2016: Round-up Part 2

One of the bonuses of only working a 13-hour week is that you have a lot of time to cultivate a hobby. We say that about our copious spare time, “It’s a good year to pick up a hobby!” with a sort of nervous, giddy humor because at any moment we’re waiting for the Austrian government to realize it’s made a massive mistake in regards to the amount it pays us for how many hours we’re committed to the youths.

I swear we’re not running a con.

Here are books 26-50 of 2016.

 

26. Claimed (Evangeline Anderson): I wrote a blog post about this here. Another Alien Romance Kindle book that I read on my quest to try to find a book that would satisfy the dream of Alien/Human relationships that the game Mass Effect planted in me like a hungry tapeworm that’s sucking me of nutrients for as long as it goes unfed. Unfortunately, no aliens in alien romance books seem to look like aliens? Why is this? Did Bioware not tell the erotic fiction community of writers on Amazon that people don’t really seem to be at all disturbed by romances with aliens that look like bird dinosaurs?

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“all of our fans need to have a conversation with the lord” -Bioware, probably

 

27. I, Robot (Isaac Asimov): My first Asimov, my first steps into classic sci-fi. I plan on writing a longer post about this, but I’m really disappointed by how Asimov wrote the female protagonist of this book. Sure, the philosophy of A.I. in this book is fascinating, but women, especially women scientists, deserve better.

28. The Earl’s New Bride (Frances Fowlkes): Uh…it has a beautiful cover. I gave it 2 stars so probably skip it?

29. Darkfever (Karen Marie Moning): The Fever series is going straight on the top of my list of Problematic Faves. The problems are rampant (alpha male aggression being viewed as romantic and sexual assault as a plot device are a couple) so I would preface any recommendation for these books with that warning. With that out of the way though, this is an urban fantasy that is so engrossing it’s hard to think of anything else once you’ve started it because of the cliff hangers and the compelling devastation of the story. If you want a story about faeries where they are cruel, manipulative, and engaged in destructive conflict with each other, this might be the book for you. The five books of the series also have a satisfactory ending that winds up all the loose ends and answers all the questions that have been burning post the first book, which is a prime achievement for a series.

30. Bloodfever (Karen Marie Moning): I don’t think there’s been many series where I tore through all the books so quickly. Waiting for book 5 to come off of wait list at the library for a week and a half was so torturous I almost bought it…

31. Faefever (Karen Marie Moning): see Darkfever

32. Dreamfever (Karen Marie Moning): see Darkfever

33. Tithe (Holly Black): Reading Moning’s story about messed up faeries sent me back to reread my favorite YA story about disturbing faeries. Tithe is one of my favorite YA books—it’s mucky like a swamp at night with the magic of fireflies sprinkled about the dark trees. The book, with a deeply flawed cast, is damp, slimy, grimy, and dripping with 34magic.

34. Iron Kissed (Patricia Briggs): Every time I read one of these books I think I’m never coming back, but then I do.

35. Shadowfever (Karen Marie Moning): I didn’t perish from this wait, but I almost did.

36. Sphere (Michael Crichton): This book features important topics such as a man bemoaning the lack of coconut cake in his life. In all seriousness, I’m a fan of this book more than the movie even though they got Samuel L. Jackson in the cast. It treats the main female character better than the movie. Favorite idea out of this book: alien life might not be mortal and thus not understand the concept of morality as we do. So GOOD!

37. Love Letters to the Dead (Ava Dellaria): This book had no love letters to love of my life Friedrich Nietzsche, 0/10

38. A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah J. Maas): Since this is so popular on the internet and showered in praise already, I’ll hold back on spouting about it as well. Love it though!

39. Bone Crossed (Patricia Briggs): For real, I think this is the last Mercy Thompson book I read…

40. Beyond the Highland Mist (Karen Marie Moning): Hot advice for aspiring writers—go read some of the first books one of your favorite authors ever wrote and weep at how much they have improved. It’ll give you confidence! (This book was TERRIBLE but hey, Moning, you got better!)

41. Dog Songs (Mary Oliver): The fact that Oliver gathered an entire volume of poetry on her love of dogs shows how great of a human being she is and that you should obviously read this volume.

42. Dark Places (Gillian Flynn): My favorite Flynn book! I’ve read all of them so I can say that. I learned about the mania of Satanism that swept through psychology and how people treated children they thought were falling victim to these practices so the setting of Dark Places immediately delighted me. The wonderfully researched backdrop of these events fits so well with the plot. One of those books where all the characters are terrible 43people, which is Good™.

43. Seeing Stars (Simon Armitage): There’s a poem in this collection about sperm whales that haunts me.

44. Anti-Education: On the Future of Our Educational Institutions (Friedrich Nietzsche): If you’re interested at all in how education systems should work, read this book. Nietzsche warns against specialization because he fears the breakdown in communication between fields. Basically, Nietzsche is a pro-liberal arts education fellow.

45. To Tame a Highland Warrior (Karen Marie Moning): The writing will get there someday…

46. Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie): OHHHH BOY. Not to spoil anything, but this trilogy was on my top ten list of the year. It felt so liberating and exhilarating to read a book where gender as a concept was archaic and be faced with my own desire to know the genders of characters anyway. Add on top of that a story that involves an A.I. adapting to being an individual, a political struggle of an entity against itself, and an aristocratic nose 46that won’t quit, I’ll be hollering about this book until my death. It’s hard to succinctly summarize this trilogy but it made me love science-fiction passionately.

47. Soulless (Gail Carriger): I’m actually a little bitter about this book because it provided the perfect opportunity in the world-building to have an asexual main character and instead she just ups and marries a werewolf so like…what was the point, I ask you? Plus, it had that Regency inspired setting that I love so yeah, basically let down of the year probably.

48. Princess of the Midnight Ball (Jessica Day George): The prose of this book was in the style of a traditional fairy-tale, which didn’t really do it for me. But a decent read, if you’re into fairy-tale retellings.

49. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley): Check out why Bernard Marx is a fuckboy here. Utopia or Dystopia, you know? If you really think about it…

50. Sabriel (Garth Nix): Really solid fantasy read. I’m not sure what else to say about it? Nix is really good at world-building and I’m also glad that the romance in this took a definite back seat, allowing the female main character to have a purpose more than True Love™. Read if you love necromancy!

 

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2016: Round-up Part 1

Year round-ups are some of my favorite blog posts to write, not just for the obvious reasons (having an overview of my reading accomplishments, giving the books that deserve a shout out a shout out, reminiscing on new favorite books and authors) but also because I get to play the game of stretching my memory to try to remember anything about some of the bland books I read.

It’s the bland ones you have to watch out for. If a book is terrible, I tend to remember it because rage is great fuel for memory, but when something is as bland as the weird chickpea puff chip balls that my roommate accidently bought because she thought they were chickpeas, I’m hard pressed to remember anything. Even the main character’s name.

Those weird chickpea things are actually a great analogy, because even though they tasted like absolutely nothing, we kept eating them until they became stale after sitting on the table for roughly three weeks just like how I keep reading books and promptly forgetting them when they have nothing to offer me. Also, no, I don’t know what those chickpea things really were, Austria is a strange place.

One of my big goals for the year was reading non-fiction. I started at one a month but I loved it so much I ended up reading more than that. Didn’t see that one coming.

  1. The People Look like Flowers at Last (Charles Bukowski): My favorite story about this is that someone on my Facebook asked me when I posted the photo of the book whether this was the same guy who wrote Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’m just going to leave that there.
  2. Never Courted, Suddenly Wed (Christie Caldwell): See, two books in and we’re already at a book I remember close to nothing about. I could be completely wrong, but I think there’s a line in this book about gardening being an illicit activity that made me chuckle. Do I remember the MC’s name? Nope, but I gave it 3 stars so I’m assuming it was inoffensive. EDIT: Damn! I looked at my 2015 year in review and actually, the gardening line is from Caldwell’s other book, Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride, so I suggest you go read that one instead. (You don’t have to read very far, that line is maybe in the first chapter). EDIT p2: I found a document in my blog folder called “books 2016” and I opened it up to find the gem below. Unbelievable.

    Screenshot 2017-04-26 19.04.57

    some things never change

  3. Dead Until Dark (Charlaine Harris): Wow this books series is so poorly written. The prose is terrible. I’m not sure if it was from this one, but there’s an iconic line in this series that goes something like “That’s fascinating,’ Eric said, sounding fascinated.” Yikes. I’d say just go watch True Blood instead.
  4. The Play (Karina Halle): This modern romance features a lot of dogs and loving dogs, so I’d recommend it for that reason alone with the caveat that the romance was a little dicey/bordering on too aggressive for me at times. But…dogs…
  5. Guy in Real Life (Steve Brezenoff): This book had one of those endings where, while the rest of the book is somewhat believable, it detaches from reality. What the end being completely off the rails was aiming for, I have no clue, but it wasn’t well executed. I’ve said this before (and before and before) but why do books targeted at “geeks” tend to attack “geek” culture at the same time? It’s alienating to the audience that you pulled in by advertising it as a book about them. Reminded me of The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak in those ways.6
  6. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Richard Feynman): Growing up, this is probably one of the books I heard referenced the most in our household. The anecdote where Feynman talks about ferrying ants around on paper boats for an afternoon is top quality content.
  7. The DUFF (Kody Keplinger): I wrote a longer blog post about this here.
  8. Oedipus Rex (Sophocles): Why, you ask, am I reading this play, as I’ve surely read it multiple times throughout my education? Good question! Oedipus Rex would not have been on the top of my list of plays I enjoyed learning about (the line where he says “my daughters, no, my sisters!” is a good reason why) but seeing Antigone performed in Vienna was on my itinerary so I went back and read not only Rex but the two other plays that survived from that cycle. My conclusion was that it is a shame we don’t teach Oedipus at Colonus along with Rex because it addresses interesting philosophical questions that are raised in the first play. For example: is Oedipus responsible for his wrongs if he committed them in ignorance? Who has the right to judge him? And so on.
  9. Living Dead in Dallas (Charlaine Harris): My love of True Blood kept me trucking on when I should have pulled the emergency break and gone off to get a coffee instead because even greasy gas station coffee would be more pleasant than reading this book. (Harris has sold a lot of books, so I can say that, right? She’s not hurting. You do you, Harris. Thanks for True Blood).
  10. Vampire Academy (Richelle Mead): In what sounds like a fake story but is true, my psychology professor told me to read these books (she also told me to watch The Vampire Diaries. She used clips from that show to highlight verbal product placement “So I looked it up on Bing”). This series is way better than it has any right to be!!! It’s so entertaining! Dang it! I ended up buying all of these books, from used book stores, but still. I wanted it to be terrible so I could mock it as much as I did Harris’ books. If you couldn’t tell, I am deeply resentful that I enjoyed these.11
  11. Lingo (Gaston Dorren): If you like linguistics, you’ll like this. My favorite word that I learned from this book is vrtíčkar—“strictly speaking no more than a hobby gardener, but the word also suggests that the person is more interested in drinking beer with other vrtíčkars that in growing vegetables and flowers.” That’s such a good word! It throws shade and describes a type of behavior so well at the same time.
  12. The Final Empire (Brandon Sanderson): This book makes a lot of lists with titles like “best system of magic.” Magic in this book is all about using metal inside your body to various effects, and the world-building around that is really robust. But what Mistborn should be praised for more than the magic system is the way it subverts the Evil Ruler is Evil for Evil’s Sake trope, by creating an antagonist that is maybe the most interesting character in the book. Mistborn is sold as a book that imagines a world where the hero of prophecy failed but it goes more in depth than that might lead someone who has read a lot of cliché fantasy to read. That being said, I have a hard time recommending this book because I think it has some pacing problems in the middle—it moves sloooow.
  13. Frostbite (Richelle Mead): see Vampire Academy
  14. Oedipus at Colonus (Sophocles): see Oedipus Rex
  15. Juliet Immortal (Stacey Jay): Books by Stacey Jay are consistently off the rails bonkers. They’re wild and weird and confuse the heck out of me, but like spinning around on a spin chair when you’ve had a lot to drink, I kind of like it. Keep on making me stumble around, dizzy and befuddled, Jay, keep on. Recommended if you like Romeo and Juliet but not so much that an interpretation with the above-mentioned effect would make you feel like the source material is being violated.
  16. Someone Else’s Fairytale (E.M. Tippetts): Do you like the trope where the super famous actor/singer/celebrity falls in love with Average™ person? This book is for you! I mean that in all seriousness, it’s a very sweet story without any alpha male buffoonery and the main characters are endearing. I gave this little gem 4/5 stars because so few romance novels have men who aren’t POS and bought a copy on my Kindle in case I ever had a craving for a chocolate chip cookie story when life is grim.
  17. Antigone (Sophocles): Antigone is a feminist queen of classic literature and I want her to be recognized as such. The production I saw of the play was modern (and in German) with an Antigone that screamed about the patriarchy with such unbridled rage that I can only sit here and sigh, satisfied.14
  18. Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman): I wrote a longer post about this book here. Whitman’s poetry was the most unexpected read of 2016 for me because I went into the book expecting to hate it. I did, at times, hate Whitman, grass, boats, poetry, and how anyone let the man put out a 600 page volume of poetry. However, recent political events have made Whitman’s poetry all the more important to read because he has a vision of America that is so fervent and so good that it makes me hate the country less and hate where people have taken it (compared to where we could have taken it) more. Whitman will be one of the first authors I bring up in the future when it comes to authors that capture the American spirit. He really did, from sea to shining sea (and buff, handsome dock workers). More amusingly, check out this Top Ten list I made for things Whitman wants to have carnal relations with.
  19. Shadow Kiss (Richelle Mead): see Vampire Academy
  20. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov): Oh, Lolita. This is one of those books I don’t want to discuss with many people because it has the common problem of being interpreted as being sympathetic to H.H., despite the fact that the book opens with a PSA that H.H. is deplorable. I’ve read so many reviews/articles/opinions on this book. Responding to one criticism, Lolita has been attacked for giving Lo no character traits, no voice, no personhood. To me, this is where the genius of Lolita lies. Lo is described and conceptualized by H.H., it’s his memoir, after all, and the fact that he strips her of her personhood is vital to that narrative. She is silent because she has been silenced. Her breakdowns, which H.H. finds puzzling, are enough to show the reader that there is a person in there. Lolita is a portrait of how twisted men’s perception of women (or girls) can become and, to that degree, it reduces Lo to H.H.’s fantasy. To attack the novel for doing this is to ignore the purpose of this reduction. There’s no essay from me incoming on Lolita because there’s such a rich body of literature on it already, but I had to get this one thought out there since it’s been bothering me.
  21. New and Selected Poems (Mary Oliver): A recommendation from a friend who majored in poetry, this volume tipped the scales on how I feel about the genre as a whole. Having never had a class on poetry, I’m not good at interpreting or talking about it, but I love Oliver’s work. There’s a deep peacefulness to her poems that takes me straight to the feeling of hiking through the woods or in national parks. Oliver’s poems have been a balm to painful rash of feelings the election broke out. She’s my go-to author when it comes to recommending poetry to people who don’t have a lot of history in reading the genre now.
  22. Abandon (Meg Cabot): According to Goodreads, I’ve read 36 books by Meg Cabot. Nostalgia is so strong when it comes to Cabot as The Princess Diaries were some of the first books I remember loving and reading and rereading. Despite books like Abandon, I just can’t abandon Cabot. Skip this one though (yikes).
  23. Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (Ben Macintyre): Here it is, the book that convinced me non-fiction was a genre for me. There are so many highlights in this book that I have nowhere to begin. There’s the guy that biked with a canoe on his head…the fact that one of the spies demanded the British government buy him chocolate for his health…that Garbo had a degree in chicken farming…the various plans for Pigeons…how bad German spies were at infiltrating England…oh it just is the gift that keeps on giving. I also made this fun tag-yourself-as-the-D-Day-Spies post.

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    INCREDIBLE

  24. Underworld (Meg Cabot): I know this is the sequel to Abandon but I have no memory as to how it ends. There were a lot of scenes in graveyards…
  25. The Body Finder (Kimberly Derting): A good, solid, YA rec for anyone who likes books like Fingerprints, Wake, or mysteries being solved with supernatural abilities as a niche genre. The idea of bodies having a unique aura after death has really stuck with me. It’s a simple enough plot device but it is used well in the narrative.

 

 

Wow. That was a lot for one post, I know, but I read 178 books in 2016! If I don’t do 25 books a post, will I ever get done??? (Will I ever get done anyway…is the question…)

The plan is to intersperse these round-up posts with regular content. I’m still looking at creating a schedule, so I’ll post that when I get it figured.

Xx

Von G

June 2015 Round-up

Von G: The delay on this post can fully be blamed on holiday living, by which I mean I spent most of my time either consuming food or in a food coma. The good news is that a good old American hamburger from the grill is just as tasty as I remember. We still served Bratwurst with Sauerkraut though because who am I kidding.

The temperatures soared during June, meaning my hiding in the basement could be labeled as “staying cool” instead of “avoiding human contact.” Haha. Parameters. Playing 5 hours of Fallout 4 a day and having an out of state guest staying with me could hardly dampen my reading pace (it did though, my numbers are dismal), so here’s a review of the fantabulous books I read during the heat wave.

It was a month of great variation since it includes a book of Hungarian poetry I bought whilst in Budapest (I’m so glad I’m the type of person that can type that sentence, fight me) to some alternative historical fiction that I would have never read if it weren’t for that book club I’m in. I continued my journey with classic sci-fi with Hyperion  and I’ll never be the same. I don’t know what kind of guy Dan Simmons is, but his weirdo mind had one of his characters accidentally getting intimate with an alien metal death monster, so I’m with him.

Best of JuneHyperion by Dan Simmons

It’s 2016 and not only have I read and enjoyed Walt Whitman, I’m saying a book that has a structure reflective of The Canterbury Tales is my favorite read of the month.(Side note: *** The Canterbury Tales, it’s a crime that high school students are forced to read a book that ISN’T FUNNY because it’s so incredibly ARCHAIC that the teacher has to stop the class every five minutes to explain the references. How is that a fun reading experience? ****) I was worried that Hyperion would be too convoluted to follow since it dives headfirst into the story, but after I persevered through my initial confusion, I fell in love. Each pilgrim has a distinctive voice (the film noir section was my favorite) and story that weaves together into the overall mystery of the demonic, unforgiving, inexplicable Shrike. Short stories aren’t really my thing, but the knowledge I had going into each story that it would wind back around to the rest of the pilgrims and the purpose of their journey created a rope that pulled me through the whole book. It’s an achievement of style and structure, and I can’t stop talking about it. Too bad about that CLIFFHANGER THOUGH. (I bought the second book. Dan Simmons doesn’t care about me or my wallet.)

 

Worst of June: Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovitch

I honestly feel like I’m punching myself in the stomach here, that’s how much I love Janet Evanovitch. Stephanie Plum is a personal hero for me and, before now, Evanovitch never failed to fill those books with memorable, hilarious, and endearing side characters, a plot that was grim but nevertheless riotous, and because of that, pretty much earned herself a place on the shelf of authors I worship. I can honestly say I have never laughed so embarrassingly loud in public as when I read Stephanie Plum books. So you can imagine my excitement going into this series. AND IT WAS A COMPLETE LET DOWN. The characters (aside from Glo, she’s exempt because I relate to her) are underdeveloped and too vague to be interesting, the humor wasn’t funny (????) and the plot was weak and uninteresting. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe you can just never reach the pinnacle of creative humor that was Stephanie Plum. I know I would have been scared to try.

S/O to the beautiful covers this month, esp Wolf by Wolf and Jackaby

Book Haul–Dagon Edition

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Full disclosure: I love Ben Templesmith. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and I had the joyous opportunity to meet him in Chicago and get my copy of Fell signed (and also take a dopey picture with him). I backed his Kickstarter campaign for his illustrated version of Dagon, a short story by H.P. Lovecraft. This is the first time I’ve backed one of Templesmith’s Kickstarters, but I figured I should let everyone know that I did before I get into the meat of this book haul.

 

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Look at this gorgeous book

Needless to say, I was pretty hyped to get my Kickstarter rewards package, which included a copy of Dagon as well as some previous work by Templesmith. Unfortunately, since I was in Austria busy making a pay check and being merciless by mocking the youths under the pretense of “teaching,” I didn’t get my grubby little hands on the books until recently.

And boy, are these books beautiful.

The Squidder is a book Templesmith created on a previous Kickstarter campaign. The other two books are collections including other artists, with Menton3 being the other artist I’m familiar with (I also met him and got some incredible prints in Chicago.)

Part of the appeal of Templesmith’s art for me is the way he combines digital and traditional medias, conveying the texture of real life drawings under the smooth color. Templesmith’s art oscillates between gritty, slashing inked lines and the beautiful glow of delicate details, often highlighted with saturated colors. It’s a style that suits the strange, something the artist pursues in his work (and tentacles. Lots of tentacles.)

Included photos of both the front and back covers of Lust because they both have me feeling some kinds of ways.

I haven’t read Dagon before, so I’m looking forward to diving into the creepy, dark waters of the story and all of these books make beautiful additions to my collection. As an artist, adding a book to my shelves that includes both story and illustration is something I never stop looking forward to.

All I have to say is, Fell vol 2 when??? WHEN?

May 2016 Round-up

Von G: Summer has officially begun! Because of my sweet gig teaching the youths, the summer months for me are completely free of any real adult responsibility except trying to eat vegetables (putting cucumber in my water counts right? because a. it makes me feel fancy and b. is delicious) and not drop my new phone.

What are my plans for summer? I actually intend to re-enact the scene from Dune when Maud’dib rides the Sand Worm by traveling to Sand Dunes National Park and running down sand dunes screaming about Shai-Hulud and how Fear is the Mind Killer. That’s a perfectly normal summer activity right? Up there with grilling and drinking lemonade.

It should also be said that I have never related to a character more in my life than Mark Watney from The Martian, who handles every horrible disaster in his life with a “fuck it” attitude and potatoes.

But before I do that, here’s a review of all the sweet books I read in May.

Best of May: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

May turned into a month of anticipated sequels for me. A Court of Thorns and Roses was my top book in March and the sequel was probably the most anticipated new release I’ve ever had. Maas did not disappoint. I have no idea exactly how she managed to top one of my favorite books of the year with a book I liked even more. It’s hard for sequels to even match the first book, let alone exceed it. But she did. Mist and Fury continues the story of the first book with elegance, excitement, and a daring twist of perception of the events of Thorns and Roses. I wouldn’t call it a plot twist, rather Maas slowly reveals how understanding can completely reverse the perception of events and their meaning to the person who experienced them. I am honestly blown away by how carefully this reveal was built up and tended to. Maas doesn’t shy away from treating topics like depression and abuse and manages to tend to them with the delicate care they need to not seem like convenient plot devices to motivate character actions. She gives the trauma the time it deserves, when most writers have their characters bouncing back from unbelievable trauma quickly and without emotional scars. I cannot stop singing the praises of this series and the talent of Maas as a writer.

Worst of May: Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

On the other hand, my anticipation for the sequel to Red Queen was met with something that kind of resembled lukewarm, congealed oatmeal without brown sugar to my palate. Aveyard went the completely wrong direction in this sequel, and I’m not sure what happened except the possibility that she watched X-men First Class and decided that was what her book really needed as a plot. Not the cool parts of X-men First Class, mind you (like Fassbender’s beautiful face), but the part where they jet around collecting mutants. Glass Sword dragged—and jetting around picking up new X-men New Bloods, just wasn’t thrilling enough. Add to that the main character’s hard swerve into brutality that wasn’t supported by enough of a catalyst, making it jarring, and the whole book was a confused mess tonally. It’s really too bad, because I thought Red Queen had a lot of promise (and far better character development).

 

Why I sobbed like a b*** reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

My relationship with Leaves of Grass was turbulent from the beginning. I’m not really well-read in poetry, nor have I ever been particularly enamored with it as a genre, and Leaves of Grass  is a commitment both in language and length.

I did feel some comradery with Whitman based solely on our mutual love of the parenthetical, but I wasn’t sure it would be enough to make it through the book.

It doesn’t help that Leaves of Grass is front-loaded with some of Walt Whitman’s incredibly long, rambling poems about boats and dock workers. He also apparently was on a quest to name drop every State and landmark of those states, not to mention important rivers. It is not an easy volume of poetry to get emotionally involved with, and the volume is long.

But after spending three months with Walt Whitman, my feelings towards him and his poetry changed. It was gradual, I still wanted to rip the pages out whenever I saw the word “ship” or “boat,” but Whitman caught me somehow. At some point I was entangled in his feverish dream of humanity.

Walt Whitman has an equal love for humanity in all its forms, across races, across countries, even for those who we see as the worst of us. He professed a love of the weak, not just the bold, that the crippling self-doubt and self-hatred we fall victim to makes us no less loveable as human beings. The man was so capable of boundless love that he saw beauty and sanctity in death, just as much and if not more than life.

After the Union was restored, Whitman saw a chance for previously unachieved equality in America. Racism, borders, all of the barriers of prejudice and racism would dwindle in a new age of brotherhood and travel. For, in travel, Whitman saw only the possibly that by knowing each other, we could only love each other more for we would understand how we are all the same.

Whitman as a writer is a voice of the spirit of this country. His poetry is distinctively American in both its ideology and the romanticism of the American life. He captures the fiery devotion to liberty and freedom and the rugged individualism that is iconic of our culture.

Comparing the America Whitman envisioned, and perhaps experienced, compared to the one I have experienced was painful. In the past few years I have felt abject despair at America’s path, in its continuing inability to respect the dignity of persons within its borders and outside.

Following the news, I feel utter defeat as a woman, faced with an institution that seems determined to deny me my personhood, an level playing field in my chosen career, equal pay if I do achieve my dream job despite the incredible harshness of the sexism in my chosen field, and inevitable criticism if I choose to be unmarried, childless, and devoted to my work.

And that is just what is relevant to my life, and nothing of the institutional racism that is deadly in my country, or the institutional mishandling of justice in law.

Currents events, endlessly horrific, are enough to make me despair not just about my country but about this whole world. What would Whitman think of us? For a man who imagined such a dream of unity and indiscriminate love, how could he understand where we went?

Recently politicians have been throwing around this phrase “making America great again.” It’s tempting, for any society, when in a bad position of strife to look backwards and try to identify a better time. The problem with looking backwards is that America was never great. What country can claim to have been truly great?

When you look backwards, it’s easy to focus on the bright spotlights of the good and relegate the bad to the dark periphery. Point to me a time in American history where things were great for all peoples. It can’t be before slavery was illegal. It can’t be before women had the right to vote. It can’t be when that same America created Internment camps for Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. It can’t even be before marriage rights were given the chance to be equal, and that only happened so very recently.

We can’t make America “great again.” Walt Whitman wasn’t in delirious happiness about the Union being restored after the Civil War because it meant the country would go back to being the way it was. Rather, he believed that now it could move on to be better.

That is what I want, for my country—for it to be better.

The contrast between Walt Whitman’s surety in the beautiful path America must take with the reality here in 2016 left me emotionally exhausted. Every time I picked up Leaves of Grass, Whitman was waiting to erratically espouse his love for men, for women, for anything remotely alive and even in nature what isn’t alive.

“I swear they are all beautiful,

Every one that sleeps is beautiful, everything in the dim light is beautiful,

The wildest and the bloodiest is over, and all is peace.

Peace is always beautiful.”

 

But then I would close the book and the reality of current events would re-assert itself, pressuring me back into pessimism.

When I was nearing the end of Leaves of Grass and I read the poem “So Long!” I didn’t know how much I needed Whitman’s words.

Whitman occasionally “breaks the 4th wall” if it can be called that in a book of poems and addresses the reader. After three months of trying political times—racist hate speech, photos of bombed cities, denial of women the right to their bodies in the case of access to health care through the defunding of planned Parenthood, the list goes on— I was at a breaking point.

And then Whitman steps off the page.

“Comerado, this is no book,

Who touches this touches a man,

(Is it night? Are we here together alone?)

It is I you hold and who holds you,

I spring from the pages into your arms—decease calls me forth.

Oh how your fingers drowse me,

You breath falls around me like dew, your pulse lulls the tympans of my ears,

I feel immerged from head to foot,

Delicious, enough…

Dear friend whoever you are take this kiss,

I give it especially to you, do not forget me”

I had been looking into Whitman this whole time, learning his most intimate feelings and dreams. But, as with all books, the author can’t look back. Somehow though, this poem transcended that limitation. Like my sudden bursting into tears would indicate, damned if I didn’t feel looked back at. It felt personal. It felt intimate. It felt like he had heard the apology I so desperately wanted to make regarding the failure of his vision.

I’m sure that presenting this quote out of the context of struggling through three months with a 600 page volume of antiquated poetry does not capture my feelings. I had wished, up until that moment, that Whitman had hired a damn editor to cut some of the poems out of the book. I can never wish that now because without the length, the rambling, the obsession with, yes, boats, I wouldn’t have felt so connected to Whitman.

I had spent three months suffering through this man’s wildly spinning thoughts and now we were, in his words, touching.

It is hard to recommend a book to someone with the promise that it will “change their life.”  Literature affects us differently depending where we are in life. I would never have thought that I would be someone to say that Leaves of Grass is undeniably a part of who I am, based on my brief exposure to selected poems of his I read in school.

But here we are, Leaves of Grass affected me deeply and I cried like a b*** reading Walt Whitman’s poetry.

April 2016 Round-Up

VonG: I’m sorry, isn’t February supposed to be the short month? Where did April go? All I have is vague memories of eating gelato, baking in the sun (despite my strict avoidance standards, I was wrangled into “being social” and “getting Vitamin D” and “leaving your room for once in your life”), and watching it blizzard. Yes. That’s right. Blizzard. With lightning and thunder. If that isn’t some end of the world type weather, I don’t know what is. Shout out to Swan Song for coincidentally fitting this weather exactly, even though in the book it’s caused by a nuclear apocalypse.

With T-minus one month to returning to my home country, I’m spending my valuable time here doing what I do best. Reading.

I don’t think I can cleverly summarize my reading patterns in April, except that there’s still kilts involved…save me. I’ve been slacking on my mission to subject myself to poorly written free e-books which is why there’s been a lack of comics on this blog. Soon. I’ll get back to it soon. A good friend of mine told me to read Swan Song approximately 8 years ago so at least I get to check THAT off my list and tell people that I’m good about reading recommendations that are made to me (they don’t need to know about the time delay hahaha…ah).

 

Best of April: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

You know what this book has that I love? Pretty much everything I could ask for. AI. Calling out of the ridiculousness of gender norms. Space. Aliens. A grand story of political intrigue framed by focusing on the relationships of an individual character. AI learning about ~friendship~ and ~love~. Yes, this book has both ALIENS* and AI forming meaningful attachments to people. Ann Leckie, you shouldn’t have. On a deeper note, the subversive use of a society that doesn’t recognize gender to the extreme that there are no male/female pronouns is wonderfully disorientating. Gender is a crutch to our understanding of a character and Leckie denies it to us. This book probably has the fewest male pronouns I’ve ever encountered (as the main character defaults to feminine pronouns) and I LIKE IT. It made me uncomfortable with how much I rely on knowing a character’s gender and it forced me to take on the point of view of the main character in an immersive way. Leckie also manages to write about an AI’s experience through a couple thousand bodies in a way that captures the massive flow of constant information without it being too choppy or confusing. This book ranks easily into the list of my favorite books. I can’t stop thinking about it and I am eagerly awaiting the final book in the trilogy.

Worst of April: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

I’m using the “worst” category loosely again, because Missoula isn’t a bad book. It’s well written and informative (though Krakauer is far from being unbiased, but with such an emotional topic on personal violation it’s hard to be impartial). I’m placing it in this category because the book was hard for me to read. The reality of the commonality sexual assault, especially on college campuses, is an issue that was brought to my attention in my studies but still has the power to shock me. Krakauer does an excellent job of presenting the mistreatment of victims by the court system (from police officers to lawyers) and focusing on the darkest myth of sexual assault: that it takes place most often between strangers. Growing up, women are taught to be afraid of strangers but the majority of sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances. It’s hard, after finishing this book, to not fall back onto the insecure stance of “trust nobody.” Unfortunately, that also seems to include the justice system.

The other unfortunately is that this book will probably be read most by people who are already aware of the problem, when the people who need to read it the most ignore it.

 

*Leckie’s aliens, thankfully, are not space vampires

 

 

Which D-Day Spy Are You?

 

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies was one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. In celebration of the absurdity that was the Double Cross system, here are the D-Day Spies for you to tag yourself as.

“Scoot” aka “Tricycle

-play boy

-sent back pictures of his current gf reclining in front of planes instead of information

-bought an expensive car as part of his ‘role’

-demanded the british government buy him chocolate “for medical reasons”

-good fashion sense

 

Bronx

-“Lesbian” tendancies

-good at being bad at gambling

-no matter how much money she is allowed, manages to spend all her money

 

 

Treasure

-keeps a diary

-said diary is mostly about her dog

-really, really loves her dog

-talks smack about people to her dog in Russian

-almost betrayed the entire operation over not being reunited with her dog

 

Brutus

-got arrested for distributing inflammatory pamphlets

-should have been playing it cool as a spy

-has no chill

-owned 32 cats after the war

 

 

Garbo

-spends most of his time with fictional people of his own creation

-has an overactive imagination

-would be that person in your university class who can write 15 pages for a paper and say absolutely nothing but is praised for it

-has a diploma in chicken farming

Claimed by Evangeline Anderson

26

One of my well documented weaknesses when it comes to books, especially free kindle e-books, are stories that involve aliens and romance. I’m a sucker, and I am not saying that the blame lies with Mass Effect, but I am also not saying the blame doesn’t lie with Mass Effect (straight up it’s Mass Effect’s fault, who am I kidding here).

Unfortunately, the free kindle e-books and I have failed to align, because the authors who decide to tackle the subject of an interstellar romance (and offer their books for free), don’t seem to understand the whole point of aliens.

I tackled this subject in my blog post about Close Liaisons, but I’ll say it again here: what is the point of having aliens in your book if they look human? I’m not even addressing the whole unlikelihood of this from an evolutionary standpoint, really I just want to what he motivation is to sit down and design your alien with absolutely no distinguishing features except maybe an unusual eye color and, consistently, above average height.

Why bother with science fiction at that point?

Did I have hope going into Claimed? Hope is always there. Someday…someday I will be pleasantly surprised and rewarded with the sci-fi romance of my dreams…or Mass Effect Andromeda will come out (I see you 2017…I see you…).

Anyway, like in Close Liaisons there’s sort of a paper-thin excuse as to why the aliens look like humans. Their race is 95% male (of course. Why is this a trope? Why is this a thing? Someone sit down and explain to me why the only reasons aliens would go around exploring the galaxy and looking for other aliens to hook up with and explore the galaxy together is because their race is at the brink of extinction and they need some fresh human wombs to procreate. Is this hot? I’m so perplexed.) so over time they’ve traveled the universe setting up genetic trade.

I really like the phrase genetic trade because it sort of minimizes the fact that the aliens are actually going around and abducting women on different planets to knock up as if that’s a commodity that can be paid for with advanced medical technology. BUT OKAY.

So yeah, they sort of look like humans because they’ve genetically traded with other aliens that…sort of look like humans…and…everyone sort of looks like…humans? Never mind. This actually doesn’t make any sense at all.

The genetic trade thing comes up because there’s three kinds of “Kindred” based on the three different genetic trades they’ve made in the past. Don’t get excited yet though, because three different kinds of alien just means three different kinds of alien that still manage to be boring as hell in their design (colorful eyes included).

claimed 1 whole

gosh i love aliens

So what are the three types of Kindred, you ask? Well I’m glad you brought it up because gosh, it would be a wonderful opportunity to break out your alien designing imagination if your aliens change appearance based on genetic trade sort of like the Xenomorphs from Alien but with less murder! So let’s break down the absolutely extraordinary designs here.

They are, seriously:

-Rager/Beasts (if you thought this meant that they would have features that aren’t human, you guessed wrong!)

-Twins (they come…in pairs…so they…I don’t know fuck this I don’t understand)

-Tranq (get this…they have fangs…that they bite their lady with…)

aliendesign1 whole

“ALIENS”

I can’t believe this happened to me again. Update: I’m still sitting at 17% completion on Close Liaisons because of being side-swiped with the space vampire bullshit. And here we are again, romance genre. Here we are again…

It may be some sort of compliment to Anderson that I actually finished this book compared to Liasons. My continued ability to read, however, came straight down to the hilarity of the situation here.

Let me outline some moments in Claimed that had me gazing off into the stars wishing I was being flung somewhere by the gravitational slingshot of Jupiter. Or, as I like to call it, “Things in Claimed that are presented as logical but actually make no fucking sense”

-The Twin Kindred always share a woman, and the main character asserts that, having a twin herself, that doesn’t sound too intimidating.

I’m not here to shame you for whatever sexual fantasies or lifestyle you’re into. Doesn’t harm me any. But, for the life of me, I have no concept of the logic of how this thought is presented in the book. The idea that having a twin would make sexual threesomes less ‘strange’ is presented as self-explanatory logic, in passing, without further description.

Hitting the relevant line was like taking a step when you’re climbing the stairs and you think there’s one more stair there, but there isn’t, so you’re sent stumbling after groping for the next point with an unbalanced foot.

How does having a twin have anything to do with threesomes? I still can’t even think of a connection, even highly contrived. I’m stumped, stupefied even. Is the author implying that twins have sexual interest in threesomes…with their twin? Is that not…incest? Or uncomfortably close to incest? Why would anyone want to be near their sibling during any sexual experience?

I mean, I don’t have a twin myself so I’m just making assumptions here. Clearly some people are into it if the author decided to base an entire construction of her aliens that threesomes with siblings are-

I had to stop typing that sentence because I can’t think about this anymore. It’s not something I want to know.

-this quote about the alien being, how shall I say it? ‘swol’: “you’re in such good shape on Earth you’d be gay because there’s no way a straight guy could look like you.”

What? When did attention to physical appearance, especially dependent on big muscles, become a ‘gay’ trait? Hitting the gym and lifting weights is one of the most “bro hypermasculine” activities of our culture. You know who always wants to talk to you about their protein intake and reps? Straight men. Straight men in fraternities. (This is a generalization based on personal experience. I feel 100% okay putting this down in type and I will stand by it. This has little to nothing to do with my resentment of all the dude bros in the gym when I was working out in college who would stand around in groups taking turns lifting weights and grunting about it and high-fiving each other when I just wanted peace. Also you know what I couldn’t give less of a thought about? Your protein intake and fitness routine. Bro.)

So why would the author imply that being ripped is something that gay men aspire to, and more than that, no straight man would aspire to?

-everyone is sharing food from their different planets NBD

Not every book has to be hard sci-fi, constrained in the strictest sense to the laws of physics as we know them and all of the limitations that result. Do I accept faster than light travel that’s not really explained beyond a name that has a word like “hyper” followed by a word like “drive”? Sure!

There is a line though, of utter carelessness in world-building sometimes in books like this. It’s almost  a lack of paying attention to historical accuracy. What would be distracting in a Regency Era novel would be a woman wearing pants. It’s jarring. This is the same feeling I often have with the conceit that human women would be able to bring to term an alien baby when sometimes women have troubling bringing to term human babies because of immunological issues. But whatever! That’s fine!

This radar though, of things being taken a conceit too far, happened when everyone on the spaceship in this book went around eating food from alien planets like this wouldn’t potentially be a problem.

It’s haphazard world-building, like the author wanted to include some details about the alien planet and culture, but didn’t think it completely through or not. The Kindred come originally (? Don’t quote me on this) from a jungle planet and this is used to explain why they use living animals for stuff like furniture. There’s an animal ‘blanket,’ for example.

When you introduce ideas like this, that the Kindred have formed a symbiotic relationship with a blanket animal, there’s some kind of follow through required. Throwing out a statement like “oh yeah, haha, the blanket is actually a living creature but it’s cool, he likes being sat on!” is more distracting than intriguing.

What do you mean, he likes being sat on? How is that logical? Why would any living creature enjoy that? Does he feed on your shed skin cells? Did you domesticate these creatures or did you just kidnap them from their (families?) to use as a personal effect? How does an animal evolve to look like a fucking blanket? How does it survive in the wild? WhAT DOES IT EAT?

I’m so distracted by your stupid blanket animal that I can’t even focus on the rest of the story. There’s also a garbage disposal animal that sits under the sink and eats…what goes in the sink?

WHAT?

Does it mind being trapped in a cupboard like space without light? What does it eat if you go on vacation? Does it sleep? Does it defecate? Can it too digest Earth proteins no problemo?

It just isn’t competent world-building. There’s too much that implausible or illogical, especially based on what we understand as an “animal” and how it functions. My brain is screaming at me that it’s inhumane to treat a living creature like that. But, like a lot of other details, the concept is just passed over with sort of a blase hand wave so that the plot can revolve around what is really important—alien dong.

I’ve got to end this post here because it’s already too long.

I give Claimed “you couldn’t even give your aliens a different skin color?” out of “how good is your alien design.”

 

A/N: if you’re wondering why i haven’t followed my posting schedule for this blog, let me tell u about the bad decision i made downloading Stardew Valley from Steam and how i lost 50 hrs of my life to it. lmao bye