November Reading Update

It’s been a long time since I last posted. I started grad school, which hasn’t allowed much time for independent reading or for writing. I am trying to find a balance because reading is really important to me.

I am taking a breather to post some quick reviews of some things I’ve read since my last post.

Remarkably, given how little reading I’ve been able to do over the last two months, I’m just two books behind in achieving my goal of reading 50 books this year. I might still pull out meeting this goal.

The last book I reviewed was Blind Spot in August. Since then, I’ve read four more books.

Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage is an interesting exploration of the effects of incarceration. Roy and Celestial are newlyweds when they travel to his hometown to visit his parents. They make the fateful decision to stay in a hotel for some additional privacy. Roy helps a fellow hotel guest with the ice machine, and later, she accuses him of raping her. Celestial knows Roy can’t have done it because he was with her at the time, but he is sentenced to twelve years in prison. Jones explores the effects of Roy’s imprisonment to both Celestial and Roy as well as their marriage and the broader repercussions of mass incarceration in the African-American community.

Rating: ★★★★½


My husband and I listened to Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology as read by Gaiman himself. I always recommend Neil Gaiman’s audio books because he is an excellent reader.

Gaiman draws inspiration for this collection from a variety of sources in Norse mythology. His stories retain the humor of the myths, but they feel re-invigorated in his hands. This collection is a must-read for anyone who enjoys mythology, or Neil Gaiman, or good stories in general.

Loki, in particular, is a nuanced, complex, and interesting character. Tom Hiddleston would be proud.

Rating: ★★★★★


I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the RIP Challenge (more on that later in the post). This novel is the story of Mary Catherine “Merricat” Blackwood and her sister Constance, the town recluses who live in a large empty house with their Uncle Julian, who is compiling his memoirs about the poisoning murders of the rest of the Blackwood family some years earlier.

Eh. I finished it. It was okay; not great, not horrible. I understand a lot of people find the character Merricat Blackwood interesting. I guess I am not among their number. I guessed what was supposed to be a big surprise ending pretty early on; I’m not bragging because I’m usually terrible at guessing the surprise ending in thrillers. I also didn’t like The Haunting of Hill House, which a lot of people love. I think I’m just not into Shirley Jackson. I do love “The Lottery.”

Rating: ★★★☆☆


José Olivarez’s poetry collection Citizen Illegal was a hit with my students. I bought it on the recommendation of some teacher friends on Twitter. The collection explores Latinx identities, including the tension of being a first-generation American of Mexican parents who came to America as undocumented immigrants. He explores issues of language, culture, race, gender, class, and immigration with a fresh, engaging voice. Many of the poems stand out, particularly the series called “Mexican Heaven.” The opening poem “(Citizen) (Illegal)” might be my favorite.

I participated in a Twitter chat about the book with some of the teacher friends who recommended the book, and the poet himself chimed in. I love reading living poets!

Rating: ★★★★☆


I didn’t make it through the RIP Challenge. RIP the RIP Challenge, I guess! Grad school interrupted my flow. I still have time to complete the other challenges that run until the end of December, but some of them are not looking likely at the moment.

I’m going to try to carve out more time to read and reflect on my reading here. I can tell a difference when I don’t sit down and write about a book right after finishing it. I had to look up the names of the characters in An American Marriage because I had read it so long ago. Unsatisfactory!

Bookish Updates

The Christmas holidays mean I’ll have some time to read. As I indicated in my previous post, I wasn’t getting into We Have Always Lived in the Castle, so I’ve set it aside. I really have been wanting to reread Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, so I downloaded it to my iPhone using the Kindle app. I have to say, it was like magic. I clicked a button, and when I opened my Kindle app, there the book was. I have used Stanza and Classics on my iPhone, but this is my first Kindle experience, so I’ll let you know how it goes. I understand I can annotate the book using the app.

I also picked up Jasper Fforde’s book The Fourth Bear. I have enjoyed all of his books. This one didn’t grab me yet (I’m two chapters in), but we’ll see. I know some readers don’t enjoy his Nursery Crime books as much as the Thursday Next series, but I really did like The Big Over Easy.

I’m trying to decide what to do about my own book. I want to work on editing and revising over the holiday. I haven’t completed the ending.

Finally, I watched the film based on Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak, which I reviewed here. It’s an excellent book, and the film was very good, too, although not as good as the book, which is usually the case.

Struggling with Books

I admit I’m struggling to finish a short book. It isn’t that I don’t like it. I just can’t get into it enough to want to pick it up. Worse, I keep thinking about other books I want to read, and then I tell myself I need to finish that one first. The end result is that I’m doing very little reading.

I think I’m going to set aside We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the time being. It’s too short not to finish at some point, but I’m just not that into it for right now. I’ve read too far to give it up completely.

I am contemplating revisiting Diana Gabaldon’s series. She has just published a new one, An Echo in the Bone. I discovered my new department chair at work is a fan of this series, too. She and I are becoming fast friends. We have so much in common from our interests to our philosophies of education. I am so grateful she has come to work with me. It was funny how we discovered we had the fact that we are Diana Gabaldon fans in common: she started to tell me about the books in order to recommend them. And I had to respond, “Oh, I’ve read them!” I would say any of the older fans of Twilight should check Gabaldon’s books out. You won’t be sorry.

On the other hand, I could also read something I haven’t read. I have two Jasper Fforde books on my shelf. I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll stare at the book shelf for a while until I figure it out. All I know is I’m finished with grad school for the semester, and NaNoWriMo is over (and I won!). My novel is called Quicksand. I actually need to tidy up the ending because I wrote more than 50,000 words, which is the requirement for winning NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t finish my book. I also decided to set it aside and revisit it with fresh eyes when its time to revise. However, it has now been a little over a week since NaNoWriMo ended, and I am finding I miss my characters. Some of them became very real to me, and I enjoyed seeing them every day when I came home.

Once finals begins (or ends), and I have a little more time, I should post some excerpts or podcasts about my book. I am really interested in trying to publish it, but I admit the prospect of trying to find an agent is daunting.

R.I.P. and NaNoWriMo Update

R.I.P. ChallengeI am not doing well with the R.I.P. Challenge. Despite a strong start in which I finished half the challenge in short order, I have stalled toward the end and have not been reading much. I am blaming my iPhone. I have too many cool apps now, such as the Scrabble app, which have taken me away from reading. I am not at all certain I can finish my remaining two books, Dracula and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, without some serious focus over the last week. I’m reading Dracula on the iPhone, and judging from the progress bar along the top, I’m nearly 2/3 through the book. I have only read two chapters of We Have Always Lived in the Castle though.

Another distraction from reading has been my planning for NaNoWriMo. You can see my profile here. I am excited about my project, but I’m kind of at a loss as to what my plot will be. I think I know who my main characters are. I have worked up a plan that includes helpful websites, character maps, inspirational pictures and music, and possible plot ideas in Curio, but I don’t know what my “conflict” is. I don’t know what my story will be. Some ideas I’m playing with include:

  • a retelling of a Shakespearean play (leaning toward Macbeth or Cymbeline—and of the two, leaning more toward the latter) in the Kentucky coal fields
  • feuding families embroiled in murder
  • the hero’s journey
  • Greek tragedy in KY coal fields
  • unfounded murder accusation and imprisonment

The retelling idea is intriguing, but ambitious, and I’m not sure I am up for it. If I go with feuding families or murder, what is the story? Why am I telling the story? So I am not feeling really ready, and it starts in about a week.

R.I.P. Update

R.I.P. ChallengeI am putting Joe Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts aside. It’s not that I don’t like it; I just want to read a novel. This decision means I have to select a book to replace it in the R.I.P. Challenge. I took three books off the shelves and couldn’t decide, so I had Maggie choose for me again, and she thinks I should read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The cover is really cute, and I know she’s a good writer, so I will go with Maggie’s choice. Of course, she may have picked it because the cat on the cover looks just like our Bella.