Tag Archives: Books

Evaluating Your Year in Books

Picture by Kristin Luna, without dog’s permission.

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is look back on the books I’ve read. Goodreads has a great tool that automatically comes up with your stats, like how many pages you’ve read, the longest book you’ve read, the shortest book you’ve read, etc.

My friend Shannon Fox does her own evaluation for end of the year reading, and you can view it here.

Here’s her template so you can evaluate the books you’ve read this year, notice some of your reading patterns, and help you make some reading goals for next year. Enjoy, and thank you Shannon!

 

2016: Books in Review

 

  • How many books did you read in 2016?
  • How many fiction compared to non-fiction?
  • How many male authors, female authors, transgender authors, and gender nonconforming authors did you read this year?
  • What’s the oldest book you’ve read (when it was first published)?
  • What’s the newest book you’ve read (most recently published)?
  • What’s the longest book you’ve read?
  • What’s the shortest book you’ve read?
  • Shortest book read?
  • Did you read any books that were translated this year?
  • What was the best book you read in 2016?
  • What was the most disappointing book you read in 2016?
  • What was the most beautifully written book you read?
  • What was the most surprising book you read?
  • What was the most thrilling, un-put-downable book?
  • Which book had the greatest impact on you?
  • What book had a scene that had you reeling?
  • What book did you anticipate reading the most this year?
  • Who was the most memorable character you read this year?
  • Did you re-read any books this year?
  • Did you read a book this year that you’re likely to re-read next year?
  • What book did you recommend most this year?
  • Did you find any new favorite authors this year?
  • Which author did you read the most of in 2016?
  • What was your favorite book cover of the books you read?
  • What was your favorite passage or quote you read this year?
  • What book can you not believe you waited so long to read but read in 2016?

 

Islandia – A Utopian Love Story

Masterful in its attention to detail and a very human story, Islandia is a quiet classic – quiet in that it hasn’t garnered the publicity that many classics have, but a classic because its story and writing endure. Considered utopian literature, Islandia is a pre-industrial civilization which respects women and that confronts early twentieth century colonialism. However, it’s much more than a commentary on political and economic realities in the early 1900’s, it is world building at its best – of not only the geography, social, economic and political structures, but of a society and its heart. The depth of its world building has been compared to Tolkien.

IslandiaJohn Lang is hired as the American Consul at the behest of his uncle and other parties, with the expectation that he will promote their economic aspirations and will convince Islandia to end its isolation. Excited to reunite with an Islandian friend he made in college, Lang is still shocked to find himself in an agrarian, low-tech world. As he learns about this strange new world, he learns about himself and finds himself at odds with his mission, his values and his heart. Lang’s struggle is best summed up in a review on Goodreads by Terry:

‘Lang finds himself divided, a part of him struggling to be a good consul, loyal to his home and profession with the ulterior motive that his success at winning his country’s desires will also bring him his own personal ones, though at the cost of all that his closest Islandian friends hold dear; and so an even stronger part of himself fights against his own ‘better’ judgement and all concepts of what is realistic or pragmatic in the name of a beautiful ideal that will mean the end of his own personal hopes and dreams.’

Islandia was a world imagined by Wright since his childhood. He never shared it with anyone and he had written thousands of pages about the place and its people. Upon his untimely death, his wife taught herself to type and created a 2,000 page novel. Their daughter edited it to 1,000 pages and it was first published in 1942.

This novel is not an action adventure with a fast paced plot and some readers may find the initial story set up a little slow. Neither does it fit into the modern romance genre. It is a captivating drama which draws the reader into a world so completely that one longs to visit it. Thus, it is more than a utopian exercise on the values of the industrial society, its politics and impact on its people – it is a story about personal values and understanding one’s and another’s heart. Perhaps that’s why this novel has so quietly endured.

It is also a tribute of love to a man who so fully imagined and lived this world. Had it not been for the love and dedication of his wife and daughter, this poignant society which so richly understands itself, would never have been realized so that we too may experience it.

For all these reasons Islandia has so quietly endured and become a classic. On so many levels it is a Utopian Love Story – about falling in and out of love with one’s family, oneself, another, one’s country and with a world so different from the one we know. Islandians would tell you that there are four words to express love: amia – love of friends, alia – love of place and family land and lineage, ania – desire for marriage and commitment, and apia – sexual attraction. These are indeed, utopian concepts of the heart.

Welcome to the Supernatural MI6

The RookI never thought living in the head of a paper pusher could be interesting, much less awesome, but Australian author Daniel O’Malley proves me wrong in his debut novel, The Rook. Granted, Myfanwy Thomas (pronounced like “Tiffany” with an M, since the Welsh reinvent phenoms as they please) is not your standard bureaucrat. In the opening scene of the book, Myfanwy “awakes in a London park surrounded by dead bodies [wearing latex gloves]. With her memory gone, her only hope of survival is to trust the instructions left in her pockets by her former self.” These letters lead her deeper into the rabbit hole, and back into her former life as a high-level operative in the Cheque, a secret government organization tasked with protecting the UK from supernatural threats. The thing is, the old Myfanwy foresaw her own end and left her future self a series of letters and an encyclopedia like binder detailing the milieu. Alone and with these scant resources, Myfanwy must re-integrate into her old life, rediscover her powers, learn about the supernatural world, and handle a barrage of supernatural crises, all while trying to root out the traitor(s) at the highest levels of the organization that had her erased in the first place.

Once the ball starts rolling, O’Malley spins a riveting yarn. In my opinion, his work has two major strengths. First, as a reader, I love the milieu that O’Malley has created. The idea of secret government agencies and the hidden world of magic are well-used tropes in this sort of fiction, but the elements that O’Malley chooses to emphasize make the whole experience seem fresh. Myfanwy is simultaneously a newbie and veteran in this life, and often feels the strain of trying to keep up when everyone around her assumes she’ll maintain her docile past persona. Though he spends much of his time in the day to day, O’Malley’s narrative style is at times laugh at loud funny, breathtakingly tense and peppered through with moments that lend the reader’s admiration and pride to his protagonist.

Secondly, I appreciate this book from the perspective of a craftsman. O’Malley exercises his gift for narrative in this novel, weaving a third-limited perspective of the present with a narrative of the past told in an epistolary style. Like most, he uses the past to clarify and resonate with the future, but where his true skill becomes apparent is when he uses the present to shed light upon the events detailed in old-Myfanwy’s letters to her future self. It takes real skill to make the trick work both ways without becoming bulky and distracting to the reader.

I have enjoyed this book twice now and intend to do a third re-read before the sequel, Stiletto, is released by Hatchette in Q1 2015. It is my hope that some of y’all enjoy it as much as I have and that you too are able to learn a bit about the epistolary narrative style while you do. It’s a while to wait for the second book, but fortunately my TBR list is long and colorful and has only been added to this month. I’ll leave you with the video that I found on Daneil O’Malley’s website while researching book 2. It’ quite entertaining and captures the spirit and fun of the book.

Into That Forest

17870105Boy, do I have a book for you! You’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s spectacular. It’s called The Shining by Stephen King.

Just kidding! But seriously, you should probably read that one, too.

It’s a deal less popular than The Shining, actually. There are no alcoholic fathers, no boys with the shine, and no Overlook Hotel.

This book’s story elements are very simple: two little girls and the two tigers that raised them.

In college, as a sociology minor and overall sociology bum, I became aware and a little obsessed with the happening of feral children. There were cases of children who had been locked in one room for all their developmental years, knew nothing of language or social interaction, and later, either their remains were found, or they were rescued and the long process began of assimilating these children back into society. There were cases of children who were abandoned who later claimed to have been raised and reared by wolves or monkeys. These stories were and still are completely fascinating to me.

Perhaps the most famous mythical account of feral children is of Romulus and Remus, abandoned by their mother and taken in by wolves. Some actual historical accounts of feral children have since been proven false: someone elaborated a story for some sort of profit or gain. However, it was not uncommon throughout history for mothers to abandon children who had obvious mental or physical disabilities into the wild. This is a fascinating documentary digging deeper into more recent stories of feral children in the wild. I will warn you, it’s not easy to watch.

More commonly in the United States, there have been cases of children who have been abused and locked in a bedroom for their developmental years. Genie Wiley is one of the most recent cases in US history of an urban feral child. You can learn more about Genie’s story in this clip.

My interest in the subject is probably why I was destined to love Into That Forest by Australian writer and playwright Louis Nowra. Told in a rudimentary vernacular, Hannah O’Brien, now in her seventies, recounts when she and her cousin Becky were separated from Hannah’s parents during a flood in the Tasmanian outback. Hannah and Becky are soon taken in by a mated pair of Tasmanian tigers. The girls learn how to hunt, eat, and communicate like the tigers. Their harrowing tale includes run-ins with a tiger poacher, learning to live on all-fours, and a growing wariness of all humans.

tas-tiger_thylacines
Tasmanian tigers.

If you’ve read any of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ spectacular Tarzan novels, I can assure you you’ll feel a comforting reminiscence while reading Into That Forest, and you may very well love it just as much. And unfortunately like Tarzan of the Apes, I give you fair warning that this book might just break your heart.