February Reading Update

Today is the last day of February. My plan was to have finished both of my February reading choices by now. I read Akata Witch first, because it was obviously going to be the easier and quicker of the two. It was good, and I was happy that I had chosen it.

Then I started reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and OMG, I have never felt so betrayed by book critics in my life. They raved over this book, saying that it was “revolutionary,” “spectacular,” and “gripping.” They put it on Top 100 lists. Oprah’s magazine even recommended it. I wish now that I had also read some of the everyday readers’ reviews before buying the book, because a lot of them used completely different words to describe it. They said it was full of violence, murder, and rape, and that it was “vulgar,” “vile,” and “horrifying.”

I’m siding with those everyday reviewers, and I think the critics ought to have given fair warning about the violence. I can tolerate a certain amount of violence in fiction, but Black Leopard, Red Wolf immediately started to bother me. Less than 20 pages in, and I was already disgusted. I’ve tried for a week or more to convince myself to pick it up again, but I don’t think I have the stomach for it. There are a lot of one- and two-star reviews suggesting that I shouldn’t try. The book isn’t going to change, and neither am I.

So, I am going to read a collection of Rita Dove poems as a substitute, once it arrives. In the meantime, I’m reading something completely different: Dog on It by Spencer Quinn. It’s a mystery told from the point of view of a dog. It’s not entirely nonviolent, but it’s endearingly stupid, just like the average dog. I love it so far.

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Invitation to War

The children nearly went to war this morning. Tensions were high. Insults and accusations were flying. What had them so riled up?

It was this:

Behold, the Cheese Poof of Power!

Yes, they were fighting over this lump of twisted orange pipe cleaners that they call the Cheese Poof of Power. The only power it has, if you ask me, is to piss people off. So I confiscated the thing. I put it in the Bucket of Bad, where they will never find it. I will probably forget that it is there until I open up the bucket again someday and say to myself, “What the heck is this and why is it in my bucket?” I probably should just throw it away, but I hate to throw other people’s things away, even little bits of junk that do nothing but cause fighting. I’m weird that way.

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Pandemic Positives

I wrote this post last year. It’s been sitting in my drafts folder, I guess because I was waiting for more positives to occur to me. I added a few today, so I’m calling it done, and here it is.

  • I don’t have to travel to the office for work, and my employer has made several improvements to the telecommuting system, so my job is even easier now.
  • My monthly credit card bill is lower even though I’ve been spending money somewhat frivolously.
  • I’ve written a lot of blog posts.
  • I exercise nearly every day.
  • I spend more time with the kids. I like when they join me for my daily walks.
  • Marshall, who normally isn’t a big fan of school, thrives in the distance learning model. It would not be Livia’s first choice, but she is also doing well. They both have more time to do the things they like because they are not stuck on the bus for nearly an hour every morning and afternoon.
  • I am acutely aware of my privilege and wealth. That’s not in all ways a positive thing. It often makes me feel bad. But I also feel grateful and motivated to make positive changes in my life.
  • Life is relatively peaceful when you’re not running around all the time for work, shopping, school, and extracurricular activities. This slower pace suits me.
  • I can sleep in more.
  • I’ve been able to postpone buying a new car.

Those are some of the positives. I’m not going to mention the negatives. We know those all too well.

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Taking Stock

To finish all of Barbara Michaels’s novels, I need read only 7 more:

  • The Master of Blacktower
  • The Dark on the Other Side*
  • The Walker in Shadows
  • The Wizard’s Daughter*
  • Someone in the House*
  • Be Buried in the Rain
  • Smoke and Mirrors

To finish all of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories featuring Hercule Poirot, I must read these:

  • The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (collection of short stories)
  • Appointment With Death
  • Dead Man’s Folly
  • Five Little Pigs
  • Mrs McGinty’s Dead
  • Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories (collection of short stories)
  • Submarine Plans (a short story)

To finish all of the Top 100 Children’s Books, I must read these:

  • Bridge to Terabithia*
  • Maniac Magee*
  • Harriet the Spy
  • Hatchet*
  • Winnie-the-Pooh*
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry*
  • Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret
  • When You Reach Me
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
  • Ramona the Pest
  • Bud, Not Buddy
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins
  • Wind in the Willows*
  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8
  • Number the Stars*
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
  • A Long Way from Chicago
  • Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher
  • Henry Huggins
  • Betsy-Tacy
  • My Side of the Mountain
  • Out of the Dust
  • Love That Dog
  • All-of-a-Kind-Family
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
  • The Thief
  • The Book of Three*
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall
  • Ramona and Her Father
  • The High King
  • Swallows and Amazons*
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
  • The Indian in the Cupboard

An asterisk means that I own the book, so there’s no excuse for not reading it. And because I own so many unread books, the rule is that I can’t buy or borrow any other book from a list until I’ve read the ones that have asterisks. So, no more Michaels purchases/borrowings until I’ve finished the three I own, and no more children’s book purchases/borrowings until I’ve read the asterisked titles from that list. And I’ll go one further and say no more Poirot purchases/borrowings until I’ve finished the Michaels list.

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Year of Reading: 2020

This week I am working on clearing out the draft folder of my blog. So, late though it is, here is a post I wrote about reading in 2020.

By the Numbers

  1. I read more books in 2020 (41) than I did in 2019 (33). Note: I had previously declared my reading total for 2020 to be 40, but as I was checking to see which Hercule Poirot novels I hadn’t yet read, I realized that I’d read one in 2020 that I hadn’t recorded on the list.
  2. I read no nonfiction in 2020, perhaps because circumstances made escapism seem a lot more important than education. I hope that won’t become the new norm.
  3. I gave A-level grades to roughly half of the books (you can read about my favorites from the year here). I’m not sure if all those high grades mean that I was lucky in my reading choices or that pandemic desperation made me more willing to be pleased. Maybe it was a bit of both.

Overall it was a pleasant reading year, but over the course of the year I threw away three books. Yes, I literally threw them in the trash! The first was a book that reeked so strongly of perfume that I couldn’t tolerate handling it. I had neither the heart to try to de-stink the toxic thing nor the willingness to foist it off on some other reader, so I threw it out. The second was an old paperback that fell apart as I was reading it (for the record, it was Ngaio Marsh’s Tied Up in Tinsel). Its pages were foxed and tanned, not good recycling material. The story itself was so annoying that I didn’t even finish it. Throwing it into the trash was the only satisfaction I got from it. And the third book had dead bugs and what looked like a tiny cocoon in it, so the trash was the only place for it. Such are the perils of buying used books.

I haven’t given up the practice, though. I developed a book-buying habit early in the year and never quite managed to quit it. At first, it was because we couldn’t get books from the library, which had locked down along with the rest of the state. But later, after the library reopened, I continued to buy a lot of books, perhaps because they were the only “people” I was allowed to bring into my home, and surrounding myself with them meant there would be no shortage of company when I needed it. I didn’t have enough room for them, it’s true, but I was glad (and still am) to have them.

Now it’s time to focus on reading in 2021. My goals for the year are broad. I’d like to read more nonfiction and more poetry. I’d like to read more books from outside my “reading bubble.” But mostly I’d just like to read more, and I wish everyone, myself included, an plentiful year of reading.

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Jam-Packed February

February, for such a short month, is a jam-packed one. It’s got two holidays, plus a week of school vacation, and it’s also Black History Month. The month flies by quickly, and sometimes it seems like everything is happening at the same time, and sometimes it is! Valentine’s Day is on Sunday, and it is also my dearest friend’s birthday. Presidents’ Day is on Monday, and it’s also the first day of the aforementioned week of school vacation.

As for the Black History aspect of the month, like last year, my intention is to actively celebrate by reading fiction written by black authors. Obviously, all months are good months for reading books by black authors, but if your reading isn’t as diverse as it should be, February is a convenient reminder to do something about that. So here are two books that I have chosen to read this month:

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, a Jamaican author who lives and teaches in the U.S., and Akata Witch by Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor. I started reading Akata Witch earlier this week, and so far it is very good.
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Ready Player Two

I finished reading Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline on Wednesday. The best things about the book are . . .

  1. It continues the story of the characters from Ready Player One, which is nice for anyone with an interest in reading about what happens to Wade Watts and his friends after winning Halliday’s prize.
  2. It has a happy, at least on the surface, ending that is a real ending and not merely the lead-in to another sequel.
  3. This quote:

Kira always said that life is like an extremely difficult, horribly unbalanced videogame. . . . Your body is your avatar, and you spawn in a random geographic location, at a random moment in human history, surrounded by a random group of people, and then you have to try to survive for as long as you can. . . . Some people play the game for a hundred years without ever figuring out that it’s a game, or that there is a way to win it. To win the videogame of life you just have to try to make the experience of being forced to play it as pleasant as possible, for yourself, and for all the other players you encounter in your travels. Kira says that if everyone played the game to win, it’d be a lot more fun for everyone.

The worst things about it are, sadly, just about everything else. The impression the book gives is that the author was encouraged to repeat the formula from the first book and to do it fast, fast, fast. And it seems as if he tried to recreate the magic from the first book while also correcting some of the flaws, but without really understanding which was which. The result is a tedious read that manages to spoil even some of the magic from the first book. If you want to read more about it, I recommend this review, which explains some aspects of it much better than I could, from Slate.com: “From the perspective of anyone but Wade, Ready Player Two is a horror story that thinks it is a fantasy, narrated by a monster who thinks he is the hero.”

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It’s the Small Things

Crazy but true, I have a subscription to The New Yorker. Normally I couldn’t (or wouldn’t try to) afford it. But last year they offered me a subscription at a no-brainer price, and I took it, with the assumption that the cartoons alone would make it worth the money.

The cartoons do indeed make it worth the money. But what, you might ask, is the next best thing about the magazine? The stories and poems are good, it’s true. The online crosswords are, too. And yet, what I really love are the diaereses.

Yes, it’s those double-dots that have grabbed my attention and won my affection. You can go months, years even, without seeing a single diaeresis, but they’re everywhere in The New Yorker. Coördinator. Anaïs. Reënactment. Oh, glory! My version of WordPress didn’t even offer a way (that I could find) to create a diaeresis symbol, so I had to add a plug-in for it. And now that I’ve done that, I’m just sÔ hÃppy thÆt Î waŋt tŏ shouŦ, “Ĩ ❤ sⱣecial €haracters! DouɃle-dotś foreëver!”

It’s the small things that give life its zest.

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From the Brain of Twain

Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.

Mark Twain
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Marshall came into my office today while I was working. I was formatting some text, and I showed him how it was done. He asked me if I was excited to be creating content that other people enjoy and to be making money for myself and for others.

Wow. What a positive perspective! I don’t often think of my work that way, but I ought to, because it seems so much better from that point of view.

Sometimes that boy displays remarkable wisdom for his age. Then he goes back to playing video games like a normal kid his age, and thank goodness for that. I wouldn’t want him out-wising me all the time! 😉

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