Category: Features

Nonfiction November Week 4: Stranger than fiction

This week’s prompt is hosted by Christopher of Plucked From the Stacks, and I had a hard time with this one! We are to highlight “great nonfiction books that almost don’t seem real” and I wasn’t sure where to take it – nonfiction that in fact turned out not to be real (A Million Little Pieces) or at least disputed, or nonfiction that presents itself as fiction (thinking of genre benders like The Order of the Day by Éric Vuillard and Flights by Olga Tokarczuk), or to stop overthinking it and say Bad Blood.

And I will say Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, for all the reasons everyone else is saying it. How this woman scammed everyone around her for so many years is, indeed, stranger than fiction. For extra surrealness, I’m following her trial on Twitter. Another book along these lines (though in a very different setting) that I’d love to read is My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress by Rachel DeLoache Williams, though I get the sense that most of the best details are in the author’s original article. And finally, I eagerly await Bitcoin Widow by Jennifer Robertson, the wife of deceased (maybe) bitcoin mogul and pyramid schemer Gerald Cotton. I hope that there are some jaw dropping revelations, though I won’t hold my breath; if she really helped him fake his death, she’s certainly not going to spill in a book.

And I’ll leave it there. I’m off to read other entries. Start with this week’s host, he’s got some doozies, including the book that inspired the prompt, The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute by Zac Bissonnette. What a title!

Nonfiction November Week 3: Be the expert on tech pessimism

This week’s #NonFicNov prompt is hosted by Veronica, who has given us a few options: you can be the expert, ask the expert, or become the expert on a topic of your choosing. I informally put out a “ask the expert” call in my previous post, and it was answered! If you also want to learn more about Iceland, look no further. This week, I’m going to be the expert on tech pessimism, or to be more precise, on the many, many ways in which social media is harmful.

I’m not really a tech pessimist, or if I am, I’m deeply in denial, seeing as I tweet an average of 250-300 times per month. And yet I’m drawn to these books. I read them, agree with them, vow to change my ways, take week or month-long social media breaks, and then go right back to where I started. I see my Twitter addiction like my (long dormant, but never really gone) smoking addiction; the only way to beat it is to go cold turkey and to never give it an inroad. But unlike smoking, I can’t fully give up social media and neither can you, probably.

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Novellas in November 2021 TBR & Research Round Up

The best part of Novellas in November is the research. Once you start looking, there are <200 page books all over the place, just waiting for the appropriate alliterative month to begin! Here’s a round up of my 2021 discoveries and ambitious TBR.

The official buddy reads

Cathy and Rebecca have included weekly buddy reads in this year’s event, and since all four books were easily procured for no cost (library and Project Gutenberg), I’m going to try and keep up.

  • Week one is a contemporary novella, Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson. I’ve seen this book everywhere, and it got a glowing review from Rachel, so I’m in.
  • Week two is a work of short nonfiction, The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. I was obsessed with Helen Keller for a while in elementary school and look forward to revisiting.
  • Week three is a novella in translation, Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt. I’ve had good luck with Japanese novellas in the past.
  • Week four is a classic novella, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I *think* I’ve read it (it’s crossed off in my 1,001 Books page, anyway) but I can’t remember much and seems due for a reread.

The books in my library

Unread novellas from #NovNovs past and recent additions.

  • My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley is 199 pages exactly and arrived last week. It’s a sign.
  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, a leftover from this year’s 20 Books of Summer
  • Quartet by Jean Rhys, ditto.
  • And on loan from the library, Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika, recommended by Caribbean Girl Reading the World.

The discoveries

The novellas that have crossed my path leading up to #NovNov. Will I get to any of these? Almost certainly not. But maybe… in time…

  • Committed Writings by Albert Camus is a perfect nonfiction novella combo, a collection of speeches and letters, and sounds fascinating. Reviewed by Brona.
  • The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe won a novella prize, and is in the tradition of Wide Sargasso Sea (another solid #NovNov pick), in that it takes a side character from a classic novel and gives her new life. Reviewed by ANZ Litlovers.
  • Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, profiled in The Guardian.
  • A wide selection of novellas by women in translation, selected by Naty.

Nonfiction November Week 1: My Year in Nonfiction

This week’s #NonFicNov prompt is hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction, and it’s a very good place to start. My year in nonfiction has been pretty good, with a third of the books I’ve read qualifying. I’ve struggled with various reading slumps (or more realistically, stress and depression) in 2021, and sometimes I can convince myself that reading something “real” is more… worthwhile? Grounding? The juicier the better, and I read a few doozies this year. Let’s check out Rennie’s prompts!

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I’m still participating in book blog events ft. Nonfiction November and Novellas in November

My favourite part of blogging has got to be the events. I love hosting a good read-along, but I don’t have the energy right now. So I’ve decided to throw myself into some events hosted by other, more ambitious bloggers.

Nonfiction November

I’ve never participated in Nonfiction November, despite nonfiction making up a significant portion of my reading (about a third of the books I’ve read in 2021, up from about a quarter in 2020 and 2019). It’s time to correct this gross oversight.

Nonfiction November has been running for many years. Returning hosts Doing Dewey and What’s Nonfiction are joined by newcomers The Thousand Book Project (sounds like we’d get along), Plucked From the Stacks, and The OC Book Girl.

You know I love to dive into book blog lore, and I see someone already tried to piece together the origins of Nonfiction November, tracing it back to 2013 and two defunct book blogs (the sad part of looking into book blog history is how many blogs are abandoned… or in this case, one of them redirects to a porn site, beware!). I also found a podcast where the current hosts reminisce about the origins of this event.

As for me? I’m trying to go all in, which means blogging about each of the weekly prompts, starting with a fairly easy one about your year in nonfic so far. I’m most looking forward to “be the expert” week, where I will choose between my expertise in tech pessimism (finishing up The Ugly Truth as we speak), and Jonathan Franzen’s nonfiction, which I should complete at some point during the month (just his most obscure work, The Kraus Project, to go!)

Novellas in November

This one should need no introduction – I did a whole post on the history of my beloved #NovNov and despite appearances, I’ve never hosted, just participated enthusiastically. Which I hope to do again. Capable hosts Bookish Beck and Cathy of 746 Books have not only created weekly themes, but will host read-alongs for each – this might be too much for me and my pandemic-addled brain to keep up with, but on the other hand, it saves me the trouble of choosing books. Territory of Light has been on my radar… and I can’t quite remember if I’ve read Ethan Frome.

Depending how this goes, I might see what’s happening for December as well, anyone organizing anything?

I’m still listening to podcasts feat. Mr. Difficult

A year ago, I surveyed my media habits after six months of pandemic living. I looked at bookish blogs, YouTube channels, and podcasts. My podcast consumption had suffered the most, since I didn’t drive anywhere. I was also feeling too burned out and disconnected to keep up – imagine, we weren’t even in the second wave yet! Now, from deep in the fourth wave, it’s time to take stock.

Lately I find myself drawn to podcasts. They lend themselves to projects, conversation, and retrospectives, rather than roundups and book hauls, and the tone tends to be more soothing than your average YouTube video. My only frustration with podcasts is that, unlike blogs and YouTube, there’s no comment section.

But that’s the whole point of a blog, right? Spouting off unqualified opinions? Who needs a comment section!

A new bookish podcast launched this month, and it seems tailor made for me. Mr. Difficult is a podcast devoted to Jonathan Franzen, both his works and his public persona. The “project” is reading and discussing Franzen’s novels in order of publication, culminating in Crossroads.

The hosts, writers Erin Somers and Alex Shephard, plus producer Eric Jett, are not fully fledged Franzen stans. In the first episode, they acknowledge that he is difficult to love, and easy to dunk on. Alex says he’s “attracted and repelled” by him, and Erin says she’s somewhere between a lover and hater. Personally, I find his dunkability endearing, but that’s just me…

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Women in Translation Month 2021 Recommendations

August is Women in Translation month, or #WITmonth. Created and hosted by the tireless Meytal of Biblibio since 2014, and this year debuting a shiny new website, #WITmonth is just what it sounds like: a month celebrating women, transgender, and nonbinary authors who write in other languages. It’s also just a great way to discover books that are off the beaten path.

Due to unforeseen circumstances (my own poor planning), I will not be reading any women in translation this August. Deciding to read from the 1,001 Books list this summer was my first mistake. If you think the canon is bad for including women, wait until you see how many women writing in other languages there are! I’m not counting, but not many! So I will take this opportunity to hype the three qualifying books I read earlier this year.

  1. Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell: I’ve read all three of Schweblin’s books in English translation, and this may be an unpopular opinion, but I like Little Eyes the best. Fever Dream was a bit too vague for me, and Mouthful of Birds, like most story collections, suffered from unevenness. They were both a bit too showy with the magical realism as well. I’ve read a lot of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, so my expectations are pretty high on that front! But Little Eyes is the perfect blend of dystopia, speculative fiction, and character study. It’s also halfway between a novel and a story collection in a way that I found captivating. The premise, that a Furby-like toy could allow an anonymous person to watch your every move, lends itself to questions (would you try it? Would you be a keeper, who is watched, or a dweller, who watches?) and unexpected fallout for the keepers and dwellers we get to watch. This is as good as Margaret Atwood at her speculative best (and Schweblin doesn’t bristle *quite as much* at the genre label, though she doesn’t quite embrace it either).
  2. The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison: It’s been several months since I finished this International Booker Prize winner, and I don’t think I’ve processed it, so there’s not a lot I can say, except that it’s one of the most powerful and bleak books I’ve ever read. Though I am seeing several parallels to my current read, Independent People by Halldór Laxness. Both are centered on isolated farming families who are barely hanging on financially, and are then struck by losses both animal and human. Laxness’ story is from the perspective of the patriarch (thus far) while Rijneveld gives us a child narrator. Coming of age, and father-daughter relationships, are also central to both. I’ll think about this more once I finish Independent People, but in the meantime, I can’t recommend The Discomfort of Evening enough, though I do suggest you brace yourself.
  3. The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen, translation from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman: I know these are memoirs, but they read like a more direct and subversive version of Neopolitan Novels. Less flowery and lyrical than I expected from a celebrated poet, but full of perfect images and sentences, I flew through this book and desperately wanted more. Ditlevsen was a prolific writer, but there’s not a lot more out there in English. Hopefully, the success of this trilogy will spur publishers and translators to give us more.

The recommendations book tag

I have mixed feelings about tags, but I love that this one is straightforward and book focused (none of that “name a book that has an orange tea cup on the cover” or whatever), and I was tagged by the lovely Naty, so here we are!

The rules, as set out by original poster Ally:

  • Tag Ally @ Ally Writes Things so I can see your recommendations!
  • Give at least one recommendation for each of the prompts below
  • If you don’t have a recommendation, talk about a book you want to read
  • Tag your friends

I will additionally challenge myself to mention recently read books, or at least, ones I haven’t talked about much.

A book about friendship

Days by Moonlight by André Alexis is a roadtrip novel about unlikely friends. A troubled young man accompanies an older friend of his deceased parents on a quest to find a reclusive poet, and their travels through Ontario take them to some weird places. I was about to call it a fever dream of a novel, when I remembered their destination ends up being a town called Feversham. Alexis is the type of author who can pull this off.

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The Reading in Bed Tenth Anniversary Starter Pack

The blogger and her writing partner, circa 2011

This month marks ten years since I started Reading in Bed, with the less-than-SMART goal of reading the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Assigning no numerical goal or timeline, it was neither Specific nor Timely, but the blog was conceived as a way to Measure my progress. How Achievable or Realistic it was I will leave for you to judge.

I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what a “book blog” was. I didn’t know what an ARC was. I didn’t know about tags, or Top Ten Tuesday, or what “YA” meant. I was a reader without a community or a culture.

Forays into Bookstagram, Booktube, podcasting, and formal book reviewing were fun, but not my thing. I kept coming back to the blog. And so did some of you. Thank you so much. I’m not a stats person, but it’s nice to know someone’s reading.

If you’re new here, or just want to accompany me down memory lane, here’s a Reading in Bed starter pack, with your favs and mine.

Reading in Bed’s greatest hits

My favourite posts

No life lessons on this anniversary, but my thoughts from five years ago still stand.

Read books. Mostly backlist. Not too much. (2021 goals)

Let me begin by apologizing for using “much” where I should have used “many,” but it’s a play on Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much.” thing, so I’m letting it go.

And yes, Pollan’s advice would probably make a better 2021 goal for me, but alas, this isn’t a food blog.

Here are my plans for 2021, a little more than 10% of the way through.

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