TTT: 10 Series I Can’t Wait to Finish and/or Start

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Are you the type of person that can finish a series? I am….not generally that person. There are a few series that I love–that I’ve read multiple times, but to be honest those are mostly books that I started as a kid or young adult. And even then, some series I didn’t finish until I was older like A Series of Unfortunate Events. And by the time I did, well the window where I was going to love that book had sort of passed me by. Although I really enjoyed the Netflix show.

I was obsessed with the Harry Potter books and read them all multiple (multiple) times, but there’s not a lot of other series I can say that about. I’m a serial series starter. I have a really hard time when not all the books are published or published in a reasonable timeframe (ahem GoT and The Kingkiller Chronicles) because I hate waiting for a new book to come out. I also don’t have a lot of patience for series of more than 10 books. I do okay with trilogies (especially when I’m reading them for a book club or something), but on the whole I mostly read standalone books.

But like all (arbitrary) rules, there’s always exceptions. Most of the series are ones I’d like to finish, and just two I’d like to start. But of course, I start series all the time so this list is always changing.

Series I’d Like to Finish:

Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde (finished 2/7 books)

Do you like books about books? How about saving the world through a combination of bureaucracy and butt-kicking? If you answered yes to both these questions, you’ll probably enjoy Thursday Next, who lives in an alternate world where books are of great importance–in fact they might even save the day. The first book, The Eyre Affair, follows Thursday, a veteran from the never-ending war, in her job in Special Ops, and her division deals with book crimes. She gets pulled into a plot that involves evil corporations, evil geniuses, and lots of literary references. If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, I think you’ll probably enjoy these books a lot.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (finished 4/8 books, first 3 and the prequel)

My friend recommended these books to me and they are so much fun. Who doesn’t love an assassin protagonist with a love of fancy clothes who is secretly… but we won’t go there. And love triangles? That’s so simple. We deal with complexity. Why not love pentagons? love octagons? I would have had 5 of them read, but I had to turn the book in when we moved and I haven’t gotten it out at the library again. I wish the library had the whole series as audiobooks.

Flavia de Luce by Alan Bradley (finished 2/11 and counting)

Okay so I read the first two of the Flavia de Luce series featuring a precocious preteen detective with a love of all things grisly and a knack for chemistry. It’s like someone shook up A Series of Unfortunate Events and We Have Always Lived in the Castle with a whole lot of mystery. The reason I’ve held off is that the series isn’t finished yet. But maybe this will be less of a problem once I get a few more books under my belt.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (finished 1/5 books)

I really, really enjoyed the first one, and I’d like to just get them all out from the library at the same time, including the first one, and binge read them all the way through.

Great Cities by N.K. Jemisin (finished 1/2?)

I loved The World We Make, and honestly I think the first book stood on its own, but it was also so good that I think it’s worth reading the sequel. I don’t know if this series will have more than two books, but the fact that the second one came out so quickly (Jemisin seems like an author who actually finishes her series) makes me feel a little more confident about picking this one up.

Shades of Magic by V.E. Schwab (1/3 books)

There’s only 3 books. The first one was really good. Series should really not be this hard to finish–that’s what I keep telling myself.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (1/3 books)

How have I only read one of these? I honestly don’t know.

The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss (1/3? books)

I refuse to read the second one until the final one comes out. This is silly. I have principles. The first one was so good, but it was clearly not meant as a standalone experience and they are dense so I only want to reread the first one.

Series I’d Like to Start:

Discworld by Terry Pratchett (41(ish?) books. Gulp.)

My first introduction to Terry Pratchett was through Good Omens, and I know deep, deep in my bones that I’m going to love these books. But–there are so many! I think I will read them in sub-series order because then I can break up the larger world into smaller, more manageable series. That seems more doable.

The Wilderwood by Hannah Whitten (2 books, so far?)

These look like some good, dark fairy tale adaptions, which are generally my preferred reading material.

Have you read any of these series? Do you have a favorite book series? Let me know in the comments!

TTT: 9 Books I Bought on Vacation

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I’m the kind of person who always brings a book to the cabin and…never reads more than a few pages of it. I go on trips with several book and come back with most of them unread except for the audiobook on the plane. I’m often lucky if I get a single book read on a trip. There’s usually so many other things to experience and do and reading tends to be a pretty solitary, relaxing activity, which is not usually trip strategy. So with very few exceptions (like our trip to Taiwan years ago when I had long stretches of time to myself), I tend to buy more books on vacation than I read. And because these books become something like souvenirs, they’re often more memorable to me than the books that I read (or tried to read, and reread the same paragraph over and over again). So although the prompt for this week is books I read on vacation, I’m going to talk about books I purchased on vacation instead.

New York, New York at the Strand: Unnatural Creatures ed. by Neil Gaiman

I bought this book for the cover, the gorgeous typography and twisting branches. We were young college kids on this trip, and we didn’t have a lot to spend on souvenirs, but the book was out in paperback and on sale, and I bought it. This is a great collection of short stories by the way–a cool focus that allows the writers to be very creative. If you enjoy fantasy and dark fairy tales, you’ll definitely enjoy it.

Bend, Oregon: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

I found this at a thrift store with my Mom and Nana–we always beeline for the books. I had read a couple other Atwood books by then so I was excited to see another one. Even now, I know I’ll get through all of her books eventually, but I tend to dole them out to myself so I don’t go through them all at once.

Paris, France: A French version of the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I learned un petit peu of French for the trip to Paris my Nana and I took in 2018. I learned enough to get around as a tourist, but definitely not enough to struggle through Harry Potter, and given the choice I’ll probably go back to Spanish, but I couldn’t resist buying something in the wonderful little bookstore. Next time I’ll stick to notebooks. I still have the little embossed bookmark though, and I love it.

Maui, Hawaii: The Quest for King Arthur by David Day

I really enjoy shopping, but not the mass produced souvenir kind, so while my friend was off looking at things in Lahaina, I went and found this cute little used bookstore and an interesting coffee table book about King Arthur caught my eye.

Taichung, Taiwan: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I went into a lot of bookstores and stationery stores in Taiwan and bought lots of washi tape and little cards and stickers and things, but I didn’t kid myself and think I was ever going to learn enough Mandarin even for a simple picture book. But there was a little used bookstore in Taichung that held a shelf of English books, and I was running low on reading material so…it came home with me.

Actually Taiwan was the rare trip that I read quite a bit since I was alone most of the day. I only took books I was willing to leave behind and I ended up leaving almost a drawerful and the hotel called. In retrospect, I should have just taken them down to the bookstore I’d found but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the person at the counter even though the vast majority of people we met spoke at least some English (certainly much more than my 10 words of Mandarin)  i also could have looked it up on my phone… no excuse really. My bag was lighter without them and then I had room for all the washi tape.

Patrick Ness writes really well about the shock and horrors of childhood made manifest as a little boy grieves his mother in the only way he knows how. A beautiful middle grade book. And the movie was decent as well.

London, UK: The Muse by Jessie Burton, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

There was some sort of deal for 3 of certain paperbacks, so I found a few things. I don’t remember the name of this bookstore that we poked into…but I did notice that books are a bit less expensive in the UK and that they’re made a little differently– stiffer and lighter than the floppy US trade paperback. The covers were gorgeous too!

Mikhail Bulgakov wrote the Master and Margarita, which is one of my all time favorites, and this little novella was good, but not as good. It’s about a doctor who switches a human’s testicles with a dogs and they take on each other’s characteristics to amusing results. It’s a weird little book, but it gives you a good sense of the midcentury USSR, which Bulgakov was very much writing against in a fantastical way.

The Essex Serpent is a little dark and creepy and full of magical realism, like most of Sarah Perry’s work. Her writing can be a little dense, but it’s worth wading through (or listening to the audiobook) for the atmosphere she creates in her stories, which borders on the gothic. They made a miniseries of this for Apple TV+, which I haven’t seen yet.

Everyone talks about Jessie Burton’s more well known book The Miniaturist, but I couldn’t get into that setting nearly as quickly as I was swept into a fast paced midcentury London. I ended up reading this book waiting to be called for jury duty. We were there 6 hours or so before being dismissed. I finished both books I brought and went to the library on break. That’s where I picked up the more famous Jessie Burton book, but it was such a tone and pace shift I couldn’t get through the first chapters and into the richer parts. Also, those closeted Holland spaces always feel dark and claustrophobic to me. They’re not my favorite historical setting by a long shot.

Merida, Mexico:  Purchased: The Poems of Octavio Paz

Recently my friend and I went to Mexico, and while we were in this colorful city, I discovered that an expat was running an English language bookstore. I was looking for poetry by Mexican authors, and I was disappointed not to find much although I’m sure it doesn’t sell that well. But I did pick up a lovely bilingual edition of poems by Octavio Paz.

Do you ever buy books on vacation? Let me know in the comments!

Reading Through the Stacks: 9. A Biting Wit

I love the insects on this cover.

Reading through the Oakland Public Library’s poetry collection.

Today we’re discussing a new book: These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit by Hayan Charara.

Hayan Charara (1972–) grew up in Detroit, and some of his poetry deals with the decay of this particular urban landscape, his Lebanese cultural roots come through mostly in meditations on Arab identity in the United States, and the associated erasure and racism Arab people experience. He’s a professor of creative writing, currently at the University of Houston.

What I admired most about this book of poetry was just how clever it was. There are several sections that showcase this really well, two of which are series of haiku. One, centered on a specific place (the porch) show the dramas of everyday, mostly through conversation. Although each haiku stands on its own, they link together in time to tell the story of an evening and a neighborhood.

On the porch–
we speak long distance, I think,
for the last time.

Hayan Charara from “Porch Haiku”

The poems are particularly well constructed throughout the book–there is a lot of attention to structure in the individual poems as well as in the collection as a whole. The language throughout is pretty clear, and the poet presents a personal politics that encompasses rather than being removed from poetry. For example, in “The Prize” he describes the poetry winners of the Pulitzer Prize in relation to World War II. The collection speaks through and across time in really interesting ways. And it has a really thoughtful use of profanity, although the use of this language in poetry is maybe a topic for another day.

But I have to admit, my favorite section of the book is a seven poem section titled “Mean,” which are, as you might guess, a little bit nasty. I think poetry can come across as a little elitist and holier-than-thou, held to these sacred or noble feelings, but in my opinion, poetry should be honest, vulnerable. Sandra Cisneros said in an interview:

“I discovered a poetic truth, that you have to write as if what you had to say is too dangerous to publish in your lifetime. Then your ego gets out of the way, and you allow the light to come through you, the blood jet that Sylvia Plath talked about. You write from a more honest place.”

And the truth is we’re human, and sometimes what we think and feel is mean, nasty, and bitter. We can’t deny that any more than the fear, embarrassment, doubt, or sadness we feel. I think these poems are courageous, and–I know I’m a horrible person for saying this and I think that’s exactly what I’m meant to feel–funny as well. They are witty and terrible and kind of–eek–delightful. I won’t quote them because for copyright reasons I really try and only use quotes from poems in this blog, and you really need the whole of the short poems to feel the sting. Let that be a reason to look up the book of poems at your library.

Instead, I’ll end my discussion of the book with an excerpt from what’s probably my favorite poem in the entire collection:

“The girl is older than the boy,
the boy older than the cat, and the cat
which cannot communicate
what it knows about age, hates
the cactuses on the windowsill–“

Hayan Charara from “Older”

The poem works through a series of comparisons about the age of things, and it ends on such a beautiful melancholy note.

TTT: My Top 10 Most Memorable Bookstores

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Today’s topic is favorite bookstores or bookstores I’d most like to visit. I’m going to stick with places I’ve been to because I think that will make for a shorter, more reasonable list. I’m on a not-so-secret quest to discover every bookstore in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco and pick favorites. So those posts will eventually be coming. I associate books and bookstores with different times in my life, so I thought it would be fun to look at bookstores that I have found meaningful in my life. Come on a journey through my reading past with me:

Childhood: Paperback Exchanges and Barnes and Noble

I remember as a kid a trip from our mountain cabin down to the local town with the cousins. I’m not sure if this was two trips or one, but they occurred in the same little shopping mall in Twain Harte. We stopped at Baskin Robbins, and I remember the way my cousin said “praline” like pray-lean and how beautiful it sounded. At the time she was active in local community theater and her diction was, and still is, gorgeous. And then with my aunt (so it may indeed have been two trips) we wandered to the local paperback exchange (sadly no longer there) and I chose a not-quite children’s book that was a (so-so) adaptation of Romeo & Juliet for teens. I remember what a privilege it felt like to get to choose a new book for myself that would be something my great aunt treated me to.

There was also a paperback exchange in Oregon City, where we moved when I was in 4th grade. My Nana and aunt liked going there (before e-readers and audiobooks were so ubiquitous) to pick up mystery sacks of $1.00 romance novels separated into subgenre. There was a decent children’s section (that’s gotten better over the years) and trade in program, but it always felt like…an older store. Not a lot of young clientele. And they specialized in genre fiction, which wasn’t my scene. But the last time I was there I scooped up some wonderful poetry books out of the small section, so I still think it’s worth a visit. Now they also sell new books and gifts.

Laurie’s Books: 358 Warner Milne Rd # G106, Oregon City, Oregon

When we weren’t buying used books (which was frequently–at garage sales and thrift stores), we bought a lot of books at Barnes & Noble. In the early 2000s, the independent bookstore was struggling. I remember a lot of books I loved were ones that I found on the curated tables between shelves. Stocks of an entire series, a huge children’s section, and places to sit and look at the treasures. The stores were calm and smelled like fresh paper. I still love them–I’d always rather buy from an independent but if I need something shipped to someone, I’ll have it sent from Barnes & Noble. Although the service isn’t as good since the rise of Amazon and the fall of Borders, it’s still my favorite place in any mall. It anchored my childhood that way and felt like a familiar place even when we were moving a lot. I attended midnight releases, readings, and found so, so many books I love.

Barnes & Noble (any store, of course)

Teenage Years

Besides the mall days at B&N (obviously) there was only one important bookstore in Portland during my youth. I don’t even think I have to say the name, but of course I will: Powell’s books. Powell’s (aka the world’s largest independent bookstore) is so fantastic. Every time I go up to visit I manufacture reasons for us to go. It’s usually not that hard to convince my mom. She’s always up for a bookish adventure–making a beeline for the picture books (since she’s a first grade teacher). Books for herself are usually an afterthought, often she listens to audiobooks from the library on her way to work.

If you have not been (or if you have) and you need to go into downtown Portland for any reason…you shouldn’t miss it. I can (and have) spent hours here. The rooms meander into each other. You know how a museum will send you through a maze of galleries? It’s kind of like that but with more signs. There are multiple floors of books, a mix of old and used, and so, so much to discover. The staff is super knowledgeable, with great staff pick selections. And there’s a café. So the question really is, why would you ever leave? It’s like a real world wonderland. A place where there’s magic in the form of stories on high wooden shelves.

Powell’s City of Books: 1005 W Burnside St, Portland, Oregon

College in Corvallis

I did my undergrad in English at Oregon State in Corvallis. Corvallis is a small town, but it still boasted a lovely public library, two used bookstores, and a great independent. There was also a bookstore on campus, but before we graduated, they ruined it. Although the old location was a little pokey and two floors, it featured actual books in addition to supplies and a selection of Beaver-themed gear. But before we left, they took the books that were not textbooks away (in theory because exclusively selling textbooks gave them a better deal?) and built a monstrous warehouse closer to the stadium (so you know, better for football fans, less convenient for everyone else) with terrible lighting, no atmosphere, and no inviting display of fiction and nonfiction from our professors. Oh well. At least they didn’t ruin the library while I was there.

Anyway, I did not frequent the independent bookstore very often because while delightful it was, in a word, more than my college budget could afford. There was another used bookstore that was darker, open fewer hours–the kind of place with books that overflowed. And while it had finds (like a first edition of Julia Child’s first cookbook), it was a bit dusty and always gave me an allergy attack.

So the bookstore I associate most with college is The Book Bin. Larger than its name suggests and with big windows, it was an ugly building with a so-so layout, but a great mix of new and used books and wonderful deals. I always found something wonderful there and it was a great place to wait out the rain or duck inside for a few minutes.

The Book Bin 215 SW 4th St Corvallis, Oregon

Idaho Years

After college, we moved to Idaho for Paul’s work. Honestly I was more interested in divesting myself of books than getting new ones, although I did scour every used bookstore and garage sale for books that we used as favors at our wedding (one chosen for each guest). I usually found more than enough to keep me occupied at the library, but I could not resist a library sale. These happened both with the Boise Friends of the Library warehouse sales and at the Garden City Public Library where I volunteered. They always had a wonderful selection of things and I often found treasures.

When we moved downtown, I was really close to a local independent called Rediscovered Books that I always enjoyed going into. In a very conservative area, I always felt at home with people who believed in intellectual freedom, worked against censorship, and supported people reading banned books.

Friends of the Library stores: Garden City Library has sales semi-annually as well as a little store within the library 6015 N Glenwood St, Garden City, Idaho; Tree City Books is the Boise Friends store in the main branch, they also hold larger sales periodically 715 S Capitol Blvd, Boise, Idaho

Rediscovered Books 180 N 8th St, Boise, Idaho

Moving to the Bay Area

When you live in or near a major city, you end up playing tour guide for people who come to visit you. Almost everyone who comes to visit me ends up in a bookstore at some point, and one of my favorite bookstores to take people is City Lights in San Francisco. Why is City Lights awesome? Three words: poetry room upstairs.

As publisher of some of the most famous poets like Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, City Lights has a deep association with the Beat movement. They still publish a lot of interesting things–the selection is great and there’s multiple levels to explore. Especially in nonfiction, there’s a big emphasis on resistance, and social movements. Lots of local authors are on the shelves, and plenty of indie titles. The featured books in fiction are particularly diverse. I love the feel of history in here, but I will say it’s not a very accessible store because of the layout and stairs. Also, it can be hard to move around in their sometimes because the shelves are tightly packed, but it’s a wonderful space and I love spending time in here with whomever I’ve tricked…ahem…guided here.

City Lights 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, California

Visiting Home

As I mentioned before, I always try to get a visit to Powell’s in when I go up to Oregon to visit family, but since I hate, loathe, and detest driving in large cities (even, or perhaps especially my own)–I have to con…I mean, bribe… I mean, put on my best Puss in Boots from Shrek—

Anyway, it’s usually easier to make it to the little Friends bookstore in downtown Oregon City, where I can tootle (did you know it wasn’t until writing this post that I realized this word was tootle and not toodle… huh I’ve been saying this incorrectly my whole life) by myself or reasonably ask someone to go with me. Books here are great because they’re cheap, they help the library, and one of our family friends is high up in the Friends org so it’s always wonderful to see her when she’s working. This is always where we bring our book donations. I usually completely decimate…er diminish their poetry section when I visit.

I also really like this new bookstore/coffee shop that opened up in the downtown near our old standby Chinese restaurant that we’ve been going to since I was 8. It’s also got a great selection of board games, giftable things, and the coffee is very good. It’s one of my favorite places to get a last minute gift when I’m in town, whether someone needs a pick me up or something fun for their birthday. Well worth a visit.

Friends of the Oregon City Public Library Bookstore 814 7th St Oregon City, Oregon

White Rabbit Books and Gifts 503 Main St Oregon City, Oregon

Oakland

Now that we’ve made the Town our new home, I believe it is my solemn duty to visit and delight in every bookstore and pick my favorites to go to all the time–or rather a reasonable amount of the time. I definitely started collecting books again now that I’m building a poetry library. Whoops. So far I’ve found some good ones but to narrow it down for this post, I’ll just talk about two that I have membership/frequent buyer cards for. One is Bookmark, which is, (surprise! Are you sensing a theme?) a Friends of the Library store. It is very conveniently located near my local Friday Farmer’s Market. And did I mention that I get a discount on books for being a member? It’s awesome. Plus there’s some great finds in that store. And a lot of classical music vinyl. If that’s your gig.

Then there’s Cape and Cowl, which while not technically the closest bookstore to me is certainly a new favorite. As you might guess from the name, they specialize in comics and graphic novels. And while I’m not a huge fan of comic books generally, I love graphic novels. So I definitely went in–thinking I’d buy nothing–and walked out with three things. This place is in dangerous proximity! And there’s a buy 9 get number 10 free deal, which is, again dangerous.

But more than just the excellent bookstores, having these cards and being on these mailing lists makes me feel more at home–like I’m starting to put down roots in this wonderful place.

Bookmark Bookstore 721 Washington St (Downtown) Oakland, California

Cape and Cowl Comics 1601 Clay St (Downtown/Uptown) Oakland, California

I’d love to hear about some of the bookstores that have been meaningful in your life!

Reading Through the Stacks: 5. A Profound Mental Health Journey

Reading through the Oakland Public Library’s poetry collection.

We’re talking about another new volume of poetry today, published in 2021: You Better Be Lightning by Andrea Gibson..

Andrea Gibson (August 13, 1975-) is a queer poet, whose work focuses on LGBTQ+, health, and social justice themes. They are a well known spoken word performer as well. Luckily, if you enjoy this book as I did, there are many more to read.

There is joy and pain in this book. Gibson is so good at articulating how love and hurt feel and at reminding us that we are humans. As the title implies, there are sparks, jolts and fire in this collection. What I felt most reading this book was profound insight coming through twisting popular phrases or juxtaposing them. This is a really accessible collection–it’s easy to read. I ended up devouring it in a single sitting but thinking about it for days and weeks afterwards. The best kind of poetry.

Watch Gibson perform one of their poems (as a heads up, there is discussion of chronic illness, some profanity, and loving sexual content):

TTT: My Fall To Read List

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Anyone else absurdly motivated by arbitrary reading challenges other people have set?

I started subscribing to Book of the Month when I bought a 6 month subscription for my friend for Christmas. It’s now her annual gift. We don’t coordinate our choices–sometimes we choose the same book sometimes we choose different ones and share our thoughts. It’s a lot of fun, but I have to admit that this year I have fallen quite behind on my reading.

In order to finish this year’s badges (and unlock the super hidden secret one that I really, really want to unlock for reasons that remain mysterious), I need to finish 9 more books, but since there are 10 on my bookshelf (stashed around our new condo), I thought I could talk about them today and possibly conjecture as to why it’s taken me so long to read through them! Some of these I had to fish out of their boxes. Although we’re mostly unpacked, my new bookshelves won’t arrive for a while, so the book boxes are the last boxes.

I wish that Book of the Month chose poetry books too–that would make it way easier to read through my list.

Here they are, in order of how long I’ve had them:

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

I’m actually listening to this one as an audiobook, having given away my copy of the hardcover to another friend. I think she’ll really enjoy it. I’m about 1/3 of the way into the book so far and while I’m not a huge fan of books told in first person from multiple perspectives–it’s way easier to switch between perspectives while listening because the voice acting is well done. It bounces between an apothecary in the 1790s who helps women….dispense of the men in their lives and the woman in the modern era who is beginning to research the apothecary based on a bottle she found while mudlarking. The story is interesting enough for me to look past the sort of blah writing style.

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

I think this memoir is going to be one of those ones that takes your heart and rips it out. But whether it’ll be the kind that gives it back for you to hold onto or the kind that throws it to the ground is anyone’s guess. It seems sad so I’ve been avoiding it. I haven’t really been in the mood for a really emotional book for a while. But I’m sure the mood will strike at some point. Fall is kind of the season for that.

A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

So I have a feeling this book is going to be good, but pretty dang dark. It’s a fairy tale type book, but the darker, twisted, creepier side of fairy tales (which I freely admit to loving). This is probably a book I’ll read while it’s light out. And probably it won’t be as creepy as I think. Hopefully.

Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

The only excuse I have for not reading this one is that it’s been buried in a box for months. My friend told me that it’s really interesting and that she really enjoyed it so I need to get cracking on it.

True Biz by Sara Novic

I think I talked a little about this book in a previous TTT post because of the hand on the cover (entirely appropriate to a book about sign language). One of the reasons I love reading is because it allows me a way of understanding and empathizing with someone else’s perspective and experience even, and perhaps especially, when it’s so far from my own.

Darling Girl by Liz Michalski

Retellings and adaptations of fairy tales are some of my favorite things, so I cannot wait to read this adaption of Peter Pan. Holly is Wendy’s granddaughter who has to save her daughter from Pan’s clutches.

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

I’m a sucker for a fantasy novel not set in western Europe, but I have to admit, I’m going to have to push myself a little to get through this book, despite the presence of jinn and ancient magics. I’ve only read a chapter or two, but the writing is a little disappointing.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

I loved Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fiskry so I was eagerly looking forward to her new book, and when it was one of the choices for Book of the Month, I chose it with no hesitation. It’s about video game designers and the story of two friends and the way their lives converge and diverge over time. I’m about 30 pages in and already it’s very good. Other books–namely poetry and library books–have just taken precedent.

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford

I’m very excited to read this book–a multi-generational family saga and the protagonist is a poet?! Sign me up!

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

This one just arrived last week! So I don’t feel as bad for not getting to it yet, except for the fact that it’s just adding to this pile of books…. this is a romance of the enemies to lovers variety (one of my favorite tropes).

Have you read any of these books? Do any interest you? How do you feel about your reading challenges this year? Let me know in the comments.

Reading Through the Stacks: 4. A Comparatively Hefty Tome Full of Beautiful, Spare Poems

Reading through the Oakland Public Library’s Poetry collection.

Taking a break from the 20th century, let’s spring ahead to something published this year.

Rae Armantrout (1947-) is a Pulitzer winning poet (2010 for Versed). She has published something like 10+ collections, which seems amazingly prolific to me. She was born and did her undergrad and graduate degrees in California. She’s associated with the Language poets, a movement that emerged in the 70s as a response to modernism. The goal is to really include the reader in the meaning of the poem, often by playing with the meaning/sounds of words (think Gertrude Stein) and trying to encourage more active reading. This movement is ongoing and has featured a large proportion of women writers. Armantrout in particular is known for her short lines and more lyrical approach.

Her newest book is hefty–it feels weighty and at 174 pages is fairly long for a poetry collection, but the lines are short and the book moves fairly quickly because of that, despite or maybe because of the line spacing. Most of her stanzas feel only hazily connected–you as the reader have to do a lot of the association work yourself. But this is really rewarding because everything you read becomes profound–you bring the deeper meaning.

In physics, every moment
lasts forever,

if seen from
increasing distance.

In none does
my mother
meet her grandchildren.

Rae Armantrout from “Meeting” (p. 170)

What I love about this collection is you can open to any page and find something that just connects–hits home. The book feels deftly woven. It circles, meanders, overlaps, and you are able to unpick the threads yourself. This is a collection that’ll be finding its place in my own library, and I can’t wait to read more of Armantrout’s work. There is something that reminds me of Emily Dickinson in Armantrout’s work–in the spare, deceptively simple lines there is so much richness.

TTT: 10 Fantasy Books with Titles that Map the World(s)

This week’s prompt was books with geographical terms in the title, and while I was looking through my read books (thank you, Story Graph), I noticed a trend. All of the geographic terms I was encountering were through fantasy books. So I leaned into that trend. Some of these may be a stretch…but so are fictional maps.

The Mermaid the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

I just finished this lovely queer fantasy with plenty of romance. There are pirates, the aforementioned witches and mermaids, spies, political intrigue, well-developed characters, and the sea itself features as a character in her own right. Need I say more?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This one is on my to-read list. But I’m a sucker for anything written by Gaiman. Especially something dark and surrealist. Anyone read this one? I’d love to know your thoughts.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

I love when concepts become anthropomorphized. One of my favorite fantasy series of all time is Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality where Death, Time, Earth, and Fate (among others) are personified. So when I came to this book about the city of New York made corporal, I was hooked. The writing is fantastic. Urban fantasy at its finest.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

So you need a detective/urban fantasy book to read now? Like right now? Not to worry–read Aaronvitch’s book about holding the magical and nonmagical elements of London in balance. More personified elements!

A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross

Loosely inspired by Celtic mythology, I really enjoyed Ross’s book about magic and the effects it can take on its users. Our protagonist is a bard, straight from his teaching post, going back home to the magical land of his birth, his clan, and the clan rivalry.

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang

So I included this one because of map legends (although that’s not the use of the word Chang was presumably going for)…it’s a stretch, but I was running out of map ideas. I wish this book had moved a little faster and that there were more fantasy elements in it (what there was was great, but I wanted more), but the worldbuilding is really interesting.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read this book, and I never finished the series, but I’m excited to go back to this world. I also wanted to watch the HBO series after I finished the books. So I should get on that.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

To be fair, this one is science fiction, but the name was just too perfect not to include. And who doesn’t love some time travel? This one is on my to-read list. Actually, I’ve never read anything by Mitchell. But I’m looking forward to The Bone Clocks as well.

Locke and Key series written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

So the show kind of creeped me out and it didn’t feel like there was a lot of character development, but I’m a little intrigued to read the comics and see if I’d like to come back to the show. This follows some siblings in a creepy house and then there are keys that unlock all kinds of doors.

The Black Coast by Mike Brooks

War dragons. I’m not sure if a book needs anything besides dragons to intrigue me enough to read further. I hadn’t heard of this book before looking through fantasy release lists for geographic titles, but I may have to add it to my list. Because dragons and Vikings–or Viking-like raiders.

Have you read any of the books on this list? What is the fantasy land you’d most like to visit? Let me know in the comments.

Reading Through the Stacks: 3. Well Baked Narcissism Layered with Misogyny and Scented with Sea Breezes

Reading through the Oakland Public Library main branch’s poetry collection, book by book.

What is there to say about Man-Fate by William Everson?

Honestly, the less said about it the better. But I read it–I want it to go back to the library. I’m sick of looking at it on my desk waiting to be inspired to discuss it. So we’ll try to make this one brief.

William Everson (1912-1994) was a former monk, a poet, and a printer. He mostly lived in California, which is probably why his book was acquired (and kept) by the Oakland Public Library. That and he was pretty well known, publishing several books of poetry. He’s cataloged under his Dominican monk name, Brother Antoninus, although he’s no longer a monk by the time this book was published in 1973.

Essentially Man-Fate is about one man’s struggle to come to terms with his choices regarding the woman he leaves the monastery for and the implications of his faith. But this guy….thinks a lot of himself and not much of women and it was hard for me to get through.

There is a lot of language about women’s bodies, which mostly turns on how sexual (read: deviant) and for men’s use and enjoyment they are:

“The fate of man/ Turns on the body of a woman”

Everson, p. 23

Women (mostly one woman, his partner) in these poems lose agency. Everson even presumes to speak on behalf of his partner, which just infuriated me to no end. There is a lot of very graphic depictions of sex, which doesn’t normally bother me, but I didn’t like the violence and possessiveness of the language.

Everson is obviously struggling with his decision, trying to reconcile his decision to marry this woman he’s passionately in lust with with his religious beliefs. And I just….don’t care? I don’t think he’s saying anything particularly interesting or new in this book. Most of it reads as pretty narcissistic to me. There’s a lot of self-justification and contemplation without a lot of revelation, introspection, connection, or humility. The rhymes are okay, the metaphors are nothing special. It scans well at least, and that’s the most I can say for it.

Reading Through the Stacks: 2. Maya Angelou’s first book of poetry

Join me as I read my way through the poetry section at the main branch of the Oakland Public Library!

First of all, I can’t talk about this book without mentioning how fun this 70s sunset is on the cover–bold, interesting, and really quite simple. I think this library copy is probably a first edition.

By the time Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) published her first book of poetry, she’d already published her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). Angelou is known as a memoirist first and foremost (which is fair since she wrote seven of them), but I’ve always associated her with poetry. My first exposure to Maya Angelou was in middle school–the other 8th grade English class read her memoir–but I discovered her when my dad brought home Beauty Shop (2005), with its memorable oration of ‘I Rise.’

Angelou was an activist and a storyteller in diverse mediums from dance and stage to autobiography. Her poetry is less central to her career, even though she published a lot of it and it was widely read particularly because of its subject matter. She used her experience to bring a voice to the experiences of Black women in the United States through almost every piece of writing and work she created.

Angelou was also a prolific and widely-read poet, and her poetry has often been lauded more for its depictions of Black beauty, the strength of women, and the human spirit; criticizing the Vietnam War; demanding social justice for all—than for its poetic virtue. Yet Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, which was published in 1971, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972.

from Poetry Foundation: Maya Angelou

Her poetry is really approachable since it has a musical quality with a steady beat. She uses repetition to great effect. She plays with expectations constantly, changing the rhythm of a line or to bring home her message and she often uses common phrases or simple rhymes to tease out darker subjects, such as in the lines below.

“When I think about myself,

I almost laugh myself to death,

My life has been one great big joke,

A dance that’s walked

A song that’s spoke,

I laugh so hard I almost choke

When I think about myself”

from “When I Think About Myself”

This was such a welcome book coming after the boring boring boring Shakespeare essay. It was emotional and immediate, and I really enjoyed it. I’ll be looking for a collected works of Maya Angelou to add to my poetry collection.