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2016 Year in Books

6 Jan

Welcome to 2017! After taking a couple weeks off for holidays and travel, I’m ready to get back to it, which means the weekly blogs are back.

For me, 2016 was a weird year all the way around, and my reading list really reflects that this year. In 2015 I really didn’t read very many books (especially for being a writer), so I’d signed up for a Goodreads Reading Challenge, and decided to go light with just 20 books. That goal was more than I’d read in 2015, and what I thought would be a decent stepping stone into making reading books more of a priority. Totally achievable, right? I could really crush that goal and go way over it! Actually, I just barely made it happen, and finished my 20th book on Christmas Eve.

Number of books isn’t the only thing I’ve been tracking for the past few years. After reading some of Ann Morgan’s “A Year of Reading the World” blog, I wanted to expand my horizons a bit and see just where my influences were coming from. Instead of taking on the world, I thought I’d take on the United States and see if I could read authors from every state (tracked by where they’re born)–perhaps not a task I’d accomplish in a year, but eventually would be nice.

The other wrinkle is that I want to read the books I own. I have a problem with tsundoku, or buying books and not reading them. While I continue to buy books, I’m also working on reading what I own. I don’t have any particular order for reading things (no FIFO or anything like that), but it also means that there’s a constant inner struggle to spend less time buying and more time reading (also less time buying, and more time at the library, but that’s a topic for another day).

Anyway, I did meet my reading goal of 20 books for 2016, so I’m pretty proud of that. I was surprised, however, how much of a slog some of these books were. I had some chick lit and young adult lit that should’ve been a breeze but weren’t. While I have a personal rule that I’m allowed to stop reading after 50 pages or so (there’s not enough time to waste it reading bad books), I think I only used that exception once this year, and that was for Gone Girl. I hated all of its characters and had no interest in reading about what they did, so I put it down. I won’t even keep space in my brain to remember the 50 pages I did read, so I couldn’t tell you much of what it was about.

I didn’t do that for Accidental It Girl, which maybe I should have. This was about a paparazzi (who had shelved a dream of being an art photographer) who accidentally got linked with a big star and became the object of the paparazzi. Turnabout is fair play–though it was also a dull book. The character (whose name I can’t even remember) really had no goal other than to not be photographed all the time, and she didn’t drive the action–most of the action happened to her, making it difficult to root for her. It was also full of a lot of stock characters–the wacky mom who got in the way and didn’t really get her; the helpful roommate; the movie star who was a nice, genuine guy. The only thing that kept me reading was a MacGuffin of a package that the main character’s mom sent that sat in the corner of her bedroom for most of the book, was mentioned all the time, and when finally opened, revealed a reminder that the main character that her true passion was in art photography, and shouldn’t she do that instead of paparazzi-ing?

Needless to say, although I wouldn’t recommend it, it was a good example of what not to do when writing, so at least I got something out of it.

I covered nine states and four non-US countries this year. I seem to really like Ohio (four books) and the UK (five books). Still, I’m making progress on my map coverage–I’m up to 19 states and 10 countries in three years. Not bad. Could be better, but I’m happy enough for the moment.

For the moment, I’ve added just one book to my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge total. Maybe I can do better than that, but my first read of the year, The Games: A Global History of the Olympics is turning out to be a really slow one. A really good and interesting read, but it’s a little slow-going right now. It might be a book I read alongside some others, just to make progress.

Speaking of progress, if you want to follow along, feel free to check out my book reading tracking doc. Suggestions to fill in my missing geography are welcome!

 

Read Friday

25 Nov

This week I finished reading a book, which, in the age of tracking everything, means that I needed to log it in my Goodreads account and see how I was doing on my 2016 Reading Challenge.

Not good.

At the beginning of the year, I was really hopeful about reading more books (especially since I have a tsundoku problem and want to rectify it a bit), so I signed up for Goodreads’ annual reading challenge with the optimistic hope of clearing up the piles a little bit…..though really I should have done some sort of “here’s all the books I didn‘t buy” challenge as well, just to make it seem like I made some sort of actual progress.

Anyway, my Goodreads account had said I’d read 14 of 20 books in my challenge.

Gulp.

Quickly log book.

We’re at 15 now!

Realize that I hadn’t logged a couple of books I’d read this year.

Furiously log them.

Remember why I hadn’t logged them: Mostly embarrassing chick lit books that took weeks to read because they were poorly written (is good learning tool!).

Doesn’t matter! Have to hit goal!

Now I stand at 17 books down, three to read within the next month and change.

That’s three books I’ve challenged myself to read during a very busy month–except that there will probably be a few days at the end of the year where there’s nothing to do but read books, and maybe I will also be smart and pick books that I can’t put down, which technically means getting them done quickly.

I can dream.

Or I can put away the computer and pick up the book I’m currently reading and make some progress that I’ll be proud of at the end of the year.

In related news, I also keep track of my reading in this spreadsheet, as I’m also trying to see how geographically diverse my tastes are. Here I track author by birthplace. I have no real set focus for how I choose what I’ll read next–the goal is mainly to read the books I currently own. If I manage to ever do that, than perhaps I’ll put myself on one of those interesting journeys to read books from authors in every country of the world. For now though, I just like seeing where the authors I read come from and wondering whether and/or how birthplace has an impact on writing.

But Jill, why double up on the tracking?

Honestly, the Goodreads challenge puts a little impetus on reading as a goal. It’s my accountability buddy (and if you think an app as a buddy is a sad thing, the app doesn’t mind waiting for weeks while I read a few pages a night. A real buddy might get tired of tapping their foot and rolling their eyes at me). The spreadsheet is just a nice view of the overall picture of where the challenge has taken me, and I like to see it laid out over the years in nice, neat columns. It seems like real progress over time, no matter what my annual reading challenge goal is.

Speaking of which, that challenge is going to take me back to the couch to have a nice read for a couple of hours.

Little House of Green Gables?

13 Jan

Yesterday the CBC announced that it’s reviving one of the most beloved characters in young adult lit and will be making a new series out of Anne of Green Gables.

Are you excited, fans of the Megan Follows version? Or are you scared? I’m a little bit of both.

Anne is one of my favorite literary heroines. She made me wish I’d had red hair growing up. For high school German, I chose the name “Anne” (AH-ne) because of her. If I’d ever had a daughter, Anne would’ve been my top pick for a name. And when the Megan Follows miniseries came out in 1985, I was the prime age to fall in love with it.

And I did–eventually. It took me a good episode to get used to the fact that the producers of the miniseries had not tapped my imagination for how everything should look (nor had I ever been to Prince Edward Island, so my imagination had been filling in some gaps), but eventually I was hooked and became a big fan. For me this version seems most true.

So of course I’m a little worried about the new ones. It’s not that I don’t think anyone else shouldn’t be allowed to revisit and reinterpret Anne–there have been several other miniseries and shows and cartoons and musicals and plays depicting or based on the books, so I’m not against a new generation having their own version. Plus, this one’s being helmed by one of the writers from Breaking Bad, which is pretty exciting, given how good that show was.

However, it’s this phrase describing the show that worries me: chart new territory.

This phrase was used in a couple different reports of the news, and that’s what has me worried. I don’t know about TV shows that end up being more “inspiration” and less “true to book.”

But Jill, you also were the prime age when Little House on the Prairie came out? Don’t you have experience with TV shows that chart new territory around beloved book series?

No, I don’t. Ma Jaracz wouldn’t allow me to watch Little House on the Prairie precisely because it wasn’t like the book.

But Jill, you did watch The Dukes of Hazzard, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island when you were a kid, did you not?

Yes, Ma Jaracz would let me watch those fairly regularly. I won’t question my mother’s thought pattern here, as everyone has their moments. I’m guessing she thought Mr. Roarke was  a better role model than the beloved Pa Ingalls. And Mary Ingalls had nothing on Julie McCoy, of course — a girl could learn a lot of organizational skills from a Cruise Director. Let’s start career planning when we’re young!

But the fact is, I’ve never watched Little House–not even when I could. It’s not all like the books, so why bother?

I’m sure all of us fans have some apprehension about what could possibly happen–I mean, look at Game of Thrones. They’re out of books, so what’s going to happen? Perhaps a white wedding with Billy Idol as the officiant? And then it goes south really quickly and HBO pulls the plug so they end it with dragons flame broiling everyone (except Hodor — he magically lives to have his own spin-off)? Isn’t that the kind of fear we all  have when something we love gets translated so wonderfully to the screen and then a re-translation threatens to ruin both versions for everyone?

I hope that’s not the case for Anne fans, and we’ll have to see how it turns out. I know I won’t be re-reading the books ahead of time so that when I watch, my memory will be a little foggy of what actually happened in the books. That doesn’t mean that if Anne suddenly organizes a blood drive and saves Prince Edward Island or if Diana Barry goes blind, I’ll stick with it, but I’ll certainly give the new version a shot.

 

What Does This Picture Say to You?

25 Feb

Put on your Judgy McJudgerson hats today, ladies and gents, because it’s time to rate some book cover art. We’ve all judged books by their covers–literally speaking, of course–and sometimes the cover art is what makes us walk on by, or it’s what makes us stop and take a second look. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve purchased many a book on cover art alone. The New York Times will feature the best-designed books of the year, and I’ve purchased some just because of their inclusion on that list.

Book cover art can also make you wonder what the book designer was thinking, and here’s where I’d like to get your opinion. I ordered a big stack of books from the library, and last night some of them came in. What do you think this book is about?

wpid-wp-1424878230140.jpeg

I’ll give you the jump to think about it.

Continue reading

You Got Your Band in my Book! No, You Got Your Book in my Band!

5 Feb

Every once in a while, I allow myself to visit Coudal Partners home on the web. Coudal’s the genius behind my beloved Field Notes (if you haven’t converted from Moleskines yet, consider doing so), and every time I visit their site I have a couple of thoughts:

  1. Shit! I just spent an hour here looking at all their amazingly creative stuff and feeling envious of the fun they must be having.
  2. If I ever, ever, ever got a job in an office again, I think I’d like to work with them.

Yesterday, I spent just a little too long in the Coudal rabbit hole, but it was worth it to find this gem of a contest that blends band names and book titles. The list doesn’t even include my favorite, which is the teaser on the home page: The Lionel, the Richie, and the Wardrobe. 

At any rate, yesterday’s visit there means I’ve really got to focus on a couple of bridal stories I’m writing, so I’ve got my nose to the grindstone right now. That doesn’t mean you have to. We’re a little too late for the contest, but we can still play here.  Can best my idea of The Steve Miller Band on the Floss or About a Pet Shop Boy?

And if you need some more titles to help give you some ideas, check out who made the annual Tournament of Books for some of the best from last year….and don’t blame me if you’ve just found yourself in a different rabbit hole.

Report on National Readathon (and/or Cleanathon) Day

29 Jan

I apologize for the Blizzard of 2015 getting in the way of letting you know whether or not Future Jill’s predictions on National Readathon Day were accurate. You can get off your pins and needles today, though, because here’s the full story:

National Readathon Day was supposed to take place on Saturday. Noon to 4, me and the couch and some reading material. A tortilla chip thwarted those plans.

Saturday morning, I was in the kitchen, and I noticed a tortilla chip on the floor, so I bent over to pick it up and noticed some other floor junk by a corner of the stove. I’d been cooking and baking a fair amount recently, so maybe some other piece of food had fallen and needed to be picked up.

Or maybe it was a dead mouse.

A dead mouse in the kitchen causes a chain of events:

I say, “There’s a mouse!”

The Boy, who’s sitting at the kitchen table, quickly lifts up his feet and cries, “Where?!”

“It’s dead. It’s here by the stove.”

The Boy comes over to the stove to assess the situation, pronounces that the mouse is indeed dead (because it’s certainly not still sleeping on its side during all this commotion, unless it is one mellow mouse) and proceeds to dispose of it. This involves sweeping it into a dustpan, which [GORE ALERT] leaves a tiny trail of mouse guts and blood on our kitchen floor, and throwing it away.

When he comes back into the house, the proclamation is made: We have to clean up this kitchen.

Now.

And suddenly National Readathon Day becomes National Cleanathon Day.

We scrubbed everything–cabinets, windows, oven, garbage cans, refrigerator, and our personal nemesis, the floor. Now, we have a very nice white tile floor that’s got a little off-white pattern on it that hides the dirt a little bit. We discovered that this pattern does an amazingly good job because it was hiding a lot of dirt. A lot. Of dirt. We’d been cleaning with Mop & Glo, which apparently puts glow on the floor but doesn’t do a heck of a lot of mopping, because we both spent a couple of hours on our hands and knees scrubbing the floor with sponges and Mr. Clean, marveling at how dirty the water had gotten in our scrub bucket.

One we were done, the floor–and kitchen–looked fantastic, but man, did my shoulder hurt. Plus, I was too zonked to put in another four hours of conscious living, let alone reading. The readathon would be postponed.

On Sunday, it happened. Me, couch, book, a four-hour block of afternoon. I finished reading Can I Get an Amen? by Sarah Healy, which was an entertaining read–not earth shattering, but as someone who went to Christian schools, I could relate to the environment of a church-centered life and all of the characters that went with it.

When I finished the story, I still had about an hour to go in the readathon, so I thought I’d peruse the readers’ guide that went along with the book, then find something else to read. But the first question turned out to be a slap-in-the-face for me, and I stopped the readathon cold.

I don’t know why, but I still have a lot of hang-ups as a writer, and I know that constant practice, constant putting pieces together and constantly submitting those pieces for publication is really the only way to get to where I’d like to be. Why I won’t let myself do that is something I don’t quite understand, but this year I’ve decided I’m through wallowing. It’s not cute anymore, and it’s been going on so long that people shouldn’t still be sympathetic to my imagined plight. It’s time to make something happen, particularly in terms of finishing up creative writing, submitting it and resubmitting the rejected pieces (I’ve gotten some rejections lately, which is a step, but I need to keep searching for a home for those stories). It doesn’t have to be great or earth-shattering; it just has to be done.

So when I read the first question, which is about how the author got into writing, and the response is, “I never expected to be a writer. That I have managed to become one comes as the most pleasant shock,” followed by a lengthy description of someone who figured out what they wanted to do and then slowly and realistically made it happen, I got pretty disappointed in myself, and I wanted to do something about it, rather than continue consuming other people’s work. Not that reading isn’t important or that I shouldn’t make a more conscious effort to sit down for a longer period of time to enjoy doing it, but that I also need to get to work.

Future Jill got it partly right. I finished the book I’d intended to. I’m curious as to what Future Jill has to say about the result of that experience. I might ask her at some point, but I think already know what she’s going to say.

What’s Your Go-To Cook Book?

22 Jan

blondie

 

Happy National Blonde Brownie Day!

According to Eat the Year, today is the day we should be celebrating the non-chocolate-based brownie, the brownie that looks in this picture, thanks to the coating of chocolate chips on the top, like a pan cookie. But it’s not. It does, however, have a lot of brown sugar in it, which is mighty tasty.

I’m not sure I’ve ever made blondies, so I grabbed my handy-dandy Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (note: the linked version is much newer–mine is copyright 1996) because I figured it would have a recipe. And it did not fail me. Recipe was easy too!

That got me to thinking, what are people’s go-to cook books for everyday recipes? BHG is one of my two standards. It’s the one I reach for when I need a quick recipe or am looking for something that sounds all-American. It teaches the basics in a very approachable way (and by approachable, I might mean “with color photographs”).

My other go-to is The Joy of Cooking. We own two versions of this: the 1975 version, which is spiral-bound (plus!) and includes recipes for cooking opossum (“If possible, trap ‘possum and feed it on milk and cereals for 10 days before killing.” It’s as if possum’s the veal of the small game world–but you get to fatten it up and kill it yourself), porcupine, raccoon, muskrat, woodchuck, beaver, beaver tail, and armadillo. The 1997 version’s chapter on game isn’t nearly that extensive, and the book is hardbound, so it doesn’t lie as flat easily. It is, however, more geared to what people cook today.

The Joy of Cooking is nice because its basic information on different food groups is pretty extensive, and I feel like I’ve gotten some training after I’ve successfully read and completed a recipe (believe me, this feeling of satisfaction doesn’t always happen). It can be a little intimidating to use though, so while I know it’ll have pretty much anything I need, I don’t always turn to it right away.

I’ve got a few other general cookbooks that I’ve been working through–a Rachael Ray, a Mr. Food, a Frugal Gourmet, but I don’t instantly reach for them the way I do these two. Are these two the end-all be-all of basic cookbooks? If not, what do you own?

Future Jill Reports on National Readathon Day

21 Jan

Future Jill sends a report:

DATELINE: SATURDAY – JANUARY 21, 2015

Your participation in the first National Readathon Day was both successful and highly enjoyable. You managed to finish Sarah Healy’s Can I Get an Amen? which you’ve been reading a couple of pages at a time. You also made good progress on a second book, but I won’t tell you what it is because I believe that falls under the Spoiler Alert clause in my contract. Let’s just say you were surprised with how much you’re enjoying this book. You also caught up on reading the newspaper.

You dutifully logged your status on Goodreads and managed to avoid looking at too many other people’s bookshelves, as to avoid getting frustrated with yourself by not reading more. And you hashtagged everything you said with #timetoread, even if it was #timetoeatdinner or #timeforacocktail. And you had the 5,111th conversation with The Boy about needing to make more time for reading. Next time, spare yourselves the conversation and just read. You don’t need to make it a four-hour stretch every session, but definitely use this as a catalyst to read a little bit everyday. And maybe consider implementing a quarterly Reading Week, like you had in high school, where all you did during your daily 50-minute English class was read. Perhaps you could even go back and finish The Grapes of Wrath, which you mostly read and loved, but never did turn its final page back then.

Unless that’s your second book of Saturday afternoon. I’m not telling though. You’ll have to read to find out.

My Official Celebration of Food Begins

14 Jan

tempura

Happy Belated National Tempura Day! How did you celebrate? Did you make your tempura, or did you buy it?

Wait–you missed National Tempura Day?! How is that possible? Everybody celebrates it! You didn’t get my card? Oh, um, oops. Guess that got lost in the mail.

Well, maybe not. During the day-after-Christmas-family-trip-to-the-bookstore, I decided to pick up Steff Deschenes‘ book Eat the Year, which, based on her Almanac of Eats blog, lists food holidays for every day of the year–including leap year, which happens to be National Surf & Turf Day. I’m guessing it probably takes a good 4 years to save up for the surf and the turf at a decent restaurant and/or forget how difficult it was to cook it all at once the last time you made it.

Anyway, I bought the book not just because it’s winter in New England and I’m looking for excuses to get the house warm by turning on the oven, but because I’d like to cook a little bit more creatively and I thought this book would be a little inspirational. Besides, I like the “it’s this National Food Day” because that’s an excuse to eat. Now I can plan my excuses. That’s a win all around.

I’m not going to do one of those projects where you make everything in the book and/or celebrate every food day possible in a year. I’m not touching National Caviar Day, and I’m not sure anyone should have a party to celebrate National Eat Beans Day. Also, some days have multiple holidays–for example, August 8 is both National Zucchini Day and National Frozen Custard Day. What pressure!

That said, January 7 was National Tempura Day. I celebrated a couple of days early when I went out for Japanese food with some friends, and then I celebrated again last night when we ordered Chinese food. Good stuff! Yes, I could have made it, and it’s actually not terribly difficult–I do have a tempura batter recipe–but like anything, there are good versions and bad versions. Last time I made tempura, I liked it but it was a bit heavy on the batter. This holiday, I took the opportunity to test a couple other versions and see where I can improve. I might need to test some more though. And practice. Yeah, practice. A lot. Next year, I’ll be ready for it. Now that you’re aware, maybe you will be too.

If you plan to celebrate any food holidays, drop me a line. Perhaps we can celebrate together. Also, stay tuned to this site, as I’ll probably post about my food celebrations from time to time.

Incidentally, if you’re reading this today, it’s National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day. I’ve got Chinese leftovers so I won’t be celebrating, but I do give you an honorary tip of the sandwich if you are.

2014 Reading Challenge Recap

2 Jan

Throughout 2014 I wanted to tackle my problem of buying books and not reading them. After reading a few people’s geographical reading challenges, I also thought it would be interesting to see where the authors of the books I read came from. So, while I was tracking like a geographical challenge, I wasn’t trying to make sure I covered all 50 states–I just wanted to see how diverse my collection is.

The gist? Well, let’s just say that my other plan of trimming my collection didn’t work very well. I don’t exactly know how many books I acquired this year–a day-after-Christmas family book shopping trip didn’t help, but you know what? That’s OK. While I could use more bookshelf space, I do love owning books. They help create a home.

On the flipside, I’m pleased with the number of books I read–especially given the fact that I went for long periods without reading or had books that took some time to get through–and with the ground I covered. I read a total of 27 books, covering 10 states and seven non-US countries. New York played prominently in my reading this year: Six of my books were authored by people born in that state.

I was kind of surprised to learn where people were born–authors I thought would come from Illinois or New York came from Missouri and Pennsylvania. I was pleased to read a few books from other countries, Iran being a big surprise.

What happens next? Well, I still have a lot of books to read. A lot of books. Including finishing the 9/11 Commission Report (@Wendy: It’s still interesting, but it’s got a lot of notes and for me it’s pretty involved reading, much more than just reading to unwind at the end of the day). I’m still going to track them geographically on a Google Doc because I do like trying to get the larger perspective that authors from not-where-I-live-or-am-from give me. I’ll also try to keep my Goodreads shelf up-to-date, and of course I’ll post here about books and reading from time to time.

I’m excited to see what 2015 has in store–will I finish more books? What areas of the country and world will they cover? Am I limiting myself by who I read, or am I continuing to explore what the world of literature has to offer?

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