested to see what she thinks about how the recent uptick in ballet-related TV shows (I watched three this summer) might affect the future of ballet.
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A few months ago, I got an envelope that had been mailed book rate. I assumed, of course, that it was something from PaperBackSwap, but was cheerfully surprised when I opened it to find that instead [ profile] lakeeffectgirl had gifted me with a copy of The Kid: A Season with Sidney Crosby and the New NHL by Shawna Richer. (Note: this is the second edition with an epilogue covering Sid's second season in the NHL; the first edition title was The Rookie.)

The book does precisely what it says: it covers Sid's first year in the NHL. It's somewhat useful as biography, but more useful, at least to the extremely new to hockey fangirl I was when I read it, as insight into how the NHL works. (It also led me to go read Wikipedia articles about both the rules of hockey and the labor dispute that led to the 2004-2005 lockout.)

The problems with it as a biography are twofold. First of all, Richer's original purpose in following Crosby around for a year was to write a series of articles for the Globe and Mail. I expect Richer cobbled together bits of that series into the book instead of starting over and writing the book from scratch. She has a tendency to repeat herself, and while the book as a whole is unfortunately underedited, there are a few patches that stand out as better writing, which I would guess are bits that were edited twice: once for the paper and once for the book. The second edition's epilogue only throws this into starker relief; it holds together as a coherent narrative, presumably because she wrote it all at once. The second problem with it as a biography is that by the second half of the book, Richer is trying really hard to make Sid interesting, which doesn't work for three reasons: Richer's writing isn't strong enough, Sid is too well trained in speaking to the media to let her get much more than his interview soundbites, and very few people, even if they are sports stars, are that interesting at age eighteen.

The shaky narrative structure and Richer's visible effort aren't the only problems with the book as a piece of writing. There's a lot of objectification that I found uncomfortable (one of the cringe-worthy lowlights is that she refers to Sid's "bee-stung lips" more than once). There is also Richer's tone, which is a specific sort of middle-aged heterosexual woman tone that had me drawing back from the book.

All of that makes it sound like I hated the book, which I didn't! As I said, it's a good look at how the NHL works, and there are some gems in it. I've been quoting the best bits on Tumblr (they lean heavily towards the end of the book, both because I didn't think to keep careful track of quotable things until I was halfway through and because the epilogue is the best writing in the book), and some of them are fascinating insights into Sid. If you're writing fic about him, this is probably a useful resource. If you're looking for excellent sports writing, you may want to try somewhere else.
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Best of the Year

Here are the five best books I read last year, alphabetical by author's last name, with first lines. I have completely cheated on this this year and included two series to count as one book each. I've only put the first line of the first book for the series. (This is actually a double cheat since the first book in one of those series was one of my best books of 2009, and a triple cheat since both series include books I've read before.)

  • The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore.
    For months, I relived the pas de deux in my dreams, in that multisensory Technicolor of a memory I'd much rather forget.
  • The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.
    When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.
  • Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan.
    When I was little, my dad used to tell me, "Will, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose."
  • Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta.
    A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed that he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.
  • The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner.
    I didn't know how long I had been in the king's prison.
All of the Year

A decade ago, I decided that I would keep a list of all the books I read. It would be, I thought, interesting to see how much, and what, I actually read. So when I read a book, I wrote it down in my notebook. I liked the whole project so much that I've been doing it again each year.

What's here:
  • Books I read in 2011.

  • Authors of the books.

  • Dates I read the books.

  • Short notes about each book, including links to my reviews if I did one. Note: reviews all contain spoilers.

  • Approximately how many times I've read the book.
What's not here:
  • Magazine and newspaper articles.

  • Web-published fiction I read.

  • Short stories and individual chapters I read to remind myself of what the book was about.
This year, I read 46 books. For those of you playing along at home, that's 15 more than last year. 38 of those, or 83%, are books I read for the first time. 27, or 80%, were Young Adult or children's books. 3 were written by a PoC author; 44 were written by a female author or coauthor. Of the 44 books for which I counted protagonists, 5 or 8 (depending on how you count Katniss Everdeen) had a PoC protagonist; 37 had a female protagonist.

The List )
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Anthony Lane is the reason I started reading The New Yorker. My parents subscribe, and I used to flip through to read the cartoons. But then there was the day when I was lying on the living room floor paging through an issue when I ran into a truly arresting black and white photo of a pair of women. I have a very vivid memory of this photo on the page and the magazine on the dark brown carpet of my parents' living room. The article with the photo was Anthony Lane's review of The Dreamlife of Angels. I had no interest in seeing the movie, but I loved the review, and I started reading The New Yorker primarily for Anthony Lane's movie reviews.

Several years later, he published Nobody's Perfect: Writings From The New Yorker, and I'd been interested in reading it ever since. This year, I got it from PaperBackSwap and dived in on one of my trips that required air travel. I kept reading on my other air travel trips I took, and finished it in a final push yesterday. All in all, it took me eight months to read this book.

The first half of the book is entirely movie reviews. This is the part of the book I highly recommend reading, although not all in one sitting. Lane's writing is fantastic, but it can be a lot to take if you read very much of it at once. In the Introduction, he says that "the primary task of the critic, (and nobody has surpassed the late Ms. Kael in this regard), is the recreation of texture - not telling moviegoers what they should see, which is entirely their prerogative, but filing a sensory report on the kind of experience into which they will be wading, or plunging, should they decide to risk a ticket." I have not read any of Pauline Kael's movie reviews, but having read over three hundred pages of Lane's, I can say that he very much succeeds in this task.

The other aspect of the movie section that's highly entertaining is that I have seen many of the movies he reviewed. Lane started at The New Yorker in 1993, and the mid-nineties are the years when my mother and I went to nearly every movie playing at the local art house theater. Lane also covers many of the big name movies of the years, and that's half the fun of the reviews read at a distance. He praises the dance scene from Pulp Fiction as his favorite in the movie and calls Speed "the movie of the year." The delight of seeing what he thought of movies that I either remember or consider lots of fun even decades on (he hated Con Air, but people of my generation love it - or I do, anyway) fits in with one of his other pronouncements about movie reviewing: "Whenever possible, pass sentence on a movie the day after it comes out. Otherwise, wait fifty years."

We move from movies to books, and then to profiles. This is where I really had trouble continuing on with the book. Anthony Lane in small doses is fantastic. Anthony Lane on movies is always delightful to read. Anthony Lane on books and profiles, particularly more than three hundred pages of them, brings home how uninterestingly privileged he is. The books and profiles sections are primarily about white men, many of whom are dead, a fair number of whom are British, and none of whom I have any interest in knowing more about. Because I read The New Yorker selectively - I only read parts that seem interesting - I don't often notice the extent of its privilege, even though I know it's there. Lane's book really brought home the level to which it's there. Additionally, I found much of the books and profiles sections boring. I'm never going to read Thomas Pynchon, so I'm not sure why I would find a six-page profile of him interesting. What made this bearable was that even in the midst of these are Lane's delightful turns of phrase that make me laugh.
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I'm relatively sure I heard good things about Patti Smith's Just Kids from various sources, although the only one I remember is [ profile] siryn99, so when I saw it in my mom's stack of books, I asked to borrow it. It floated around with me on a vacation and in my living room for quite a while before I finally sat down and started reading it.

The book begins with a foreword where Smith talks about learning of Robert Mapplethorpe's death. Starting with his death lends the whole book a sense of melancholy. Even as Smith tells us about meeting Mapplethorpe and lays out the foundations of their relationship, we know how it's going to end.

I didn't know anything about either Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe when I started reading the book, so everything about their story was new to me. Smith drops a lot of names to establish the setting, and I didn't know who most of them were either. None of that detracts from the book. Even if I didn't know who they were specifically, I got the sense of who they were from Smith's placement of them in the story, and I got the sense of who Smith and Mapplethorpe were from her stories about them.

I know that it's the kind of memoir where Smith picked and chose the elements of the story she wanted to share, but what I really liked about the story she tells is how they push each other into what they end up doing: Smith keeps telling Mapplethorpe he should try photography and Mapplethorpe keeps telling Smith she should sing.

The pacing of the story is also interesting. Smith begins with a dreamy, emotional recounting of her growing up, which is intercut with a distant, factual account of Mapplethorpe's growing up. Since she's the author, we necessarily get more of Smith's story than Mapplethorpe's, even as time goes on. When they separate for short or long periods - there's a break of what seems to be something like a decade near the end of the book - the focus is still on Smith. As unbalanced as that might seem, it makes for a very focused emotional story.

The book ends as it began: with Mapplethorpe's death. I had to put the book down and cry my eyes out when I finished it. By that time, I'd gotten to know him, but more importantly, I'd gotten to know how Smith felt about him, and that feeling, that closeness and mutual artistic support, is what really makes the book.
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I like to browse the shelving area at the library to see what other people have been reading. I was doing just that one day when I picked up Alexandra Robbins' Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities. I stood there reading for long enough that I figured I should just check it out.

Robbins went undercover for a school year following around four girls in historically white sororities: Vicki, Sabrina, Caitlin, and Amy. Robbins doesn't disclose her role in it all, but does say she can (or could at the time - this was in the 2002-2003 academic year) pass for nineteen. Vicki is one sorority (Beta Pi) while the other three are in another (Alpha Rho). Sabrina is Black; the other girls are white. Amy and Caitlin were both raped by fraternity brothers before Robbins started following them around.

Over the course of the book, and the year, the girls learn to navigate living in the sorority house. Robbins alternates between telling their stories and sections of more general information about sororities. It's an incredibly compelling story. I stayed up late several nights in a row because I couldn't put it down. It doesn't paint a particularly flattering picture of the sorority system in general or these two sororities in particular. The sorority life revolves around partying - which means binge drinking and impressing the fraternity boys. Robbins seems to come away from it with some respect for institution; her final section is a bevvy of suggestions for what universities, sororities, and parents can do to make them better.

The biggest flaw in the book is that she only follows sorority girls. At the end of the book, Robbins delves into the changes the girls have experienced over the year. She attributes most of their changes and experiences to the sorority experience, but I think some of it has to do with their age, not their involvement in the sorority. To really suss that out, she would have needed to follow other girls, either not in a sorority or in some other kind of organization.
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When I was traveling in April, I read The Ethical Slut: A Pracitcal Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures, second edition, by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy. The book is organized into four sections: "Welcome," "The Practice of Sluthood," "Navigating Challenges," and "Sluts in Love." The "Welcome" section is set up to introduce you to the very concept of polyamory, which made me laugh. I'm a fangirl; you don't need to convince me that polyamory is a possible way to live one's life. The other sections are more practical, full of advice and suggestions on how to live a polyamorous life.

There are three things I do want to talk more in depth about concerning the book as a book. Cut for length and a quote about sex. )

I'm not sure I would really recommend the book. It has a conversational tone that started to irritate me after a few chapters. I suppose the concepts in it are fairly radical if you're not used to reading a fair amount of threesome fan fic, and it probably is useful if you're actually in a poly relationship of some sort, but I think it just wasn't what I wanted from a book about polyamory. I may have to look through the books in their resources section, because I think more than a how-to, what I would find interesting is more of a look at people's different poly configurations.
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Best of the Year
Here are the five best books I read last year, with first lines (where I could find them online). Usually I just put these in alphabetical order by last name; this year, the best book is first and the other four are in alphabetical order.
  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.
    My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.
  • The Third Claw of God by Adam-Troy Castro.
    Later, much later, after I died, I tried to remember why.
  • Rumors by Anna Godbersen.
    It has become almost regular for the lower classes of New York to catch glimpses of our native aristocracy in her city streets, tripping in for breakfast at Sherry's after one of their epic parties, or perhaps racing sleighs in Central Park, that great democratic meeting place.
  • Aurelia by Anne Osterlund.
    The back of her gilt chair bit into her shoulder blades, and the heat generated by close bodies made the dab of face paint on her cheeks gleam.
  • Cast In Silence by Michelle Sagara.
All of the Year

A couple of years ago, I decided that I would keep a list of all the books I read. It would be, I thought, interesting to see how much, and what, I actually read. So when I read a book, I wrote it down in my notebook. I liked the whole project so much that I've been doing it again each year.

What's here:
  • Books I read in 2010.

  • Authors of the books.

  • Dates I read the books.

  • Short notes about each book.

  • Approximately how many times I've read the book.
What's not here:
  • Magazine and newspaper articles.

  • Web-published fiction I read.

  • Short stories and individual chapters I read to remind myself of what the book was about.
This year, I read 31 books. For those of you playing along at home, that's 19 fewer than last year. 24 of those, or 77%, are books I read for the first time. 4 of those were written by a PoC author; 23 were written by a female author or coauthor. Of the 25 books for which I counted protagonists, 0 had a PoC protagonist; 20 had a female protagonist.

The List )
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I started this post early this morning, before I even went to work. Today was a busy - and constantly busy - day, and I loved having this post to come back to at lunch and this evening. So although this is a post of three things that are making me happy, the post itself is a bonus fourth.

Christian Kane's The House Rules
Okay, I know this came out in December, but I just bought it yesterday. I couldn't listen to it and write at the same time because I just wanted to grin and sing along, so I listened to it on my walk this morning. (Thing I don't think I've mentioned here yet: four of my amazing friends went in together and bought me a tiny, red iPod! So now I start my day thinking of them and listening to music on my morning walk.) I'm pretty delighted by it.

Chris's gender politics are interesting as always: he makes a distinction on "Callin' All Country Women" between "uptown girls" and "country women," which is perhaps not the best presentation of "uptown girls," but very interesting in that I read this post, in which the comments discuss the way women aren't referred to as "women" this week. (He himself is a "country boy" in the lyrics.) "American Made" refers to women as everything from "women" to "girls" to "beauties" to "ladies," depending on the fit with the lyric - although he does refer to "my girl."

He also does a pretty straight up cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" - the only lyric he changed was from "checkout girl" to "checkout boy," which was jarring the first time I heard it but not the second. (His tweet wondering what Tracy thinks of his cover is what prompted me to finally go buy the album.) It's an interesting choice, and I think it works well.

The most interesting thing about my emotional reaction is that I wish I'd bought the CD + digital download version. I didn't because I thought, "Of course I don't need a CD," but it turns out that when it comes to Chris, that does actually matter to me. Strange! I do have an unused Amazon gift card, so maybe I'll use part of it to get the actual CD.

Rosemary Clement-Moore's The Splendor Falls
The last book I read was bad. Really, really bad. (I'm writing an unrec post for [ profile] romoerotic. I require a lot of words to describe how bad it was and why.) Anything else would probably look good in comparison, but The Splendor Falls is genuinely excellent. It has a compelling first-person narrator, an interesting plot, and the word "collarbone." (Those of you who don't follow me on Twitter may not realize that the use of the word "clavicle" has reached epidemic proportions. There are, of course, appropriate situations for the word "clavicle," but next time you write it, think about your intent. Are you providing a clinical listing of body parts for an anatomy test or trying to give your reader a sense of the beauty and sensuality of the human body? If it's the first, by all means do use "clavicle." If it's the second, switch to "collarbone." We'll all be a lot happier. [If you really feel the need to use "clavicle," I would be totally down with a Brendon/Spencer college AU where Spencer's studying anatomy by using the technical terms for all of Brendon's body parts as he touches/kisses them.]) Every time I start reading, I don't want to stop.

My Inspirational Desk
Between yoga and Sean Van Vleet's obsession with Steven Pressfield, which he has then passed on to several of my friends, I can't escape the concept of resistance. I finally bought white index cards so I could write "No resistance. Just let it be easy." on the back of one. It's more a paraphrase of something my yoga teacher said than it is a Pressfield reference (I've tried to read The War of Art twice, but haven't managed to finish it), but it's absolutely helpful writing advice. Monday's reading at yoga was the first four lines of this. I almost didn't catch anything else she said because I found "Empty yourself of everything" to be so powerful. I now have that on an index card on the other side of my monitor. (I didn't estimate well, so it's not centered and the letters squish together at the end. I'm trying to figure out if I can empty myself of the need for it to be right or if I just need to rewrite it.)

I was so pleased with my index cards last night (I'm thinking about doing a whole series of handwritten cards of things I find inspirational so I can shuffle them and let the hand of fate choose what I need in the moment when I need inspiration), and then I looked at the few other things on my desk, and realized that they are also keeping me in touch with good things. I have a heart-shaped petrified wood paperweight that I got from my belly dance class when I quit my last job to write, which reminds me both of my commitment to writing and the support of others. The cable for my iPod, which reminds me of the people who gave it to me, lies in a slight curve to my right. And then there's a small, wooden whale, which I bought at the woodworking place in Ghirardelli Square on a work trip. Something about its puppy dog expression called to me, even though I don't like puppies and have left my dolphin and whale obsession in my past. Part of one of its flippers has broken off, so it lists a bit, but the wood is as smooth as ever.
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Last month I read Robert Sutton's The No Asshole Rule, which is about assholes in the workplace. Sutton has a specific two-part test for "spotting whether a person is acting like an asshole:

  • Test One: After talking to the alleged asshole, does the 'target' feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself.

  • Test Two: Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful."
He also differentiates between the "temporary asshole" who acts like this sometimes and the "certified asshole" who does this over and over again.

I really liked the first half of the book where he details the damage assholes do to companies, how to keep them out, and how not to be one. I was not as excited about the part where he suggests strategies for surviving a workplace with assholes. Some of his strategies are mean and not at all strength-based, which is not my preference.

The writing is good, though, and I like Sutton's overall attitude. I would definitely recommend this if you are a manager or if you work with assholes, and I would consider reading more by Sutton.


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Ruth Sadelle Alderson


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