August Reading and September New Leaf

My holiday was great: a few relaxed days at either end with my parents (lake, porch, lots of reading time); a few days in Scotland (loved it!); and far too much time on planes and trains (I like trains, but they eventually palled). On my return, I parachuted right in to my new role as department chair, which along with preparing for teaching has kept me very busy for the past two weeks.

I’ve been in school one way or another as long as I can remember, so September always feels to me like the start of a new year. I’d like to get back to writing in-depth posts, especially on specific books I’ve read, so that’s my blogging goal for this fall. This post, however, will be a quick rundown of the reading I did in August. Thanks to vacation, there was a ton. I won’t be able to keep up this pace in September.

Lots of Romance! (Is My Mojo Back? Sort Of) Continue reading

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Recent Reading: Summer Break!

This is probably three posts’ worth of stuff, but I’m dumping it all at once because I’m about to go on summer vacation hiatus and I’m too lazy to schedule separate posts. I tried to provide good headers so you can scroll to bits that might interest you.

Reading Formats

I said that after finishing David Van Reybrouck’s Congo I was ready for some light and fluffy reading, and I was. But even though holding that big hardcover was a literal pain at times, I found myself wanting to pick up another big paper book. I think there’s something about that physical form that signals my brain immersive reading ahead. My eyes strayed to some of the fat, neglected tomes on my TBR shelves, but I restrained myself for now because I’m about to leave on a trip. I’ll be slipping a Mary Stewart paperback (This Rough Magic) into my carry-on bag along with my loaded e-reader and iPod, but no Big Fat Book for August.

Unless it’s digital. I’m thinking a train to Scotland might be the perfect place to give Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings another go. I have the whole Lymond series as ebooks, bought with a Kobo 90% off coupon (I still don’t know how it miraculously worked on Penguin books), but I wonder if I wouldn’t find it easier to lose myself in those long, complex books on paper.

Given these ponderings, I found Maria Konnikova’s New Yorker piece on “Being a Better Online Reader” fascinating (h/t @anacoqui). It’s a thoughtful, balanced look at recent studies of digital reading: it does seem to get in the way of “deep reading” (links, scrolling, the lack of the physical cues we’re used to, and even multiple columns of text may work against focus), but we can likely teach our brains to adapt.

Maybe the decline of deep reading isn’t due to reading skill atrophy but to the need to develop a very different sort of skill, that of teaching yourself to focus your attention.

It’s something I keep working on, and it’s reassuring to know both that I’m not alone and that there’s hope!

I Read Romance and I Liked It!

Yes, at last my romance mojo seems to be returning (maybe I just need to jump start it regularly with some hefty non-fiction?). Continue reading

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Reading Update: Big Fat Book and More

Big Fat Book: Done!

I finished David Van Reybrouck’s Congo in just under three weeks–nothing like a library deadline for motivation. The second half, covering 1990 on, was much harder to read emotionally. I had not realized the extent to which the Democratic Republic of Congo was and continues to be caught up in the ethnic violence of Rwanda. Outright war, massacre of refugees, ongoing conflict among various militias, endemic rape, forced servitude in mines–these chapters were very bleak.

Van Reybrouck argues convincingly that the history of the Congo is interwoven with world history rather than being an unimportant byway. Why, then, don’t Westerners know more about it? One reason is provided in this timely (for me) piece by Anjam Sundaram, who worked as an AP stringer in the DRC: “We’re Missing the Story: The Media’s Retreat from Foreign Reporting.” (I added his book, Stringer, to my library wishlist). Continue reading

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A Little Beauty in the Middle of Chaos

There’s been a lot of awful news this week. But in the middle of that, beauty and joy persist. Here are a few things that reminded me of that.

Rabih Alameddine’s Tweet Stream

You may remember that I read and loved Alameddine’s novel An Unnecessary Woman. In that novel, Aliyaa lives in a world of books, art and music, and she also lives in Beirut. Violence is part of her world, just as much as beauty. Ultimately, I think the novel shows that art can’t (or shouldn’t) be an escape from life, but it is a part of life, probably even a necessary part. Beauty is not less real than chaos.

I recently (because of his World Cup tweeting and posts) started following Alameddine on Twitter. This week, his tweets, like his novel, have represented both art and political chaos. He has tweeted about Gaza, and he has tweeted a daily poem and images of artworks. I have been so glad to have those drawings, paintings and mosaics show up in my feed alongside photos of air strikes, tanks, and the wreckage of a downed passenger jet. Continue reading

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Marketing, Social Media, Books and Me

A couple of things I’ve been thinking about, at too much length to leave as comments elsewhere.

Stop With “Not Your Mother’s”

Many readers I know object to the currently popular “not your mother’s romance” marketing slogan. Some were introduced to romance-reading by their mothers; some are mothers who like sex and sexy books; all know newer authors did not invent sexy/dark/whatever they think they invented. The other day, right after reading yet another author tout her book as “not your mother’s erotic romance,” I came across this line in Book Riot’s delightfully diverse summer reading suggestions from The Well-Readheads:

[Tiffany Reisz's The Saint] is not your mother’s fuzzy handcuffs “bondage” story

I then had a positive Twitter exchange with Rebecca Schinsky about this: I explained politely why it bothered me; she said she agreed and said she had meant it as an ironic poke at 50 Shades’ “mommy porn” rep. So my point here is not to criticize her. (I think this fails as irony because Reisz’s book is exactly the type that romance marketers label as “not your mama’s,” though Schinsky may not have realized this. As I recall, Harlequin and Reisz herself basically sold her first book as “for readers of 50, only better”).

This conversation made me think more about why I object to the “not your mother’s” phrase: it’s wrong about literature (or story-telling, if you prefer). I want my Oldsmobile to be “not my father’s”; I expect technology to have progressed in 30 years (my father’s still around and bought one of the first hybrids on the market–he’s not driving “your father’s” Oldsmobile either). But while what stories we tell and how we tell them change (some) as culture changes, that’s not progress. The novel may be better suited to depicting a modern society than the epic is (may be), but it is not a superior or more advanced literary form.  Continue reading

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