shecurmudgeon

2013 Reading Roundup

For all that I worked in a bookstore between 2009 and 2012, my reading fell off dramatically for a while.  I tried to get back on track in 2013-- I wouldn’t say my attention span’s entirely recovered, for reasons of: general life stuff, intermittent depression, exciting & super-hectic new job, internet attention span disorder, etc., but I do feel like I put a more concerted effort into reading more, even if I didn’t finish everything, and/or am still working on things I started.  Still, in the interest of accountability (and not so much because I think anyone cares) here are the things I read, or tried to, in 2013: 

 

 

Things I Started Before the End of the Year and So Am Still Reading:

 

Book of Ages, The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, Jill Lepore (history/letters)-- Ben Franklin was kind of a dick, Jane Franklin had it rough, Jill Lepore is reaching a bit for straws, and colonial history is actually fascinating as hell.

 

Things I Started to Read and Am Not Going to Finish:

 

Angelology, Danielle Trussoni-- escapist angel sci/fi-fantasy.  Fun, but I wasn’t feeling it and it got kind of Dan Brown and draggy.  Not bad, just not my thing.

 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Haruki Murakami-- I just had no sympathy for any of the characters, even if I thought the premise of the novel interesting.  So, no.

 

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald-- too purplely, and I just don’t care about anyone in the story, at all.

 

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, Willie Nelson-- I love Willie, but he needed an editor and about a pound less weed to make this coherent.

 

Lady of the Forest, Jennifer Roberson (Fantasy)-- Robin Hood, from Maid Marian’s perspective.  It started out way too imminent-threat-of-rape and with way too much romance-with-Robin and back-and-forth with the chronology flashbacks-- just, ugh.

 

Ruhlman’s Twenty, Michael Ruhlman-- I’m glad it was a free download.  I’m sure the recipes are good but his writing is like nails on chalkboard to me, I don’t know why.

 

Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie (Fantasy)-- Lady warrior, done wrong, goes out for revenge.  Way too dark, and I just didn’t like the writing.

 

Bread Alone, Judith R. Hendricks (Fiction)-- I had hoped this was going to be a lady-friendship novel, but instead it was another disappointing lady friends fight over romance novel.  I would have thrown it across the room except that it would have broken my Nook.

 

How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran-- Moran's billed as a British Tina Fey, and I was sort of enjoying the book but also finding her to be a little too "Aren't my insecurities Quirky and Endearing," and then she got caught out making the whole Sherlock panel squirm by making fun of fandom and fanfiction writers, so now I just think she's a judgmental crank who is too insecure to live and let live, and I have no interest in reading her books.  Note to Caitlin Moran:  Neil Gaiman started out writing fanfiction.  Are you going to make fun of him?

 

Series I Started and Won’t Finish--

 

Jennifer Estep’s Widow’s Web series (Urban Fantasy).  I like the idea of flawed badass lady assassins with the found-family trope, but why, oh, why, does there always have to be a romance and an old family vendetta?  Can’t it just be a procedural?

 

Sandman Slim series, Richard Kadrey (Urban Fantasy/Horror)-- Gritty as hell, and well-written, but the grimness just started to drag at my soul and all the black humor couldn’t uplift me anymore.

 

Iron Seas Series, Meljean Brook (Steampunk Fantasy/Romance)-- I read the Iron Duke and thought it was great, but this second book about a secondary character from the first book and a new character just hit every feminist squick that I had, and I couldn’t stand to keep reading to see whether the male character got his comeuppance.

 

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline-- I liked it, but I’m not a video gamer and it got kind of boggy in the middle.  I haven’t decided if I’m getting back to it or not.

 

Things I Started to Read and Will Get Back To:

 

Swamplandia, Karen Russell (Fiction)-- Really good, but I got distracted by starting my new job and haven’t come back to it.

 

Harvest of the Cold Months, Elizabeth David (Food History)-- I downloaded this while we were in Italy so I could read the bit about the ice houses in the Boboli Gardens, but Elizabeth David is always great for a chapter before bed and this is one of her books I haven’t finished yet.

 

George Orwell, Diaries-- I had it by my bedside, and then it got replaced by something else.  I’ll get back to it.

 

Bicycle Diaries, by David Byrne-- I think it’s probably something I’ll handle better in small doses.

 

Kraken, by China Mieville (Sci-Fi/Horror)-- I go up and down on his stuff-- it got weird and creepy so I skipped to the end, and now I don’t know if I want to finish it, but I’m not ready to give up on it yet.

 

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo (Non-fiction)-- I was reading this when I started the new job and didn’t have the time to devote to it, plus it was kind of a bummer and I knew I needed to be in a better mental space for it.

 

The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Baumeister (fiction)-- It got a little too reminiscent of things in my marriage, so I put it aside.

 

A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan (Sci-Fi/Fantasy)-- Really good, but it’s something you can pick up and put down, so I am.

 

Complete Stories, Dorothy Parker (fiction):  Sometimes you need rapier wit.

 

Etiquette & Espionage, Gail Carriger (YA Steampunk/Fantasy):  Another series I started at the same time as my new job, and will get back to because I loved Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Series so very much.

 

Blue Nights, Joan Didon (Memoir)-- I needed a break from the relentless sadness.  But her writing is exquisite.

 

The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Fiction)-- I was getting bummed out, skipped to the end, and haven’t gone back to finish it but will.  It’s beautifully written, but hews a little too emotionally close in some places.

 

Cold Magic, Kate Elliott (YA, Fantasy)-- Very different worldbuilding, magic systems, protagonists, and seems promising, but my dad went into the hospital and I haven’t gotten back to it yet.

 

Conscious Capitalism, Jon Mackey & Ras Sisodia-- I bought it because the company’s founder wrote it, and I keep picking it up and putting it down while my inner college economist & political pragmatist says It doesn’t work that way! because of course the point is that maybe it could if we tried.  

 

How Should a Person Be?, Sheila Heti (Fiction)-- I can’t decide if this is hipster bullshit or actually deep, and sometimes I want to throw it at the wall and sometimes I highlight whole paragraphs.  I’m keeping at it, so far.

 

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (Fiction?/Sci-Fi)-- Really well-written, chilling as hell, so I keep putting it down.

 

The Backyard Homestead, Carleen Madigan-- I started it as research for my NaNo novel (postapocalyptic world re-building), and then my dad went into the hospital, but it’s a good general gardening reference as well.

 

Search Party, Collected Poems, William Matthews-- Matthews is austere and beautiful but a little bit goes a long way.  I dip in every once and a while.

 

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell (YA Fiction)-- Misunderstood teens, trying to understand and be less lonely.  Perfection.

 

Divergent, Veronica Roth (YA Sci-Fi)-- Misunderstood teens, trying to not be understood and be less lonely.  Kind of trope-filled and WHY DOES THERE ALWAYS HAVE TO BE STAR-STRUCK ROMANCE, but the evil villian is good and the world-building caste-thing, while not novel, is at least interesting enough that I’ll come back to it when I’m over my disgust at every YA girl heroine having to be such a girl.  I need more misandry in my YA, IDK.

 

A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit (Nonfiction/Memoir)-- It’s hard to categorize what Solnit’s writing is-- she picks a theme, and then writes about her own experiences in and around musings on historical factoids-- here, geography, cartography, epistemology-- all the ways a person can lose & find themselves.  It’s dense, but always amazing.

 

Quiet, Susan Cain-- Really well done, but I got distracted by the new job and didn't have the attention span for non-fiction.

 

Things I Re-Read:

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (Sci-Fi)-- I will never, ever, get the hang of Thursdays.

 

Arrows of the Queen series, Mercedes Lackey-- Chicken Soup for the inner angsty teen in us all.

 

Last Herald Mage series, Mercedes Lackey-- Cheetos for the even angstier teen in us all.

 

Living Low Carb, Fran McCullough

 

Things I Actually Finished:

 

Cookbooks:

 

I don’t know if “finished” is the right word for cookbooks-- some of these I read cover-to-cover, some of these I have cooked at least a half-dozen recipes from, which I consider significant use.

 

Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi

 

Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi

 

Ottolenghi, Yotam Ottolenghi  (Are you detecting a theme here? Anything he does with

fish or salad is alright with me.  He even makes me like mint, and I hate mint like other people hate cilantro.  His hummus recipe.  His muhadarra.)

 

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman-- I liked the eggplant recipe I made from the book, but I’ve ended up cooking out of it less than I’d hoped because too many of the recipes are too high in carbs and I can’t be bothered to de-carb them.

 

American Heart Association Low-Salt Cookbook-- does what it says on the tin.  Not all that gourmet, but I needed a list of name-brand packaged goods at the recommended sodium intake for congestive heart failure, as well as a list of magnesium dense foods to work with, and this does that.  It’s also more sensitive to the fact that many people on low-salt diets are also diabetic, and not too many of the recipes are that high in carbs. There are a few with couscous or orzo, but that’s easy to deal with by subbing quinoa or shredded zucchini or carrot.

 

Food in Jars, Marisa McClellan-- downloaded from some free e-book website for research for my NaNo-- the recipes are pretty impractical and too gourmet for putting things by.  

 

Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals, Caroline Wright-- practical, tasty, and great for riffing off of.

 

Tender, Nigel Slater-- I bought Tender & Ripe when they came out, but then, they were such doorstops I barely cracked them.  I used Tender for a half-dozen things at Thanksgiving and have kept going since.

 

A Girl and Her Pig, April Bloomfield-- I don’t cook much from it, but the book gives me ideas, and April Bloomfield’s terrific.  

 

La Tartine Gourmande, Beatrice Peltre-- lovely recipes, amazing photography, but the recipes take more work and more alternative grains than I usually have time for.  It’s more of an aspirational book than anything else.  I need to try a few of the desserts before I get rid of it, because most gluten-free cookbooks are full of xanthan gum and sugar and Peltre at least is low sugar.

 

The Food 52 Cookbook-- I made one soup, and it was good, but I have too many cookbooks.  I more or less bought it to support Amanda Hesser, but then the site really took off and I decided she was doing ok without me.

 

Vegetable Literacy, Deborah Madison-- Deborah Madison is one of those writers I like a lot in theory and then I don’t use much in practice.  It’s a beautiful book, though, and you learn some botany just flipping through.

 

The Complete Book of Vegan Substitutions, Quayside-- The red lentil gingerbread is actually quite good.  I’ve used it a few times, but it’s more of an in-case reference than anything else.  I’m not vegan, but I keep it in case I need to cook for someone who is.

 

Poetry:

 

Aimless Love, by Billy Collins-- collects many of Collins’ poems to date, plus new ones. I am always glad to have Collins to carry around, since he carries off humor and heartbreak and deep meaning all in the space of a number of pages, and often in the same poem.  The collection contains one of my favorites of his, pretty much ever-- Hippos on Holiday.

 

Wine for a Shotgun, Marty McConnell-- Profane, fearless, loving, raw.  

 

Most of the issues of my subscription to Poetry magazine, plus their tablet app

 

Get Lucky, Nicole Steinberg-- an indie press publication by a friend of mine through Spooky Girl Press, this is a clever, sweet, snarky, achy, subversive look at being a woman and being alive.

 

Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, Brenda Hillman-- another National Book Award finalist.  I think it’s a little too strident for me.

 

A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver-- It’s Mary Oliver.  Every poem is a natural prayer and a rejoicing.

 

Living for a Living, Buddy Wakefield-- Joyous, racous, grief-filled, surreal, amazing.

 

Stay, Illusion, Lucie Brock-Broido-- Weird, captivating, lovely.  I can see why it was a National Book Award finalist.

 

Goblin Market & Other Poems, Christina Rosetti-- a classic.  Romantic.  Kind of weird, but in a good way.

 

Richard Siken, Crush-- I am unapologetic about the fact that I was turned on to this book by fandom.  Richard Siken’s poems are raw & amazing, gay, crushing & lovely, cruel & kind.

 

W.S. Merwin, Collected Poems-- I think I like his later things better than his earlier.

 

Our Andromeda, Brenda Shaughnessy-- At times triumphant, at times achingly sad.

 

Sci-Fi/Horror/Fantasy:

 

Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow-- not your typical horror werewolf novel love story in verse. Yeah.  It’s really different, really well-done, and the ending is completely unexpected.

 

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie-- Military Sci-Fi.  The world-building and the things she does with chronology and ruminations on sentience and what makes someone human, much less humane, will astound you.  Long, and worth it.

 

Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig (Urban Fantasy)-- An interesting take on the road-trip trope as well as the harbinger-of-death trying to escape her fate trope.

 

Pacific Rim, the novelization, Alex Irvine:  If you don’t like giant robots piloted by awesome people who learn share their feelings and then go smash evil aliens and save the world, we need to talk.

 

Romance:

 

A Civil Contract, Georgette Heyer:  The ugly duckling saves the handsome prince and then they fall in love story.  No smut, because Heyer wrote in the 20s and 30s, and the writing is really well done.  It’s more of an adult romance than others I’ve read, and the misunderstandings between the main characters feel real, even if the writing is a little old fashioned and at times just a bit overwrought.

 

Graphic Novels:

 

Hellboy, Vols. 1-3, Mike Mignola-- Hellboy is awesome.  Shut up.

 

Saga, Vols. 1 & 2-- Brian Vaughan-- Sci-fi epic grapic space opera that is definitely NOT for kids.  The art is fantastic, the writing’s amazing, and I just wish more of the series were available in e-book.

 

Hawkeye, Matt Fraction-- I go up and down on reading Avengers comics, since I’m pretty much an Iron Man and Thor groupie only (not that I don't love Black Widow, I just find the comics too erratically written and get frustrated), but the writing and art is awesome and different, even if I’m not a huge fan of the whole Young Avengers thing.

 

Sandman, #1-3, Neil Gaiman-- Dark, complex, fantastic.  I’m rationing myself one for every three other books I finish.

 

Ex Machina, Vol. 1 & 2, Brian Vaughan-- Sci-fi.  There’s only one superhero in the whole world, he exists by random chance, and he stopped one of the two Twin Towers from falling-- and now he’s Mayor of New York.  A guy’s going to feel some guilt about that, and a hell of a lot of responsibility, too.  Dark, adult, and not just a sock-em-up comic.

 

Fables, Vols. 1-5, Brian Willingham-- Fairy tales are real, and their denizens have their own stories to tell. Amazing art, amazing dark stories, amazing reimagination of stories that weren’t ever for children in the first place.

 

The Walking Dead, Vol. 1, Robert Kirkman-- Well, now I see what all the fuss is about.  I'm probably doomed.

 

YA:

 

Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Fantasy)-- One of the best books, dragon or not, that I’ve read in a long time.  I devoured it in one sitting.

 

Stormdancer, Jay Kristoff (Steampunk Fantasy)-- Steampunk Shogunate Japan, with airships, flying tiger-dragons, and found family tropes with a fierce heroine at the heart. What’s not to love?

 

Beauty Queens, Libba Bray (Fiction)-- Lord of the Flies meets Girl Power.  Hysterical and an amazing critique of rightist religion and consumer culture.  Libba Bray is awesome.

 

Graceling, Kristin Cashore (Fantasy)-- another Girl Power fantasy YA that started off great and then veered into Romance.  Overall, well-done, and the background idea of the graces as curses of sorts and the world-building is great, but I guess I am not in a place for love stories, and I also kind of just thought it detracted from the main story. The series isn’t continuous, in the vein of some of Madeleine L’Engle’s books-- characters pop in and out, but aren’t main characters in later books, and I’m told the rest of the books are great.

 

Fiction:

 

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn-- Exquisitely written, completely repellent.

 

The Dog Stars, Peter Heller-- Beautiful, hopeful, sad post-apocalyptic near poetry, with ruminations on poetry, pets, hiking, humanity and guns-- sometimes in that order, sometimes not so very much.

 

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan-- On books, the internet, secret societies, and the need for connection.  More or less.

 

The Patrick Melrose Novels, including At Last (1-5), Edward St. Aubyn-- St. Aubyn writes about horrible people doing unspeakable things and about sympathetic people making horrid mistakes, and then taking a while to get over the things that they've done to themselves and had done to them.  The books are gutting and blackly funny and some of the best writing you will read, ever.

 

The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer-- What all the reviews say, plus, way less self-involved than any of those jackass Brooklyn Jonathans.

 

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walher-- Does what it says on the tin.

 

Shine, Shine, Shine, Lydia Netzer-- I thought I’d hate it. I really, really didn’t.

 

City of Dark Magic, Magnus Flyte-- It’s a little too impressed with itself, and like Matrix 2 & 3, there are a few too many plotlines, but it’s music & Beethoven & time travel (of sorts) and intrigue and Prague, and unlike Deborah Harkness’ series, which I’m not going to finish, it’s not undying love with goddamned vampires

 

Self-Help:

 

The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown-- I’m ¾ of the way through, and I’ve got a notebook full of notes, I count that as done.  It’s a great book, all about working on not being so hard on yourself and letting go of the need to fix everything.

 

Help, Thanks, Wow, Anne Lamott-- Whether or not you believe in a God, learning to pause and ask for help, to be grateful, and to relearn to wonder again are all lessons Lamott is great at teaching with humor and brevity.

 

Memoir:

 

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh-- If you’ve been living under an internet rock all this time, just read it, okay?

 

Marbles, Ellen Forney-- this could be classified as a graphic novel but it’s more of a memoir about manic depression.  I don’t know if I liked it, or the author, but it’s an accurate, if different, account of manic-depression than the one I’ve been through.

 

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling-- Eh.  I like the idea of Mindy Kaling, but I didn’t find The Office funny and never watched it, and I kind of finished the book out of a sense of feminist obligation, rather than any real enjoyment.  Not awful, but maybe I’m just not in the right humor demographic any more.

 

Making Toast, Roger Rosenblatt-- As lovely & sad as everyone says.

 

Non-Fiction:

 

Lonely Planet Florence & Tuscany-- the ebook malfunctions on the Nook, note to anyone who might download it.-- good for practical travel tips.

 

Knopf Florence MapGuide-- super useful from a pocket map & little places to eat perspective, and also for little artisan shops.

 

Michelin Green Guide to Tuscany-- good for all the out-of-Florence travel.

 

Let’s Go Florence-- useless, no information about transportation to speak of, and very little information about historical sites.  All the focus is on cheap eats and cheap hostels, which I guess is my fault for not remembering.

 

DK Florence & Tuscany-- perfect for supplementing the imperfect English in some of the smaller Italian museums.

 

The Food Lover’s Guide to Florence, Emily Miller-- Really well written, though we didn’t use it as much as I’d hoped because my Dad was too tired at the end of the night to travel around for culinary adventures.

 

How to Be Black, Baratunde Thurston (Satire? Memoir? Scathing History of American Racism?)-- Thurston is an excellent writer.  You’ll laugh and squirm, and reexamine your interactions and perspectives.  Which is what all good writing should do.