Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Road trip with audiobooks that are currently on my TBR Action Center

Road trip!

I'm heading down to Annapolis, MD this morning, Washington, D. C. Friday morning, and then up to Mystic, CT Friday afternoon.

How many hours do you think it'll take to drive from D.C. to Mystic on the Friday afternoon/evening before Independence Day? With no traffic (which is pure fantasy) it would take about 6.5 hours. On a normal summer Friday I'd give it 8 hours. This Friday it could be 10, 12, more hours?

I'm not complaining. I have some podcasts to listen to. Sadly, the last Books on the Nightstand episode just landed on my phone. On the other hand, in what I hope will be less depressing book podcast news, Simon and Thomas of The Readers will reveal their summer readalong book today.

As you can see in the photo above, I also found three audiobooks at the library, two of which are actually on my TBR Action Center! Those would be The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. My Reading Life is a re-read/re-listen in case the first two don't pan out for me. I'll probably cry the whole time if I end up listening to Pat Conroy.

Time to roll!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Drum Roll, Please: My New Reading and TBR Action Center

I've been feeling like a neurotic pinball when it comes to my books and reading. Like many bookworms, I struggle with reading the books I already own. New book displays at the library and bookstore always beckon, and then there's the allure of tantalizing social media posts and well-meaning friends who go on about the latest great book they've read. I've been wondering how to help myself overcome this conundrum and actually read the books I already own. Initially I was excited about Andi's #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks reading effort earlier this year, but lost sight of it.

While sitting at my writing desk the other day pondering this issue, I looked up at the book holder that sits atop the desk. My first thought was one of dismay: I haven't glanced at those books in ages. And then: I really want to get to Shelter sooner rather than later and Rebecca is next month's book group read, so I have to get to that one. I know I stuck those two books there on the edge, perched and ready to fall off, so I wouldn't "forget" about them. Suddenly, my lack of attention and organization seemed unacceptable.

I needed a plan and I wanted my book stand to be a part of it. When the book stand first came into my life, I knew I wanted to give it a place of honor and use it regularly. It is a common book stand, but what makes it special to me is that I inherited it from my mother-in-law, Kit, who passed away last year.

Thinking all these thoughts, I had a flash of what to do: I'd use the book stand as a TBR Zone!

I've long kept written TBR lists in my book binder and, more recently, a digital TBR on Goodreads. And, for as long as I've had these lists, they've served primarily as shopping lists and/or invoked feelings of guilt or anxiety. If I use the book stand as a physical and contained short list TBR, maybe I'd actually read more of my own damn books. And using the stand in such a proactive manner will be a way to honor my mother-in-law.  Kit was a big reader, so I know this stand has good reading juju.

So, I cleared off the books that had been collecting dust and decided I'd only add books that I wanted to read soon (as opposed to the books I thought I "should" read. No more shoulding on myself). This will be the place I go to select my next read. As one book gets pulled out and read, another book can go in its place.

I looked at my shelves around the house and the stacks that are still *cough* on my office floor and started constructing a new TBR. After a few rounds of addition and subtraction, these are the books that will kick off my new TBR ACTION ZONE:

  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I was on the fence about reading this one, but after hearing that Emily Blunt will star in the movie, I'm all in.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I've seen every adaptation of this novel and can't believe I haven't read it yet. I tried when I was younger, but didn't have the patience for it.
  • The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope. Thomas of Hogglestock and The Readers enjoys Trollope so I thought I'd give him a try. I didn't remember I had this book until looking through my shelves.
  • Middlemarch by George Elliot. I read Adam Bede in college and enjoyed it. Have heard mixed things about this one from friends, but know it is Elliot's masterpiece and considered one of the best English novels of all time, so I'm giving it a go.
  • A Blind Eye by Jane Gorman. I came across Gorman and her books on Instagram. First time I'll be reading a novel I discovered via IG.
    Newly found
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Mourier. Next month's book group read. Another book I tried reading in my younger years and didn't take to. We'll see how it goes this time.
  • Animal Instinct by Alexander Pschera, translated by Elisabeth Lauffer. Won this one through the German Book Office's monthly giveaway on Facebook.
  • The Price of Salt by Claire Morgan, aka Patricia Highsmith. My current Classics Club spin book.
  • Code Name Mary: Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground by Muriel Gardiner. Found this one in my friend Elliot's book barn.
  • Shelter by Jung Yun. Jung was a Booktopia VT author this year, but I wasn't able to read it prior to the event.
  • The Fox was Ever the Hunter by Herta Muller, translated by Philip Boehm. Another book I won recently from the German Book Office.
  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. I love Hemingway's novels, we'll see about this. People tend to gush about it, which makes me want to avoid it.
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. The only book of this group that's a re-read. I read it in high school and thought it was the most boring fucking book in the world. Since then it has grown in my imagination to become the most boring fucking book in the universe, so I'm curious to give it a read as an older and more patient reader. We shall see.
  • Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe. I've been wanting to read this since I read Berg's excellent bio of Max Perkins, Editor of Genius.
I'm pretty excited about this list!

Oh, but I just remembered as I write this that I own an e-reader and have a few TBRs on it. Will have to think about how to incorporate them. Perhaps my Kobo will live below the book stand, where the Writing America book is currently hanging out. That book isn't exactly on my TBR--it's covering an ancient heat stain from a prior owner of the desk. I plan on ironing it out eventually. I tend to use my e-reader only when traveling or when I can't find a stink-free edition of a classic. On rare occasions I've used it to read a hot new release, but I don't have to worry about getting bogged down with unread books in that direction.

After finalizing my new TBR and standing there looking at, I realized that the cluster of reference books over on the left hand side of the desk were dead weight. I rarely consult them, so don't need them at my finger tips. They weren't sparking joy, so off they went! (Off the desk, not out of my life, thank you very much Marie Kondo.) Another flash of bookish inspiration struck and I decided that books I'm currently reading will be stationed on the left hand side of the desk. Here they are:

  • Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi
  • The Life You Were Born to Live by Dan Millman
  • It's Not You, It's What Happened to You: Complex Trauma and Treatment by Christine A. Courtois
  • German for Reading by Karl C. Sandberg and John R. Wendel
  • The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • Hurricane Street by Ron Kovic

I usually don't have so many books going at the same time, but, as the saying goes, shit happens.

And so--drum roll, please--here is my brand new READING and TBR ACTION CENTER:

We bookworms are notorious for making reading plans, book organizational schemes, and deals with the devil, so there's a 50-50 chance this won't last more than a week, but I'm feeling like this system might work. I'll check in next month and let you know how its working out.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Classics Club Spin #13: What Does Success with a Book Mean as a Reader?

The last two Classic Club Spins weren't all that successful for me.

Or perhaps they were.

What does "success" with a book mean anyway? I used to think that it meant I read the whole thing--every word on every page. I read the book. I finished the book. I could answer questions on a test or write an essay about it. A very close second to finishing the book was that I enjoyed or appreciated the book for what it was and/or that I learned something from it.

But these days I'm beginning to embrace the idea that success with a book means different things at different times depending on the book in question as well as my intention upon starting it. After all, if books are multifaceted creations that are continually being re-created by each reader,  to think of my engagement with a book in such black and white terms as success (finished) or failure (DNF) has been a rather simplistic way of thinking about my reading experience. Am I reading each book to read each book or am I familiarizing myself with a particular book to, say, develop a greater understanding of the history of American Literature or perhaps familiarizing myself with a particular author's oeuvre?

Part of me believes what I'm trying to articulate here, and another part of me thinks I sound like the loser in the back of the class arguing why I didn't finish the assignment. Sigh.

When I couldn't force myself to finish either Catch-22 and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (my last two spin books), I initially saw it as failure. However,  I certainly read enough of each to gain familiarity with the style and get the gist of their content. I understand what each author was trying to accomplish. For now, I've come to realize, that is good enough. In the future I won't be surprised if I pick up either or both of these novels and we become BFFs. I've learned never to say never when it comes to my personal reading preferences.

For me, at this time, maybe reading the entire classic isn't always the point. My school-aged self would be so disappointed to hear my older self say that. And my former teacher-self is shaking the cage, yelling, "READ THE BOOK! YOU MUST READ THE WHOLE THING!"
“The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been.” -- Madeleine L'Engle

Here are my options for lucky spin #13:
  1. Pride and Prejudice, Austen, 1813 
  2. The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne, 1851 
  3. Carmilla, Le Fanu, 1872 
  4. The Bostonians, James, 1886 
  5. A Room with a View, Forster, 1908 
  6. Maurice, Forster, 1914 
  7. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce, 1916 
  8. The Education of Henry Adams, Adams, 1918 
  9. Winesburg, Ohio, Anderson, 1919 
  10. So Big, Ferber, 1924 
  11. The Magic Mountain, Mann, 1924 
  12. The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck, 1939 
  13. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Smith, 1943 
  14. From Here to Eternity, Jones, 1951 
  15. The Price of Salt, Highsmith, 1952  <--- The Chosen One for spin #13!
    I'll be reading a 1986 Naiad Press copy of the book, which still lists Claire Morgan, Highsmith's alias, as author.  I used to own a bunch of Naiad Press books--unfortunately, I loaned them out, sold, or donated them over the years.
  16. Lord of the Flies, Golding, 1954 
  17. Giovanni's Room, Baldwin, 1956 
  18. Ship of Fools, Porter, 1962 
  19. A Moveable Feast, Hemingway, 1964 
  20. Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut, 1968 
When compiling this list I avoided huge tomes from my CC list like War and Peace and Don Quixote that I know I won't have the patience for this summer. I'm looking forward to giving any of these a go.  The Classic Club moderators will chose a number on Monday and I'll come back and highlight the book I'll be attempting this time around, which I'll read (or not) by August 1st.

Fellow Clubbers--are there any books we have in common? Feel free to share your list in the comments. What does success with a book mean for you these days? For those of you not familiar with The Classics Club, check it out here.

Happy reading!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

HOVER by Anne A. Wilson (Navy thriller featuring woman pilot)

I saw this novel a couple times at my local bookstore and wasn't sure about it. It's military fiction, which I'm often drawn to, but it also sounded kind of romancy. I worried it would be too far on the romance side for my tastes. Plus, the officer's hair on the cover is unsat. 😱
From the publisher: Helicopter pilot Lt. Sara Denning joins a Navy battle group with little fanfare—and that's just the way she likes it. After her brother Ian's tragic death, her career path seemed obvious: step into his shoes and enter the Naval Academy, despite her fear of water. Sara's philosophy is simple—blend in, be competent, and above all, never do anything to stand out as a woman in a man's world. Somewhere along the way, Sara lost herself—her feminine, easygoing soul is now buried under so many defensive layers, she can't reach it anymore. When she meets strong, self-assured Lt. Eric Marxen, her defenses start to falter. Eric coordinates flight operations for a Navy SEAL team that requests Sara as the exclusive pilot. This blatant show of favoritism causes conflict with the other pilots; Sara's sexist boss seems intent on making her life miserable, and her roommate and best friend, the only other woman on the ship, is avoiding her. It doesn't help that her interactions with Eric leave her reeling. The endgame of the SEALs' mission is so secret, even Sara doesn't know the reason behind her mandated participation. Soon, though, the training missions become real, and Sara must overcome her fears before they plunge her into danger. When Sara's life is on the line, can she find her true self again and follow the orders of her heart before it is too late? Anne A. Wilson's Hover is a thrilling, emotional women's journey written by a groundbreaking former Navy pilot.
At the mention of Navy SEALs, red flags starting unfurling in the back of my mind. I'm not blind, I've seen the covers in the romance section where SEALs seem to be code for Steamy Erotic Amazing Licentious Sex, which is great, but not what I'm currently into reading. On the other hand, I reasoned with myself, standing there in front of the new book table at my local bookstore, Wilson is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and she did serve in the Navy as a helicopter pilot for nine years, so maybe there will be some good action of the military variety. I took a chance and bought it.

So glad I did!

The military action seems realistic without being overly or insecurely technical in detail and the military woman's perspective & experience is highly accurate, from dealing with self-doubts, to the misogynistic culture, to the BS from individual men, to the strong bonds sometimes formed with other women. 

In one scene an arrogant male pilot with the call sign Bull (as in bullshit, but also perhaps a nod to Pat Conroy's thinly fictionalized father, Bull Meechum in The Great Santini) hits on Sara in a social setting when she's out of uniform. Bull talks nonstop about himself and asks her zero questions, probably assuming he's wowing her. She obviously knows he's full of shit and distractedly listens as he piles lie atop lie. When her friend arrives and the truth comes out, that Sara is an Academy grad, "Bull's drunken smile turns to a scowl, "Bitch," he says, before marching away." That scene nicely encapsulates what military experience can be like for women.

On her website Wilson has a "Pictorial Glossary" of the helicopters and ships featured in Hover,
H-46 Sea Knight, Sara's helicopter [source: author]
which is pretty cool. I served as landlubber in the Marine Corps in the 1980s and can't imagine the pressures Wilson experienced as a Naval pilot in the 1990s. I've often wished I'd joined the Navy for a chance to serve aboard ship. (Sssh! Don't tell anyone I said that, it's sacrilegious.)

The romance doesn't steal the show nor is it completely unrealistic (no silly scenes where they're off having a hot quickie in the back of a helicopter), but is actually integral to the main character's growth.

In addition to showing the missions Sara flies, her professional challenges, emotional struggles, and budding romance, Wilson also depicts the less glamorous side of military life such as shore patrol duty, obligatory social events, and negotiating the wardroom. Although there is camaraderie, there's also politics and jerky or even dangerous coworkers, as in many work situations.

There's an underlying vibe that I appreciated about this novel: there is no over-the-top glorification of war or service here. For the most part, it's humble people doing their duty, proud of the important work they do. Except for the bad guy, of course, ain't nothing humble about him. Also touching is that Sara is not the only character trying to heal from a past trauma.

Overall, Hover is the best fictional depiction of a women in the military that I've read to date. I'm looking forward to Wilson's second book, Clear to Lift, even if it looks like it will feature a new cast of characters. That's right, after all my trepidation about the romantic elements of this novel, I want to know how things end up for Sara and Eric!

Clear to Lift is scheduled to be released on July 12, 2016.

Title: Hover
Author: Anne A. Wilson
Publisher: Forge Books, 2015
Format: paperback
Source: bought it
Bottom line: If you're looking for a realistic novel that has military adventure and a human element without gratuitous violence or explicit sexual content, give this one a try.
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