2012 review in books (stats and favorites)

I’m incredibly late on this post (you can find the first part here), but better late than never I figure. First, here’s a breakdown of the goals I set for the year as well as some information on how I did.

books: 52
pages: 20,000

books: 52 (100% to goal)
pages: 20,595 (103% to goal)
on average, I finished a book every 7.0 days
on average, each book had 396.1 pages
this means I read just over 56 pages per day, on average
24/52 books were by women, 15/32 authors were female
24/52 books were new books (yikes!)

TOP FIVE FAVORITE (NEW) BOOKS (in no particular order)
Ayiti, by Roxane Gay
This Is Not Your City, by Caitlin Horrocks
Mother and Child, by Carole Maso
The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Cataclysm Baby, by Matt Bell

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

FIVE MOST DISAPPOINTING BOOKS (not necessarily ones I disliked, just ones I expected more from)
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
Gourmet Rhapsody, by Muriel Barbery
Out of Sight, Out of Time, by Ally Carter
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

literary fiction: Mother and Child, by Carole Maso
poetry: The Folding Star and Other Poems, by Jacek Gutorow
story collection: This Is Not Your City, by Caitlin Horrocks
nonfiction: The Girl Who Was on Fire, edited by Leah Wilson
adult fantasy: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson Continue reading “2012 review in books (stats and favorites)” »

My favorite female characters

Katniss Everdeen

Katniss is focused and unapologetic.

Katniss Everdeen, from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Series
I know a lot of people don’t like Katniss. They say she’s whiny, or that she’s deliberately toying with Peeta and Gale. I see something different. To me, Katniss is a survivor. At times she is emotionally tough and at others emotionally vulnerable. She cares about her family more than anything in the world—more, even, than herself. It takes her three books to make up her mind about which man to be with because she constantly has to deal with other, more important things. She sees the pain she is causing the two men and does her best to do right by them, but also by herself. She’s a fighter but she does not truly relish the fight.

Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
Here is another character who isn’t afraid of who she is. She follows her desires and, on the whole, she has a well-tuned moral compass that doesn’t lead her astray. She is genuinely kind. She feels, but she doesn’t let those feelings run her life. She is innocent yet strangely astute, and the way the older Scout looks back on her childhood makes it certain that she grew into a strong and smart woman.

Elsha, from Sherryl Jordan’s Winter of Fire
Elsha, who lives in a world heavily divided by class and gender, wants equality and respect. She is outspoken even when her words will ultimately bring her pain. But more, she backs her words up with actions, often risking her life and liberty. And through this all, she rarely judges. She tries to befriend those who insult her; she tries for reasoned argument with those who disagree with her. She feels hurt but does not pity herself.

Cammie Morgan, from Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series
Cammie is smart and talented but still insecure—and unlike many YA books where insecurity is the humanizing characteristic in an otherwise unlikeable character, Cammie truly shines. She doesn’t know yet what she wants from life, and while she is genuinely afraid of what might be, she never lets fear or unease stop her. She is part of a sisterhood, and she will risk all to protect that sisterhood. Continue reading “My favorite female characters” »

The fight of the genres


My sister and Ally Carter. I’m invisibly standing on the other side.

On Friday, I went to Ally Carter’s book signing with my sister. During the Q&A session someone asked her why it is that books for young adults are better than books for adults. “I pick up my daughter’s books,” she said, “and they’re more interesting than my own.”

Now, a few minutes before this question, someone had asked what advice Carter had for people who wanted to be writers, and her answer agreed 100% with mine, and was, I admit, fairly predictable to a writer: Read lots and write lots. (I think sometimes people think there’s some secret, since they keep asking, but really it comes down to this.)

Anyway, after hearing this answer, I was sort of nodding along, and I’ll admit to feeling a bit superior that we had this writing thing, at least, in common. But Carter’s answer to the question about YA vs. adult literature took me completely by surprise. Namely, she agreed.

I’m used to having people make fun of me, a writer of “serious” adult fiction, when I confess that I read—and enjoy—a lot of young adult writing, including, in this case, Carter’s Gallagher Girls series (in a nut shell: a series about an all-girls spy school). I’ve defended YA and other genre literature, and worked hard to stop referring to anything I enjoy as a “guilty pleasure,” as if it somehow means less. I was not, however, prepared to hear that tossed at literary fiction by the genres, however (and please note, I’m using these terms because they’re common, not because I necessarily agree with them).

My immediate thought was that, if there are people who think YA is far superior to adult fiction, they aren’t reading the right books. If the comparison is 50 Shades of Grey, okay, sure, we can talk about one being better written (and I think few people would argue), but to toss a whole genre aside?

I had to leave the signing shortly after this question since I had a soccer game to get to, and I left feeling frustrated. There’s so much competition between the genres, so much nastiness and name calling, and while Carter was very polite in her response, I never expected an author to take on a genre not her own in such a public place. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not angry, just a bit sad. And Ally Carter was funny and outgoing and she clearly loves her job and her fans. Still, I wanted to respond.

So here, for Ally Carter and the woman at the bookstore, are five books of grownup fiction (and I limited myself to novels written within the past five years) that I think absolutely rock:

2012 year in reveiw in books (the books)

January saw the beginning of my second semester as a professor at Michigan State, except this time, instead of only teaching first-year writing, I also got to teach an editing and publishing class in professional writing. However, the real news this month was that I had my first ever short story accepted for publication. When I found out, I called my dad at work and left a message with the front office asking him to call me back, and when he did, I was near tears on the phone. He said later his first thought was that something horrible had happened, so when I told him I was going to be published, his reaction was, “Oh, is that all?”

Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line, by Ben Hamper
This was a book I meant to finish before the end of 2011 (I was up until midnight reading it), but I just ran out of time. I think, however, that I would have been able to move through it more quickly had I enjoyed it more. It’s a good book. I can recognize that. And it was really interesting to see the sort of invisible work that goes into our fancy (and not so fancy) cars. Still, this book wasn’t quite my style.

The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Fisher Saller
This was a book I assigned in my editing and publishing class. Usually class books don’t make my list because I don’t make the students read the whole thing, and so I end up only skimming sections I know they’re going to skip. This book I did end up giving to my students in full, however, and I would have read the entire thing even if I hadn’t. The book is written by the same woman who writes the FAQ page on the Chicago Manual of Style’s website, and it’s just as awesomely hilarious. My one complaint is that I prefer the spelling copyeditor to copy editor.

The Way of KingsThe Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
I think I started this book back over the summer, but the delay in my finishing it really had very little to do with the story itself. Yes, I did think some parts could have been put into summary, or could have moved at a faster pace, but I felt connected to the characters, and I really found myself cheering for them. I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, which is rumored to be coming out later this year.

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins
This is the first book in Suzanne Collins’ middle grade series, and while I enjoyed it, I found it too predictable. It’s really quite good for its audience, but it’s probably not a series I’ll return to unless I’m one day reading it to a child. Continue reading “2012 year in reveiw in books (the books)” »

2011 year in review in books (part III)

Reads parts I and II.


August was a bit of a whirlwind for me. I went through two weeks of training at MSU and spent my time at the State trying to finish up a massive copyright project, as well as learning how to use the new item bank system (which, in my opinion, will help quantity of test questions rather than quality, but I digress). Missy moved out this month, and I helped with that. My mom was just getting worse with her back, so at the end of the month it was pretty much just me and my dad handling anything involving lifting or pulling. As a final aside-type note, I think it was right at the beginning of this month when I saw Harry Potter in the theaters for the last time, when my sister and I went back for our final repeat showing.

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
This was another reread for me, and while I remembered some very big general things about how the series ended, it was exciting to watch it all unfold again. I was shocked by how little time the two main characters (Vin and Elend, to me) spent together in this book, and this made me rather sad. Still, this books deviates from so many archetypes in the fantasy genre, and it was great to re-experience that.

The Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan
Considering that I’m someone who tends to enjoy retellings and reimaginings (and I love work that incorporates myth), I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this series, but I was excited to start this second book in the Percy Jackson series. I especially liked how the book worked more with Annabeth’s character.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
I really enjoyed this book, but I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say I loved it. I struggled with the large cast of characters at times, because I felt that the limited page space each got wasn’t enough to fully develop them in my mind. That said, this was still a very good book, and I would recommend it, especially if you’re interested in ways books break (or attempt to break) out of the traditional bonds holding them. Continue reading “2011 year in review in books (part III)” »

2011: Year in review in books (part II)

Read part I here.


April was not a good month, but I’ll start with the good things. I started my new position with the State, and I took a trip to Florida to visit my cousin, Erin. We spent a few days at Disney World, and we went to the beach and the zoo. But my last full day there, I got a phone call from my parents telling me that my dog, Jack, had died. My parents found him dead in his bed in the morning. Then, at the end of the month, my dad needed surgery for cancer that had been diagnosed earlier in the year. The bright light at the end of the tunnel, however, was that we brought home a new dog, Molly. My dad wasn’t ready for a new dog, but we asked him while he was…um…slightly out of it in the hospital. So that’s how we got Molly.

Suicide, by Edouard Levé
I read a review copy of this book, and you can find my review online here, so I’ll be succinct. Loved the book. Also, this was another book I read in translation this year (from the original French).

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, by Ally Carter
This is the second book in the Gallagher Girls series, and I brought it with me to Florida as my fun read. This book did suffer from a bit of the sophomore book syndrome (did I just coin a new phrase?), but it was still fun and exciting, and I liked getting to know Cammie and her friends even better.

My Happy Life, by Lydia Millet
I’d read one of Millet’s short story collections in 2010 and really enjoyed it, and so this was the second book I picked up by her. We’d run an interview with her in Willow Springs, and I was really intrigued by the premise behind this book: that of a character who is happy despite all the bad (horrible) things that have happened to her. It’s a quick read, but very captivating, even when you’re unsure whether you really should be enjoying it, because some really awful things happen to the narrator. I’m probably not making a good sell here, but this was yet another fantastic book I read this year. Continue reading “2011: Year in review in books (part II)” »

2011: A year in review in books (part I)

For 2011—a year without school for the first time in twenty-one years—I bumped my goal back up to 52 books and 20,000 pages. I hit the first goal (57 books), but I missed my page goal by quite a bit, for the first time in years (only hit 18,932). This will probably take a series of posts, but I’ll go month by month and then finish up with a general overview of the year. So. Here we go.


January found me still working at the State of Michigan, though I mostly kept to myself, especially after they forgot to invite me to the Christmas party (then I got scolded for not making an appearance) and then left me out of the secret santa exchange. This is also the month that I really started reaffirming my commitment to writing. I took some time off after grad school (my advisor wasn’t wrong about there being burnout after twenty-one years of school), but the new year felt like a good time to get back into it, and so I started 100 Days of Writing—a project where I tried to write 100 out of 110 days. The month was good for writing, but even better for reading. I got through nine books.

CathedralCathedral, by Raymond Carver
Carver is hit or miss with me, but this book was mostly miss. The only story I remember from it now, a year later, is the title story, and I’d read that one before. There’s something really beautiful about this idea of these two men sitting there and drawing, but the execution falls flat for me. And now, I suppose the hate mail begins for me.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
This was a reread and, to be honest, I only waited a few hours after the ball dropped to restart it. Reading the book in a new year meant I could count it again, and even though I’d only first read it three months before, I couldn’t wait to get back to it. And just like the first time I read it, I loved it. I’ll be reading the book again this year, too, though not until right before the movie comes out in March. Continue reading “2011: A year in review in books (part I)” »

10 things I would do with more hours in the day

I’m departing from the usual in this blog, and especially the tone of my most recent post (though perhaps recent isn’t the best word) to bring you something silly and fun. Silly and fun? you ask. Why yes, I am capable. I know it might be a surprise. So without further ado, here are ten things I would do if there were one, maybe two more hours in the day.

1. Exercise more: I’m trying to be more active, to do at least one physical thing each day. Mostly because I miss the way certain parts of my body used to look, no small bit because it’s rather embarrassing when I’m winded after two flights of stairs (and I NEVER take the elevator), but also because I spend way too much time sitting each day. With more time in each day I would go on more bike rides, go on more walks with my dogs, finally start an ab program that I stayed faithful to.

2. Learn more: It’s no secret right now that I’m learning French (I try to spend at least 15 minutes a day on it), but less well-known is the fact that I have a stack of old textbooks that I have every intention of reading. Sitting on my shelf right now I have books on chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, linguistics, feminist theory, and literature. And yeah, when I do find the time to pull one of those out, I do the exercises.

3. Bake more: I love to bake, especially bread. And not with a bread machine either. No, you’ve got to get your hands in there. It’s the physical connection, the smell—the absolutely yummy food you get to eat. I can’t even think of the last thing I baked, though. Maybe those ginger molasses cookies at Christmas?

4. Play more video games: I really try to make an effort to not spend too much time in front of the television—TV doesn’t interest me all that much unless it’s the Food Network—but I do have a soft spot for certain video games. But right now I do limit my time rather severely. Plus—and this has nothing to do with how much time there is or isn’t in the day—my Xbox is broken right now.

5. Sleep more: I like to sleep, I do. But I also am not a fan of sleeping in until 11. I like to be up by 9:30 at the latest, but when I stay up reading until 4 a.m. some nights, I end up really tired the next day. I really do need my full eight hours.

6. Be more social: Sometimes I think my friends must think I don’t want to hang out with them, because I’m very good at being busy when they call. With more time I could better show them that, yes, I care.

7. Straighten my hair more: Okay, I know this one sounds silly, but I stopped straightening my hair regularly about the time I started graduate school. There were just other things that needed to be done—it felt silly to spend half an hour with a straightening iron in front of the bathroom mirror. But—call me vain—I really do love having straight hair.

8. Spend more time on forgotten or new hobbies: I’m really, really good at filling my time. And there are so many things in life I wish I could try, could be good at. Take my guitar playing. It was a hobby for a few years, but now I hardly ever touch it. And I’d really like to finish that one cross stitch piece I started four or so years ago. And I’d really like to learn more about history. And I wish I knew how to use Flash. I wish I could identify the birds that come to our bird feeder without looking in the book. There’s so much knowledge out there, and I really do want it pretty much all of it.

9. Read more: I have so many books that I want to read, and yet I don’t often seem to have the time to really dive in to books. Oh, I read pretty much daily, and I do spend some nights reading when I should be sleeping (see number 5), but I wish I had time enough that I am able to read faster than I buy books.

10. Write more: Too much lately this has been the first thing falling off my plate. I’ve got work, I want to write a book review, I try to stay networked, I’ve got errands to run, I’ve got to plan for that community ed class I want to teach in the fall… I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that. My family/friends want to spend time with me. The dog is lonely. I’ve got another darn migraine. And somehow, too much of my writing is being done in my head. Despite being number 10, this is the number one reason I’d like more time. Though I do worry that even with all the time in the world, I’d still find reasons (numbers 1-9 for starters) to put off writing.

But I’m working on it. I promise.

Taking my own advice

It’s halfway through April, and I’m doing dead awful when it comes to my yearly reading. In my first month of this new year, I doubled my goal. February was okay, but March was horrible. I don’t think I’ve finished a book in three weeks or so. I’m rather ashamed, truth be told. Especially since I wrote that post a while back about finding more time to read.

I’m working on a book review right now, which means I’m reading a bit slow (and trying not to distract myself with other books), not to mention all the insane drama that’s been going on in my life the last few weeks (dog almost died, two family members have had to go to the hospital, and I had to take my car in twice for repairs). But still, these are excuses, and I recognize that.

So. There are 18 days left in April. And I’m setting myself a goal of finishing 7 books in that time. I’m going to start reading more in those spare moments that crop up in my life rather than surfing the Internet, playing Dragon Age, and just generally stalling. But I’m writing this from Florida (got in this afternoon), which means I’m on vacation, which means I’ve got some spare time on my hands (especially the next two mornings since I’ll be hanging out at my cousin’s apartment while she works).

But you know what would really be good for me? If I turned off Food Network, grabbed a book out of my suitcase, and read awhile.

The case of the missing modern literature

While at work today, I had to look up the Common Core State Standards. For those that don’t know (I wouldn’t, if I didn’t have the job I do), they are pretty much what they sound like—common education standards designed to be used across the states (see the specific standards here). According to the website, the standards

define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs.

They are supposed to be a framework that teachers work within—flexible, and all that. But if you’re like me, you wonder if a national guidance standard doesn’t soon become, well, a requirement. It was this feeling that resulted in my complete and total dismay after seeing the list of exemplar English Language Arts texts (PDF).

I jumped immediately to page 101 in the PDF since I figured I’d be most familiar with the high school texts. And I was right, in a way. I’ve heard of almost everything on the list, because it’s all so predictable. Almost nothing published within the past 30 years, and I think I only counted 2 novels from the past 20 (The Book Thief and The Namesake). I asked one of my coworkers about it (she taught language arts not too many years gone) and she said it’s an example of the pendulum swinging the other way, that in the past fifteen or twenty years (I made that number up; she only said recently, but included the time of my high school education in “recent”) the push had been toward modern literature and that this had created a sort of backlash. People kept wondering why students (why their children) weren’t being exposed to the “classics.”

Now, I don’t know about my readers, but this surprised me. I can’t recall reading a single modern work during my K-12 education. The only thing I can really think of is when I read Homecoming (1981) in sixth grade, which would have been about 15 years after it was published. Other than that, it was classics all the way. Catch-22, Brave New World, 1984, Shakespeare, Their Eyes Were Watching God, A Doll’s House, The Awakening, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Lord of the Flies, Antigone, etc. As for poetry and short stories, I don’t think we read anything written after World War II, with most of the work pre-1900s. When I got to graduate school, I was shocked that so many of my peers were so familiar with modern writers, though that seems silly to me now.

My coworker tells me my school might have been an exception.

While advancing through my pre-college education, I had mostly good things to say about it. I enjoyed reading the classics, because I thought that was what book lovers were supposed to do (never mind that even I could tell that most of my enjoyment for these works was feigned, with a few exceptions, of course). When I got the AP English reading list, I set a goal to read through the whole of it (I never did get very far). But now I wonder why we don’t have a more balanced curriculum for our students, why we aren’t exposing them to writers with whom they can still interact: send letters to, have a book signed, eagerly await a new release. Surely there is value to be found in older work as well, but to ignore an entire generation of readers seems to me like we are failing our students, depriving them of the stories set in a world they can recognize, written in language they don’t have to translate. These are books their friends might pick up, their parents. Why should school literature feel like a genre of its own?