Happy New Year everyone. Yes, I know, it’s the sixth. Better late than never.
Now that 2020 is out of the way, I can get back on track. The year was distracting, to say the least. I still managed to read some books, but my audio book game was off for sure. Somewhere in the summer of last year, I took part of a workshop with a book agent who was going to help us learn how to query an agent. For those of us without degrees in writing or any earthly clue what that even means, this workshop was going to be great.
It was until she gave us a homework assignment to come up with several comparative books to the ones we had written, but the caveat was that they had to be from the last five years. Insert panic. Waves of glorious, crying panic. Let’s just start with the fact that most of the books I read are from dead authors or from ones who are publishing, but not at the breakneck speed of mainstream fiction. I attempted to look up books which I thought would stand with my themes or time setting. I had a hard time taking books at their word and not reading them first to see if it was really comparable. Add to this the fact that I hadn’t read any recent fiction in a fair bit of time.
What does all of this have to do with N. K. Jemisin? I’m getting to that. This year one of my goal is to try to read a great number of Time Magazine’s Top 100 books of 2020. I am doing this to open my reading comfort zone and maybe grow as a writer. My palate for the word isn’t as broad as I had hoped, and I learned this from the workshop. My second novel has touches of science fiction and fantasy… both categories of fiction that I DON’T actually read. How do I expect to pull that off successfully? I have started my novel writing career as a pantser 100% and I’m telling you this is beyond painful in the editing phase.
The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin has found its way on Time Magazine’s list, as I’m sure it is on many others as well. Before this, I had never even heard her name. You may gasp, I get it. Her book about the creation of New York City from a multi-universe point of view rocked my world. I have to admit that I listened to this as an audio book and Robin Miles is an amazing voice actress. She made Jemisin’s words come alive. I was in this book. I could see everything she wanted me to see. I am not sure how many pages it is as a traditional book, but it was a whopping 16 hours of listening. It was a race to the finish line for me as it was due back in the morning with a waiting list already formed.
I’m not going to tell you anything more about this book because I think you need to explore it for yourself. The adventure is in parsing it all together like a puzzle. It was a fabulous way to start my new journey of writer’s I’ve never read before. Get ready. This year will be ripe with book reviews.
I suppose I am late to this pandemic party in a sense. Being a nurse has had me on the front lines the whole time. Shelter in place happened only four days a week for me and then I was at work the other three. I maintained a partial normalcy as far as that was concerned. All my social outlets were changed, but I was still leaving the house.
Living in New York State has had its advantages. Our Governor locked down the state rather quickly to help decrease the spread and we opened much slower than any other place. Despite this, I am starting to see increased cases in our rural community because many people don’t feel the threat is real. They walk the streets without their masks on because they don’t want to ruin their makeup or they are too cool or they just don’t care. Meanwhile, I have so many people that I worry about who could catch this virus and die.
What does all of this have to do with James Clear’s Atomic Habits? I thought you’d never ask. At this stage of the pandemic game I have lost my usual habits. Time has become strange and marked only by the days I work and Tuesday when I have my group meeting online. I started to lose interest in the things that bring me joy. I lost my schedule basically.
I am also dealing with a teenager who we discovered recently is high functioning ASD but has a hard time making routines and doing things they liked before due to focus issues and some changing health issues. When scrolling through the available audio books at my library, Atomic Habits popped up and as it is only a five hour listen, I thought I could squeeze it in.
This served two functions. I could learn how micro changes effect your habits and it has me back into audio books which had dropped off my radar during the height of the pandemic because I was no longer driving long distances to work and I couldn’t concentrate.
The book is full of very simple and helpful tips on how to build good habits and he has several different ways you can achieve these things depending on the type of learner you are. The rules are very simple and easy to manage. I did find the book a bit over plugged. After each helpful thing he announced you could find it on his website and then listed it. It was repetitive and clearly a marketing strategy which I know works. Kudos to him, but it didn’t get by me.
There are a lot of helpful resources on his book page that could steer you in the direction you need if you are having problems keeping up with your good habits or trying to build new ones. It was worth the listen or read, whatever you’re into.
What attracted me to this book was its title and cover. The collage feel is something very personal to me and I enjoy smashing images together to make a whole new visual. I also enjoy, weather.
Based on these ideas, I chose Weather by Jenny Offill.
As a general rule, I don’t read jacket information, nor do I read reviews before picking up a book. (Shakes head as she writes this review). Not that I don’t go to websites that review books. I only look at the suggested covers and make a decision that way. It spices life up, trust me. As a writer, it continually reminds me of how important cover art is in capturing an audience’s attention.
After finishing the book, I see it has been on the New York Times Best Seller list and that it gets a lot of stars on Goodreads. For me, this book did not hit the mark. Maybe my enjoyment of this novel would’ve required me to read the hard copy rather than listen to it. In the audio book this is the rambling of a woman in a stream of consciousness about the coming political climate surrounding a newly elected president with a mild overarching story about her family. It is possible the arc of the story was more poignant and relevant, but the delivery was so distracting that I kept looking to see how much longer until the book ended.
The primary character Lizzie feels cynical and wry. Her brother Henry is a hot mess of a man whom she has to care for even at the expense of her own family’s happiness. The interesting parts of this story were when Lizzie interacted with other people and drove the novel forward. The rest of the time you’re stuck in her head. I have my own ADD brain to deal with and that is misery enough.
I could be wrong about this book and once the library opens back up, I might give this title another try to see if reading rather than listening is the winning form for Jenny Offill’s words. As it stands, I’m giving this book a solid…. meh.
I have to tell you I am thrilled to not have to drive a cumulative nine hours back and forth to work, but it has hampered my consumption of audio books. I was listening to about one a week and I’m lucky if I can fit in two a month now. Sheltering in place has taken an effect on it too.
We’ve been inundated by shitty weather in upstate New York, which has made hiking and individual outdoor activity harder to do. It slows the mind down. After an entire day of rain, it finally stopped, and I took this as an opportunity to take a long walk and listen to a book. I needed revitalizing.
Recently, my kid and I have been watching episodes of Universe which has been interesting. I have always loved astronomy and the principles of physics, but was never smart enough to crush the math. As I scrolled through the available audio books through my library, there it was. The answer to my first world problems.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
I will not tell you with any sliver of intelligence about the key principles of astrophysics and I will not try. This is more a review that puts the seed in your head that you should listen to this book. You could read it, but then you won’t get to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson say “Holy Shit” while talking about astrophysics. I was walking by the swollen river when this happened and literally was laughing so hard. He’s just a guy, but a smart one. It took me off guard.
I think what I loved about his book was that he made the ideas of astrophysics easy to understand. He spoke about them with intelligence but referenced them to images and ideas that we might grasp as lay people. He talked about how often people feel depressed when learning about astrophysics because it makes them feel insignificant, but he states that he still feels excited and full of wonder. Space and the universe makes him feel this way because human beings discovered it all. It feels like an infinite possibility instead of being irrelevant.
You have four hours of time, less than four hours actually, to listen to this book. You can feel smart and maybe childlike about the wonders of space and how regular people learned to do amazing things.
I have been putting off writing a review on Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for a few weeks now. It was the last audiobook I completed since leaving a job that had me driving two plus hours a day. I finished this one at the end of orientation for my new job which has a shorter commute and little time for consuming audiobooks. It’s the end of an era of listening for me. Maybe I’ve been mourning the loss of the ritual.
I can’t say enough about Neil Gaiman in the first place. I have his rules of writing taped to my bathroom mirror. I read them everyday. They’ve propelled me forward. I can’t lie though, I only discovered his work in the last year, making me extremely late to the party. I am a firm believer in the idea that we find writers when we need them the most. Gaiman made me want to finish a novel I started ten years before. He made me want to complete something.
Norse Mythology is a collection of stories about the creation and ending of the gods, giants, and their interrelationships through history. You have to listen to this book rather than read it. Trust me. Neil Gaiman could read the dictionary and it would be interesting. But besides that fact, the stories of Odin, Loki, and Thor, along with lesser characters I never knew about, deserve to be heard in the oral tradition.
Remember back to when you were a child and your parents read you bedtime stories from a book, or your grandfather spun a yarn for you on a summer day in the backyard while you ate ice cream. How good did that feel? It is magical to have someone take you on a journey in that way. You should go on this journey with Gaiman.
I’m not going to really review this book in detail as it is a collection of stories I feel you have to go in cold to really enjoy. It might change the way you think about Norse mythology in general, especially if you only have very basic knowledge of the tales from what you may have gleaned in comic books and movies. They are fantastical stories about the things of dreams. Give Norse Mythology a listen.
“The Rules of Magic” by Alice Hoffman is above all else, a book about love.
Sure there are witches and magic and a bit of history. But the primary thread is love. The story is about a family of witches with the surname Owens. In the 1600s, their ancestor Maria Owens was killed and there was a curse placed on all the women of the family to lose the one they fell in love with. In the lineage, only women Owens are born until there is one son, Vincent.
Vincent, Frances, and Bridget are all siblings living in New York City in the 1960s. Their lineage as witches has been kept from them by their cautious mother Susanna who knew all too well of the pain of the curse against love. The children know they are different, but they don’t know how different until they go to Massachusetts for the summer of Francis’ seventeenth birthday. It is here in the family home paid for by Maria Owens in the 1600s do they find out about their gifts.
Their Aunt Isabelle gives them free reign to find themselves, to be children, and discover what they are made of. She teaches them spells, but moreover she loves them exactly as they are without trying to change them as their mother does. This home on Magnolia Street becomes a place they return to again and again.
“Don’t live a little, live a lot,” reminds Aunt Isabelle.
Each of the children struggle with their gifts and what they mean. They each do their best to stave off falling in love, afraid of the curse, but none of them can resist. I don’t want to go into any more detail about “The Rules of Magic” because I want you to experience the rich language filled with sensory description and heartbreaking tenderness of growing up a witch in the height of the 60s with war looming over them all. It is a book that covers family, love, individuality, strength of character, and perseverance.
What I will leave you with is my favorite quote which is something that I needed to be reminded of: