Friday, September 15, 2017

The Resistance Will be Literate

Given the political state of my country right now - the country that my parents immigrated to, and the country I love - it is easy to sink into despair. When I need reflection or a mental pause, I turn to books, as I'm sure many of you do as well.

I just finished a short book - an extended essay, really - that struck me. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by historian Timothy Snyder is a direct response to recent and current events. He never names our president, but it is obvious that these lessons are a both cautionary and a call for resistance. After the election, I started gathering a list of books that are important, particularly now. These books, mainly non-fiction, celebrate diversity, acknowledge the struggles (and triumphs) of the under-represented and minorities, remind us of our history, and provide a guiding path forward. So I was particularly taken with lesson number 9: Be kind to our language. 

Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.
Snyder briefly expands on this, noting that information from "screens" - mainly televised news - causes its consumers to fall into the "collective trance." He mentions both Fahrenheit 451 and Nineteen Eighty-Four, noting that classic totalitarian dystopian novels have "warned of the domination of screens, the suppression of books, the narrowing of vocabularies, and the associated difficulties of thought."

On the flip side, books stimulate the brain. Many studies have shown that reading books have beneficial effects, such as increased cognitive ability, critical thinking skills, imagination, and (notably) empathy. Readers are more empathic to others.


Reading improves empathy. Specifically, reading literary fiction, which exposes readers to explorations of relationships and psychology of characters.

It's also been shown that being exposed to diversity in media can change how one thinks and views the world, and can make one more tolerant and accepting of others. I know we're talking about books here, but this 2006 study looking at how just watching a TV show featuring gay characters -- not directly interacting with gay people, just watching a show where their existence is normalized -- correlates with decreased prejudice towards gays and lesbians.

Once more for those in the back.

Earlier this year, it was a BIG FUCKING DEAL when a judge sentenced some teen vandals to read after they had graffitied a historical African American school. The full reading list can be found here but it's full of diverse books, both fiction and non-fiction, that will hopefully provide these kids with some much needed perspective in their lives. This sentencing was an acknowledgement that reading diversely -- being exposed to diverse people, cultures, histories, and viewpoints -- can counter hate and ignorance.

So here's my list: my "resist-list" if you will. This is by no means exhaustive. I have read some of these, but many more are on my to-read list. I am rationing them out for now because as important as these books are to read, it is also important for my own mental and emotional health that these are not all that I read.

But, it is also important that I read. Because the resistance will be literate. That is my rallying cry.

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine,and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen

Inauguration by Idris Goodwin and Nico Wilkinson

I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity by Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish

The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys' Club by Eileen Pollack

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones

A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

What's on your resist-list?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Reading Slump

I am finding myself in a reading slump and I'm not sure how to get out of it. I'm in the middle of a lackluster book from NetGalley that I feel like I really should push to finish, but it's not holding my attention at all. I'm in the middle of 6 other books (at least) and don't feel the drive to continue any of them.

Ho hum.

I hate reading slumps. Hate them.

A large part of my quality of and satisfaction with life is tied up in books and when I'm not reading, I'm prone to depression, ennui, and the doldrums.

Unfortunately, this has been bleeding into my professional life and I've been letting deadlines slide, which isn't a good thing given that I like being able to pay my mortgage, buy food, and keep my cats in litter.

Hopefully this passes soon.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Synchronicity

There are moments when the book you're reading just resonates with something else in my life. I am reading a historical fiction and the next day, read an article about the very same topic. Or I am reading a novel which heavily involves spinning yarn, soon after I learned to spin myself.

But it is very odd when two books I'm reading complement each other. It just happened to me and it was magical. I had just finished listening to Janis Ian's autobiography Society's Child. Ian, for those who may not know, was a pretty famous folk and pop singer in the 60's and 70's, and rubbed elbows people like Janis Joplin and Bruce Springsteen. She was heavily involved in the folk music movement with the likes of Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. She talked a lot about the other performers she sang with, toured with, and befriended. I really enjoyed hearing her tell her story, peppered with bits of her songs, some of which I knew, and others which I hadn't.

In her autobiography, Ian is pretty frank about how the music industry has changed through the decades since she started recording, and in her opinion, not for the better. She implies heavily that the industry has lost its heart and instead of fostering and nurturing its artists, it is too focused on money and protecting the bottom line. As she had to make a comeback several times in her career and had been performing since she was a teenager, she has many thoughts on this subject.

While I was finishing up Society's Child, I picked up a review copy of a young adult novel that is coming out in May called Devil and the Bluebird. It is the debut novel of Jennifer Mason-Black, and if this first book is any indication, she will have a place on my insta-buy list. It is just that good and my first solid five-star read of 2016.

In Devil and the Bluebird, we start off at the crossroads at midnight and watch Blue Ridley make a deal with the devil: her voice in exchange for magic boots that will lead her to her missing older sister, who had run away from home shortly after their mother had died. Armed only with her guitar, she follows the path the boots lead her. The story is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Seanan McGuire's Sparrow Hill Road, but is still completely unique. Unlike a lot of young adult books these days, Devil and the Bluebird is not focused on the here or the future. There are no name droppings of current movie stars or pop artists. There aren't worries about designer clothes or the latest iProduct. Instead, this book is nostalgia personified, and takes place in a part of America that still remembers people busking by the side of the road, exchanging a meal for a story or a song, and finding a shared language in music.

Reading this on the coattails of Society's Child was pure book synchronicity. It was kismet. The folk revolution that Janis Ian described and took part in was still going on in the roads Blue traveled in Devil and the Bluebird. The ghosts of folk music past are in these pages, and Blue learns the difference between making music for fame and fortune (the real deal with the devil) and making music from the heart and the soul.

I cannot recommend both books enough. And if you read them back-to-back, you may find your own moment of book synchronicity.

Society's Child by Janis Ian is available in audiobook from Audible, and in print at all major retailers.
Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black is out May 17th from Amulet Books.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Losing a Local Yarn Shop

Last month, my LYS closed its doors for good. I cannot put into words just how much this has affected me emotionally. That store was my home away from home - cliche, but true. I knew that no matter what, I could always drop by and find a welcome. The owners and the other regulars were my friends and I loved knowing that Lee, Liz, and Lindsay would always be in on a Friday night, and that Marianne worked on Saturday, and Teresa and Victoria would be there on Sunday.

The store was open for over six years, which is admittedly a good run for a yarn store.

But this does leave a giant hole in my life. There are other LYS in the area but none as convenient. I visited a few this past weekend, hoping to find the same welcoming atmosphere but failed.

The first I went to was (1) too far away to be a regular spot, and (2) made me extremely uncomfortable because of how the owner was behaving toward her daughter, who was helping out in the store.

The second was (1) not as far away as the first but still farther than I wanted to travel, (2) very small and (3) probably related to #2, full of mostly high-end yarn. I'm used to pricey yarn but I like stores to have a range of product. Instead, most of the shelf space was full of Madelinetosh, which is lovely and I own many skeins of it myself - but does set the tone a bit for the feel of the store.

While there is one more store I want to try, to the north of me by about 20 minutes, I am not very hopeful that I'll find a new LYS. There is two stores I particularly like - one in the city and one in Northern Virgnia - but are far too much effort to travel to regularly.

In the meantime, some of the regulars have opened their homes for regular get-togethers so I'm still seeing my friends and chatting over yarn. But... it's honestly just not the same.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.

This is not Swedish literature as I have known it. It's not dark, or heavy, or full of deep introspection, or grisly, or creepy. This book, is in fact, the antitheses of what I would have thought of when I think of Swedish literature. It is charming and sweet, quirky and fun. It made me smile a lot, laugh a few times, and wish I could actually meet the people of Broken Wheel in real life.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a love letter to books. It is about how books and reading can enrich a person's life, while at the same time, about Sara's personal journey to live a life beyond her books.

The story is a familiar one, of an outsider walking into an insular community and upsetting things and breathing new life into the community and its people. It's been done before, but Bivald made it her own. Sara is a consummate bookworm who travels to small-town USA to visit her pen pal--only to arrive and find that Amy had just died. She decides to try staying in Broken Wheel, and eventually opens up a bookshop in Amy's memory, determined to turn the citizens of Broken Wheel into readers.

I fell in love with Bivald's characters and cheered for them all. I loved watching them move out of their comfort zones and become happier with life because of Sara and the changes she causes in the town, both directly and indirectly.

Because, books broaden horizons. Readers of fiction have more empathy and are more open to new ideas and people -- this is something that has been shown in scientific studies. And the people in Broken Wheel found their horizons broadened and how. In return, they taught Sara that there was life outside of books, and that human connections were as important as fictional ones. I like to think that Sara was Amy's dying gift to Broken Wheel and vice versa.

Lastly, I love quotes. Adore them. I like my wisdom pithy. And The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was full of wonderful, amazing quotable quotes about reading, books, and life.

For example:
Never live your life according to the idiots' rules. Because they'll drag you down to their level, they'll win, and you'll have a damned awful time in the process.
I greatly enjoyed this book and hope that Bivald writes more, and that we see her future works translated for the US market.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Reading from Stash

Looking back over the books I read last year, I realized I need some accountability for how many books I purchase. Last year, it was a lot. I don't even want to count how many because the number may cause me to hide in shame.

This year, I'm determined to read from my stash. Of course, there will be new books coming out and I've already earmarked some space on my TBR list for books some of my favorite authors are releasing. But the fact of the matter is, I have too many unread books in my collection, and getting an ebook reader has not helped that at all. Those cheap or free books are hard to resist.

In 2015, I read 116 books, novellas, or graphic novels. Of those 116, I only owned about 20 of them prior to the start of the year. All the others were new purchases, borrowed, review copies, or read via my Oyster subscription. 20 out of 116. That's about 17%. Eesh.

Now that Oyster has sunsetted, that avenue for new books is closed to me. But my impulse purchases really are books. Between how ridiculously easy it is to buy an ebook and the slew of review copies I can get, it's difficult to keep my resolution to only read from stash. I know because I recall that was my resolution last year, as well.


Okay. New year; new resolve.

I still have:

  • Review copies. So many review copies. So I'll stop requesting so many and work through the backlog.
  • Two book subscription boxes. These are going to keep coming because I enjoy them a lot, and I feel that only two new books a month is doable.
  • Some books that will be instant-buys as soon as they are available for purchase. These are ongoing series I'm reading or favorite authors. They will just happen
But I'm going to think twice before hitting the "Buy Now" button at Amazon when that book which has been on my TBR list is on sale. I will accept it is okay to walk out of a bookstore without buying a book. 

And lastly, I will read from stash. I have a wall of books I stare at every day while I'm sitting at home working. It really shouldn't be hard to find a new book to read once I finish one. 

So. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Amy might not have had the most exciting life over the past few years, up here in her room, but she must have been fighting death to the very end. Sara could understand why she had been in denial or so long. It must have been a frightening realization: so many books she would never get to pick up, so many stories that would happen without her, so many authors she would never get to discover.

That night, Sara sat in Amy's library for hours, thinking about how tragic it was that the written word was immortal while people were not, and grieving for her, the woman she had never met.

-- Katarina Bivald, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend