A Pat On The Back

Andertoons-Library-reference-question-cartoon-by-Mark-Anderson

Mark Anderson comic via Ebook Friendly.

I want to take a moment to celebrate a massive achievement: today I finished reading my 15th book of the year. To some people, this will probably be a “So what?” moment. However, since I only managed to read a grand total of 15 books in all of last year, I am very proud of myself for getting my act in gear and doing some serious reading in 2017. Also, I’m ahead of my schedule, which is to read one book per week. We just finished Week 10, so I should be starting my 11th book, but instead I’ll be starting my 16th.

I’ve read some heavy stuff so far, and several of the works still weigh on me, particularly Resistance, by Agnes Humbert. I’m not sure what I’m going to read next, though I did just find a copy of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, at the Little Free Library down the street. So maybe that; we’ll see. If you want to see what I’ve been reading, the Reading List is up in the tabs at the top of the page.

But now it’s time to pack up for tomorrow, then hit the hay. Tomorrow morning I’m going to be trying something new – heading to the gym for a run and some weights every morning before work. It’s going to take some serious effort on my part, since y’all know I’m definitely not a morning person. Wish me luck!

 

What I Read in 2016

You might have noticed that I have a tab at the top of the page called “Reading List 2017.” Last year I had “Reading List 2016,” and so forth and so on. What’s weird is that I could swear I used to have an additional link somewhere to all of my old reading lists…need to get that added back on. No use recording what I read if I’m just going to chuck the list at the end of the year.

Anyway, my yearly goal is to read one book a week, and this year was NOT a great success. But I just won a Kindle at my office Christmas party, so maybe I’ll have a good excuse to read some lighter fare off of the 99 cent list on Amazon this year. Plus, for every book that I finished this year, there’s at least one book that I started and have yet to finish, so if I can get my act together, hopefully those will pad my 2017 list. Let’s cross our fingers!

Either way, what is done is done, and what was done in 2016 was a grand total of 15 books read. Holy crap, that’s sad. But let’s turn it into something fun by charting out what types of things I was interested in this year, and comparing it to last year’s numbers! Here’s my blog post recounting what I read in 2015, along with a handy little pie chart of the genres I devoured in 2015. I read 35 books, but for the purpose of this chart, where the genres overlapped, I counted them again:

2015ReadingList

And here’s the list of what I read in 2016:

  1. Birthright, Vol. 1: Homecoming, by Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan & Adriano Lucas (1/9/16)
  2. Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine, by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro (1/9/16)
  3. Pulpatoon Pilgrimage, by Joel Priddy (1/9/16)
  4. Tales of the Cairds, by Anne Cameron (1/12/16)
  5. The Story of My Tits, by Jennifer Hayden (2/14/16)
  6. Mystic, Vol. 1: Rite of Passage, by Ron Marz, Brandon Peterson, John Dell, Andrew Crossley & Dave Lanphear (3/5/16)
  7. Mystic, Vol. 2: The Demon Queen, by Ron Marz, Brandon Peterson, John Dell & Andrew Crossley (3/5/16)
  8. Harbinger, by Joshua Dyshart, Arturo Lozzi, Khari Evans, Lewis LaRosa & Matthew Clark (3/23/16)
  9. Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson (3/29/16)
  10. Doctor Woman of the Cumberlands, by May Cravath Horton (7/6/16)
  11. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (7/28/16)
  12. Blue Nights, by Joan Didion (8/14/16)
  13. Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me, by Ian Morgan Cron (9/18/16)
  14. Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman’s Work, by Mari Graña (11/12/16)
  15. Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, by Jacob Tomsky (11/12/16)

A Constant Reader

B-81-363-34 Sitting at Desk with hands coming towards the camera

When addressing his audience, Stephen King often writes to his “Constant Reader”. Instead of saying “Hey crowd of millions, here are a few of my thoughts” he crafts notes that appeal to each individual reader in a way that creates immediate intimacy. This suggestion of closeness is woven through the rest of his writing, as well. Sometimes, I’ll finish up a King book and feel like it’s something that was written just for me. The stories often feel like campfire tales – while I’m reading, I’m safe inside the circle of firelight, but as soon as I put the book down, I feel ill at ease. Anything could get me. Closet doors should stay shut, and under-the-bed should always have plenty of boxes to discourage monsters from camping out. It creates an urgency to read the book faster and close the circle, lest the monsters get out of the story and into my apartment. I especially love that I can feel deeply connected to his writing, like I’m the only one reading, yet have gotten into deep conversations about King’s work with perfect strangers on airplanes and in line at the grocery store. It’s rare to meet a real fan – a Constant Reader – of King who doesn’t feel in some way personally connected to the man.

I realize that there are a lot of folks out there who believe King’s work isn’t worthy of as much respect as they’d give to less prolific, more “serious” authors. Every now and then I run into a person who hates his books, not because they’re not a fan of horror, or because they don’t like his style, but simply because he’s constantly churning out new books and always at the top of the bestseller list. It comes off as pettiness, but because book snobs often regard this kind of bigotry as an attempt to somehow preserve literary culture, the viewpoint is widely accepted, and fans get relegated to the geek corner. If being a geek means I get to read great books without wondering if I’m going to lose the respect of someone I didn’t really care about anyway, that’s fine by me.

Non-King fans also tend to dismiss King’s writing style as being a factor in his fans’ enjoyment, and place a lot of the weight of his success on his subject matter. For me, this isn’t the case, and I’m relatively sure that there are a lot of folks in my camp on this one. I’m not the biggest fan of horror lit (ghost stories are my favorite, but I tend to dislike reading about aliens and monsters, which make up a sizeable chunk of King’s subject matter), but King’s approachable writing style never fails to drag me in, despite whatever topic misgivings I might have. He tells stories of real people, having real crises of faith in extraordinary circumstances. It’s supremely easy to identify with his characters, and in doing so, I’ve found I’m able to open up my imagination a bit more with each read.

My first Stephen King book was The Regulators, written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. I read it as a teenager, and haven’t stopped collecting new King tales since. Just saying “the regulators” in my mind as I type this fills me with a delicious dread. If you haven’t read it, I think it’s an excellent starting place. There’s a matching book called Desperation, involving all of the same character names, but in an alternate universe where their lives have been subtly (and not so subtly) different. That concept blew my mind back then, and it’s a testament to King’s creativity that it still kind of does. My latest King read was Doctor Sleep, the long-awaited sequel to The Shining, and as a work, it perfectly fits the point I’m trying to make here. You find out that Danny’s family history has had a profound effect on his life, and that it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses over the last few decades as he’s grappled with his psychic abilities and addiction. It’s a fantastic read. I also adore On Writing, which is half memoir, half guidebook to becoming a writer. I’m probably blowing half of the rules out of the water with this post, though. Oh, and will someone (hint, hint boyfriend) please buy me Joyland for Christmas?

There are a few other authors on my “favorites” list – folks whose books I will always pick up, even if I don’t know a thing about the story. Neil Gaiman is at the top with King, of course. Tom Holt, Bernard Cornwell, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams & Ariana Franklin/Diana Norman (RIP) are up there, as well.

Anyone sensing a pattern or two?

Besides the obvious – all but King are from the UK – they’re all also fiction novelists. Gaiman, Pratchett, Adams and Holt are all authors of fantasy fiction (and tend towards humor). Gaiman, Cornwell, King and Franklin/Norman’s works are often heavy on detail. I began reading Gaiman after seeing a review blurb by King, in fact. I trusted my favorite author, and the trust was paid back in full with an excellent recommendation that has changed my life in many ways. Gaiman helps me believe in magic the same way that King helps me believe in goodness – but aren’t they kind of the same thing?

(Which reminds me, on the off chance that you’re reading this, Neil, please do come and sign books at Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Bookshop in New Orleans. It’s a brand new shop that fills a long-void niche for our community, and the owners could really use the business that your appearance would bring in. Not to mention that I’m quite selfishly hoping to have you sign a poster I picked up after seeing you a few years back in Chicago.)

Click through to find out how you can help bring Neil Gaiman to New Orleans!

Click through to find out how you can help bring Neil Gaiman to New Orleans!

Cornwell is especially adept at creating realistic battle scenes – I’ve squelched through fields of blood, mud and piss with him quite a few times over my reading career, and never would have had a proper understanding of strength it takes to be a longbowman without his careful examination of the profession. Also, you’ll probably notice that Franklin, Cornwell and Pratchett all have medieval themes in their works, and while Holt and Gaiman tend to place their stories in modern settings, there are definitely elements that a medieval history enthusiast can get behind. If you count Adam’s work in Monty Python, and King’s Dark Tower series as an homage to medieval themes, we’re all in. Also, all of the writers tend to talk about spiritual matters, including religious history, reincarnation, afterlife/ghosts, gods/goddesses, universal connectedness, 42, etc.

Above all, my favorite storytellers have the gift of making me feel like the story isn’t something they’re telling me, but rather something I’m experiencing firsthand. This can either be through letting me identify with/as the protagonist, or in the case of writers like Holt and Adams, encouraging me to laugh my way through the book. The best authors craft passages that create a visceral reaction for their readers. From what I’ve experienced in talking with die-hard Chuck Palahniuk fans, his works really resonate on a gut level with readers. Unfortunately, the three books that I’ve read by him came off as highly revolting on a gut level, so it’s obvious he’s doing it right, even if it’s not my cuppa. The point being that I’ll just assume that some of you who’re reading this will consider one or many of the authors I adore to be not so great, as well. It’s all personal opinion – isn’t that the fabulous thing about being a Constant Reader, no matter whose?

Book Review: The Way, My Way

There is no shortage of books about the pilgrims’ path to Santiago de Compostela. From travel guide to personal memoir, spiritual exploration to historical documentation, there is something for every armchair pilgrim who wishes to travel The Camino by way of words. This week’s book chronicles the journey of an Australian filmmaker who relies on his gut instinct to make the right choices along The Way of St. James, coloring his pilgrimage with sometimes painful, often hilarious, observations about himself and his fellow peregrinos.

"The Way, My Way" by Bill Bennett. Click through to learn more about the book on Amazon.com.

The Way, My Way by Bill Bennett. Click to see the book on Amazon.

Australian filmmaker Bill Bennett was on vacation in New Orleans when a gut feeling saved his life. While preparing to drive through a green light at an intersection, something internal urged him to slow down. As he did, a truck going the opposite way sped through its own red light and barreled through the space where Bennett’s car should have been, missing him by inches. By nature a seeker, he encountered the terrifying moment with curiosity, terming this unexpected, primal message that saved him as a lesson from his PGS, or “Personal Guidance System.” In The Way, My Way, our middle-aged, good-natured, and somewhat smart-alecky protagonist takes his PGS on the road, exploring what it means to listen more deeply, enjoy life as it comes, and most of all, to stop being so damned competitive all the time. He’s still working on that last one.

It takes a great storyteller to provide for raucous laughter and heart-felt tears, all within a 300-page span. From the first page, the author’s honest, no-holds-barred exploration of personal strengths and weaknesses gives readers a well-rounded picture of a funny, driven, and ultimately relatable guy who has a slight problem admitting defeat.

The book reads as a personal memoir, taking 59-year old Bennett from the airport in Biarritz, France, where he meets the people who are to become his “Camino Family” (whether he wants them or not) all the way to Santiago de Compostela. Along the way, the author meets a host of colorful characters whom he alternately either endears himself to or pisses off. He takes a million and one photos, daydreams about his beloved, long-suffering wife, Jennifer, contemplates what it means to get older, and nurses an injury that threatens to end his journey before it even begins. Most of all, he discovers what it means to take the time to listen to your body and spirit, and how this not only affects your own path, but also your relationship with the world around you.

The Way, My Way joins the ranks of other humorous Camino memoirs by authors like Hape Kerkeling and Tim Moore, though with considerably more honest self-examination. As a result, we’re given a great selection of laugh-out-loud moments, tempered by earnest introspection that manages to touch all the right emotional chords. A reader could be excused for imagining she hears her PGS humming softly in the background…

(Note: If you’re interested in finding out more about Bill, his experiences on the Camino, or the Personal Guidance System, please follow him at PGS – The Way or PGS Intuitive.)

One Step Closer to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port!

BrierlyGuide&FrancisBook

Today a very special package arrived in the mail, made even more exciting by the fact that I thought it would be a few more days before these particular goodies would arrive. Enclosed in the unassuming Amazon packaging were two books that come highly recommended – The Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago, by John Brierley, and Francis of Assisi: The life and afterlife of a medieval saint, by Andre Vauchez.

Almost every modern pilgrim’s account that I’ve read includes reference to Brierley’s guide, which seems to be the gold standard in Camino guidebooks for English-speakers. Likewise, though there are many, many biographies of St. Francis of Assisi, Vauchez’s 2012 work is highly acclaimed. The Englewood Review of Books says of Francis of Assisi, “One comes away from [this] book not only with a new understanding of Francis, but also with a renewed appreciation for the relationship between sanctity and authentic humanity.” I sincerely hope that this applies in my case.

What Makes It A “Must-Read”?

Today’s Daily Post prompt asks how we pick what blogs and books we read, and if there’s anything that makes it a “must” to click that link or pick up that book.

I probably read a hundred or more articles a day, and by “read,” I mean everything from glancing through for keywords to devouring with zest. When we’re talking about social media posts that make me stop and participate, they either have to be funny and simple, like a GIF, photo, or cartoon, or else appeal to my empathy. Posts about dogs, cats, animal abuse, and animal causes are all big on my newsfeed. A few of my favorite animal and nature-related FB pages include Sir Stuffington, Give A Shit About NaturePit Bulls Against Misinformation, and Wild Wonders of Europe.

I also love Colonel Meow and Grumpy Cat (but who doesn't?)!

I follow Colonel Meow and Grumpy Cat, too. But who doesn’t?

Also, I dig anything about personal growth, spirituality, and connectedness. A few of my favorites in this category, like Humans of New YorkFat Girl, PhDThe Order of the Good Death, and MindBodyGreen.

Col. Chris Hadfield is a total rockstar, too!

Col. Chris Hadfield is a total rockstar, too!

But don’t assume that I spend all my time being a helpful, caring grown up. I definitely keep up on worthless celebrity gossip, and I follow a few FB fan pages of famous people I just lurve – like Kris Holden-ReidJoseph Gordon-LevittNorman ReedusSimon Pegg.

In addition, there are a few pages I follow for entirely escapist reasons, like Legal Nomads, Tiny House Listings, and TripTrotting.

When it comes to blogs, my favorites to read on a consistent basis tend to be pretty personal. I love “memoir” sites and journals, but typically the ones that are more truthful. I’m not as much into DIY or stories about being a happy homemaker as I am stories about depression, relationship issues, work struggles, and other worries. Not that I want to read sad stories, exactly – I just feel like most people have something they’re worrying about or otherwise trying to figure out, and it’s nice to get to be the silent sounding board. I’m not going to specify my favorite personal blogs here, because you know if I visit or not 🙂

One of my favorite Jane Austen quotes, available as an iron-on from Etsy seller Digital Things.

One of my favorite Jane Austen quotes, available as an iron-on from Digital Things.

Since so much of what I want to learn is online already, my current reading list much simpler than my list of Facebook ‘likes’. It’s also stayed pretty constant over the years – and by “years” I mean since I was about 8 or so.

Back in the day I loved horror stories by authors like R.L. Stine, science fiction & fantasy novels, and historical fiction. Today I love horror stories by Stephen King, fantasy novels by authors like Neil Gaiman, Mercedes Lackey, and Glen Cook, historical fiction by authors like Ariana Franklin (RIP – I can’t believe I’ll never read another Adelia Aguilar mystery!), and selected non-fiction. Most of my non-fiction falls into a few categories: self-help, food & cooking, spirituality & religion, and medieval architecture.

Are you devoted to Bones, murder mysteries and forensics stories? Even more, are you a fan of medieval history? If so, you're probably going to love these books as much as I do.

Are you devoted to Bones, murder mysteries and forensics stories? Even more, are you a fan of medieval history? If so, you’re probably going to love these books as much as I do.

Right now I’m reading Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale, and Reveal: A Sacred Manual for Getting Spiritually Naked, albeit extremely slowly. The former is a fictional story (that reads like an autobiography) about a man who’s on a spiritual quest, who spends several weeks traveling Italy and learning about St. Francis. The latter is about celebrating sacred femininity.

So what do you read?