Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bluebeard (Johnson)

Bluebeard -- And Other Folklore Tales, by Clifton Johnson, 1920

I don't know how long ago I downloaded the free ebook of Bluebeard. I'm not even sure why I did. I probably was looking at the best-selling (or most-downloaded) free classics on Amazon, and it was probably there. I hadn't read it before, so why not.

This was a short, in-between other books, book to read when I didn't have something else available -- or when I was going to sleep and I had the light turned off already. (It disturbs the wife.)

The book is short (Amazon says 52 pages) and I probably could've read it in one sitting. However, the nature of the book and the times when I was reading it caused me to nod off more than once. It is a collection of fairy tales/folk tales from around the world. They might have been children's stories once upon a time, but with all the monsters and mayhem in them, I wouldn't want to read one to any child right before bed. Not unless I wanted them crawling into bed with me in the middle of the night -- or screaming for me to come to them.

The odd thing is that the book is divided up into 19 chapters, but there aren't 19 stories. For example, the story of Bluebeard is two chapters long, and then without any segue or transition, we're into the Goblin in the Bottle, which is a few chapters itself. That's an odd way to compile a book.

The stories seem a little out of time, given that they were written down in this form nearly 100 years ago. But it's a little piece of history.

I enjoyed it.

As for any 2016 GOALS: it is over 90 years old, but not 100. It is a collection of short stories. It was a short read (well under 100 pages). I check the lists later.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Reading Goals and Challenges for 2016?

I generally don't like setting reading goals. I always have some in mind, but they always seem to get away from me -- especially when social media and the rest of the Internet are around. (And their great ancestor: the TV set.)

One of the problems is that Goals are generally boring and somewhat non-specific. Read 10, 20, 30 books. Okay, what kind of books? How big? In 5th Grade, I got tired of not having a star next to my mind, so once I finished the 100-page biography I took out of the library, I started reading the chapter books in the back of the classroom, and other things that were probably below my reading level (unlike the biography). I even read a couple of the books more than once because I knew I could reread them in one day. I got a lot of stars, enough to rival the leaders of the class. But I didn't push myself, read anything challenging. (On the other hand, I won't deny that I read stuff that was fun, which is important, too.)

Getting to the point, if I decided I'm reading, say, 24 books this year, there will be a good chance that many of them will be under 200 pages. There's a good quantity of books from only 20-30 years ago that have a decent quality to them that fit into that range. I could through in some free ebooks with low word counts, both of the classic and the only-read-it-because-it-was-free variety.

That's not what I want. And I probably wouldn't try it. Instead, I'd just skip the goal altogether.

But I found a few challenges on line, varying in length. Obviously, the longer one has the same problems as the 24-book goals: there are too many, unless shoot for two checks with one book. A possibility, of course.

So Challenge 1 goes something like this:

  • a book published this year
  • a book you can finish in a day
  • a book you've been meaning to read
  • a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller
  • a book you should have read in school
  • a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF
  • a book published before you were born
  • a book that was banned at some point
  • a book you previously abandoned
  • a book you own but have never read
  • a book that intimidates you
  • a book that you've already read at least once

(I tracked it back to here.)

This one is definitely in the realm of possibility. Twelve books, if I don't double up. For instance, I have many books that I own and have never read AND have been meaning to read. The odd one is rereading a book -- I might be this if another Song of Ice and Fire book (a.k.a. Game of Thrones) comes out, but with so many books to read, re-reading seems silly, unless it's something that I read in high school or college and I want to read again when I might enjoy it more.

Also, anything that I can read in a day, I don't really considering reading a book, but I've posted them in my blog, so I guess I should include them.

The second challenge:

  • a book set in your home state/region
  • a book with your favorite color cover
  • a book recommended by a librarian
  • a book of poetry
  • a book with a main character who has an occupation similar to your own
  • a book that will become a movie this year (watch the movie after and compare)
  • a book published the year you were born
  • a book featuring a protagonist with a lifestyle different from yours (religion, sexuality, education, occupation, politics)
  • a National Book Award winner from years past
  • a book over 500 pages
  • a book under 200 pages
  • a graphic novel
  • books set on each continent
  • a book recommended by someone 30 years older or younger than you
  • a banned book
  • a book you were supposed to read in school but didn't
  • a book by a female author with a female protagonist
  • a book translated from a different language
  • a nonfiction book about science
  • a collection of essays
  • a book by a person of color
  • a famous author's lesser known work
  • a collection of short stories
  • a science fiction book
  • a self-improvement book

(This is the BetterWorldBooks 2016 Challenge).

As you can see, there's some overlap between the two challenges. Some of these are trivial. Color of the cover? Depends on the printing. And if it's an ebook, I may never see the cover. There are a lot of old books under 200 pages, so that's good. I can't say that I've read a lot of movie books recently and I don't even know at the moment what is being made into movies. Female author & protagonists? Kinsey Milhone or that vampire series -- done. Science fiction? Duh.

A little sneaky with "books set on each continent" -- that's seven books! Yes, Antarctica counts. There are books set there. Unless I choose Westeros and Essos.

But it's possible.

I found two more. One is an image that's hard to read, so I'm not retyping it. Some overlap, but it includes read a biography, not a memoir or autobiography, read the first in a series by a person of color (I don't always know that the author of the series is black or Asian or whatever), books in the Middle East, Southeast Asia or historical. A non-superhero comic from the last three years? What's the point of that? It goes on ... I won't.

The last one is for the overachievers, or the Pick-a-Few-Skip-a-Few Crowd. Forty books in all. Not going to happen, unless half of them are pamphlets or matchbook covers.

  • a book based on a fairy tale
  • a National Book Award winner
  • a YA bestseller
  • a book you haven't read since high school
  • a book set in your home state
  • a book translated into English
  • a romance set in the future
  • a book set in Europe
  • a book that's under 150 pages
  • a New York Times bestseller
  • a book that's becoming a movie this year
  • a self-improvement book
  • a book you can finish in a day
  • a book written by a celebrity
  • a political memoir
  • a book at least 100 years older than you
  • a book that's more than 600 pages
  • a book from Oprah's Book Club
  • a science-fiction novel
  • a book recommended by a family member
  • a graphic novel
  • a book that is published in 2016
  • a book with a protagonist who has your occupation
  • a book that takes place during Summer
  • a book and its prequel
  • a murder mystery
  • a book written by a comedian
  • a dystopian novel
  • a book with a blue cover
  • a book of poetry
  • the first book you see in a bookstore
  • a classic from the 20th century
  • an autobiography
  • a book about a road trip
  • a book about a culture you're unfamiliar with
  • a satirical book
  • a book that takes place on an island
  • a book that's guaranteed to bring you joy
This was the reading challenge.

And there you have it, lots of choices and checklists. Some worth the challenge, some silly and frivolous. And a few that seem impossible: "guaranteed to bring you joy"? For that matter, the "first book I see in a bookstore"? Odds are I'm not buying the first thing I see.

On the other hand, the book I'm currently reading was on the Remainder rack in the vestibule as I entered the store -- but I can't swear it was the first one I saw.

Monday, January 4, 2016

What Else Have I Been Reading Besides Books?

Rounding out the things I've read recently:

When I was in the pool, I generally had an old magazine, such as Analog or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which I was might be momentarily upset, but not devastated, by its loss should it slip into the water.

And one point I had, again, picked up the Stars anthology, which contained stories by science fiction authors based on the songs of Janis Ian (At Seventeen). The few I read were a mixed bag. The book was won, not bought, so I can't say that it's something I might've chosen to begin with, but with the line-up, I know why I held onto it. I'm not sure where I put the book, so I didn't get to finish it.

I've also been raiding the library for copies of Phil & Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius series, to find out what all the hubbub was about. So far I've found and read

  • Volume 4: Agatha Heterodyne and the Circus Of Dreams (128 pp)
  • Volume 5: Agatha Heterodyne and the Clockwork Princess (112 pp)
  • Volume 6: Agatha Heterodyne and the Golden Trilobite (150 pp)

The library has a problem with people defacing these. In one book, the splash page was torn out and a character's face was cut out of another page.

Volume 4 was the earliest that I could find (other than looking and reading online), so I started there. Thrown into the middle of things, as it were, but I figured out the storyline as best as I could.

It's an interesting Steampunk tale of Sparks and is vividly illustrated. My only problem with the artwork is that the protagonist, Agatha Heterodyne, seems to go through extreme mood swings from one panel to the next. Indeed, several characters seem to encounter this. Now, a lot is going on very quickly, but sometimes it's abrupt. When I first started reading, I wasn't always sure it was the same character because someone went from, say, devious to innocent, or vice-versa, in the space of someone's word balloon.

I've enjoyed the series and haven't minded people watching me reading it on the subway. In fact, I was reading it at 2 am on a Sunday morning when two young twenty-somethings sat down next to me and started a conversation -- not even about the comic. They were new to Brooklyn, and forgot how to get home. Would've been helpful had they been on the correct train.

Speaking of trains, I'm currently reading a book about great train robberies in history. Hopefully, that will be up on the blog in short order.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Great and Terrible Beauty (Bray)

A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray, 2003

This book came to me via a book raffle at Lunacon, a general science-fiction convention based, for the most part, in Rye Brook, NY. It's the longest running NYC-area con. The actual winner of this lot had already won a pile of books, so when she walked up, she grabbed a pile and came back and gave them to me. Glancing at the titles, she was more the target demographic than I was.

Anyway, after a year or so of sitting on my shelf, I started going through the pile of books. (Another book in that pile was How to Be a Zombie, which I read earlier in the year.) Reading the description of this and another book, I was afraid that I had a bunch of Teenage Paranormal Romances, a genre that didn't exist all that long ago and now has an entire section in the last remaining Barnes & Nobles locations I visit.

I didn't have to worry.

A Great and Terrible Beauty does have some romance, but it isn't the paranormal kind. And it has its own paranormal/fantasy realm, which can be entered from the Victorian era. Other than that, I don't think it fits the genre much.

If anything, my first thoughts were of A Little Princess, the remake of the Shirley Temple movie, which started in India before moving to a girls academy, with its supernatural elements. Those thoughts were quickly dispelled thankfully.

Normally, at this point, I'd make references to the characters because that was the main purpose of this blog initially: to remind myself about the books, not to review them. However, I read this a few months back and much of it has left my mind. Basically, teen Gemma Doyle, after her mother's murder in India, gets shipped off to Spence Academy in London. She's followed there to make sure she doesn't get involved with what she eventually gets involved with -- magic, the other realm. But are these warnings for her safety or to prevent her from achieving what she's supposed to?

Along the way, she has to deal with the mean clique of popular girls -- or is it the popular clique of mean girls -- and their hangers-on. Before you know it, Gemma has worked her way into their graces and brought along her friend and roommate Ann, completing a foursome with Felicity (the leader) and Pippa.

We learn a little more about their families and why they are how they are, and learn how they plan to cope with their existence being groomed to marry rich, old men (possibly to settle debts) or if they're destined to be spinsters, maids or something trivial and menial.

I enjoyed the book. I can't say that I'm going to run out and look for the sequels, nor is it necessary to do so. Whatever nits I could pick, I forgot about months ago. I think I had one about Gemma's brother showing up at the school in the middle of the book when I didn't recall a mention prior to that. Then I thought Bray would set up a romance between the brother and one of the girls, but he sort of faded back into the background after a scene involving Gemma's family. Again, minor -- I've forgotten the details.

Fun read to pass the time on the train. And despite the cover, I didn't get funny looks from anyone for reading it. Well, no more than the usual funny looks you get on a NYC subway.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Cain)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, 2012

This is a book that was given to me by my wife. She told me, "Read this." As that is not something that happens often -- if ever -- I took it and put it on the side to read "next". (I believe the idiom "-ish" might be appropriate here.) She might hand me something that she thinks I might be interested in, but never tells me to read anything in particular.

A couple days after I started it, she let me know it was a library book and asked if I'd finished yet. Whoops. Hadn't occurred to me. However, by that point, I was hooked enough that I reserved electronic copies at both the Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries. I appreciate the NYPL's opinion of my reading ability, but it turned out that this volume was still in their 3-day loan category. Seriously?

So this book has the distinction of my reading it in both paperback form and electronically, on loan from two separate libraries. Yes, I found it that important to finish it.

About the book itself:

Cain talks about "introversion" and "extraversion" (iirc, it's been a while since I read it). She states that the terms she uses aren't the most accurate, but they are the most commonly used (or most popular among the masses, as it were) that she uses them.

I read it with interest because there were plenty of times I identified myself, on both sides of the equation. There have been times in the past that I have referred to myself as an "extroverted introvert". Sure, you can't shut me up once you get to know me -- ah! but getting to know me. Likewise, I have difficulty breaking into a conversation among a group of people. I find myself hanging on the periphery, waiting to be invited in, fearful to invite myself. I don't know how you would categorize this, but I've missed out on contributing to many conversations (and a few parties) because of it. And in many cases, I'd likely have been welcome if I'd either barged or stumbled right in.

On the other hand, her basic definition of introverts, or the basic characteristics of introverts, didn't really describe me all that much. Somewhat, sure, but maybe I'm not as introverted as I thought. Or maybe I am whatever, and I just don't know the word for whatever.

In any case, the book was worth tracking down, and I would recommend it if not to understand yourself a little better than to understand those around you and the challenges that they faced being an introvert in an overly extroverted world.

Some people can function together out in the open, but if they really want to get their work done, they need their Quiet places.