Monday, January 26, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday! Here in the Northeast, we are preparing to be snowed in.  I’m looking out the window right now to a steady current of light snow that has been falling and accumulating for several hours now.  Later today, we are expecting Nor’easter conditions that will dump about 8 inches of snow on Philadelphia, leaving me pretty immobilized in my apartment.

In terms of reading, last week was rough. Four of five days were late nights at work and I was getting sick, so I broke down after just three weeks on my no-buy for 2015 and picked up St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell and Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink even though I was in the midst of reading other things.  Karen Russell is on my list of authors to discover for 2015 and I have wanted to read Five Days at Memorial since I listened toLiterary Disco’s podcast on it last year so I didn't even feel guilty purchasing these books.

For the past two weeks or so, I've been slowly making progress on Burial Rites by Hannah Kent on my Kindle Paperwhite.  Right now I’m at 30% complete and I would really love to finish this one in January so I can start February with a clean slate. I also started St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves on Sunday afternoon in between my illness-induced naps which was perfect – each story I've read so far is about 20 pages long, which is just enough to catch my attention and keep me interested so I can finish a story and feel that sense of accomplishment without getting bogged down in a story line.  

I was listening to Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach on the Audible app for my commute to and from work but I had to move that to my abandoned pile at about halfway through due to some author choices that I didn't agree with. I updated my review on Goodreads to reflect my opinion on this book and you can read that here.

In my queue after these two books are finished is The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters which I have on hold through my library’s e-book system and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.  Harry will be a re-read that I am really excited for; I am hoping to get through all seven books this year.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  You can visit her blog here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Little Stranger | Mini Review

I finished reading The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters a few days ago.  It is an incredibly hyped up book right now and I couldn't stop hearing about it on BookTube.  For everyone who hasn't heard of this book yet, you can check out the Goodreads page for a plot summary.  I am always afraid that I will reveal spoiler-y information in a plot summary I write myself.

Unfortunately I was disappointed in this book. I had many, many high hopes for it after reading and watching so many rave reviews.  The writing was phenomenal, and after the first 100 pages or so, I fell into the English countryside and was devouring the book in large chunks.  That is where my positive experience ends.  I was expecting a creepy book with a Gothic setting, plot twists and turns that would keep me awake at night and a thrilling conclusion.  Instead I received a plot that moved slowly, with characters that I didn't like and an unsatisfying ending. After thinking over this novel for a few days, I still cannot determine the motives of the doctor (whose name I even can’t remember) which I believe was a larger portion of the book than what has otherwise been suggested.  Overall I wouldn't recommend this book to others but I am going to keep reading other Sarah Waters books.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Reading Diversely

This post is to notify everyone that I have officially joined the bandwagon on the importance of reading diversely in 2015 and for the rest of my life.

But first, I want to tell you about a little girl I know and love named Francie Nolan.  If you are not familiar with Francie, she is the protagonist of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  I first met Francie in 2011 and she quickly became one of my favorite people, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn quickly became one of my favorite books of all time.  I reread it about once a year, revisiting passages that I find particularly poignant or enjoyable more frequently. It is currently on my nightstand for a bit of comfort reading before going to bed.

I love Francie and this book because I find it so relatable.  Like Francie, I am white, from a lower middle class background, with a younger brother, two parents, and a large extended Irish family. I understand Francie’s love of the library, her outlook on life, and wanting to better herself through reading and education.  We are so similar in outlook and background that I was easily able to fall into the pages of this book, find myself and greater meaning, and become better for it.

However, this is not something that most people experience because books that are written by people of differing backgrounds that mine – in particular, nonwhite authors, are not featured in publishing or book stores or in the general literary world.  A majority of people cannot walk into a bookstore and find a novel to represent themselves the same way A Tree Grows in Brooklyn represents me.  This is unfair, and it makes me sad to think that not everyone can have the same reading experience as I did because the books that are written about them are not being published or featured in stores.
Diversity in reading was first brought to my attention when BookCon 2014 was announced, with a panel of 29 white authors and one cat, but no panels or speakers to represent anyone of differing ethnicity or race. From this, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign began and is now an established non-profit organization.  Despite having this knowledge thrust into my attention at every turn, I ignored it. I did not think diversity in reading was a problem and I kept reading through the year as if it didn't matter.

Towards the end of the year, I began to think more critically about what I was reading, who I was reading about, and the authors I was reading.  I owe a large part of this to Book Riot, and the content that is created on the website and podcasts each week. I also have to thank Daniel Handler for his comments at the National Book Awards ceremony for providing me with the abrupt realization that racism, and preference to white authors, is so implicitly and explicitly displayed in my daily life that I needed to make a change on how, what, and who I read.  This was exacerbated when I went into two stores on December 30 looking to purchase Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, which won the National Book Award for 2014.

Neither Target, one of the largest retailers in the U.S., nor Books a Million had inventory of this book in their store.  The lack of inventory wasn't due to recent popularity of the book either, because neither store had a location for the book indicating that it was sold out.  As I looked around these stores, specifically in the Target’s book section, I only saw a reflection of myself.  That is, books about white people and written by white people.  I was astounded.  The lack of diversity that I had been hearing about for the entire year was just thrown in my face, and I knew I needed to make a change.

I know I am not going to make large waves in the literary or publishing world alone. But I am going to make a change in myself and try to make a change in my area.  I first established some reading resolutions for 2015 in this blog post to ensure that I am reading diversely, to broaden my own perspective and experience.  I am going to continue to support Book Riot and I am dedicating more time to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, and I am also writing to my local retailers to request diversity in their stores.

It is a small start, but a permanent one.  If you are reading this and you feel the same way, please let me know in the comments. I would also love to hear from you on Twitter @keepingheather, and I am always looking for good book recommendations.