Franzen in February 2017

It’s that time of year when Reading in Bed pauses and takes a moment to alternately love, hate, and love-to-hate that great American novelist (it’s okay when it’s not capitalized) Jonathan Franzen.

Last year I debuted this feature and it was so much fun. I was drawing on a couple years’ worth of ideas, though, and at the beginning of 2017, I considered leaving it at that: a one-time thing. Do I have that much more to say? Two years out from his last book, the Fran Man is not in the news much lately, and reacting to his media presence is half the fun. Nor do I have any new conspiracy theories, unfortunately.

But then I kind of forced my hand by writing him a letter and letting him know about the whole Franzen in February thing:

franzenletter

D’ya think he reads his fan mail?

So! Here we are. I have a couple ideas up my sleeve, and I hope a couple of you contribute a guest post or two. If you would like to review one of his books, or write anything at all, loving or not, get in touch in the comments. No sign ups or prizes, just good, clean Franzen fun. Here’s what I’m working on:

  • The start of a”Complete Works” project with a review of Franzen’s first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City
  • A review of Nell Zink’s Nicotine, which pairs nicely with Purity
  • Chip Lambert and Charlie Brown: The Influence of Charles Schultz on the works of Jonathan Franzen (sounds academic, right? It’s just going to be Peanuts comic strips and quotes from The Corrections, don’t worry)
  • Show and tell: my Franzen collection, from ARCs to signed first editions

In the meantime, check out this wonderful Author Spotlight at new-to-me book blog bibliotaphs, or check out the Franzen in February archives.

franzenstack

On my shelf

 

2017 Reading Plans: Hello, boys

After numerous self-imposed reading restrictions in 2016, I’m leaving 2017 wide open in terms of what and how many books I read. I plan to reintroduce men into my reading life, after a 2016 of #readwomen. I toyed with the idea of reading only men this year, but would rather have some freedom.

I have some projects in mind, of course. This wouldn’t be a book blog without needless complication of the simple act of reading!

  1. Author of the Year – or, The Complete Works of…: Adam at Memento Mori read all of Cormac McCarthy’s books, in order of publication, in 2016 and he’s doing it again this year with Faulkner. Some other Booktube types are taking the challenge with other authors, like Steinbeck. I don’t want to settle on an author just yet; rather, I’m going to read debut novels and embark on the project when the mood strikes. My shortlist includes:
    • Gabriel Garcia Marquez (debut novella The Leaf Storm)
    • David Adams Richards (debut novel The Coming of Winter)
    • Charles Dickens (The Pickwick Papers)
    • Haruki Murkami (Hear the Wind Sing, #1 in the Trilogy of the Rat)
    • Jean Rhys (The Left Bank)
    • Dostoyevski (Poor Folk)
    • Zadie Smith (White Teeth)
    • Jonathan Franzen (The Twenty-Seventh City).
  2. Franzen in February: Speaking of the Fran Man, I do plan to reprise Franzen in February in some manner, and you can help! Get in touch if you want to write a guest post, particularly if you’ve never read Franzen and want to review one of his books. I would love someone to do The Corrections! Last year my Franzen first-timers were not impressed by either Strong Motion or Freedom.
  3. Canada Reads: The longlist is out, the “theme” is announced. Though I’m not sure “the book Canada needs now” is a theme. At the very least, I will watch, and possibly, do a shadow or parallel Canada Reads with WriteReads – check out their latest podcast for details.
  4. Authors in Edmonton: Emily St. John Mandel and Heather O’Neill: Yep, I’m finally going to read Station Eleven, as it’s the 2017 Macewan Book of the Year. Hype be damned. And O’Neill is giving the 2017 Kreisel Lecture at the University of Alberta, which will force me to read more of her work – I’ve been afraid that nothing can surpass Lullabies for Little Criminals.
  5. War and Peace Summer Readalong: No details just yet, but after completing a thousand page readalong last year, naturally I’m going to go for a twelve hundred pager this year. Watch this space.

One thing I didn’t realize til I wrote this all out is that by reading men again, and focusing on debuts, I’ll end up reading a lot of novels by men in their early-to-mid twenties.

clueless-ew-get-off-of-me-gif-MJxc.gif

Ew! The semi-autobiographical musings of a 23 year old!

Wish me luck!

(If this is tl;dr you can check me out on Booktube talking about my reading goals here.)

 

 

2016 Year in Review #2: Best books, worst books, and my book of the year

Despite restricting myself to only 35 new-to-me books in 2016, I had trouble narrowing down a top and bottom five. I also set out to document my 35 books on Instagram but kind of failed… I managed to get a few decent pictures though!

Best books of 2016, in order of when they were read:

  • Birdie by Tracey Lindberg: Like nothing I’ve read before. A travesty that it didn’t win Canada Reads, Alberta Reader’s Choice Awards, and wasn’t nominated for many others. If there ever was a book that Canadians need now, and that has literary merit and does something new with the novel. this is it!
  • Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood: Yes, we’re all mad at her right now. And this book, about how horrible women and girls are to each other, is perhaps fitting. I went through the strangest emotions while reading this: a mixture of sadness and relief that I’ll never have a daughter.
  • After Claude by Iris Owens: So good I read it twice this year. So funny for the first two thirds that I forgot how devastating the last third is.
  • The Diviners by Margaret Laurence: There are a lot of reasons to love this book. I’ll choose the fact that we witness the heroine lose her virginity in a scene where she is in total control, and she doesn’t 1) instantly orgasm 2) marry the guy 3) pay for it for the rest of the book. Sex positive CanLit circa 1973.
  • Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys: Speaking of books that are ahead of their time! All these books are about strong women (but not “strong women”) and Sasha is the strongest and brittlest of them all.

Book #7 and future winner of Canada Reads. This book blew me away. #bookstagram #canadareads2016 #CanLit

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Spring. Also book 11 of 2016, THE DIVINERS by Margaret Laurence. #bookstagram #amreading #readingoutside

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#FridayReads and #FridayWaits to get my dang phone fixed (they're on 39, time for a few pages)

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Disappointing books of 2016, in order of when they were read. I don’t have pictures of all these, because, ugh.

  • The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson: Read more like an educational pamphlet than a graphic novel.
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: I love an unreliable narrator. In fiction. In memoir, not so much…
  • Bluets by Maggie Nelson: I just didn’t get it. Nelson is a writer I think I *should* like but just… don’t. And the fawning over her is just too much. I listened to her on a few podcasts this year and the hosts just grovel, Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy” style.
  • In-Between Days by Teva Harrison: I didn’t connect with the drawing style. When you look forward to the text-only pages in a graphic novel, that’s not good.
  • The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin: If Eat Pray Love was re-imagined as Eat Read Fuck. Which is funny since Crispin wrote a takedown of EPL (and even stranger, a defense of it six years ago.) This was my biggest disappointment. Crispin is an OG book blogger who’s gone on to be a respected literary critic. She is contrarian and sarcastic and smart. But this book swung between too show-offy and obscure and too juvenile (pretending not to know what the solution is to an affair with a married man that won’t leave his wife…) Won’t stop me from pre-ordering Why I Am Not A Feminist, though!

 

And now, the 2016 Reading in Bed Book of the Year:

Continue reading

A #readwomen of one’s own

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When you realize the introduction to your novel was written by a man and you’re not sure if that’s #readwomen approved (Woman Reading by Robert James Gordon, late 19th century)

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about my 2016 reading rules– only read books I own for the first three months, only read 35 books total –  but didn’t mention the most significant restriction on my reading: In 2016 I only read books by authors who identify as women*.

In that post I referenced LitHub’s “Reader’s Manifesto“, in which a male literary editor sought head pats for deigning to read (certain, hip) women and minorities. My decision to take on a #readwomen challenge without telling anyone was a direct response to it. Is reading women, or “reading diversely” (i.e. not reading white men) still worthwhile if nobody knows you’re doing it?

I may not have told anyone, but between this blog, YouTube, Instagram, and Litsy, my reading habits aren’t exactly a secret. I wondered, vainly, if anyone would notice. Could I host a month-long Franzen Fest with out actually reading Franzen? Could I do a big, chunky classic readalong and not pick a dead white guy?  Yes. Easily. Turns out, no one really cares what you’re reading (unless they stand to make money off it, probably).

I also wondered if I would react like other #readwomen-ers? Would I have a better year of reading? Would I learn something about myself? Be a more discerning reader? Renew my commitment to feminism? Would I vow to never go back, and read mostly or only women from now on?

I went in cynical. If you read my blog, you know I’m dubious of reading challenges. Reading women, in particular, means subscribing to a gender binary, and assigning genders to authors, which can be dicey. Yes, I included trans and queer authors, but is that enough? Really, it’s more #dontreadmen than #readwomen. That doesn’t sound as good, does it?

So, my conclusion after a year of reading women: it was fine. I read some great books, and some not-great books. I read some new-to-me authors that I’ll never read again, and some that I’ll eventually read in their entirety. I didn’t come to any grand realizations. I’m still a feminist, but still struggle with hashtag #feminism. I still think “reading diversely” is often more about virtue signalling than actual commitment to diversity.

I did notice a few things. They just didn’t have much to do with what I was (or wasn’t) reading.

  1. Maybe it’s not books we should be worried about: Reading women made me notice gender imbalances in other arts and media, particularly music. I have a 25 minute commute, and can flip between four rock radio stations (3 local + CBC) and not hear a single woman’s voice, which I’d never noticed before. The indie music scene is super male dominated, too. My husband joined a band in late 2015, which means I’m going to local shows for the first time in many years. Between dozens of opening acts and battles of the band entries, in 2016 I saw a total of one band with a (single) female musician.
  2. Or at least, not fiction we should be worried about. I delved into some work-related reading this year, and found myself in the business section of my local Coles. If you wanna #readwomen but don’t want to #leanin with Sheryl Sandberg, you’re pretty much out of luck. I’m also into productivity lately (ask me about my #bujo!), and you’d think that since women are so famously into multitasking and having it all, there’d be plenty of #readwomen books to choose from, but you’d be wrong.

    business

    Coles City Centre, Edmonton, circa September 2016. Spot the single woman in this display of “Essential Business Books”!

  3. Maybe I should worry about myself. It’s easy (and satisfying!) to bitch about how traditional media and publishing is still male dominated, but what about the media that I curate for myself? In 2016 I started listening to podcasts, and really got into Booktube. Of the 21 literary podcasts I’m subscribed to, 11 have at least one woman host, and about three quarters of the literary YouTube channels I subscribe to are hosted by women. Sounds pretty great, right? What you have to realize is that literary podcasts and Booktube, like book blogs, are super female dominated. The fact that I’m not subscribed to 90% women means I’m skewing things. And I don’t have stats on this, but I know that the small fraction of those subscriptions that actually get watched or listened to are even more skewed towards men. Sometimes for superficial reasons – a soothing voice is an absolute must and I cannot abide vocal fry or uptalk, and yes I know it’s problematic for me to say so – but there might be more to it and I’ve not figured it out yet.

Where to go from here? I considered reading men for a year, or, at least the first 35 books of the year, to even things out. I also considered only reading books by people of colour for a year. I don’t think I’ll do either. I was worried that my year of reading women would become a year of reading white women, but it didn’t, so I trust myself to read broadly without making it a numbers game. I’ve got some other plans in mind that have less to do with who the author is and more to do with who I am as a reader. Less “read women” and more “woman reading”, you could say. More on that soon!

*I cheated by reading The Short Story Advent Calendar, which included male authors. It’s a tradition!

2016 Year in Review #1: The Stats

You may notice something different about this year’s stats, compared to other years. Let’s see how long it takes to spot it…

smell

I smelled 0% of the paper books because that’s weird.

Books Read

  • Books read in 2016: 35, down from 69 in 2015. That was on purpose, though. And I’m not counting rereads, kids books, or books I read for work.
  • Shortest book: Bluets by Maggie Nelson (112 pages)
  • Longest book: Cecilia by Frances Burney (1,056 pages)
  • Format: 97% paper, 3% ebook, 0% audio (compared to a third of my reading on ebook and audio last year)

About the Author

  • 100% female (58% in 2015)
  • 34% person of colour (up from 20% 2015)
  • 37% Canadian (same as 2015) 38% American, 11% British, and 1 each: Korean, Japanese, French, Filipino. 
  • Three Edmonton-area authors this year, being generous with one who moved recently!

… did you catch it? Yes, I did the #readwomen thing this year, and my experience will be covered in a separate blog post. Brace yourselves: unlike many who do this sort of thing, I did not come to any shattering realizations, and I *cannot wait* to read some dudes in 2017.

The book that started it all.

The book that started it all.

Genres and Lists

  • 11% classics (same as 2015), 63% contemporary lit fic (about the same as previous years), 11% nonfiction (all memoirs), and a handful of erotica, poetry, and graphic novels.
  • 1001 Books for a total of 127 read.

Probably gonna mix it up a bit next year, say, read some nonfiction that isn’t memoir?

Ratings

  • 17% were rated five stars (up from 11% last year), 49% were four stars, 23% were three stars, 14% were two stars and poor Nora Roberts gets just one.
  • The most underrated book was After Claude, which I rated a 5, compared to average 3.55 rating on Goodreads. Which I assume is due to people getting offended, which is the whole point.
  • The most overrated book was The Liar, which I rated a 1, compared to average 3.94 rating. It was just bad.
Lemme in, Something Awful! I won't stay long, I promise!

Lemme in, Something Awful! I won’t stay long, I promise!

Blog Stats

  • Headed for about 17,000 page views in 2015, down from 23,000 in 2015. And 11,000 visitors, down from 15,000.
  • I’m not panicking, because my review of The Fault in Our Stars, which amassed 7,000 views in 2013-2015, was viewed just 400 times this year. Looks like kids writing papers have moved on to another book. Similarly, my review of Sleeping Beauty is not pulling the numbers it used to (nor am I seeing as much filth in my search terms). I think a lot of my traffic in 2014/2015 was artificial due to people landing on those posts – and quickly clicking away. They were never my readers anyway. The moral is: never review YA or erotica.
  • An Oryx and Crake readalong recap from 2013 continues to perform, due to a post on a Something Awful forum which I’m sorely tempted to pay for so I can see what it is… anyone a member? Hit me up!
  • On course for 45 posts this year, up from 39 posts in 2015.
  • Most viewed post of 2016 is that mysterious Oryx and Crake one.
  • Most viewed post that was actually written in 2016: Intro post of the Cecilia readalong, likely due to a little help from CBC.
  • Least successful post in 2016: Short Story Advent Calendar Video Reviews. Same as in 2015, it’s a Booktube post. Okay, I get it, you guys don’t like the Booktube…

Stay tuned for best books, disappointing books, and 2017 plans, of which I have several!

The Short Story Advent Calendar: Totally Hip Video Reviews

While I dare not hope to be as cool as the original Totally Hip Video Book Reviewer, I am making another foray into the world of Booktube with a daily series of Short Story Advent Calendar reveals and reviews.

I’m not going to spam you with a blog post each day, but subscribe over on YouTube for daily videos. Check out the unboxing…

…and day one story reveal:

Shout out to my kids for putting up with this and I’ll see you over on Booktube!

The Best Kind of CanLit

I guest hosted on CanLit podcast Write Reads earlier this month and we talked about Zoe Whittall’s Giller shortlisted The Best Kind Of People. We recorded on Giller Prize eve, and I said I didn’t think it should win, but I did think it would be a contender on Canada Reads.

I’ve felt bad about the podcast since, hence I haven’t shared it till now. I felt bad because it was a little snobby of me to say this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, doesn’t deserve a prize. I was a bit condescending. But I also felt bad for holding back on the discussion about rape culture. I walked into the recording thinking about Stephen Galloway, and brought him up as soon as we stopped recording. Now everyone’s talking about him and I have to wonder why I didn’t say something sooner. Continue reading

Novellas in November 2016: Are Nonfiction Novellas a thing?

So, uh, anyone reading novellas this November?

The past three years of this event took place during less eventful Novembers than this one. I assume that’s why I don’t see anyone novella-ing yet. Unless you were just waiting for me.

With Nonfiction November taking the (Booktube) world by storm, I thought I’d open with some nonfiction novellas.

Oh, you thought novellas can only be fiction?

Well, that’s probably true, but there is a little subgenre of nonfiction that’s more than an essay but less than a book. There’s a whole blog about it, Brevity, which I just discovered. In this post from 2009, Brevity considers calling these pieces “nonfiction novellas,” but settles on “monograph essays.” That sounds too stuffy for me. #NonFictionNovellasInNovember it is.

Here are a couple I’ve read recently.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson (95 pages)
Help me out, guys. Everyone I know loved this book. It’s the kind of book people push on you. Nelson is fawned over in all her interviews, the various podcasters not sure they’re qualified to be in her prescence, let alone speak to her. But Bluets did nothing for me. The numbered fragments amount to a long essay about a breakup, with major tangents about light, colour, collecting, compulsion, sex, and blue stuff. I read it over a weekend and put it aside, unmoved.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (48 pages)
Time to be a contrarian again: I do not get the hype. To be clear: I do think we should all be feminists. There is nothing in this book I disagree with. But I expected it to show me something new, or challenge my beliefs in some way. It was very “feminism 101.” So, good for someone just starting out, I guess. You can watch the original half-hour Ted Talk here.

Who Needs Books? by Lynn Coady (44 pages)
Technically I didn’t read this, but I was at the lecture in 2015. And I had so much fun writing about it. I do own the book now (thanks Jason!) and in rereading the introduction, was reminded that one of her Giller-winning short stories featured Jean Rhys – stay tuned for more on Rhys when we get to the traditional novellas. I thought this lecture was brilliant, bringing together Franzen and Grover to teach us all a lesson about reading and hedonism. You can  listen to her read it in just under 54 minutes right here.

Even This Page is White by Vivek Shraya (107 pages)
Okay, this is a book of poetry, so it maybe it doesn’t belong here. Or maybe it does. These poems are so grounded in place; there’s no mistaking that these are Canadian poems, Edmonton poems, Amiskwaciwâskahikan poems. Then there’s the form: some of the poems are interviews with people about race. One is made of fragments from the comments on a petition to ban Kanye West from playing the Pan Am games. Other poems are autobiographical. Sounds pretty nonfictiony to me. This was also my first experience at a poetry reading and it was life changing.

What about you? And what do you call these in-betweeny, nonfictiony books?

How did Ah nae ken about this?

No, seriously, how did I now know about this till now?

I don’t know how to feel. One the one hand, the shot-for-shot parallels make this feel like nostalgia porn. On the other hand, Irvine Welsh did write a sequel called Porno, so there is a legit basis for the movie.

I’m scared they’re gonna wreck it. But I’ve watched the trailer five times in the past 24 hours. Oh hell. You know I’m gonna see it!

As Renton might say:

Choose sequels. Choose a money grab. Choose movie tie-in covers. Choose to exploit the nostalgia of a generation that has few things to be nostalgic about. Choose to name drop apps and social media to attract a new audience. Choose to adapt an inferior novel and see if magic will happen twice. Choose a good soundtrack – you set the bar pretty high there.

But why choose to watch the movie, when you can choose to read the book?

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Seriously how they gonna call this movie “T2” and not Porno?

Why I want to be friends with Imbolo Mbue (and a review of her novel Behold the Dreamers)

I have no time for Booktubers who apologize for not knowing how to pronounce an author’s name – look that shit up! And so I did for Imbolo Mbue (Em-boo-wey), author of Behold the Dreamers,  and discovered that, in addition to having four letter names that are difficult to pronounce, we both worked in market research, and we both love Jonathan Franzen.

Today, I still work in market research, while Mbue is a famous novelist; and the closest I got to Franzen was being in the same room, while she shares an agent with him. But I’m not the jealous type. I totally think we could be friends.

I made friends with her novel and reviewed it here:

What author do you think you could be friends with?