Cool Science: Deep Sea Stuff

I’m adding a new column to this blog, devoted to nerdy science stuff. I’m obsessed with watching deep sea ROV exploration live-streams this summer, namely the E/V Nautilus livestream and the Okeanos Explorer livestream.

I’m of course no expert in deep sea life or geology or oceanography of any sort, but I do have an ecology B.A. and several graduate ecology courses under my belt, just enough to be a nuisance to professional scientists, I’m sure. But, in following the deep sea expeditions I’m increasingly frustrated with how little the average viewer could access to ‘read more’ about anything we are seeing. For anyone like me, it seems natural to want to read more about particular species or genera when they pop up on screen, especially when someone on the dive watch mentions something cool about those critters. But, googling those names provides practically no new information, and certainly nothing in clear, informative prose. And, the critters I find most interesting are not always even mentioned by the folks running the dives. Maybe in 20 years folks can read about all these critters and all the related science, once there are hundreds of blogs or whatever trying to compete for readers who want that information. For now, there are far too few of us amateurs blogging about this stuff.

I was inspired to start this column by seeing one critter in particular, but this is a project I’ve been contemplating for a while.

The critter:

Mid-July, the Okeanos Explorer expedition came across this nifty creature

Well, about a month later, early-mid August, Nautilus just came across this stalk, a dead bamboo coral stalk, which is the perch for some cool and familiarly shaped critters.

Now, I’m no expert, but aside from the color, these guys are the same category of critter as the one in the top 3 photos. The folks running the Nautilus dive did collect part of this stalk with at least one of these critters, but I doubt the team had much of an idea what these critters are. No doubt they’ll figure it out, but in the meantime…

These critters, I am guessing, are in the genus Lyrocteis, possibly Lyrocteis imperatoris. According to Chris Mah’s Echinoblog, there are only 2 described species, but folks are wondering if the many different colors are just different morphs of the same 2 species or whether there are many different species. They are gelatinous, related to jellyfish, and are hard enough to collect that there are few samples from which to decide how many species there may be. Hopefully the samples collected today will reach the right experts so that these critters can add to the available information on these very cool animals.

(Phylum: Ctenophora  Class: Tentaculata Subclass: Typhlocoela Order: Platyctenida Family: Lyroctenidae Genus: Lyrocteis Species: Lyrocteis imperatoris)

So, what are they? These guys are benthic comb jellies (ctenophores) that use long tendrils extending from their 2 arms to find food. Not much is known about them yet, but critters like the ones the Nautilus and Okeanos dives found are cool because they are transparent enough that their inner organs can be seen. I suspect that their innards might help ID them in the future, and I suspect that there are as many different species of Lyrocteis as there are of sea cucumbers. But even if they are all just 2 species with many morphs, they are very cool critters.

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Writing a Useful Book Review

If you read Bookriot, you may have read their post from a few months ago about book categories that would be handy to augment the standard 4 or 5 star rating systems many sites use (click here to read their post if you haven’t yet).

One of the hardest things to do as a book blogger or book reviewer is balancing the goal of conveying enough information about the books we read so that many of our readers will find our information helpful, or at least not misleading, without ‘spoiling’ the book. This must be done in just a few paragraphs at most, providing hints as to what the book is about, why one might enjoy reading it, and who might particularly enjoy the book, without giving away too much of the plot or other important elements of the book.

If I tell you in my review all that I liked and disliked about The Hunger Games- all the character descriptions and character development, plot twists, allusions to real life events, etc.- all the elements that led to my ratings for this book on my own spreadsheet and on Goodreads, you might as well not read it because I’ll have told you too much of the story. But, if you are someone who dislikes sex scenes, strong language, or ‘onscreen’ violence, ideally a book review should warn you if The Hunger Games is going to be uncomfortable for you to read.

Writing a review for one or two people to read is easy. I know what my sister likes in a book, somewhat, so if I am just reviewing books for her benefit, I can zero in on the elements she will like or dislike. But each person has a different set of likes and dislikes, and every book combines its elements differently. I may really dislike mushy romantic scenes, and still enjoy some books that have such scenes, simply because the writing is beautiful or the story is compelling enough to me that those scenes are not a problem (For example, Love in the Time of Cholera is a love story, and I really enjoyed it, despite the mushiness that in other books would have been really annoying.)

Numerical ratings

I use a 10 point decimal scale on my spreadsheet, ever since I started keeping a spreadsheet in 2007.  I only started using Goodreads much in 2013, so I am far more accustomed to my 10 point decimal system than I am to Goodreads’s 5 star system. My Goodreads star ratings often vary a bit from my private ratings. In my own system a good book can fall anywhere from 6 to 10, while anything below a 5 is bad. Many classics fall in the middle, between a 4 and a 6, not bad, exactly, but nothing I’ll be eager to re-read.

On Goodreads the culture skews the ratings. Sure, the 2-star rating should mean ‘it was ok’, but if you give a book a 2 on Goodreads the author might leave you a nasty note for giving their book a bad grade. So really, unless the book was terrible, most books on Goodreads get at least 3 stars as a default rating, and unless they had serious flaws they usually get 4 stars. Thus, almost all the books I would rate between 7 and 10 on my scale get a 5 on Goodreads, many of my 5-6 point books get 4 stars, 3-5 points on my system gets 3 Goodreads stars, and unless I really hated the book, the rest get 2 stars. Most of the books I have rated with 1 star have spent the rest of their lives propping up wobbly table legs.

Clearly, since every reviewer has her own system, numerical ratings are only a very rough guide, overall, for finding good books to read.

I do read (cover-to-cover) and review just about every book I am given ‘for free in exchange for a fair review’, and I take being fair very seriously, so even if some of these books are awful, I will review them as constructively as possible. (I used to work as a teaching assistant in grad school, where my job was coaching writing and grading essays for large undergraduate courses, so I put on my ‘paper grading’ hat when reading books I am planning to review.) On Goodreads ratings below a 4 make some authors really upset, and if rolling a 3.5 to a 4 makes them happier, and the book isn’t too bad, it doesn’t hurt to give them the extra half point. On Ravenmount, however, I am starting to lean towards using my own 10 point scale again.

Ratings tell you roughly how much I liked the book, but not much about why. Thus I am toying with adding categories to my reviews. I’m thinking of trying out tags like “great if you take it slowly, a few chapters at a time” and “best if read all in one sitting”, along with “very heavy subject matter” and “not meant to be taken too seriously”.  If I’ve been reading ‘serious’ books too much I can get a bit cranky about books that are just meant to be fun. Honestly I don’t appreciate authors who don’t bother to check their basic facts, or who don’t bother to edit their book past the first 30 pages, so some of my crankiness is justified; many ‘light’, ‘fun’ books are poorly researched or poorly edited and seem like they were cranked out just to pay the mortgage.

But, I’ll admit I may also sometimes be missing the point when the book I am reading is really just supposed to be escapist fun for readers who just need some entertainment on their lunch breaks. Maybe. If it were my lunch break, I’d still want fact checked, well crafted novels with some substance to them.

Reading and Reviewing as an Outsider

For Christian genre fiction, LGBT fiction, and other books that are geared towards particular audiences, tags like “not my genre”(and thus low stars from me, but it is not a bad book)”, “not the right reader for this, but can see how it would be a great fit for a friend/Mom/etc.”, and “not my genre, but I enjoyed it anyway” seem reasonable. As an atheist with Christian fundamentalist family members I get to read a lot of Christian fiction just to keep the peace, and these are useful notes for my own records. Really, most canonical Western classics are Christian, so if we atheists can read the classics without being turned off by their religious themes, surely there are comparable books being published now. Sadly, most of the Christian genre fiction I’ve sampled is about as well written and well edited as most dime store romances. The good stuff gets lumped into the ‘literary fiction’ category by publishers, I’m guessing. Still, you never know if the book you’re holding is a great book till you read it. After all, some enduring classics were classified as trashy genre fiction when they first came out.

There are of course other categories where I am reading as a bit of an outsider. Though I am glad there are more LGBTQ-aware novels on the shelves now, I myself am still decidedly straight, and can only enjoy LGBTQ fiction to the same extent as readers who are LGBTQ can enjoy ‘straight’ fiction. The stories may be great, and the diversity of sexual perspectives may be refreshingly realistic, but I no more want to read a sex scene between two men than I want to watch one or participate in one.  There are books with sexual diversity where romance is not actually the point of the book, of course, and books where the (non-heterosexual) sexual scenes are literary and well-integrated with the story. Even then I am reading as an outsider, of course, and my ratings and review are still coming from an outsider’s point of view.

Books pointedly aimed at ‘diversity’ in terms of race or handicaps also may be cases where I am reading as an outsider or Other. I am myself handicapped, but there are so many different ways one can be handicapped or ‘diverse’ relative to middle-class, ‘normal’, healthy, White, Christian men, that we are almost all reading as outsiders whenever we are reading a book with more than one race, gender, etc.  I don’t need to only read books where the protagonist is a short, Caucasian, physically handicapped, American woman with a mood disorder and Asperger’s just to enjoy a book. But as a reviewer I have not yet developed a set of ratings that reflect how my own personal identity affects my experiences with the books I read.  I loved some of Salinger’s characters, probably because as someone with Asperger’s, I could relate to them, which may also explain why so many other people reviewed those books critically, because they could not relate to those same characters.

Other Potentially Useful Rating Tags

“I loved it, but most people I know won’t enjoy/understand it”, for those books that are too nerdy or tedious or challenging for just about everyone I’ve met but that for me resonate with my particular brand of nerdiness.

“I would have enjoyed it without …”, for books where the story is good, the characters are good, etc., but there are occasional awkward sex scenes, preachy religious monologues, rambling tangents about boring scenery, really pointless dialogue sections, etc. that get in the way.

“Not my hobby”, for books where the theme is just not one you can relate to. I read an occasional sports themed book, because my brother foists them on me, and I can see how the book is well written, with good pacing, well-developed characters, a good plot, and everything else that makes for a solid novel. But, I don’t like sports. I can sort of sympathize when a football player’s injury ends his career in football, but not the way my brother, who loves football, does.

“I don’t get it”, for the rare book that after reading the whole thing twice I still can’t figure out. I had one that I read 3 times, trying to work out whether a) it was memoir or a novel, b) what it was about, and c) whether anything actually happened in the book. I read a lot of books of varying difficulty and quality, and if I still can’t wrap my mind around a book like that, there is something ‘off’ about the book. I rated that one fairly low, and of course got a nasty note from the author as a result, but I really did try to make that book make sense. (It turned out it was supposed to have been a memoir, though I am still not sure, beyond that, what it was actually about or what happened in it.)

What review tags do you use (or would you like to try in the future) when reviewing books? How do you manage your ratings system?

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The Three Rules of Reading

I am a co-moderator for what is becoming a medium-large sized online reading group, and it amazes me how much I see people apologizing for their reading habits or sounding guilty or ashamed over which books they read, or the format of their books, or over not reading as many books as other people. And the more people we have in our group, the more I also see people acting as if those who read a lot of books ought to be self conscious about their reading, too. So here are the 3 rules for reading, according to me.

Rule #1: It is ok to read a lot of books. It is also ok to read however many books you read. If your time and priorities mean that you only read 12 books this year, that’s ok. If your time and priorities mean you finished 365 books this year, that’s ok too. 

Honestly some days I just want to start an ‘over-200 books’ club just for people who read more than 100 books per year on average, because it does get annoying when people who only finish 12-15 books per year chime in about how slow they read or how many other things they are doing instead of reading, not just occasionally, but every time they see a post about plans for reading. I am an unemployed/self-employed writer, so I am home a lot and have plenty of reading time (but no money, on account of being unemployed). So, of course I can read a lot, and yes, when I was in grad school and working close to full time, I didn’t read 200 books per year, but rather closer to 60.

I still read a lot, I guess, even when I had a lot less free time, compared to folks who only finish 12 books a year in such circumstances. I prioritize reading, and always have, and I by far prefer books over movies, TV, and ‘going out’. Most people don’t have those same priorities and many people have jobs and family that cut into reading time. And yes, most people could read more books, and reading more books improves your vocabulary and language skills, and broadens your perspective.

But still, how many books you read is not something to feel guilty or ashamed about.

Rule #2: Format doesn’t matter.

I used to avoid ebooks and audiobooks and graphic novels and children’s books, as not ‘real’ books, and therefore not countable. My siblings and I have kept counts of how many books we’ve finished each year, and we compare lists and book counts at the end of each year. We are in competition with each other, friendly competition, but still with some rules about not counting rereads, and about what constitutes a ‘book’. We’ve become more open minded though over the past few years, because audiobooks are getting so much better, ebooks are far more available than they used to be, and one of my sisters really loves graphic novels. Outside our family, even our rules don’t apply.

If you have your own rules for your own reading, that’s great, but there is no universal ban on considering an audiobook a ‘book’, nor for how good or complex a graphic novel must be to count as a book. Outside specific events and private competitions/goals, the format of your books is totally your own business, and also not something to feel guilt or ashamed about. Audiobooks and ebooks are still books, and so are graphic novels and children’s books. You get to decide what you want to read, and what to count as a book for your own tallies, and whatever you decide, you should not feel guilty about the formats of your books.

Rule #3: Read what you like. Read what you choose to read. Like what you like.

There are truly bad books in every genre, where the plot is so clumsy, the characters so flat and inconsistent, the dialogue so fake, and the editing so half-assed that the book really ought to have been sent back for another round of revision before it could be considered a finished book ready to publish. If you like these books, I’m sorry. Honestly, though, most books are at least ok, crafted well enough to hold together for at least an entertaining, fast read while waiting in lines, even if not quite ready for a careful, in depth book club discussion.

I personally am not into romance genre books, though I have read about 50 or maybe more (I was stuck staying at my Dad’s friend’s apartment for a few weekends with nothing to do but read, and nothing to read but her very large romance novel collection. I read a lot of them. And I actually rather enjoyed Fabio’s books, and Fern Michael’s series about lady pirates and the Dutch East India trading company.)  I got tired of real-life romance a few years ago, so reading romances for me now is a bit like reading teen dramas set in high school. I remember when that stuff really mattered to me, but I’ve moved on and those stories just don’t resonate with me now. That doesn’t mean romances (or teen dramas set in high school) are categorically bad or inferior to other books. And, if you only read one genre, even if it’s romance, that doesn’t mean you should feel ashamed or guilty about what you read.

There are benefits to reading a more diverse range of books, and to reading more books, and to reading physical books, but only to the extent that it fits with your lifestyle, your commitments, your priorities, and your reasons for reading. If you read to relax because the rest of your life is stressful, obviously you should not be reading War and Peace (unless you really enjoy 1000+ page Russian society novels in which people cry all the time), and maybe an inane, super-obvious harlequin romance is just the right fit for you. And if you are unemployed and need to add some sort of substance and a sense of accomplishment to your life, reading more books, reading a more diverse range of books, and reading challenging books like War and Peace may be a great idea.

So, at least in my world, those 3 rules are the only universal rules to reading. Groups with prizes and competitions and group activities set more rules to keep things running smoothly and fairly, and you may add in rules for yourself, of course, but otherwise reading defaults to these 3 rules.

Rule #1: It is ok to read however many books you read. 

Rule #2: Format doesn’t matter.

Rule #3: Read what you like. Read what you choose to read. Like what you like.

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May 18-19 Reading Log

May 18, 11pm.

I have been reading this week, though not posting much about my reading. I did not finish any reading on Sunday, the last day of the May Shadow Lounge Readathon, because I was corralled for a family trek to see Grandma for Mother’s Day. I always think I ought to get some decent reading in on excursions like that, but it never happens. But I finished a couple books on Monday and Tuesday, at least. I spent a lot of time doing garden work during the warm, sunny parts of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday,But now the weather is cool and wet again, so I’m back to the books. In fact I am staying in and NOT weeding tomorrow, so I am doing an informal readathon over the next 24hrs, to see how many books I can finish between now and tomorrow (the 19th) midnight.

Currently reading:

The Phantom of Menace, by Ian Doescher. Page 80

Books from the last log post:

Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett. Page 125

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. Page 195

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Page 30

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Page 35

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Page 276

Victory, by Susan Cooper.  FINISHED

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, by Ken MacLeod. FINISHED

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Shadow Lounge Readathon Log May 2017

I am a participant and one of the moderators for the Shadow Lounge Readathon group, and our monthly readathon is this weekend.

We started yesterday, at 4pm in my time zone (6pm Eastern Time), and I was at the laundromat then, so I read a bit of a book I borrowed from my mom, but I barely started it. I listened to

How to Break a Dragon’s Heart, by Cressida Cowell

and read a bit of several books, but I haven’t finished another one yet.

Currently reading:

Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett. 30

Victory, by Susan Cooper.  Page 74

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. Page 168

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Page 30

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Page 35

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, by Ken MacLeod. Page 205

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Page 276

 

I am tempted to start another book, but I want to finish a few of these first.

My snacks for this portion of the day include banana chips (from Walmart, made with coconut oil, very tasty) and Little Debbie orange cake snack bars. I also had a Coke, which I decided to finish off when I heard a rather large bee hovering in my living room. I’m not the screaming type, but I still REALLY do not like having bees or wasps in my apartment. So I’m hiding with my books and laptop in my room, at least till I have a plan worked out for ridding my apartment of the bee. (I think it is an orange-banded bumblebee, but whatever it is, it’s big and fuzzy, and not welcome indoors.)

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Reading Log: May 7-13

May 13, noonish

I’m in the middle of a Shadow Lounge readathon now, so theoretically I ought to finish a few more books soon.

Books I’m currently reading:

Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett. 30

Victory, by Susan Cooper.  Page 74

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. Page 168

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Page 30

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Page 35

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, by Ken MacLeod. Page 205

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Page 276

I finished 9 books during this log period, including 5 audiobooks (How to Train Your Dragon series, read by David Tennant).

Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare.  FINISHED

Velocity, by Dean Koontz.  FINISHED

The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. FINISHED

Pastoral, by Nevil Shute. FINISHED

How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, by Cressida Cowell. FINISHED

How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, by Cressida Cowell. FINISHED

A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons, by Cressida Cowell. FINISHED

How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, by Cressida Cowell. FINISHED

How to Break a Dragon’s Heart, by Cressida Cowell. FINISHED

 

May 7, noon.

Started this weekend:

Victory, by Susan Cooper.  Page 22

Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare.  Page 375

Velocity, by Dean Koontz.  Page 100

The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. FINISHED

Carry-overs from last week-

Finished: Bleachers, by John Grisham; Collected Sonnets, by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. Page 149

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Page 25

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Page 35

Pastoral, by Nevil Shute. Page 48

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, by Ken MacLeod. Page 20

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Page 252

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New Weekly Spotify Playlist: May 1-7

I spent a while listening to my friend’s radio project The Colorado Playlist online today and decided it has been far too long since I last made one of these. So, here are 21 songs (because one of them is pretty short), including a few newer songs by some of my favorite musicians, along with tracks I’ve had on older playlists and have not heard in far too long.

  1. “Everyday Is Like Sunday”- by Morrissey
  2. “Good to Be Around”- by Whippoorwill
  3. “Bruised Orange (Chains of Sorrow)”- Justin Vernon
  4. “Here Come the Wolves”- Post Paradise
  5. “Hard Way Home”- Brandi Carlile
  6. “Sweet Lover of Mine”- Emily Smith
  7. “We Are Hot Dogs”- Danielle Ate the Sandwich
  8. “Mollasses”- Bearfoot
  9. “Cruiscin Lan”- Moya Brennan and Cormac de Barra
  10. “Eggshell”- Lara Ruggles
  11. “From This Valley”- The Civil Wars
  12. “Long, Long Road”- David Francey
  13. “I Was Born a Dreamer”- SHEL
  14. “You Don’t Have to Move That Mountain”- Nickel Creek
  15. “Last Request”- Paolo Nutini
  16. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”- Crosby, Stills and Nash
  17. “I Won’t Give Up”- Michael Ball
  18. “Edge of Night”- Peter Hollens
  19. “Hobbit Drinking Medley”- Peter Hollens
  20. “Daydream”- Petals of Spain
  21. “Elephant in the Corn”- Nickel Creek

There’s more repetition in this week’s list than I would ideally want, and not enough new music, but I’ve not been really listening to music, old or new, for a few months now at least. So, this is a good start. I will be trying out new music and adding new songs to my playlists in coming weeks. And, I know many of my readers and followers (fans? Do I have fans? hmmm…) have not heard most of the songs I will be reusing from old playlists, so what is old for me may be new for almost everyone else. I hope through these playlists you can find some new tunes you enjoy, and new musicians you will become a fan of. Meanwhile I’ll continue to play with making new playlists and exploring old and new music.

Happy Listening

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April 2017 Books Finished

1. The Hill of Evil Counsel- Oz, Amos  – This is a short story collection, or novel in short stories, with 3 stories that could stand alone but that involve the same cast of characters from different perspectives as a small Jewish community in British controlled Palestine deals with the early stages of WW2. This was an English translation from the original Hebrew. Amos Oz is considered Israel’s most famous living author. (buy from amazon.com, NYTimes review, Kirkus review)

2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them– Scamander, Newt – This is a cute supplemental book for Harry Potter lovers. There’s not much story, since this is more of a mini-encyclopedia about magical creatures. One could imagine this as a textbook for ‘first-years’ at Hogwarts, for their Care of Magical Creatures intro class. (buy from amazon.com)

3. Hawke (Alexander Hawke, #1)- Bell, Ted – This is the first book in the Alexander Hawke series, which seems so far to be a copycat series to Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt books. Hawke is just as sex-driven as Pitt, and the adventures and political connections both heroes enjoy are quite similar. But Cussler gave this book a favorable cover-blurb, so I’m reserving judgement till I read a few more. (Read about the series on the author’s website, buy on amazon.com)

4. Cat and Mouse– Grass, Günter – If you liked Demian, by Hermann Hesse, you might like this book. I didn’t really enjoy either. This is a book about school-boys in German-occupied Poland, so it was interesting as a perspective on life within Nazi territory that is less common in WW2 literature. I suspect that some of the symbolism was lost in translation, because this story seems like the sort one might analyze to death in college literature classes. (buy on amazon.com, NYTimes review)

5. The Man Who Knew Too Much– Chesterton, G.K. – This is a collection of stories, much like the Sherlock Holmes collections, mostly centered around an upper-class sleuth, Fisher. These stories reminded me a lot of Ngaio Marsh’s stories. (find on amazon.com, read more about this book on wikipedia)

6. The ABC Murders– Christie, Agatha – The TV series version stayed pretty true to this book, but it is still fun to read the book. Some details were of course different, but I don’t think either one is ‘better’; they were both well done. (buy on amazon.com, list of the Hercule Poirot series in order on Goodreads)

7. State of Siege– Ambler, Eric – This is a novel about a man who finds himself stuck on a small, fictitious tropical island that is overthrowing Dutch colonial rule. While the story is fiction, it does show how it might have been for people who found themselves in similar places during similar revolutions. This is a short novel, and an adventure story with a romantic interest and an unwilling hero, so it is not meant to be taken too seriously; for what it is, it was a good book. (buy on amazon.com, Kirkus review)

8. Dark Canyon– L’Amour, Louis – I think maybe this was set in Colorado, though it can be hard to tell in L’Amour books. In any case, the terrain is very much like that of Western Colorado and the surrounding area. In this story a young man leaves life as an outlaw to set up a ranch, as a retirement plan for his outlaw friends who are getting too old to live as outlaws much longer. (buy on amazon.com, buy on louislamour.com)

9. Hymns and Hymnwriters of Denmark– Aaberg, J. C.  (Project Gutenberg) – This is an interesting book if you like church history or music history, or if you want a different perspective on Denmark’s history and culture. (buy on amazon.com, find on Project Gutenberg)

*10. Last Chance to See– Adams, Douglas – If you like David Attenborough’s nature documentaries, P.J. O’Rourke’s travel stories, or Terry Pratchett’s Science of Discworld books, you’ll probably really enjoy this book. And, if you loved this book and haven’t tried Attenborough, O’Rourke, or Pratchett, you might check them out. (buy on amazon.com, also check out the follow-up book by Mark Carwardine on amazon.com)

*11. Snuff (Discworld, #39; City Watch #8)- Pratchett, Terry – One down, one more to go. This book dealt with a marginalized species, the goblins, and how Sam Vimes helped to get them recognition as a sentient species deserving equal protection under the law. You could think of this one as an animal rights or racial equality theme, depending on what you think of goblins, and how sentient you think cats and dogs and other animals really are. (buy on amazon.com, review from The Guardian)

12. The First Three Minutes: A Modern View Of The Origin Of The Universe- Weinberg, Steven – If you like physics jargon you will love this book. I really like cosmology and astrophysics stuff, but this book was slow-going anyway. There are ways to tell the stories of the early universe that make this subject fascinating even for people with no college physics background. This was not a good example of how one might tell such stories. Still, if you are prepared for the jargon and dry science writing, you might like this book. (buy on amazon.com,  read more reviews on Goodreads)

13. The Cat Who Played Post Office (Cat Who…, #6)- Braun, Lilian Jackson – I prefer big, fluffy cats over sleek Siamese cats any day, but these 2 cats are growing on me. I like reading about how they are training their human to provide them with their preferred standards of care. (buy on amazon.com, see the series listed in order on Goodreads)

14. With the Turks in Palestine– Aaronsohn, Alexander (Project Gutenberg) – This is another book set in Palestine, at the start of WW1 when the Ottoman Empire controlled Palestine. This account is from a somewhat different perspective of a Jewish man with US ties who is conscripted into the Turkish army. This author is more openly racist against his Arab neighbors, which is interesting when compared with the attitude in Amos Oz’s book set a generation later. (find on Project Gutenberg, read about the author on wikipedia)

*15. Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1)- Hobb, Robin – I finally finished this book. It was great, but I started it as an ebook, and I still dislike ebooks. Once I got a physical copy and started over with that version, it went much faster. I’m still frustrated with Fitz’s attitudes and actions- he reminds me of Harry Potter a bit, never telling the adults what he ought to when bad things are happening, never asking questions or exploring his own abilities for himself (If I had magical powers as a kid I would be exploring them carefully on my own regardless of what any adults said.) . But he’s getting better by the end of this book. I am looking forward to reading more about Fool, too. (buy on amazon.com, read more about this book on wikipedia, see the series list on Goodreads)

16. Fifth Grave Past the Light– Jones, Darynda (GG) – I was not sure about this book. I have read a lot of romance novels for the fact that I generally dislike them. I don’t mind a well-written, steamy sex scene or 3 or 5 in the books I read, but it is rare for romance novels to focus on the right details with the right wording for my taste in sex scenes. And many romance novels seem like they are really just 6-10 pages of sex with 100-200 pages of filler to space out the sex. This book was at least not just filler. Charley, the female main character, is about as sex-obsessed as Cussler’s Dirk Pitt or Bell’s Alex Hawke, so every time an attractive man entered a scene he was checked out as thoroughly by Charley as Dirk Pitt checks out the breasts and butt of his female costars. The fantasy element in this book is a bit like Aimee Agresti’s Gilded Wings series, a magical fantasy system based loosely on Christian theology. In Agresti’s books angels and demons are essentially varieties of vampires, while in this book they are more like the people in Sanderson’s fantasy worlds who are born with the right genes to have extra powers, only in Jones’s books those powers are linked to a heaven and hell of sorts. I’d have to read a few more books to be sure what I think of this fantasy system, but it seems to work pretty well. (buy on amazon.com, see series list on Goodreads)

17. The Heike Story: A Modern Translation of the Classic Tale of Love and War– Yoshikawa, Eiji – Classic Japanese historical fiction. This is an epic about a clash between major houses in feudal Japan. It felt long, but it was readable, and more enjoyable for me than War & Peace.  This is a translation from Japanese of a modern retelling of a much older compilation of classic historical accounts. (buy on amazon.com,  read about Eiji Yoshikawa on wikipedia, read about the original Tale of the Heike from pre-1330)

18. Huerfano Valley As I Knew It– Owens, Robert Percy – Local Colorado history self-published in 1975, interesting reading if you live in the area or are doing local history research on this region.  (buy on amazon.com)

19. The House of the Seven Gables– Hawthorne, Nathaniel – If this book came out now, it would be just another novel, but since it was more unusual when it was first published I suppose it makes some sense that this is a classic. I find it amusing that no one really investigated the murder that starts out the story of this house. It seems pretty obvious who killed the guy, and I’m sure any decent detective could have figured out who the murderer was. (buy on amazon.com, read about this book on wikipedia, read on Project Gutenberg)

20. Liar’s Bench- Richardson, Kim Michele  (GG) – This is a novel set in the South in the 1970’s, in a small town where its slavery days still set the tone for race relations. In this setting a White teenage girl becomes involved with a boy in her class who is mixed-race, Black and Crow Indian. The girl, Mudas (I had issues with her name, but ok, maybe girls in rural Kentucky would be named Mudas, and Muddy seems believable enough as a nickname for a rural kid of any gender), is also poking around trying to investigate her mom’s supposed suicide. The KKK gets involved, but the book does have a happy ending. (buy on amazon.com, read more reviews on Goodreads)

*21. Leah Mordecai- Abbot, Belle K.  (Project Gutenberg) – This book is about a Jewish girl in the early US, who runs away to marry a non-Jewish boy after her stepmother conspires to push her out of her home. I thought this story was more ‘classic’-worthy than The House of the Seven Gables. The writing could have benefited from more professional editing perhaps, and I’m betting it didn’t get such treatment because the author is a woman writing a story about a girl growing up, as opposed to all those classics written by men about boys growing up. I definitely recommend this book if you like YA, or classics. (find on amazon.com, read more about the author on wikipedia, read this book on Project Gutenberg)

I was hoping to finish closer to 30 books in April, but 21 isn’t too bad. I finished 2 books from my stack of books I’ve won through Goodreads giveaways (marked GG) and 3 books in the A section of author-sorted books on Project Gutenberg.  My favorites from April are marked with a star (*).  I am currently reading a small stack of books still, despite my half-hearted notion to finish all the books I was ‘currently reading’ so I could start fresh. I did finish several books I had been ‘reading’ for a while, though, and I started some new ones. And, perhaps I will post another grand end-of-the-month list like this in about 30 days, with more books to consider for your own TBR stacks.

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Reading Journal: April 30 – May 6

May 4, 7:30pm

Finished:

A Cat on the Bus, by Lydia Adamson

The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution, by Donald E. Westlake.

 

Currently reading:

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. Page 110

Bleachers, by John Grisham. Page 7

Collected Sonnets, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Page 59

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Page 25

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Page 21

Pastoral, by Nevil Shute. Page 48

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, by Ken MacLeod. Page 20

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Page 225

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Books carried over from last week:

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. Page 103

Bleachers, by John Grisham. Page 7

The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution, by Donald E. Westlake.  Page 56

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Page 25

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Page 21

Pastoral, by Nevil Shute. Page 34

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Page 210

I’m still primarily working from this stack, which I made for the Dewey’s readathon, though I might add a couple that are looking too tempting to put off.

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Dewey’s 24hr Readathon Updates April 29

Final Wrap-Up:

I didn’t get as much reading done as I’d hoped, but I did finish listening to all of G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. I picked that book to finish off the readathon hours because I only had about 4 hours left to listen to when I started the readathon, though I did end up going back to the beginning. I listened to the first ~2 hours while puttering around the apartment tidying up and snacking, and then the cats and I went to bed and listened to the rest of the audiobook with the light off. It was a fun book, a lot like the Sherlock Holmes collections, a bunch of stories starring the same sleuth, where each chapter could stand more or less alone. Chesterton’s stories appeared in magazines or newspapers, from what I remember, so this book is a compilation of some of those stories, somewhat in chronological order for the sleuth. I’ll probably try another Chesterton audiobook later this week.

Books finished- 2, both audiobooks. 1) Life, the Universe, and Everything, by Douglas Adams (reread); 2) The Man Who Knew Too Much, by G.K. Chesterton.

Books partially read during the readathon:

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. Page 103

Bleachers, by John Grisham. Page 7

The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution, by Donald E. Westlake.  Page 56

Pastoral, by Nevil Shute. Page 34

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Page 210

Total pages read: 157

Third Check-In, Hours 14-18:

I got to page 103 in Babbitt and switched to The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution, a short story collection which so far is quite good. I read a couple stories in it, and went on to read some of Chasm City. I’ll probably read a few chapters in Chasm City, then pick up a different book, and keep book hopping in 20-30pg increments for a while. I did my hour of co-moderating on Goodreads (Hour 18), which was quiet enough, and listened to an hour of Chesterton’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, but my attention was waning too much. So, back to physical books.

Where I’m at, so far:

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. Page 103

Bleachers, by John Grisham. Page 7

The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution, by Donald E. Westlake.  Page 56

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Page 25

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Page 21

Pastoral, by Nevil Shute. Page 34

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Page 210

Total pages so far: 157, plus ~6 1/2 hrs of audiobooks.

 

Second Check-in, Hours 10-13ish:

Not much has changed since I last checked in. I am still reading Babbitt, though I am now on page 87. My brother’s dog was loose, so I went out and caught the dog, and got the dog back inside his house, when I ought to have been doing the last reading sprint. Then, my brother got home and came by to chat and thank me for catching his dog. Nice enough, but he stayed for about an hour, during which I got no reading done. Hmpf. So, I’m back to reading Babbitt. Yay. I may switch to Pastoral, by Nevil Shute, once I am past pg150 in Babbitt, just for a change of pace.

 

First Blog Check-in, Hours 1-9:  

Leading into the first quarter of the readathon, which started at the ungoldy hour of 6am here, I had the following books already started from yesterday.

Bleachers, by John Grisham. Start page: 7

The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution, by Donald E. Westlake.  Start page: 15

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Start page: 25

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Start page: 21

Pastoral, by Nevil Shute. Start page: 34

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Start page: 197

In addition I started Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis, today at about 1pm (hour 7 of the readathon). I’m on ~pg 60 so far in Babbitt. And, to kick off the readathon I started with a reread, listening to the audiobook of Life, the Universe, and Everything, by Douglas Adams, which runs approximately 5 1/2 hours on youtube.

I posted a few updates on my tumblr so far, and the updated reading stack photos.

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