Thursday, January 24, 2019

Three Qualitative Reading Goals for 2019

For 2019, I have kept my GoodReads Reading Challenge goal the same as it was for 2018, forty books.  I know that reading forty books is a do-able goal, a stretch that is within my reach, albeit with some concerted effort.

I'm a tick-the-boxes sort of person by nature, so having a number to shoot for is important to me psychologically; however, I decided that the number of books that I read in 2019 was going to be secondary to the quality and breadth of my reading.  As I've gotten older, I have started to realize that what I am reading is more important than how much I am reading.

Looking back over my reading stats for the past few years, I have settled on a few qualitative reading goals that I think will broaden my literary horizons.

Read chunkier books.  Last year, the longest book I read (I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara) was just over three hundred pages.  I tend to shy away from bigger books because I worry that they will slow-down my pace.  This *fear* has inadvertently meant that I have picked up fewer nonfiction books in recent years that I would like.  There are a few doorstops that I want to make my way through in 2019 and I am determined to not let their length deter me.

Read more translated fiction.  As someone who buys a lot of books, I think it is important to put my money where my values are.  I believe literature in translation gives readers a window into the subjective experiences of populations they do not belong to.  Over the past couple of years, I have collected a fair few books by authors from Latin America, Asia, and Africa and I am planning on diving into them this year.

Read the books I already have . . . before I add more to my library. I don't believe that a person can own too many books.  With that being said, I own a lot of books and there are well over a hundred (or two-- yikes!) on my shelves that I either haven't read or haven't finished.  Starting in February I am going to be putting myself on a book-buying-ban, allowing myself to only buy as many books as I am able to finish (or purge) from my collection in a month.

What are some of your qualitative reading goals for 2019?  Let me know on the 'gram @thelexicondevil.
Monday, January 21, 2019

Daily Life As I Live It #1

Last week, I was combing through the archives of this blog (and its earlier iterations), for a long-overdue tidy.  As I looked back at some of my earlier posts I noticed that when I was blogging the most, I was writing about my life and mental health more often.  These posts may not have had the same reach other review-based posts, but they were cathartic to write at the time.  Though, to be honest, I don't have the courage to go back and read them.

Throughout my life, I have dealt with difficult situations by compartmentalizing my feelings and, in true Irish-American fashion, putting them into a little box that I smash into the farthest corners of my psyche.  I've never been great about communicating my feelings verbally, either.  Writing about how I feel is about as close to emotional expression as I have been able to allow myself, but it's an outlet I haven't allowed myself for a long time.  I've decided to change that.

Over the weekend, I learned that one of my loved ones is in fragile health and that we don't have as long together and I thought we would.  This news reiterated to me not only how tenuous life can be, but also my need to express my feelings in the best way I know how.  To write them.

I don't know what the coming weeks and months have in store for me, for my family, but I know that I can't put it in a box and hide it from myself.  I'm going to need to write about it.  So, as I can, as I need I will.

Fair warning: it's going to periodically get emotional around these parts.
Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

One of my reading highlights of 2018 was Sayaka Murata's Convenience Store Woman (translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori).  Originally published in 2016, Convenience Store Woman won Japan's prestigious Akutagawa Prize and was then accompanied by a great amount of hype upon its English publication.  Usually, I am wary of hyped-up books (I'm still mad about John Burnside's The Dumb House, btw) but the premise of this one piqued my interest.

Keiko, the titular woman, began working part-time at the convenience store while she was in college.  Throughout her life, Keiko always struggled to fit in with her peers or appropriately read social situations she found herself in.  In Japanese society, which Murata depicts as valuing conformity, Keiko's quirks make her both an anomaly and the subject of great concern.

When she begins working at the convenience store, Keiko is given an employee handbook which provides her with the one thing her life had been missing: explicit instructions for comportment and a purpose in life.  Though the job is low-status and part-time, Keiko works in the store for decades, seeing colleagues and managers come and go, placing the smooth operation of the store above all.

Keiko's work becomes her life's purpose.  However, when her devotion to her work begins to draw the unwanted attention of a group of high school friends, Keiko finds herself making an arrangement of convenience that could potentially upset the fine balance she has been able to strike.

Convenience Store Woman is a compact volume whose simple premise belies a deeper social message.  Keiko's story is as much about the toxicity of the "timeline myth" and social conformity as it is about her line of work or the purpose she derives from it.  In Keiko, many 30-somethings, myself included, will find shades of their own life: despairing at not keeping pace with your peers, feeling obliged to make excuses for why you haven't progressed professionally, the cringe-inducing feeling discussing your personal life (or lack thereof) with people you only see a few times a year.

The novel was one of the highlights of my 2018 reading and I cannot recommend it enough.
Monday, January 14, 2019

Bringing Up the Backlist: Five Books I'd Like to Get to in 2019

There are enough books stacked around my room to build a fallout shelter.  Try as I might, I am never able to get through all of the books I add to my personal library every year: blame my sluggish reading pace, the pressures of work and LIFE, or my compulsive Amazon purchases (don't judge--respect my journey!).  Though I am spoiled for choice, there are five books that I definitely want to get to sooner, rather than later,  in 2019.

McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh| Last week, Penguin Books reissued Ottessa Moshfegh's 2014 Believer Book Award-winning novella McGlue in a striking paperback edition.  Set in 1851, the work follows the titular character as he sobers-up to some disturbing memories of his drunken antics.  The book sounds (and looks, tbh) sinister as fuhhhhk and I can't wait to tuck into it.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (Translated by Misha Hoekstra) | In 2019 I want to make a concerted effort to read more work in translation and this work in translation about a translator just seemed too meta to not dig into.  The novel was a 2017 finalist for the Man Booker International Prize and is published by one of my favorite independent publishers, Graywolf Press.  Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is about Sonja, a Danish woman who translates Swedish crime novels and is dissatisfied with her lonely life in Copenhagen.  In an effort to make changes in her life, Sonja reconnects with family and begins to learn how to drive, the latter of which is made more complicated by Sonja's vertigo. Moody, broody, and Scandi this one has my name on it.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (Translated by Ann Goldstein) | I have been meaning to come back to the Neapolitan Novels since I read and loved My Brilliant Friend a few years ago.  2019 is the year I want to continue and maybe even complete the series . . . even if the covers are a bit cringe.

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Kranostein | The Trauma Cleaner is a biography of Sandra Pankhurst, a trans-woman who lived an eclectic life before finding her calling as the titular trauma cleaner.  Despite its grim title, the book is meant to be a life-affirming look at our shared humanity.  I actually owned a copy of the book before it was available in the states, but the heaviness of the title and the general heaviness of 2018 made me reticent to pick it up until recently.

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling | The Golden State was a novel I first learned about on several "Best of 2018" lists and is meant to be about a young single mother who leaves in Bay Area to live in the high desert.  Perhaps because of the geographic similarities, the book reminded me of Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room, one of my favorite reads of 2018, and I instinctively (read: impulsively) bought it.

What books are on your reading shortlist?  Let me know on Instagram @thelexicondevil.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Three Books That Owned My Heart in 2018

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been trying to narrow down the *best* books that I read in what was, overall, a banner reading year.  I had a lot of five star reads in 2018, but highlighting each of the fantastic books I picked up in the past twelve months seemed like a copout-- let's be honest, not all five-star reads are created equally. Instead, I have opted to highlight the three books I read last year that now own a small piece of my heart.  If I could force copies of these books into your hands (or into your letterbox, or between your windshield wipers, or stacked neatly under your doormat), I would.  They are THAT GOOD.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell | As it's title implies, this inventive memoir is told through a series of brushes with had with death that the author has experienced throughout her lifetime.  Recounting a chance run-in with a soon-to-be serial killer, a childhood illness that shaped her life (an illness that almost ended her life again during childbirth), harrowing escapes from dangerous men while on holiday, as well as her daughter's life-threatening anaphylactic reactions to common allergens.  I Am, I Am, I Am is as much about the perilousness of being a woman living her day-to-day life, where taking a walk after work could lead to your murder, as it is about O'Farrell's remarkable, literary life.

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner | My first foray into Kushner work, The Flamethrowers (2013), was a hard pass from me (you can read my review here).  Her latest, a finalist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, really struck a chord and has been a read I have had trouble shaking months later.  The novel follows Romy Hall, a single mother and former sex worker now serving a life sentence for the murder of her stalker.  Kushner could very easily have angled the novel to exploit the seedier details of Romy's experience; instead, she crafts a nuanced work that considers the confluence of circumstances that catch young women in the correctional system.  Written with a detachment that heightens the hopelessness of Romy's circumstances and the haunted atmosphere of the novel's Northern and Central California setting, The Mars Room is one of the most gripping and emotionally wretching reads of the decade.

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez | Earlier this year, established novelist, Sigrid Nunez's latest work, The Friend was the surprise winner for the prestigious National Book Award.  While the novel may have seemed the critical dark horse going into the competition, it is without question the most moving new release of the past fifteen years.  When her oldest and dearest friend, a fellow writer, commits suicide, the narrator is consumed by grief and left in charge of her friend's aged Great Dane.  Throughout the novel, the narrator transfers her love and attention to the dog, whereby the hound becomes a proxy for the faithful companion she lost and symbol of her fidelity (in all of its incarnations) to the most significant relationship of her life.  The Friend isn't just about a sad lady and a sad dog, or even just a meditation on grief; rather, it is a delicately insightful look at the ways in which we process the tragedies that befall us and find the will to live in spite of them.

What books had purchase over your heart in 2018?  Let me know in the comments or on Insta @thelexicondevil.
Monday, January 7, 2019

Five Tips for Setting (and Reaching) Your 2019 GoodReads Goal

It's that time of year again: time to set a new reading goal for the annual GoodReads Reading Challenge.

Within the bookish corners of the Internet, the GoodReads Reading Challenge is THE metric for measuring one's literary year.  Meeting or exceeding one's annual reading goal is a point of pride while falling short can cast a pall over a year's literary highlights.

Personally speaking, I have met my goal seven of the eight times I have participated in the Reading Challenge.  These successes (and notable failure-- I see you, 2013!) have given me some insights into mediating my lofty literary ambitions and my full-time-job-having-adult-lady-who-wants-to-go-to-bed-at-eight reality.

One. | Start where you finished.  There is little difference between December 31st and January 1st.  In all likelihood, the circumstances that shaped your 2018 reading will still be influencing your early 2019 reading as well.  As such, setting a goal that is close to the number of books you read last year is a safe place to start.  Historically, you know that you can read *this many* books in a year; meeting or exceeding last year's number is a safe place to start.

Two. | Goals are a continuum, not an end point.  There are a lot of people (myself included) who set ambitious Reading Goals in January only to have a mild coronary when we revisit them a few months later.  You should never be afraid of either raising or lowering your goal; if the Reading Challenge you set in January seems unreasonable in April, the problem is the goal . . . not you.  Goals should be a stretch that you achieve with a concerted effort over time; they should be neither insurmountably difficult or ridiculously easy.

Three. | Do not be afraid to DNF a book that you are not enjoying.  There is no faster route to a reading slump that chaining yourself to a book you hate.  Your time is a valuable, finite resource and you shouldn't waste it on books that aren't enriching your life.  Toss it in the donate pile and move on.

Four. | Try reading more than one book at a time.  I am a notorious mood reader and usually have multiple books that I am working my way through at any given time.  Sometimes I feel like tucking into a novel, other times I may want to dip back into nonfiction, or I might even tuck into a short story collection.  Having multiple books in my "currently reading" pile affords me greater flexibility as a reader because I always have a book to match my mood (of which there are many).

Five. | Reconsider your metrics.  As devoted as I am to the Reading Challenge, I think it is also important to remember that there are other measures of your reading successes beyond your annual goal.  Truly, the quality of what you are reading is more important than the quantity of your reading.  When you get stuck into your 2019 reading, think about the micro-goals that you would like to achieve along the way.  For instance, this year I would like to read more work by authors of color, more works in translation, and make more mindful reading selections.  Consider the sort of books you would like to read, not just how many books you would like to read.

What are your reading goals for 2019?  What metrics are you using to track your 2019 reads?