Sunday, September 13, 2015

21 Books, or My God, Does She Ever Stop Reading?!

It's summer and I read a LOT in the summer.Are you keeping count? I am. (I am pretty sure I have a very mild form of obsessive compulsive disorder!) I am up to 96 books read this year. All my library books have been swarming in and I've been reading like a maniac.

Once the current library pile tapers off I think I will change my reading habits a bit. I have so many unread books on my Kindle to tackle and I would really like to work my way through a mystery series that I like (there are 12 books in the series and I have read two of them).

  • A Reading Guide to Island of the Blue Dolphins by Patricia McHugh
    • I am still trying to get through unread books on my shelves so I can get rid of them. This is one of those. I used to read The Island of the Blue Dolphins often in my grade school days.
    • A teenage girl named Karana is left behind on one of the islands off the coast of Southern California in the 1800s. She lives alone on the island for years. She is ultimately rescued years later and taken to the mission at Santa Barbara.
    • The story is based on a true story of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. She was moved to the mainland, where no one recognized her native language. She died several weeks after that. Apparently they know where her island cave is but the native tribes have halted any more archeological research at the site.
  • Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing by Stephen King
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
    • These are interesting books about writing, also in the "read and get rid of" pile. I have probably read more novels by Stephen King than by any other author. Doing a quick count it seems I have made it through 30 of them, not including short story collections and other non-fiction books besides these two.
    • I would say the only flaw is that many of the essays are from the 1970s and 1980s and so much has changed in publishing that I think they aren't really helpful information at this point. But it is interesting to read about King's journey as a writer from childhood on.
  • I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short
    • One thing comes shining through this book: Martin Short is a very nice man. The story of his career is overshadowed by his heartbreak over the loss of his wife Nancy to ovarian cancer 5 years ago.
    • He has many friends who are also famous but he makes them sound just like regular folks, which I would guess they are behind closed doors with their friends and family, right?
  • The Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America's Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900 by Al Roker
    • I have already read Erik Larson's book, called Isaac's Storm, about the hurricane that hit Galveston in September 1900, the deadliest natural disaster to ever hit the United States. About 8,000 people died, perhaps even as many as 12,000.
    • In those days, before radar or air flights into the eye of the storms, everyone assumed that hurricanes that came through Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico continued on a curve back into Florida and the Atlantic Ocean. They NEVER crossed the Gulf to the rest of the coast. They were tragically wrong, of course.
    • The other factor, based on the counter-clockwise spin of hurricanes, is that the first winds seem to come from the north, not the more logical southeast direction. This matters because at the start of a hurricane the northerly winds are keeping the surf artificially lower despite large swells coming in from the sea. When the hurricane nears the coast the winds change from northerly to southeasterly and bring a huge storm surge onto the coast.
    • Galveston Island was basically at sea level with only a little high ground. The highest point was approximately 8 to 9 feet. The storm surge was over 15 feet.
    • If a hurricane is expected to hit the Gulf coast one hopes the eye crosses somewhere to the east. On the east side of the eye the winds are directed inward, increasing storm surge. If you are on the west of the eye, it will still be bad but the storm surge is fighting offshore winds. 
    • Visually, imagine a clock face. The winds are counter-clockwise. The eye is right in the center. As the clock moves onto the coast from the south the worst area is located from noon to 3. The area from 9 to noon will have the same wind speed but less storm surge.
    • This book was fascinating.
  • Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
    • Speaking of the author of Isaac's Storm, he has a new book this year. I am obsessed with certain topics. Hurricanes, earthquakes, shipwrecks, serial killers, Nazis, the Holocaust, and so many others. This one is a shipwreck tale.
    • The Lusitania, a luxury liner, was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915. It was one of the events which helped lead the United States into World War I. The U.S. population was anti-war but this sinking, which claimed the lives of many Americans, started to change the sentiments to pro-war even though it took 2 more years for the country to go to war.
    • We learn about life on a submarine (awful) and life on a luxury liner (not awful). The lifeboat situation had improved since the sinking of the Titanic 3 years before but it took over 2 hours to sink. The Lusitania went down in 18 minutes. The list of the ship was so severe that most of the lifeboats were unusable. (And in those days they did not perform evacuation drills of the passengers so as not to bother or scare them.)
    • Like all of Erik Larson's books, and I've read them all, I enjoyed this one a lot.
  • Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy by Judd Apatow
    • When Judd Apatow was 15 he somehow got to interview a few comedians. He kept the interviews and made some new ones asking comedians about their influences and how they got into comedy.
    • If you like the interviewed comedian you'll like their interview. 
    • A quick read, entertaining. My favorite interview was probably the one with Steve Allen from years ago.
  • The Anatomy of Evil by Michael H. Stone
    • I read a series of mystery books about Cyrus Barker and his sidekick Thomas Llewelyn. The next book in the series is called The Anatomy of Evil and our library doesn't have it yet. I keep looking it up and one day I noticed this book. Same title, different premise. It fits into my personal fascination with evildoers.
    • The author, a forensic psychiatrist, has created a scale of evil. That is, how do you compare and contrast acts of murder. Murder is "evil" but are some more evil than others. The answer is yes.
    • He created a 22-level hierarchy of evil. He also tried to see what commonalities some of these acts have.
    • A battered wife who plans how to kill her husband: it's premeditated murder, yes, but not as evil as a father who locks his daughter away and fathers several children while she's his prisoner. Or a serial killer who tortures his victims before murdering them. Some murderers are psychopaths or just have a few elements of psychopathy.
    • Anyway, it was interesting to me but it is quite heavy going. There are a lot of horrible people out there.
  • Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals by Dinty W. Moore
    • I had never heard of this guy but saw a review of the book on the A.V. Club website. Our library had it so I read it. It's cute and a quick read but ultimately kind of annoying. I'm too annoyed to relate any more about it though, sorry.
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
    • The best part of this book was reading some of the reviews on Good Reads!
      • George says, "Do you like talking to furniture? Do you believe shirts have souls? Are you insane? This might be the book for you."
      • DY says, "To begin, you have to touch each and every possession and ask yourself if it brings you joy. If it doesn't, it needs to be discarded. Do you know how hard it is to summon joy for beige underwear or Neosporin? Yet summon you must. I like my carrot peeler but is joy too strong a word?"
      • Maggie says, "The book is short and sweet, and the author is bat-shit crazy."
      • Sheri says, "I'm taking Marie Kondo's advice and getting rid of this book. It most definitely does not spark joy."
    • This book was a huge hit in Japan and is now a crossover hit in America where we like to organize our stuff so we can go out and buy more stuff (thanks, George Carlin!).
    • I have been, entirely independent of this book, going through our stuff and purging what I can. I have picked up a couple of tips from the book that I think I will try but I think a lot of this book is more appropriate for Japanese culture than American culture. One thing our cultures have in common is materialism. But Japan is a small island with small amounts of storage space. America is huge and we have more storage unit facilities than all other nations put together.
    • So yes, in a Marie Kondo sanctioned order, go through piles of your things and ask if they give you joy when you touch them. If not thank them and let them go. If they do then fold them properly and store them properly. Do it all in as short a time as possible. 
    • She says if you do things like empty your purse completely every night, fold your socks (NEVER ball your socks; it makes them unhappy), get rid of all your books and most of your photos and so on, you will finally be able to feel happy. 
      • Seriously, this probably isn't going to fly in America.
    • And this tip: "My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away."
      • Since my desk is basically covered with papers AT THIS VERY MOMENT I would like nothing more than to sweep them into the garbage but alas, I can't! I need to enter medical bills into the spreadsheet and I need to actually PAY the medical bills (as you can see, medical bills are huge in my world) but I would rather do it in big batches than as they show up. It's my way. Doing a little every day or doing them once a month? Procrastination Girl says, ONCE A MONTH! 
        • I do laundry on the same principle: every two weeks so we each need to have two weeks worth of underwear. I will NEVER, EVER do laundry a little each day! That's crazy talk. My mother did about 4 loads every damn day when I was growing up --- there were 5 of us --- and it never ended!
    • I am proud to say I had already discovered some of her better tips years ago: you don't need to save the extra buttons when you buy a new shirt or nightgown. You don't need to save greeting cards or letters (Marie says they completed their task the minute you read them the first time you received it). I get rid of almost all of these things, saving a few choice samples at most.
    • I will continue on with my slow, methodical purging of extra stuff --- bye bye blender! --- but I will use the Kelly Way to do it!
  • The Bloom County Library, Volume 2, 1982-1984 by Berkeley Breathed
  • The Bloom County Library, Volume 3, 1984-1986 by Berkeley Breathed
  • The Bloom County Library, Volume 4, 1986-1987 by Berkeley Breathed
    • More comic strips lampooning life and politics in the 1980s. I was debating whether these books are fiction or non-fiction but since Opus and the gang are fictional I decided that fiction was the place for them.
    • One more volume to go!
  • Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
    • The final book in a young adult fantasy trilogy. The ending was satisfying, which is not something every series can do. I was disappointed that a main character from the second book was killed off early in this book. I guess the character was too good a person to be useful in the plot of vengeance-minded motivations.
  • The Six by Mark Alpert
    • The premise of this young adult book intrigued me. A teenager has Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, a fatal genetic disease (usually by age 25 or earlier). (We have a different type of MD in our family but it's not Duchenne's.)
    • Adam, the teen with the DMD, is only a few months from dying when an artificial intelligence takes control and plans to destroy humans. Adam's dad has created the Pioneer project, where Adam and teens with other terminal conditions have their minds transferred into robots. The robots train to defeat the AI, who calls itself Sigma.
    • I really liked the story (the DMD was really just the catalyst and plays no more part in the story once Adam moves to the robot form) and apparently this is only the first in a series of books (of COURSE it is). It would make a great film. I will definitely read future books in the series.
  • Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
    • This book, another young adult novel, was a little odd, not what I expected. The premise is this: 6 friends at Oxford University create a game of dares. Each puts up about $1,000 (or pounds, probably, I forget) and the winner gets the pot. The dares start out silly (raise your hand in class for permission to go to the bathroom, say) and progress to more and more humiliating pranks.
    • But the narrative is split into two commingled parts: the beginning at Oxford and 14 years later in New York City. The final players must meet and complete a final dare to determine the winner. The story is filled with twists and turns. One of the characters has a mental illness which the game exacerbates.
    • I'm a sucker for boarding school/college stories. This one was disappointing from that standpoint as it was more about the game than the camaraderie. Or rather, the camaraderie faded fast once the pranks and dares began.
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
    • This book, basically Lee's first novel that was ultimately rewritten and turned into To Kill a Mockingbird, was published to terrible reviews this summer. 
    • I think it's likely that this was published by Lee's caretakers purely for the sake of the money it would make. If you look it up on the Internet you will find conflicting reports: Harper Lee is horrified at its publication or she is thrilled with its publication. She may be too addled to really know one way or the other.
    • That said, I actually liked the book a lot. It made complete sense to me. Young Scout idealized and idolized her father, which comes through in Mockingbird. In Watchman the 26-year-old Jean Louise sees her father with different eyes. 
    • There are only a couple of flashbacks to her childhood. It does not seem to me (not having read Mockingbird for at least 10 years so I could be wrong) that this book was reworked so much as it was completely rewritten from the point of view of young Scout during her childhood.
    • It's not much of a story as it reads more as a character study of Jean Louise. She comes home from New York City for a visit and sees things differently than she has before, most especially her father. Yes, he has racist views, not unusual for his generation in the 1950s in Alabama. But he believes in justice for ALL, and that includes the black population. That is the gist of the book.
    • Based on the timing in the books Atticus would have been born in the 1880s and come of age during the height of the Jim Crow era. It makes sense to me that he would have developed some racist views towards blacks while still believing in upholding the law to his utmost, no matter one's color. It also makes sense that 10-year-old Scout would have missed a lot of the tension inherent in a racist society. She did not attend school with black children (they would have had their own schools in segregated Alabama). Her family had a black housekeeper named Calpurnia, but she was a paid servant, not a family equal in the truest sense. And so on. Jean Louise the adult would have had a wider experience in New York City and perhaps seen with clearer eyes the racism she could ignore because her father kept most of it from her as she grew up.
    • I tend to loathe books others adore. This is an instance where I liked a book other people loathe. Oh well.
  • The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
    • A couple marries in the 1950s and end up having 4 children: Robert, Rebecca, Ryan and James. The mom only wanted 3 children. Uh oh. The youngest feels alienated. (Mom doesn't exactly smother the other 3 with love either.) Therein lies the tale which covers when the parents meet until about 2012.
    • In some ways, this is another tale of a dissatisfied mother in the 1950s and 1960s. A woman in those days basically moved from her father's house to her husband's. She might have had a college education but most likely wouldn't. She would take her husband's name and be expected to turn her energies to child-rearing and housework. Those things are important, especially the child-rearing, but they aren't always fulfilling to every woman. And that is where women are luckier today: they have more opportunity with every passing year.
    • My mother was raised to be a wife and mother. She raised me to be a wife and mother (I rebelled for the most part). I am sorry that I never had a daughter because I would have liked to be able to raise her to be anything she wanted to be!
    • Oh, back to the book! It was interesting but I didn't like the character of James much more than his mother did. The crusade refers to the kids' plan to find something their mother would enjoy doing with them. Spoiler alert: they never figure out anything that she would enjoy and mom runs off to be an artist. (Pediatrician dad is more interested in his patients than his children or his wife.)
  • Con Academy by Joe Schreiber
    • Two students, both con artists, meet at a boarding school which isn't big enough for them both. So they make a bet wherein the one who can con a fellow student first gets to stay. 
    • Are there that many con artists who would actually end up at the same boarding school, recognize each other for what they are and plot against each other? I guess so or this wouldn't be a book.
    • Meh. But it was short and sweet, easily finished in a couple of hours, like many young adult books. Otherwise it might be a DNF: did not finish!
  • Passion Blue by Victoria Strauss
  • Color Song by Victoria Strauss
    • Interesting that this young adult series was a duology, meaning only two books. Trilogies are common. Famous heptalogies are the Harry Potter books, the Chronicles of Narnia, and maybe the Game of Thrones series.
    • Anyway, the main character Guilia is the illegitimate daughter of a noble and his seamstress in 1487 Italy. He dies (her mother is long dead) and his wife packs her off to a convent to become a nun against Guilia's will. There her drawing talent recommends her to the nun running the painting workshop, the only place a woman can paint in those times. But Guilia wants to get married and have children! And even in a convent there are bullies.
    • In the second book Guilia runs away and, dressed as a boy, apprentices in a paint master's workshop. Will she get sent back to the convent or will she become a painting master herself? What about that husband?
    • I really liked these. I'm not only a sucker for books about boarding schools and colleges but I like nun stories as well. Maybe it has something to do with being raised as a Catholic. I think every little Catholic girl used to want to be a nun at some point. This is also why the beginning of the Audrey Hepburn movie "The Nun's Story" is my favorite part of the whole thing. Cutting off your hair, no unnecessary talking, obedience, chastity, poverty, the habit (outfit), no mirrors, no personal possessions, etc... Little Catholic girls usually outgrew wanting to be a nun pretty quickly! Obviously you need to have a true vocation for that life.


  1. Based on the title, no more Dinty Moore stew for me. Also, it turns out that Mark Alpert is not the same person as Marc Alpert.

  2. Hmmm, I notice you haven't read "The Martian" yet. You would like it.

    1. Funny you would mention that: I just picked it up at the library today! Coinkydink!