Final Rooster Update!

The Tournament goes live tomorrow with the Pre-Tournament Play-In Match which unfortunately is two books I LOVED and one book I liked and damn it, at least two books I liked are therefore getting knock out on the first day!!! The unfortunate luck of the brackets.

SO: I read 11 of the 18 books (15 in brackets + 3 play-in). I read the wrong book by one author, didn’t finish one book due to both boredom and its library due date (#12), and am in the middle of my 13th. So although I didn’t make my goal of reading ALL of them, I feel pretty thrilled with how close I came! 🙂

Here’s what I finished since my last post:

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner — it was a super easy, quick read. But I didn’t really like it. I think I just don’t jibe with this author since I didn’t like the last book of hers I tried to read either.

Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi — This was a long complicated read full of lots of philosophical ideas about heritage and literature and how we carry our world within us. And so much of it was really interesting and so much of it was whacked out weird. I finished it, but it did become a slog as the book went on. Neat ideas but I didn’t love it.

So Lucky by Nicolas Griffith — you may remember I am a huge (HUGE) fan of Griffith’s viking historical novel “Hild.” This is an entirely different thing: a contemporary novel with a bit of a mystery. I didn’t outright love it, and there was a sort of side- or sub-plot to the mystery that ultimately proves wrong and felt very distracting. But there was a lot to like here and a lot of things I’ve definitely never read in a novel before. Also so nicely coincidental to have just read this and learn of Selma Blair’s diagnosis. I do feel this book gives a strong picture of being inside a body being attacked by MS. Definitely worth reading.

I did not finish:

The Overstory by Richard Powers — a novel about people and, in some ways, a specific type of tree. Each chapter introduced a new character and some sort of family or disaster relationship to a tree. Presumably at some point the characters will interact? But some of the chapters were long and quite uneventful / not that interesting, and it’s due back at the library tomorrow, and I’m just not that bothered by not finishing it. It’s been NOT compelling enough that I didn’t even have it with me on my commutes this weekend, so… that says it all.

And I am currently reading:

There There by Tommy Orange — which is not at all what I expected and pretty good so far. Although it annoys the FRAK out of me that the GoodReads search engine is incapable of finding this book by searching for its title!!! (I thought maybe it was just a mobile / phone problem but I just tried on the desktop and nope!)

I’ve still got the three other books I didn’t get to on hold at the library so I’ll read them when they come in–although my stupid library branch by me is closing FOR A YEAR and it’s going to be SO NOT ON MY WAY ANYWHERE to go to these other branches to pick up and return books and I am Officially. Annoyed. OK, bye for now.

Rooster Update #5

As of this morning, I have officially read EIGHT of the TOB’s sixteen books–halfway there! Actually I thought I read nine books, but I guess I was too overeager on my aforementioned bus trip all the way across town, and while at that new-to-me library I checked out the wrong book by one author! Oops!

I loved The Golden State, by Lydia Kiesling–the story of a melancholy, lonely woman who just removes herself from her normal life and takes off for the hinterlands, so to speak. It was a short but frenetically paced book, and there were many moments where I thought it was going to go incredibly bad… (which was sometimes the case, but sometimes not). There was a well-drawn out sense of foreboding.

I also really liked America Is Not the Heart, by Elaine Castillo, in many ways a completely opposite style of novel. While both books told stories about family, this book was long (400 pages), slowly paced, with the secrets and twists and turns that connected these people revealed across many chapters. A story of immigrants, and revolutionaries, of different kinds of belief, of the power of food to bring people together. There was romance and deep friendship. The author threw in two chapters written in second person POV, so rare in narrative fiction, and although the book stuck with single perspectives for long periods of time, I really felt like I was let deep inside so many of the characters. In this book, no one’s lonely unless they want to be.

This morning I started The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner. We’ll see… I put down one of her books unfinished a few years ago so she might not be my thing.

I’ve got two more books checked out, four pending (on hold), and one sent to me by a friend. And as I may have mentioned, there’s one book I’m definitely not even going to pretend to read. Also I might let go the book where I checked out (and then spent valuable reading time on!) the wrong one. I mean, I got a good look at that author’s style so if I don’t get around to reading that one, I’ll feel OK judging based on style, ha. So can I finish five more books before March? We’ll see.

Rooster Update #4

How seriously am I taking my personal challenge to read all the Rooster books before the tournament starts? Well, I took two buses an hour one way to a library branch that’s nowhere near either my home or either of my jobs in order to pick up three of the books! It was supposed to be four but apparently someone checked out the fourth right before I got there GAAHH!!! Yes, I could have put them on hold to have them circulated closer to me… but here’s the thing: I already have five of the most widely known titles on my library hold list (I’m 77th of 85th, or 89th of 101, etc. on each) and if I drop one of them off the hold list just to bring books that are available to my closer library branch, then I would fall even further down the hold list on those high in demand ones!

Anyway, not only did I spend two hours commuting to pick up my three next Rooster reads, I’m pretty much doing Rooster reading only–I’ve entirely dropped off my mornings: YA / evenings: adult reading plan I told you about until these are all read! (Except for on a rare day when I’ve finished what I have and haven’t picked up the next one yet…)

In the meantime, I’ve finished two more Rooster reads:

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman — wow, what a bittersweet melancholy book. Spending your whole life trying to get your dad to notice you is not going to lend itself to joy and bliss, but there was a lot of humor in this book and the self disparagement was aces! 🙂 As I have found with certain other books about painters (Siri Hustvedt’s “What I Loved” springs to mind), the art really came alive off these pages.

Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan — a novel detailing the events of a slave’s life is obviously going to have its harsh, hard to read parts. This book is just all about what defines your identity, what makes a family, how important are one’s own dreams, how far should one go… It was desperately sad in places, extremely sweet in others. And lots of fun for those of you who like lots of science in their fiction. 🙂

I liked both of these a lot. I’ve started my next Rooster read though and I’m not sure it’s really up my alley… We’ll see, I’m only about 100 pages in.

“The Fates Divide” by Veronica Roth

Book #2 after Carve the Mark (just a duology. As my friend Anne said recently “Up with duologies!!”).

I read the first book of this series in 2017, absolutely loved it…and then forgot to ever look for the sequel! Thanks to a nudge from Carrie commenting on my review as she read the first one and then moved onto the second like “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am” (ha), it jumped back onto my radar and my CPL hold list.

I did have to look up a summary online to remind myself what was happening in this series and who was who (so maybe it didn’t stick with me, although I had greatly enjoyed it!), but once I did that, I was all in and it was quite a quick read.

The magic, so to speak, from the current in these books is really cool, I love that everyone has their own thing. The political machinations are there, but not so overwhelming that they take over the story of young people coming into their own, dealing with their ever-changing identities and deciding who and what mean family to them. So many YA books do have that as an underlying theme but I find many of my students just glide right past without really noticing–is that something we only think about as adults?

Anyway, I loved having the Oracle throw the twist into the midst. I had kindof thought something along those lines was going to turn out to be true (my goodreads review of the first one was careful to be spoiler-free but…). I love Cyra and Akos, I like Cisi and OH OH OH how rough was that bit in the second half of the book! This was a really satisfying ending.

Rooster update #3

Speak No Evil, by Uzodinma Iweala was my fourth finish for the TOB brackets. Wow. It was stunning. There’s a big break in the narrative about three-quarters of the way through, the POV changes, and then the ending goes to a completely different place than I expected. I thought it was really, really beautifully written. The characters all seemed absolutely real. Highly recommended.

I read an earlier book of his a decade ago and liked it, but not nearly as much as this. I love seeing people grow as authors! This is worlds away, and very powerful.

Rooster update #2

Finished my third book for the TOB brackets: A Terrible Country, by Keith Gessen.

For about the first third of this book, I just could not figure out why this book made the short list. A disgruntled guy living out a disgruntled life temporarily in a disgruntled country. It just sort of ambled around. But, when his life finally got more interesting, the plot got more interesting as well (shocker! not), and the last third of the book really flew for me. I don’t know if quite that much setup was necessary. Ultimately I’d say I felt more positively about it than just “liked”–i.e., on GoodReads I gave it 4 stars versus 3. There were some really charming bits about it–even some of its repetitiveness became charming ultimately.

It was another one of those “academics on a downturn” books so if you were a fan of Richard Russo’s Straight Man, this might be something you’d enjoy.

(If you’re wondering what I’m talking about with Rooster and TOB, go read this post.)

Rooster Update #1

You may remember a few weeks ago I told you about my goal to read all the books that will be appearing on the brackets in The Morning News 2019 Tournament of Books.

So far I’ve read:

The Parking Lot Attendance, by Nafkote Tamirat. A young Ethiopian girl and her father move to the mysterious island of B— from Boston, the narratives flips back and forth in time to tell how they got there, why, etc. I thought this was certainly well written and interesting. But I would only rate it probably a 3 out of 5 stars. It’s weird, it leaves a lot of things uncertain, and I wasn’t really sure what the ultimate point was.

Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje. Two kids are mysteriously abandoned by their parents in their London home at the end of World War II. This started really slow for me, at first I wasn’t even sure who the narrator was. But as it went on, it really sucked me in. It’s a very languid novel, it moves slow, glacially, like pouring out a jar of molasses, but as the layers build it gets more, and more, and more satisfying. I really loved it in the end.

Now I’m reading:

A Terrible Country, by Keith Gessen, about a pseudo-academic who moves home to Russia to help care for his grandmother. It’s got some funny moments and some interesting ones, but so far almost nothing has really happened. It’s basically a disgruntled guy just going about his disgruntled life. At first I thought that was all setup…now I’m wondering if my expectations of a plot are too much for this book. We’ll see! 🙂

Books you should go read, now.

Hello, 2019. Let’s talk about 2018 some more. I have done a terrible job of keeping this blog up to date–in fact, this year I completely failed to keep up any of my lists (books, movies, concerts). Fortunately with books, it’s not a complete disaster as I do keep my Goodreads pretty much 100% up to date at all times. So, if you want to see my ever evolving list as it evolves, follow me there.

In 2018, I read 110 books, which is fairly normal for me. I generally read around 100 and am bitterly disappointed if I read less. This school year has started off strong, as I’ve instituted a goal where in the morning on the way there I read my current YA or middle grades book and in the afternoon on the way home I read my current adult book. It’s really kept things going, and it’s easier to notice when I clearly don’t like a book because I keep not reading on that leg of the journey! 😉

Just roughly looking over the list, I read 33 books by minority authors, 36 books that were clearly sci fi/fantasy, 4 teaching books, 6 nonfiction (not counting the teaching books, which would make it 10 which is…kinda high actually! ha!), and about 18 of my 110 were graphic novels.

Here are my top 10 reads from 2018: (not in any particular order, just numbered for the sake of numbering)

  1. Cravings 2: Hungry for More by Chrissy Teigen (cookbook). I absolutely love this cookbook, I love the way she writes, her enthusiasm and bubbly personality come right off the page. I’ve made 8 things out of it so far and they’ve all been fabulous!
  2. If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Already, by Cordell Strug. Yup, my dad’s book is in my top 10. Apparently I read a draft of this many years ago, but I didn’t remember that much of it. If you like Confederacy of Dunces, or Straight Man, I’d suggest you check this out. It’s a comedy of errors and quite enjoyable.
  3. Electric Arches, by Eve Ewing (poetry). A Chicago poet who also published this year a non-fiction text on southside Chicago schools, these poems tell the story of her childhood and her growing up and her growing understanding. If I was raising black girls, I would make them read this. But as a whitey white, there were so many moments in here that also resonated deeply with my childhood. Here’s how I started my GoodReads review: This book is so good I kept right on reading it at a bus stop in 20 degrees without mittens while the chill wind snapped the pages back against my numb fingers. 
  4. The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth book 2), by N.K. Jemisin. The middle book of a trilogy–all of which are amazing and all of which won the Hugo in their year of publication!!–this was the one I loved best of the three. So, so, so good. Best sci fi/fantasy series out there right now. Read it!!!
  5. Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer book 2), by Laini Taylor. Another series (a duology, thankfully) I feel like I was waiting for this book forever and when it finally arrived, I just swallowed it up. The magic and the imagery in this series is just unmatchable–so evocative, and sensual, and scary, and intense.
  6. Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik. This book has a slow start, it’s got multiple first-person perspectives, it jumps wildly from mind to mind, country to country. And it’s so damn powerful and good. Who has power, who matters, why, who do we love, why, what makes a person worth something, what doesn’t. Deep ideas, deep down in this fairytale word. I was breathless at the end.
  7. Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate. Not at all the next book I expected from the author of The One and Only Ivan, this is high fantasy at a middle grade readability level. Fascinating world building, great character development. I can’t wait to see where this series goes!
  8. The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill. Like Spinning Silver, this dips deep down into fairytale foundations to tell a story so true and real, it’ll break your heart. It had been in my classroom library for a while before Gabriel and Natalie told me READ IT! and wow was I missing out!
  9. Monstress Volume 2, by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda (graphic novel). Second book of what has been three so far but will be going on for quite a while, I expect. Another sci fi/fantasy world full of different factions fighting for control–I actually had to reread the first book a couple of times to keep track of who was on which side of things. The art in these books is amazing, the mysteries are intriguing, the monster is bewildering and terrifying. They’re super, super cool.
  10. The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black. I read this at lightning speed, it’s SO GOOD. Gave it to a student, and honestly we have been counting down the days until book 2 comes out (this month!!). It’s SO right on with the stings and tangles of growing up, of finding yourself, of being left out, of being let in. Oh, it’s just…bitter and beautiful and so very good.

What were your favorites this year? Leave me a comment or send me an email, because if I haven’t read it yet, I probably want to! 🙂

p.s. I saw The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas on a lot of 2018 lists–just thought I’d point out that I do love that book, but I read it in 2017.

ETA: (edited to add) WOW, I am so forgetful that I didn’t realize that a lot of what I said here, I already said in my very most previous post on Dec 14th. DOH. I recommend most of the same books and tell you the same story about the bus. Welcome to past-middle-aged me, you can probably expect a lot of that kind of repetition. HA.

À la Super Eggplant, currently, I am…

…posting to my blog for the first time in over a year, WHUT. There’s a few technical things I’ve been vaguely waiting to fix behind the scenes, and then there’s LIFE and all that, and… yeah. HI. ‘Sup?

Watching: OK, I was rewatching all of the original Charmed, but I got to around when SOMEONE becomes a SOMETHING (no spoilers)…and I just sorta stopped. I did miss those goofy witches. I watched the first couple episodes of the new Charmed (which is really what sent me back) but it really annoys me that they got such a cool cast of girls and then put this doofy white dude in charge of them a la Giles from Buffy and so yeah I haven’t watched it after the first three. In current TV, I still adore Blackish and Chicago Fire. New TV wise, I am liking A Million Little Lies, even though it 100% has party-of-five syndrome (too many issues in one small group of people), and New Amsterdam, which makes me break down almost every week. But it’s good. Best hospital show in absolutely years. I started watching The Patriot (TV show not the dumb old movie) on Amazon–but I can only watch it when I stay late at work on that laptop b/c neither my personal laptop nor my home desktop are updated enough to currently watch shows on Prime, yes I’m pathetic, and now that I’ve made a personal vow to leave with the kids every night, well, I haven’t been able to watch anymore of it. But it’s SUPER cool and SO quirky. Oh, but the best, best, BEST thing I’ve seen in absolute years is Killing Eve, which I completely inhaled a weekend or so ago and cannot stop thinking about ever since. So good! So so so sadly I have not been to a movie in at least a few months… I’m having a hard time even remembering what I saw last! OMG THAT’s SO HORRIFYING. 🙁 I’ll come back and talk movies in another post if it comes to me.

Reading: I’ve instituted a new system where I read a YA or middle grades book in the morning, on the way to work, and an adult book on the way home. It’s been working great until I get stuck in a book I don’t want to read and then the system sorta breaks down and I listen to tunes instead, HA. Anyway, since I haven’t posted here all year, I haven’t made a book list (I KNOW, DID YOU JUST DIE OF SHOCK!), but I do have goodreads COMPLETELY updated (it’s got an app, it’s easier…) so you can check there. Some recent reads I would recommend are: 

Adult:

  • Friday Black, by Nan Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, a short story collection, the first and last stories of which are just mindblowingly good.
  • Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, a slow (slow) burn but it really pays off in the end, a modern fantasy fairytale.
  • Graphic novel series Saga by Brian K. Vaughn (I’m caught up to Volume 9) and Monstress by Marjori M. Liu (there are three volumes out, GO START!), I love them both so much.
  • Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor, the sequel to Strange the Dreamer, both of which are amazeballoons.

YA/Middle Grades: 

  • Kendare Blake‘s sister queen series “Three Dark Crowns“, ALL of those books were fabulous.
  • Endling: The Last, by Katherine Applegate, the beginning of a new high fantasy series by the author of Ivan!!
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, a good kid book alternative to Spinning Silver mentioned above.
  • And anything by Jason Reynolds or Kwame Alexander, two of the hottest young authors out there. And by hot I mean happening and in the news, as I have now had to clarify to numerous groups of silly students!

Listening to: I have bought sadly so very little music this year. It’s actually really stressing me out. The three albums I have listened to the most this year are Kylie Minogue “Golden”, Meg Myers “Take Me to the Disco”, and Matt Nathanson “Sings His Sad Heart” (wow, what a step up in quality!!), and I’ve been dipping into Cat Power “Wanderer” in the past few weeks. I do have a list of four albums I think I want from various top-10 lists out there (the latest from Kasey Musgraves, Janelle Monae, Mitski and Lucy Dacus) and I want the boygenius EP (the boygenius that Lucy Dacus is a part of, not any of the various boygenius things that come up when I search iTunes) but not sure it’s out yet? I also want to check out No Name, a female rapper.

Eating: Cooking all my breakfasts and lunches every week, as I generally do during the school year, and particularly obsessed with Chrissy Teigens’ Cravings 2: Hungry for More book. Everything I make out of it has been delicious.

Drinking: Coke, coke and more Coke. Oh, Coke, why can’t I quit you?

Knitting, quilting, sewing: I’ve done a TON of sewing throughout 2018 (9 dresses maybe? tunic/dress types) and I’ve still got quite a bit of fabric and new patterns to try. I made two new ones from the Lou Box Dress pattern just last month–a knit dress version that is perfection (OK, maybe a little wide in the neck but perfection, srsly), and a woven tunic version that is basically a wearable muslin. I haven’t got the fit right in the woven for a dress yet. I’m knitting a brioche scarf, and I have a sweater I have sort of gotten back to that I believe I started in January (oops). I want to make that my Christmas break project… we’ll see. 🙂 No quilting has happened recently though. 

Focusing on: Separating home life and work life. Trying to leave with the kids or as close to it as possible. Not bringing any grading or work home AT ALL. I get it done at school, or I don’t get it done. I’m not going to get into an argument with people about the insanely overworked, underpaid status of teachers these days but let’s just say I’m done letting myself be a victim of a sick system that gets millions of hours of free work from its primarily female workforce. It’s sexist bullshit frankly and were the majority of teachers men there would have been a government-sanctioned revolt a million years ago. But then again, would we even still have public education these days, if it wasn’t primarily women doing all the work???? 

So, that’s me. How about you? Leave me a note and let me know what you’re reading!

Rooster 2019 Preparation

As some of you know, I have been pretty obsessively following The Morning News’ Tournament of Books for many years now. I usually read at least some of the books on both the long and short list–some more years than others, of course–but regardless I read the reviews every day, enter the winners on my bracket and just generally adore spending March hearing about books that, for the most part, I haven’t heard about anywhere else!

I’ve learned about so many new, cool authors through this Tournament (maybe I’ll come back later and point out a few specifics) and it’s one of my favorite annual events.

They’ve released the 2019 short list what seems like shockingly early this year and tonight I made the snap decision that I will try to read as many as possible before March!  I printed out the list, starred the two that were also on the New York Times’ best of 2018 list as I think those may be two I want to buy, figured out which book is available and can be picked up at the library on my way to work tomorrow (yes, I still work Saturdays at the Salon if you’re wondering), put three more of the books on hold at the Library, AND also, most importantly, did decide which book I will for sure NOT be reading, which I will tell you is “Census” by Jesse Ball. I know he’s just all the rage in some circles (especially in Chicago as he lives and works here), but I read one book of his on my own (in a previous TOB I believe) and part of another book when my bookclub read it and no no no no thank you I am very much done putting my time into his books. 

But other than that, I’m over the moon excited. I mean, it’s been a rough year, yes for all, but this school year? I can’t even. It’s bad enough that I’ve been googling “next career for ex teacher” and things like that. Yup. Anyway, here’s something a spinster can really get excited about–trying to read 15 of the 16 books on a list before March 1. Ready, set…