Also, it’s dirty

I saw a snake today on the trail during my run.  I managed not to freak out (out loud), but I did give it a wide berth as it slithered off into the weeds.  It was…little, I guess, but snakes are snakes, and I don’t like them.  This is the problem I have with the outdoors.  I like being outside right up until I’m reminded of all the things that live outside.  Which reminds me: one afternoon a few weeks ago, right after work, I took my book and a bottle of water, and I hiked up to the top of Spencer Butte to read.

I sat there pretty comfortably for nearly two hours, reading my book, ignoring the chatter of the other people on the summit (it was a busy day for hikers), shifting occasionally because sitting on rocks is not that comfortable, and then out of nowhere I heard the a loud buzzing sound.  Like, LOTS of buzzing.  Like the sound of a beehive buzzing, a sound I’ve only heard in the movies and in cartoons.  I glanced to my left and there were a whole bunch of bees flying in a clump, hovering by a rock not one foot away from me.  I suppose that’s what swarming looks like.  I hope I never know for sure.  I got away (duh), and frankly, I’m a little amazed at how quickly and smoothly I moved.  I grabbed my stuff and was 20 feet away, looking over my shoulder the whole time.  I’m super glad they didn’t chase me because there were no lakes in sight.  Seriously, everything I know about swarms of bees comes from cartoons.  And My Girl.

Anyway, that was the end of my pleasant afternoon on a mountain top.  I hiked back down, and before I got in the car, I checked out the map on the information board.  The information board helpfully informed me that the indigenous rattlesnake population was rebounding and they can be found on and under the rocks, so hikers should be careful and definitely not reach under rocks.  Also, mountain lions hang out on the butte.  Well, hell.  I just spent two hours sitting on and among the rocks.  It’s amazing I survived the day.

So yeah – outside is pretty and all, but things that want to kill me live out there, and that’s not even counting spiders and UGH mosquitoes, so maybe I should just stay inside.

Contemplation

Some more thoughts on The Gate to Women’s Country, all entirely non-spoilery.  Or maybe less about this book in particular and more about, well, let me get to that.

I have read a large number of books that left me wanting more when they were over.  More books in a series, more information about the world that was created, more information about the characters or their families or their earlier adventures.  Sometimes I have questions, maybe a mystery was left unsolved, or maybe something mysterious happened in the past that drove a character to do something, but that mysterious thing was never explained.  I usually consider this a good thing, even if it’s mildly (at best) frustrating.  It meant I was fully engaged.  I want to know more.  The author did something right, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get those answers in later books.  I’m not always so lucky.  Robin McKinley is a good example.  Off the top of my head, I can name three books of hers, all stand-alone novels, set in three distinct worlds.  All three books were complete on their own*, but the worlds in those books had histories, the families had problems, and the books were about one event, one adventure, just one snippet of those worlds.  I want to know more about those worlds and those characters.  What was the cataclysmic event that happened to the world in Shadows before the story that was written began?  How did a world that was basically our own turn into that world?  In Sunshine, what is up with the main character’s family?  It’s clearly important to her character, but wasn’t necessary information for the story itself so it’s only hinted at, not included.  I don’t remember having a lot of questions after I read Dragonhaven, but I want more family history AND more dragons, please.

The Gate to Women’s Country falls on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Everything is explained at the end, even a few things that the very smart main character should have already figured out.  Some of it is explained to the main character, some of it is explained to someone else, but all of it is explained, and I find it very satisfying.  No loose ends.  No open questions (except the reader’s own questions about the future of this civilization, which are totally acceptable).  There’s clarity at the end, the kind that makes you go back and re-read the first few pages now that you’ve been enlightened.  Sheri S. Tepper tends to do that, to lay everything out for the reader at the end, to spell out the things you’ve suspected or point out the things you missed.

I don’t know which approach I prefer.  I like it when things are wrapped up neatly.  I like knowing everything there is to know about a fictional universe.  (There’s a reason I own two companion guides each to Anne McCaffrey’s Pern and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.)  On the other hand, hinting at the richness of another world leaves so much scope for the imagination.  I find it harder to let those books go and move into something else, and I can’t think that’s a bad thing.

*I’m not talking about books without resolutions, like one by an author I really like that is billed as a mystery and that moves like a mystery and HAS a mystery in it but is really just a cover for character development so it ends WITHOUT SOLVING THE MYSTERY.

Like a slip ‘n’ slide but without the rocks in the lawn

Until today, every time I have been turned off by a book, it’s been because of the plot (or lack of it) or the writing. I started reading Interface by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George yesterday, and I’m having a hard time getting into it.  I don’t think it’s the writing – I’ve always liked Neal Stephenson.  I don’t think it’s the plot – it’s a science fiction political thriller.  What’s not to like?  It did start a little slow – we got the main character’s full family history in the first eight or so pages (snooze), but the action picked up after that.

Even with something actually happening, though, I’m not that excited to pick up the book and read, and I think it might be the physical book at fault.  This has never happened to me before.  I know I’ve been reading a lot on my Kindle, but I like physical books.  I like the weight, I like the way the paper feels…and the paper might be why I’m not crazy about THIS book.  It’s smooth.  Like, silky.  Practically laminated, but smoother.  And it’s a heavy trade paperback that barely opens, so I feel like I’m using a crowbar to see the pages.  The very very smooth pages.  I never knew I could be this picky about the physical qualities of a book.

I’m 58 pages in, and I’m giving this one at least 100 pages before I give up.  Maybe I’ll get over it and maybe it’s just that I started it yesterday after watching The Crown all day long and maybe I was just tired and I’ve been working all day and maybe it’s not the smoothness of the pages at all and maybe it’s nothing and I’ll forget all about this in another ten pages if I can just find 15 minutes to focus on reading.

(But when I’m into a book, 15 minutes to focus on reading finds me.)

(Sh. I’m still in denial.)

Every city needs a Powell’s

Of course we went to Powell’s when we were in Portland last Saturday.  No trip there is complete without a visit to Powell’s.  Because I’m still trying to avoid buying THINGS, I only bought one book, but I found a TON of books to add to my to-read list, and I had a couple of interesting conversations with random strangers in the science fiction section about Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid novels and The Wheel of Time.  Not in the same conversation.  It was a good way to spend several hours.

The one book I did buy is Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great: Re-reading the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  I was likely to buy it anyway (it’s Jo Walton – I like her), but I was hooked when I saw she wrote an essay on Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which was moved to write about when I read it, although I think for a totally different reason.  Jo Walton’s book is a collection of blog posts she wrote for Tor.com, and the table of contents is the best to-read list (or to-re-read, in many cases) EVER.  This may seem stupid, but I’m, like, furiously happy knowing this book exists.

Seriously, I’m a little emotional.

Applying life lessons

Michelle supplied actual wisdom to this website in her comment on my post the other day, and I have decided to apply it to my life.  Life is too short to read books that don’t grab me, so I just won’t.  I did finish my NOW book club book (it was good, it was interesting, I didn’t love it), but the very next book I was supposed to read was for my other book club: Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf.  The blurb wasn’t interesting to me, and the Kindle version was $11.99.  The library had it, but it was out and there was a waiting list (and book club meets in less than a week).  Was it worth $11.99 to me if I might quit after 50 pages?  Not really.  But I joined the book club to talk about books with other readers, and if they introduce me to good books I wouldn’t ordinarily pick out for myself, that’s a good thing, right?  I would feel a little guilty going to a book club meeting without having finished the book we’re talking about, but a) that doesn’t make my opinion less valid (why didn’t I like it?), and b) no one says I have to go that month.

I took my dilemma to John.  Given these circumstances what would he do?  He would find a free download of the book or otherwise look for a cheaper way to get it, that’s what he’d do.  Smart, although not officially condoned by me.  Without going into any specifics (ahem), I did get a copy of it, and I started it with every intention of giving it 50 pages (or in this case, since it’s digital and I know the paper version is only around 200 pages, giving it 20 or 25%) before putting it down.

Who is surprised that I was hooked by the third page?

Some bad book choices

I’m in a mood.  A reading mood, but it’s not the kind of mood that only means I want to read.  This is the kind of mood that means I’m hyper-critical of what I’m reading.  I picked up three books from the library yesterday, all books that had been recommended to me or that had appealed to me on some trip to a bookstore or something.

I put the first one down after 24 pages.   All of the exposition was in dialogue between a brother and a sister, and it was SO. PAINFUL.  They clearly both remembered a thing that happened, but they had to talk through every detail in a way real people would NEVER DO.  It’s like this radio commercial I HATED in Virginia for Warman Home Care (you know, like warm and caring? UGH) where a wife says to her husband, “you know how you’re worried about your dad getting older and living by himself and how he won’t be able to take care of himself but how we can’t do it either?” and every time I heard it, I cringed because NO ONE HAS THAT CONVERSATION!  People use shorthand!  They refer to conversations they’ve had before without going into every detail.  Good writing would remember that and use references like clues to pull the reader in.  This book was like that commercial and it was so irritating.  And then the author tried REALLY HARD to make sure you knew how old the characters are now and were then.  On one page, he said straight out that one character was 33, the sister was two years younger than that character, and the brother was three years older.  Got it.  Okay.  A few pages later, the narration explicitly says that a certain event happened 23 years previously.  At that point, I did the math – brother was 13, sister was 8.  I’m with you.  Then, at the bottom of the SAME PAGE, the brother asks the sister, “so, how old were we when that happened?” and she says, “well, I was 8, so you must have been 13.” OH MY GOD I GET IT.

I quit after that.

I picked up my next book right after that and nearly put it down after seven sentences.  The main character, making dinner at home with his family, was julienning an onion.  The pretentiousness oozed off the page.  Are you a chef?  No.  Is this book about food or cooking?  No.  THEN YOU’RE CHOPPING THAT GODDAMN ONION.  On the next page, we learn he lives in a brownstone.  A page later, we learn that he’s going to his local bar, steps away from his brownstone.  Then he goes to Whole Foods with his canvas bag, which is just blocks away from his brownstone.  Guess what, guys?  Mr. Perfect lives in a brownstone.  I’m kind of glad he got kidnapped.

For reasons, I don’t understand, I’m still reading this book.  I’ll finish it tonight, and I can move on to a book where the Queen is a vampire.  I’m expecting better from the paranormal.

Still trying to do too much

I signed up for another thing.  I couldn’t help myself.  I joined the Legislative Task Force committee within our chapter of NOW.  I am going to try to keep my participation to a minimum, though.  Really.  I mean it.

And now, after talking my head off at that meeting, I have no more words.  I’m going to devote my brainpower to my book.  Book club is next Tuesday, so I need to get cracking.

Challenge

I went to the library today, and now I have six books to read in three weeks.  Can I do it?

Don’t be ridiculous.  Of course I can do it.  Have you met me?  I can do that with both hands tied behind my back.

I did it!

I finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry this morning, and I am ready to go to my new book club tomorrow evening.  It was a nice book, sweet, about nice people and a bookshop.  What’s not to like?  After I finished that, I finished Abaddon’s Gate (the book I kept putting aside, through no fault of its own – it was very good), and then I started Court of Fives.  I did all of that before noon today (while hanging out at a coffee shop I can walk to from the house), and then I went to the grocery store, read a bit more at home, ran outside for the first time in 5 weeks, and now I’m making a sweet potato pie to take to Wendy (riding instructor) like I promised I would back at the holiday party.

It has been a very productive day off.

Read like the wind

I saw a flyer today for a book club called Eugene Book Talk that meets once a month.  The flyer was old (the books were for October and November), but I’ve read one of them (The Snow Child) and liked it, so that’s a good sign.  On impulse, I emailed them right then and there, and the person running the account (no name except for the name of the book club) responded right away. S/He said they’re still active, and since they couldn’t meet in December, they’re meeting this Tuesday to discuss The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

I looked it up, downloaded the sample, enjoyed the first couple of pages, and now I have a mission.  I put aside the book I’m in the middle of (again – I put it aside for Temeraire book 8 when the library e-book became available), and now I have 49.5 hours (from right now) to read the whole thing.

It’s a good thing I don’t have to work tomorrow.  If it’s interesting enough, I think I’ll make it.  THEN we’ll see how I feel about joining a book club again.

Faulty memory

John and I started watching The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime) a few days ago.  We got hooked fast, and we basically binged it all weekend.  We started Season 2 today.

The thing is, I know I read the book, and I know I didn’t particularly like it (I’ve felt that way about every Philip K. Dick book I’ve read), but I don’t remember enough about the plot to have any idea just how much the TV show differs from the book.  I imagine it’s quite a bit different, but in what ways?  I have no idea.  And now that we’re hooked on the show, I don’t want to re-read the book (or even google a plot summary) because I want to avoid spoilers.

Maybe I do read too fast (as I have been accused).  Or maybe I just don’t remember details of books I don’t love.  Of course, since I’m so spoiler-conscious, maybe it’s just as well I don’t remember the book much.

Mixing genres

I finished a book on Sunday set in the early 1800s, and about halfway through a scene about Napoleon coming back from exile, I caught myself expecting a mention of the British Aerial Corps and how Temeraire and Capt. Laurence were going to swoop in and defeat him.  The novel I was reading does NOT have dragons, but dragons will be forever linked with Napoleon now.

Dragons make history fun.

In case there was any doubt about how I prefer to spend my time

End of the year musings?  Sure, let’s be like everyone else.

There are plenty of reasons to call 2016 the worst year in recent history (TRUMP and the untimely deaths of Bowie, Prince, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, George Michael, Anton Yelchin, and so on), but personally it wasn’t so bad.  It feels like forever ago, but we moved to OR in 2016, John got his rec pilot’s license, he’s in a band, I’m riding, Emily had a baby, Corey and Christine got engaged, and I got a new job (same company) that lowered my work stress by 50% at least.

I discovered Temeraire and Captain Laurence and time-traveling historians and the Others and a ton of other new books and series to love and…WOW.  Well, I have to declare 2016 a good year for me, despite the rest of the world, because I read nearly twice as many books this year as I did last year and four times as many as I read in 2013.  (There are advantages to keeping a book list.)  Yay for more reading time!

Reading bliss

I FINALLY bought a Kindle Paperwhite, and I got the BEST case for it, and I am VERY happy.  My poor Samsung tablet was dying and couldn’t make the long plane trips anymore, and every time I got unlucky and got a seat without an outlet (like on 7 out of the last 8 flights I’ve taken), it died on me midflight.  I was packing backup physical books in my carry-on to make sure I wouldn’t be left without reading material, and you know?  That stuff gets heavy.

Now I have a Paperwhite (so does John), and I’m a happy camper.

kindle

Winning the book lottery

I’ve been on a roll lately, book-wise.  I have liked every book I’ve read in the past three weeks (ever since giving up on The Lake House).  Some of that was planned: two of the seven books were sequels, so it was pretty much a given that I would like them.  One (Word Puppets) is a collection of short stories by an author I’ve heard a lot about but had never tried.  Her short stories were really good (yay!), so I’ll be reading more of her.  The next book (Serpentine) was recommended by a couple of the authors I follow on Twitter – young adult, fantasy/Chinese mythology – very good.  I found the other three just browsing in Powell’s.  It’s riskier than going on recommendations, but one of those turned out to be pretty good (The Girl With All The Gifts), and the other two are why I’m writing this post because they were SO FREAKIN’ GOOD.

Illuminae is told through documentation found by a researcher trying to piece together what actually happened out in space after a planet was attacked, so the format is all letters, emails, chats, transcripts of videos, interviews, etc.  It was funny and it totally captured my imagination.  I didn’t want to put it down, and when I had to, I was thinking about it.

Then I read His Majesty’s Dragon, and – THANK EVERYTHING – it is the first in a nine-book series.  It’s set in pseudo-1800s Britain, with the British Navy and a war with Napoleon and DRAGONS.  The dragons and their riders (!) make up the air force, basically, and it’s like a mash-up of the Patrick O’Brien novels and the Pern novels (!!), and it makes me very happy.  Like, the-world-is-a-better-place-with-these-books-in-it kind of happy.

I started the second book in the series last night.  I’m so happy.

I brought it on myself

As you know, I loved The Silvered, and I was worried about my next book because of it.  So either I was right to be worried about that, or I talked myself right into not enjoying my next TWO books.  First, I picked up The Scorch Trials, which is the sequel to The Maze Runner.  The first book was fine, but this one had no real plot, which drives me crazy.  I got about halfway, told John I was going to put it down, and then finished it two hours later.  It was a quick read, but not especially enjoyable.  I might watch the movies.

Then I picked up The Lake House.  I had my doubts before I started it because her other four books are all very similar.  The structure is basically identical, although the details are different.  I’ve enjoyed all four, to a certain extent, but when I picked up this fifth one, I felt tired.  Oh, look, there’s a mystery in the past.  Oh, look, there’s a person in the present having problems.  Oh, look, this person in the present is going to mixed up in figuring out what happened in the past and somehow solve that mystery AND their own problems.  I gave up on it pretty quickly.  I’m sorry, Kate Morton.  I thought The Secret Keeper was really good, and I’m happy the book club chose to read it while I was a member.  That’s as far as I can go.

Thankfully, it only took two books to get me out of that very unpleasant hole.  I started a collection of short stories by Mary Robinette Kowal, and those have been really good so far.

I’ve decided it was the books, not me.  I chose badly twice in a row.  It’s still my fault (I chose the books), but it’s less obnoxious than blaming it on my mood.

Some books should never end

I have already declared my love of Tanya Huff (space marines!) in this space, but I think I need to say it again.  I just finished a stand-alone fantasy novel that I really really really enjoyed.  Like, I didn’t want it to be over.  I want more of it.  I want it to be a series, Ms. Tanya Huff, please ma’am.  It reminded me of Sherwood Smith’s Inda books, a fantasy series (ahem) I also liked a ton.  The Inda books take place in a world I don’t want to leave when the books end.  The characters stay with me, and now I’m feeling the same way about The Silvered.  It’s about mages and a version of werewolves, and yes, Mom and Margaret have both just lost interest, but I couldn’t put it down even as I wished I could slow down and never finish it.

Now, sadly, it’s over (I stayed up late last night to get to the end), and I’m putting off starting another book because I’m not ready.  My next book is going to be a disappointment, through no fault of its own (I hope), and that’s not fair to it.

I can’t believe I actually want it to rain

I checked the weather on Friday and saw that Sunday was supposed to be a rainy day, so we arranged our weekend in such a way that we could take advantage and stay inside and cozy all day.  A rainy day, especially a rainy fall day after such a dry sunny summer, is the perfect justification to have pancakes for breakfast while watching lots of TV and then to curl up and read under a blanket for the rest of the day.  The pancakes and TV watching went as planned, and then it was time for the reading and blanketing.  It was still raining, so I headed for the papasan chair, but by the time I got there the rain had lessened. Like, it’s barely sprinkling and the sun is trying to peek out.  I need it to keep raining!  Yes, I like the sun, and yes, I’ll miss it terribly if it disappears for the next six months like I keep hearing it will, but when the sun is shining I feel compelled to go outside and enjoy it because it’s going to go away and that’s not how I was planning to spend my day.  If the sun is out, I have to go to the grocery store.  So please, sun, go back behind the clouds and let the rain come.  Just this once.

I’m going to regret that plea.

The right kind of Saturday

Rough outline of today:

  • Slept in all the way until 9!  Of course, it was 2am when we went to bed.
  • Rode our bikes about 4 miles to a good bagel place.
  • Spent 2-3 hours sitting outside said bagel place with bagels and coffee, reading our books.
  • Rode 4 miles back home.
  • John worked on fun computer things, and I ran (outside again!).
  • Heading out to drink and play video games at an arcade and local bars for Will’s birthday.

We’re walking over to meet everyone (it’s about a mile and a half away, and we don’t want to have to drive home), so we have to get moving, but I plan to have time to write tomorrow.  I hope everyone else’s Saturday has been as pleasant as ours!

Vacation reading plan

Yes, I have a vacation reading plan.  I finished my last library book Sunday night, so Monday I picked my tablet up again (Kindle app) for the first time in months.  I’ve got my tablet with me for most of my reading needs (plane, nighttime, plane again), and I picked up a couple of used paperbacks before we left as backups for poolside reading and in case my tablet’s battery dies on the plane (which is entirely possible – I will be looking for an actual Kindle soon).

This is all assuming I’ll be doing a lot of reading, which is actually less likely than normal.  Yes on the plane and in the airports during our multiple layovers, but will we spend much time at the pool when we have Universal and Disney to explore (and wedding stuff to do)?  Probably not. Will we be exhausted when we get back to hotel room at night?  Probably.  BUT.  I like to be prepared.  I can think of few things worse than having downtime and no book to read.  Hence the plan.