Farewell, 2017!

So, uh, it’s been a while… How are you? How’s your… local sports team? Actually, mine’s doing unexpectedly great this year, thanks for asking!

It’s finally been of reasonable weather quality in Northeast Florida, so I’ve been spending most of the last couple months outside enjoying nature. This has apparently led to a stress injury in my ankle, and one of my early New Year’s Resolutions is to stop compounding injuries by ignoring them, so I come to you from my couch on a perfectly beautiful day. At least I have lots of indoor activities I can enjoy! Speaking of, let’s talk about what I’ve been up to the past two months!

Reading
I’ve read quite a few things in the last couple months, but I’ll just do a couple highlights (one lowlight?) here.

A Lot Like ChristmasMy absolute favorite of the books I’ve read recently is A Lot Like Christmas, which is an updated collection of Connie Willis’s short stories set around Christmas. I legit loved every story in this collection, which is a feat unmatched, I think, and I found myself just a couple stories in taking a break to set up my (very tiny) Christmas tree so I could read by tree light. I’m not a super Christmas-y person — I have my traditions and I like those but everything else can go jump in a lake — but I really felt imbued with the Christmas spirit while reading this book. It might be a little late for you to read this, depending on your personal Christmas temperament, but you should definitely keep it in mind for next year.

Pride and Prejudice and MistletoeMy least favorite was the also Christmas-themed Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, which I was all over when I heard the sales pitch: a gender-swapped Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view. What? Yes! Give it! Unfortunately, the actual result is more like a remixed Pride and Prejudice — it hits most of the big beats of the original story but they’re changed enough that it’s not the same story at all and it’s not a good story and it also ends about six chapters later than it should after way too much introspection and it’s just… bad. It’s possible that if you’re not expecting Pride and Prejudice you’ll like this better, but I’m pretty sure it’s a hot mess either way.

Listening
My audiobook listening has slowed down a bit this fall as I’ve picked up a couple new podcasts. One is Call Your Girlfriend, a podcast that’s more or less a conversation between two long-distance best friends about whatever’s going on in the world at the time. The other is Waypoint Radio, a second video game podcast to complement the still-the-best What’s Good Games and to cause my video-game TB…P, I guess, list to grow ever larger.

GroceryHowever, I have enjoyed two great audiobooks since last we met. Grocery is a fantastic book for people like me (and the author’s father) who are obsessed with grocery stores and how they work and how food gets to them and how food trends have changed in general over the past while, and possibly also just people from Cleveland who love Heinen’s, a small chain which features prominently in the book. I love all of these things and I loved this book. I also loved The Nature Fix, which validated all my time spent outdoors and also encouraged me to do it more, so, uh, once this ankle’s all better it might be a while ’til I post here again.

Watching
S.H.I.E.L.D. finally came back and it is as weird and awesome as it is at its best. No spoilers, but it’s crazy and I’m looking forward to seeing how it resolves the very strange loop it’s put itself in. I’ve also seen a few excellent movies recently, including, unexpectedly, Thor: Ragnarok. I really hated the other Thor movies, but one should never doubt Taika Waititi and his ability to make things awesome. The best movie I’ve seen possibly all year is Coco, which had me ugly crying in the theater next to my sister-in-law, who was glad I was crying so she wouldn’t feel bad about crying. It’s adorable and wonderful but it is also VERY VERY SAD FOR GROWNUPS. You’ve been warned.

Playing
I’ve been spending a lot of time on Rocket League lately, collecting snowflakes to open loot boxes because I want a pretty car, dang it! Also I really like playing soccer with cars. It is the best. I’ve also been spending some time with Super Mario Odyssey, which I bought kind of on a whim when it was on sale and am enjoying WAY more than I thought I was going to. I don’t think I’ve ever played more than a few minutes of a Mario adventure game (I’m more a Mario Kart and Mario Party girl), and clearly I have been missing out.

But the best is that I’m just after finishing Life is Strange: Before the Storm, which is a prequel to the super excellent Life is Strange and while of course I think the original is better, this one is differently good and is also very very sad for grownups, where “grownups” equals “people who played Life is Strange and can therefore see into the future”. I am quite interested to see what happens when the original company comes back with another round of the game next year.

What are you guys finishing out your year with?

Making a Fresh Start

Guys, it’s been so long since I looked at this blog that WordPress forgot my login credentials! It’s only been six weeks, but it does feel like a lifetime, partly because I’ve been avoiding writing anything. I’ve been writing about every book I’ve read for about nine years in this space, and so when I see the forty books sitting unreviewed in my Goodreads list it gives me a tiny panic attack. And then all of you lovely people are like, “Hey, where’d you go, tell me about ALL THE BOOKS” and I am like “I want to, but.”

So I’m making a change around here and taking a page out of my very own book from RIPs past. I’ll be stopping in here every week or two with an update on things I’m reading, watching, listening to, playing, and generally thinking about. If there’s a book that I feel very strongly about, you might see a full-length review here and there. But not this week!

What have I been up to for the past couple of weeks? Well…

Thinking
It’s been a weird couple of weeks for me, as I went on a much-needed vacation to my hometown to see parents and friends, and then spent most of the week that I was in Ohio watching news coverage of the hurricane headed straight toward my current state of Florida. First it looked like it would miss the state, then miss my city, then smack my city in the face, then maybe miss my city, then probably miss my city, then maybe miss it…. My husband and I ended up getting two extra days of vacation as both of our jobs were closed for the storm and its aftermath, and we were very lucky to come home to a fully intact house (albeit with no power for a day and no internet for five). My husband’s family members were not so lucky, and we spent a little time this weekend helping clean up his grandmother’s house. And now there’s another hurricane coming up the exact route, so, yay?

Reading
With all these weather shenanigans it’s been a tough time for reading! I wanted to read all the books on vacation, and I even had this grand plan to check out a book from my hometown library that I couldn’t figure out how to easily get at home, read it, and return it before I left. I did the first and last parts, but when I realized I wasn’t going to get to do the second, I decided it would make more sense to buy it from my favorite tiny used book store. I did get a few pages into A Race Anthology before I came home, but not enough yet to know if it was worth my $10.80.

Another book I didn’t read on vacation was The Stone Sky, the third book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, but I did manage to finally finish it this weekend! I say manage, because I was unfortunately not as completely into this book as I was the first two. It was good, and I’m glad I read it, as it ties up all the loose plotlines pretty effectively, but it’s kind of Maddaddam-y in that it’s a bit too slow and plodding to be really exciting.

Listening
Speaking of slow and plodding, the husband and I failed to listen to The Dark Forest, the sequel to The Three-Body Problem, on our road trip. Guys, it is so dense and convoluted and we listened to it for two hours that felt like eleven and we got maybe two minutes of information out of it. So we abandoned ship and listened to a super weird book called All Our Wrong Todays instead. I picked it to listen to because it promised time travel, but it turned out that time travel didn’t really have anything to do with the story except to set it in motion. It’s actually a lot more about identity and a surprising amount about gender politics, and I do want to give a little content warning that there is a brief scene of sexual violence that comes out of nowhere and then longer scenes of people talking about that scene, so, you know. FYI. I seriously just came here for the time travel. But even though it dives headlong into some Tough Topics, it does it with some awesome snark, so overall we ended up with the impression that it was a pretty funny book. Hence, super weird.

In podcast-land, I’ve got a new obsession with the ladies of What’s Good Games, a show that my podcast player recommended to me a couple weeks ago. When I saw it I was like, “Ooh! Lady gamers. Oh, those episodes are all like two hours long. Well, I’ll listen to one and see if I like it.” Eighteen episodes later, I’m all caught up and eagerly awaiting next week’s episode, and also I maybe bought a Nintendo Switch because they kept talking about how awesome Breath of the Wild is.

Playing
Oh my goodness, Breath of the Wild is super good, guys. I’m like, not very far into it because I have a very short attention span, but I am super enjoying it when I do sit down to play it. I don’t think I’ve played more than an hour or two of any other Zelda game, so I don’t know how this one stacks up, historically, but I will tell you that it’s probably the prettiest one I’ve ever seen.

These last couple of weeks I’ve been mostly playing all the Two Dots on my phone because it’s a good distraction, but my mother got me into a crazy complicated Farmville-esque game called Township that is one of those games where you make things so you can make other things so you can sell those things and make new things, forever, and everything takes a certain amount of time to make and my phone is constantly telling me that my crops are ready to harvest or my train returned to the station or whatever. I’ll probably be sick of it in another week or two, when it gets too hard, but for now it’s good brain candy.

Well, this has gone on far longer than I was expecting… um, how are you guys doing?

Weekend Shorts: Wool #3 and The New Yorker Fiction Podcast, Some More

Goodness, it has been so long since I actually read these stories that I can only hope I will remember all the good parts! With any luck I will be getting back into the swing of this, though, and there will be more short story goodness in the future. Especially this Wool series; it’s turning out to be really quite awesome!

wool 3Wool #3: Casting Off, by Hugh Howey
After the expectedly-not-as-great-as-the-first-story second story of this series, I was a little bit nervous about continuing on. For no good reason, it turns out! This installment opens with our newly minted sheriff, Juliette, heading out for a cleaning, which is a very bad thing indeed. She ponders just how she got herself into this predicament, which naturally segues into the actual story of how she got herself into this predicament. Yeah, it’s not the most original opening, but I am a total sucker for its kind and so this story scored points with me right from the beginning.

Howey gets into the meat of the political shenanigans here, with our new sheriff attempting to do her job and certain people making that basically impossible but with a shiny veneer of helpfulness that makes it hard for Juliette to argue. Unfortunately, the people who are actually being helpful to our sheriff are the ones who are about to make boatloads of trouble and make our opening happen. But it’s what happens after that opening sequence that makes me really super-duper excited for the next installment…. Man, I wish these stories were longer, so that I could say more about them, but on the other hand I can read more of them if they’re shorter, so…

The New Yorker Fiction Podcast“We Were Nearly Young”, by Mavis Gallant
Dang, this story. I didn’t really catch it while listening to the podcast, but I caught the gist of it in the discussion afterward with Antonya Nelson and thought it was pretty intriguing. Then I found a copy of the story here, and eyes-read it, and kind of fell in love with it.

The story itself is about a group of twenty-somethings all living in the same run-down building in Madrid in the fifties, being poor but being together and therefore being more or less happy, until such time as one of the twenty-somethings ruins the status quo. The group dynamics reminded me a bit of something like The Likeness or The Secret History, and so of course I was sold.

But what really makes the story so wonderful is the language Gallant uses, which is just so pretty that even though I wasn’t paying enough attention to it being read I knew it was a beautiful story. A line that especially drew me in in the print version: “It was not the English bun-face, or the Swiss canary, or the lizard, or the hawk; it was the unfinished, the undecided, face that accompanies the rotary sprinkler, the wet Martini, pussyfooting in love and friendship, expense-account foolery, the fear of the open heart.” Mavis Gallant, this is not the last time we shall meet.

“A Day”, by William Trevor
Where the last story was a bit confusing to me on first listen, this one dragged me right in. In it, a woman called Mrs. Lethwes spends a day pondering another woman called Elspeth. Elspeth is a bit of a mystery figure at first, is she Mrs. Lethwes’s sister? Friend? But as the story progresses, Trevor fills in more details about the Lethwes family and this Elspeth character, at least how Mrs. Lethwes sees and imagines them, and you (well, I) start to feel like you have totally had this particular day before in your life, up to and including all the attendant alcohol.

I think the best part of this story (spoilers?) is that you never find out what’s actually going on outside of Mrs. Lethwes’s head. Is Elspeth the way she imagines her? Is this day going to end the way Mrs. Lethwes thinks it will? Is it all just the alcohol talking? I DON’T KNOW AAAAHHH! And I love it.

Sounds and Moving Pictures

So it’s been two weeks since my last post here, which seems like eight billion years in internet time. It’s not that I don’t have books and stories that I want to talk your faces off about, but instead that I have yet again embarked on the terrible journey that is called Having a New Job.

Having a New Job is always a bit exhausting, what with all the learning that has to get done, but this one’s a bit rougher on account of doing my training literally within sight of Georgia in a gorgeous historic town, which doesn’t sound too rough until you consider that I live on the complete other side of the next county over, so I’ve got two hours a day of just sitting in my car to contend with.

Although, actually, this can be nice because it means I can still listen to some of my beloved podcasts, if not all. Here are the best ones that made the cut:

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
I basically consider a week unstarted if I haven’t heard Carl Kasell’s voice reading ridiculous limericks, and also this show is helpful for keeping up with the news in Florida.

Pop Culture Happy Hour
My other NPR bookend, this show comes out on Fridays and includes lively discussion about TV, movies, books, comics, and German art song, which is basically all I need in life.

Literary Disco
This is a new podcast whose backlist I am currently working through — I picked it up because Rider Strong but I’ve stuck with it because he and his co-hosts have really awesome thoughts and opinions on books and stories.

ABC Book Review
I of course have to give some love to my awesome friends Beth and Cari up in Ohio, who delight me on a semi-regular basis with what always starts as book talk but often veers off into entirely different territory by podcast’s end.

Bookrageous
Another book podcast of awesomeness, with three hosts whose tastes more or less line up with mine, except when one of them really likes Castle (it’s been four years and I am still not over it).

Books on the Nightstand
Because I don’t get enough talk of books in other podcasts or at work at the library. I love the way Ann and Michael interact with each other and with their audience, and how they provide a publishing perspective that I otherwise would not hear.

When I’m not working or driving slash listening to podcasts, I’m often trying to read but instead zoning out in front of my phone playing Candy Crush (sad but true) or in front of my giant television, which has been bringing me a couple of quality shows as of late!

Luther
Holy crap, Luther. I knew basically nothing about this show going in except that it was supposed to be fantastic. I have one episode left to go in season two and while I would say that whoever said “fantastic” was technically correct, I think the better term would be “absolutely batshit bonkers.” It all started off so normal, and now I am just like WTF basically every other scene. Every scene? Somewhere between those two. It’s a crime show about a detective (Luther) with Issues, and the first episode features Luther attempting to solve a surprisingly perfect murder. If intriguing murder mysteries are your thing (they are very much mine), I would recommend giving this a go.

Under the Dome
At one time in my past I was a devoted follower of the Church of Read it First, but then I realized that if the book is better, you should probably read it second so that you can like the movie or the TV show or whatever on its own merits. Also, sometimes I am too lazy for a Stephen King doorstop, or at least more than one in a twelve-month period. So when I found out that this show existed, I gave it a shot, and now I am kind of obsessed. I’ve heard other talking about how awesome the book is and how they’ve changed quite a bit between it and the series, so of course now I’m going to have to go read the book later, but I think the show is doing a fantastic job of killing me with tension. It’s also doing a good job of subverting my expectations with regards to several plot points, so it’s definitely a DVR keeper.

Someday I’ll get back to reading, but until then, do y’all have any suggestions for other things I can fill my commute and/or my brain-dead evenings with?

Weekend Shorts from the New Yorker Fiction Podcast

The New Yorker Fiction PodcastI haven’t been reading too much this week, so I’m glad to have this podcast just waiting for me on my phone when I need a quick escape into fiction. Last week I tracked down print versions for you to follow along in, but that proved to be far more difficult this week so I’m going to have to leave that up to you — but of course the audio is just waiting for you!

“I Bought a Little City”, by Donald Antrim

Oh, my goodness. As soon as I started listening to this, I was like, “I know this is only the third story I’ve listened to on this podcast, but I think it’s going to be hard to top.” And it will be.

In this awfully hilarious little satire, our intrepid narrator buys Galveston, Texas (as you do) and decides not to do anything drastic, except, you know, tear down some houses and build up not-too-imaginative new developments and have the newspaper publish diatribes against him because maybe his city people won’t want to do it themselves? It is very very weird, and Donald Antrim reads it so straight-faced that all I could do was laugh.

“You Must Know Everything”, by Isaac Babel

This was a weird story in a much different way. It’s got a pretty slow start, with a young narrator just sort of talking about his life and his day hanging out with his grandmother, but then toward the end it gets very serious, with the grandmother making the titular pronouncement and some other pronouncements that are maybe not quite what you would expect. I definitely appreciated this story more after the discussion with George Saunders (whose work I have checked out from the library right now!) about the cultural and societal implications of the story, which are actually pretty interesting.

“Somewhere Else”, by Grace Paley

More culture! It’s almost like these segues are planned, though I doubt that they are. As Nell Freudenberger, who discusses the story, says, this is a story about pictures. At first, it’s a story about a Western tour group in China in the 70s, when people weren’t really going to China, and the big event is an argument about taking photographs of Chinese citizens without their permission. Then the story shifts perspective to another picture-taking event in a completely different place with completely different people. The politics and privilege inherent in this photographic objectification (and the objectification of travel in general) are something that I’ve been thinking about lately, so listening to this story talking about the same thing from so many years ago was kind of cool!

“The Gospel According to Mark”, by Jorge Luis Borges

Aaaaaaaaaaaah. This is another story that starts off slow and then takes a turn for the exciting at the end, though on a second listen you can almost feel the buildup and where things start going very wrong. As Paul Theroux discusses, there’s a bit of a horror element to it, and it is definitely that type of horror that is my favorite, the kind you’d find in Shirley Jackson‘s work or certain darker Flannery O’Connor pieces. You should definitely track this down and give it a read or a listen and then another and then possibly another, because it will give you new things to think about every time.

How about you guys? Any short stories to share?

Weekend Shorts: Human Division Extras and The New Yorker Fiction Podcast

The Human DivisionFrom The Human Division: “After the Coup” and “Hafte Sorvalh Eats a Churro and Speaks to the Youth of Today”

If you’ll recall, I read The Human Division in serialized e-book form, so when the official print compilation came out and had extras, I was like, hey, wait a second. Those extras have since been made available for free on the internets, but since I am apparently too lazy to make the required account and also since I happened to see the hardcover come into cataloging at my library, I figured I’d just grab the book and read the extras there.

“After the Coup” I have actually read before, when it was maybe on tor.com at some point, but I was more than happy to read it again. This story takes my good friends Harry Wilson and Hart Schmidt and puts them in a diplomatic situation that is really more humorous and disgusting than it is political. Wilson, the one with the genetically engineered body, finds himself recruited to an exhibition match in an alien martial art against one of said aliens, a sort of amphibious creature whose martial arts skills are a combination of awesome and totally cheating, but of course Wilson makes the best of it.

“Hafte Sorvalh” etc. was new to me, and differently interesting than “After the Coup.” This one is definitely political; the gist of it is that the resident Conclave (the bad guys, more or less) diplomat sits down to eat some churros which end up going cold while she explains herself and her race and the Conclave and the potential for upcoming war to some inquisitive schoolchildren. I like the explanations Sorvalh gives, and I like the way it sort of sets up what I assume will be the next set of stories in this universe.

The New Yorker Fiction PodcastFrom The New Yorker Fiction Podcast: “Reunion” by John Cheever and “How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)” by Junot Díaz

I’m finally catching up on my previously months-long backlog of podcasts, so of course it’s time to throw a new one into the mix! This is not a bad one to do that with, either, since the episodes are comprised of a short story and some commentary and thus take less than twenty minutes, at least so far. It is also helpful in my new quest to read more short stories, because a) I don’t have to actually seek any stories out and b) I get to listen to stories I wouldn’t have known existed to seek out.

“Reunion” (scanned copy here) is the very first story on this podcast, read by Richard Ford more than six years ago (I have a little catching up to do, yes). It is a very short story about a kid, probably late-teenage, stopping in New York City on a train layover to meet up with the father he hasn’t seen in three years. The father takes his son around some nearby bars, generally being an ass to all the wait staff and not generally getting a drink out of them, and the son realizes that maybe three years wasn’t long enough to have been away. I loved the way Ford read this story, making the father’s exclamations and insults both hilarious and depressing, and Cheever certainly nailed that awkwardness of seeing a person for the first time in a long time and not getting what you expected.

“How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)” (nicely formatted version here) is a story that I probably would not have read on my own, and it still kind of isn’t. It stars a kid who, as you might guess, is explaining to someone (probably himself) how to date a girl, with contingency plans in case she’s white or black or local or an “outsider” or whatever. It’s an interesting look into the complexities of dating in a community I’m not familiar with, in a time — 1995 — that is so different from my own dating time, but with, in the end, a very familiar truth of what being a horny teenager is like. This story was read by Díaz himself from an older recording, with discussion by Edwidge Danticat afterwards, and I’m defnitely going to have to seek out work from both of these authors.