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Tag: tbr

The TBR of “Shame”

A recent YouTube video that popped up for me as a recommendation was “Pile of Shame Reading Vlog || Books with Emily Fox.  It’s not so much the books that are depicted in the video but the idea that everyone has books lying around that they’ve started but not finished that had piqued my interest. I have a lot of books which I’ve started and not finished, but I thought I’d list some of them here. For the sake of not boring everyone to tears, I’ve limited this list to non-fiction, plus one fiction book that is masquerading as non-fiction.

  • Jewels: A Secret History by Victoria Finlay – I’m actively reading this one right now. Each section of the book is divided up by gem by increasing hardness on the Mohs scale. It’s a mix of history, science, folklore, and personal anecdotes all rolled into a mix that somehow works. It’s all very interesting and easy reading.
  • Shinto: A History by Helen Hardacre – I bought this book before going on my trip to Japan last year because I knew I would be visiting a lot of temples and shrines. Unfortunately, I’m not even halfway through it yet. The writing is very academic, but I’m still interested. I’m reading this in parallel with Jewels, but this one is quite a bit more slow going.
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen – This book is so relevant with COVID-19 right now, but I actually started this book much earlier. I really do like Quammen’s writing, but at the moment, between reading papers for work on infectious disease and this book–I’d prioritize the papers. And while I find the subject fascinating, reading this just feels like more work at the moment. If you find this interesting too but don’t have time to read this, I recommend watching Joe Scott’s interview with David Quammen.
  • Feeding a Thousand Souls: Women, Ritual, and Ecology in India – An Exploration of the Kolam by Vijaya Nagarajan – I bought this book right after hearing the author speak about her experience with the ritual of kolam in India. It bears a striking resemblance to other magical customs around the world using signs to invoke protection and luck. I’ve never heard about kolam before this but I’m always up for learning about superstition and folklore and how it relates to the societies that come up with them.
  • The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair – This book is divided up by different colors with lots of trivia about those particular colors. I got halfway through and then got distracted by other things. It’s supposed to be a quick read, so I need to get on this.
  • Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova – This is a mix of memoir and travelogue, reporting and essay. The author travels back to where she spent her childhood, in the confluence of Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece. There’s some absolutely wonderful writing in here and I can’t wait to get back to this one once I’ve finished the books I’m actively reading.
  • Cyclonopedia: Complicity by Anonymous Materials by Reza Negarestani – This is a horror novel masquerading as someone’s lost thesis. It’s weird and bonkers at the same time and definitely not something you can breeze through in one sitting. There’s something really compelling about it too, so I’ll be slowly inching towards the end no matter how long it takes.
  • Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel – I am very much aware that this is viewed through the eyes of a French woman in the 1920s, but considering her scholarly achievements in Asia and Buddhism, she’s possibly a better narrator than, say, a random white dude barging into a culture they have no experience with. This has apparently served as inspiration for a number of writers in the Beat Generation so it would be good background reading.

TBR Pile #3 – Dreamland by David K. Randall

Note: The TBR Pile series of posts aren’t strictly book reviews. It’s my excuse for writing a rambling blog post. While it will contain some of my thoughts about the book, I’ll may digress into other topics.

I really enjoy reading popular science books, mostly because if anything I get to learn something from them. Especially if the book’s subject is outside of my expertise. And if I get entertained by the author’s anecdotes and storytelling ability, that’s a bonus. In David K. Randall’s Dreamland, I got to learn all about the science of sleep.

What I found the most fascinating was that much of sleep is cultural. It’s not just about sleeping in separate beds because of middle-class morality or the lack of study in dreams because it’s considered woo. It’s also habit, too. Babies in different countries sleep in different ways. Type of mattress actually doesn’t make a lick of difference in sleep quality. What matters most is consistency, not the type of sleep habit one engages in.

But despite all the sleep labs and pharmaceutical companies touting their solutions for insomnia, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about sleep. I think this is just part of the bigger problem: that we still don’t know much about the brain.

One caveat, though. Randall is a reporter and not a doctor or scientist. He initially got into the topic because he had a problem with sleepwalking and much of the book, I feel, delved into the historical and societal implications of sleep. I would have liked a lot more science (especially since the book was billed as a discussion on the science of sleep)–particularly the neuroscience behind the phenomenon of sleep and the biochemistry used for the drugs that manipulate sleep. But then again, that may just be me. I’m not afraid of reading the technical details about this stuff. The general public, however, would probably be bored to sleep.

TBR Pile #2 – The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn

Note: The TBR Pile series of posts aren’t strictly book reviews. It’s my excuse for writing a rambling blog post. While it will contain some of my thoughts about the book, I’ll may digress into other topics.

Okay, so my attempt at posting more regularly by writing about my to-be-read pile is not going as smoothly as I’d like. For one thing, I’m pretty busy with work stuff and I just haven’t found all that much free time to devote to reading. And another thing, despite my higher expectations for Shinn’s The Shape of Desire, this has turned out to be a dud. It was even less interesting to me than the first book on the TBR pile. So much so that I’ve decided to give up on it after page 70. Because I really don’t want to waste my time trying to slog through the rest of the book when there’s other stuff I could be reading.

Of course, the book could be absolutely awesome in the latter half. But I don’t have the patience for that. If an author is going to put out a book, it really should hook me from the beginning. I mean, it doesn’t have to be utterly brilliant straight in the first chapter, but it has to have something there in order to make me think, “Hey, something cool might be going on, I’ll read further.” For this book, it really did not help that it was in first person and the main character was an emotional wuss. It didn’t even matter if interesting stuff was happening around her, being in this main character’s head was straight up Boringsville. I don’t have to like the character–I’ve read first person stories before where the main character was a total asshole and yet I couldn’t wait to turn the next page to see what the hell was going to happen next–but the character has to be compelling. This character was not compelling.

Anyways, I am pretty disappointed. I enjoyed all of Sharon Shinn’s Samaria novels and a number of her short stories and novellas, but I didn’t find this urban fantasy novel on that same level. My only consolation is that I got this book at a used book store so I won’t have any qualms about returning it. Maybe the next reader will find it more to their liking.

The next book on the pile is the first book in Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, The Ruby in the Smoke. And since sometimes I’m more in the mood for non-fiction, I will also be reading Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall at the same time. I started Dreamland about six months ago, but then things got busy and I kind of forgot about the book until now.

TBR Pile #1 – Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon

Note: The TBR Pile series of posts aren’t strictly book reviews. It’s my excuse for writing a rambling blog post. While it will contain some of my thoughts about the book, I’ll may digress into other topics.

At the moment, my bookshelves are mostly unorganized. I say “mostly” because all the fiction books are together and all the non-fiction books are together, but that’s it. I haven’t really had time to organize them alphabetically. So when I made this year’s goal of trying to reduce my to-be-read pile, I simply started by picking the book that was closest to me. And that happened to be the urban fantasy novel Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon. It was first published in 2009, which was approximately when I bought it, randomly at the bookstore. (Yes, I’m one of those people who sometimes buys random books at bookstores.) There are a lot of books on my TBR pile that I bought randomly simply because the back cover blurb sounded interesting.

Unlike a lot of people, I would rather not read series. And I thought this was a standalone since there was no indication on the cover otherwise. So I was rather surprised when I got to the end and there was an excerpt for a sequel. And according to the author’s website, this was simply the first in a quartet. In any case, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to continue on with the series. The first hundred pages was a bit of a slog before the plot picked up and I never really warmed up to any of the characters. The main character/narrator was, frankly, boring. If you’re going to bring the reader into his head, at least make him interesting. Instead he was rather bland–perhaps he was a blank slate for the reader to put themselves into his shoes. I know there are a number of readers who like to do that, but I’m not one of them.

While I thought a number of the elements in the story were too typical for the urban fantasy genre, it was really interesting how the author managed to weave a real world ceremony into the plot. It’s probably the best thing about this book.

Anyways, what’s really bothering me about the book now is the genetics. (Warning: if you don’t want any spoilers, don’t read further.) The main character of the book is part human and part Fey, specifically wraith. And it’s assumed that somewhere in the past, his wraith ancestor dallied with a human. That seemed like the logical conclusion even though the wraiths were part of the group of Fey called the Untainted because they didn’t want to mix with humans. The different courts of the fey are divided by what type of fey they are. The assumption was, if your parents were one type, then you would also be like them. Simple right?

Not exactly. At the end of the book, we find out that mixing in human genes means that it would be completely random what kind of Fey you end up being. Which means that the main character’s ancestor could be a leprechaun for all he knows. This seems counterintuitive to the rest of the book. The main character’s companion/mentor is also part human, but her abilities were just like her mother’s. And since the other Fey did mix with humans, didn’t they have trouble trying to decide which court the kids belonged to if they turned out differently than their parents? And surely there had been other wraiths who had unexpectedly popped up in others’ family trees. If so, why didn’t they just start a new group of good wraiths to counter the bad ones? Or is the protagonist just that special?

Final verdict? Meh. If I weren’t trying to clean out my TBR pile, I would have probably stopped reading sometime before the second chapter and put it back on the shelf. I don’t know what I was thinking when I first bought it in 2009. Maybe my tastes have changed. There are some good points in the book, but not enough to make me want to read the next three books.

The next book on the pile is The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn, the 2012 Ace paperback edition. It’s another urban fantasy, this time about shape shifters. I have slightly higher expectations with this because I’ve read Shinn’s Samaria novels and liked them a lot.

A New Hobby (Sorta)

New year resolutions are silly because almost no one ends up keeping their promises. People want to do something to improve their lives, but then they fall back on their old habits. That’s why I never make new year resolutions. It’s bound to end in disappointment and the same-old same-old.

At one point last year, I was regularly posting on this blog again because I had taken up the hobby of exchanging postcards. But then that ended abruptly when some overly obsessive postcard enthusiasts threw a fit, so I’ve been trying to think about what else to post to keep the blog going. I suppose I could write about writing. But I consider myself a rank amateur and I’m generally not chatty about my own stories unless there’s something like NaNoWriMo going on at the same time.

Recently, I saw a documentary on minimalism and I found myself agreeing with many of their points. Our lives are basically filled with too much stuff and I’ve generally found it a lot more easier to manage when I’ve migrated it online. I used to keep paper planners about to help me organize my day, but in the past couple years, I’ve gone completely to Google Calendar. And I’ve managed to prevent turning my apartment into a book hoard hazard by switching to ebooks (mostly).

However, it’s that “mostly” that’s the sticking point. Because I still have a lot of physical books. Probably about half of them are in the “to-be-read” (TBR) pile. And I know not all of them are keepers. Simply put, I need to buckle down and read them to determine which ones I’ll keep and which ones I’ll give away or sell. So, here’s what I’m going to do for this year:

  • Only read books from the TBR pile.
  • Write a blog post/review about the book after I finished it.
    • Exception: the book is so bad that finishing it would be a waste of time.
  • To keep me from temptation, I am not allowed to buy new books unless:
    • I’m gifting them to someone else
    • Three or more people have personally recommended a book to me
    • Or it is no longer 2017.

Of course, book reviewing isn’t without the risk of stirring the wrath of the crazy either, but we’ll see. If an author or their fans threaten to sue and/or kill me because I’m not all sparkly rainbows and sunshine about the story, I’ll probably stop this experiment. You and I will know that scenario is ridiculous, but I don’t have the money, time, or spoons to deal with the crazy–so if it happens, it’ll just be easier to discontinue.

Anyways, here we go. I’m starting this with Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon, the 2009 US paperback edition. Why? Because it was the first book on the nearest bookshelf. Feel free to let me know how you liked (or hated) it.