book club: parable of the sower and bitch planet

This week, my friend Anthony and I held another meeting (online) of our Best Friends International Book Club! I have so much fun reading and discussing books with him. Anthony put it sweetly in a comment on my Instagram:

You encourage me to think deeper and wider with each selection, and I love how this keeps us connected‚ÄĒwith each other and the world around us! ūüė欆[link]

That’s how I feel about him and our club!¬†It means a lot to me to stay connected to my beloved Kansas City family. And although we’re in different countries and drinking different beverages when we have our book club Skype dates, we actually¬†do stay on topic! Mostly!¬†We keep it loose as far as timing our meetings go; we chat when we’re both done with the books and when we’re available.

First, we read Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. It was the first Butler book for either of us. In 2025, society is descending into a chaotic collapse. Headstrong teenager Lauren’s family is killed and her home is destroyed, so she and a few neighbors journey north to a rumored safe haven. Along the way they encounter dangers and new people, and Lauren reveals her plans for a new religion. Lauren also has a condition called “hyperempathy,” which allows her to physically feel the pain of others. I was struck by how prescient and insightful Butler was in her description of this near-future America: privatization, climate change, gender and race issues, religion, the opioid crisis, and more. It’s an important addition to the science fiction genre for these reasons, plus being written by a woman of color. Unfortunately, the book didn’t entirely live up to the hype and rave reviews for me. The religion aspect turned me off, as did the hyperempathy. I always have trouble with epistolary novels, too‚ÄĒSower is basically Lauren’s diary. I’d rather be¬†shown the action than be told about it after the fact. I think this may actually be a YA book, too, which are usually hard for me to get into. I was interested in the¬†The Road-like journey the crew takes north, though. I wonder if I would have liked¬†Sower better if the religion and hyperempathy had been cut? These parts bothered Anthony less, but overall he felt the same. We decided this first book in Butler’s Earthseed series was enough for us. But! I’m not writing off Butler entirely; I’m looking forward to reading¬†Kindred one day.¬†[Read ebook in May 2017.]

Bitch Planet, Book One¬†by DeConnick and De Landro was our second pick for this discussion. In another near-future dystopia, if women don’t comply with the behavioral and beauty expectations placed upon them by the patriarchal leadership, they are arrested and sent away from Earth to a prison planet. The plot (so far) involves the “non-compliant” women being forced to compete in an all-male game called Megaton in order to “spice up” the event, and there’s corruption in the government and prison, etc. I love how in-your-face this graphic novel is, and how the women are non-apologetic and kick-ass. I’m really interested in seeing where this is going. I do wish there was more backstory, and I felt it drag when the focus shifted to men on Earth just talking about Bitch Planet. Otherwise, I think Bitch Planet has a great premise and is an excellent, creative way to get readers thinking and talking about intersectional feminism,¬†the prison industrial complex, sexism, societal expectations of women, and more. Anthony felt the same way, so we chose Bitch Planet, Book Two for our next discussion. He also mentioned the best part: the hilarious fake ads at the end of each issue!¬†[Read in May 2017.]

Our next choices for BFIBC are¬†Bitch Planet, Book Two,¬†Michelle Alexander’s¬†The New Jim Crow, and Chris Hayes’s¬†A Colony in a Nation. I’m excited!

reading recap: may 2017

I read 13 books in May! Even though several were short and several were on audio, this might be a personal record for me. I also already hit 50 books (currently sitting at 51)! I can’t believe it. I guess this is what happens when you listen to audiobooks all day while you draw.

  • The Hearts of Men (audio) ‚Ķ Nickolas Butler, read by Adam Verner
  • Frankenstein (audio) ‚Ķ Mary Shelley, read by various
  • The Leavers (audio) ‚Ķ Lisa Ko, read by Emily Woo Zeller
  • The Road to Jonestown (audio) ‚Ķ Jeff Guinn, read by George Newbern
  • What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (ebook) ‚Ķ Lesley Nneka Arimah
  • There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonc√© (ebook) ‚Ķ Morgan Parker
  • The Teacher Wars ‚Ķ Dana Goldstein
  • Men Without Women: Stories (audio) ‚Ķ Haruki Murakami, read by various
  • Life‚Äôs Work¬†(audio) ‚Ķ Dr. Willie Parker, read by Caz Harleaux
  • The Radium Girls (audio) … Kate Moore, read by Angela Brazil
  • Drinking: A Love Story (ebook) ‚Ķ Caroline Knapp
  • Parable of the Sower (ebook) ‚Ķ Octavia E. Butler
  • Bitch Planet, Book One ‚Ķ Kelly Sue DeConnick with Valentine De Landro

My favorites for the month, as usual, were the non-fictions:¬†The Road to Jonestown,¬†The Teacher Wars,¬†Life’s Work,¬†The Radium Girls, and¬†Drinking: A Love Story. I was fascinated by¬†Jonestown and¬†Radium, while¬†Teacher Wars and¬†Life’s Work are important pieces to understanding where we are on¬†the topics of education and abortion today. Drinking was personal and raw, and made me think more deeply about my own use and relationship with alcohol.

Of the fictions, The Hearts of Men and What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky really stand out to me, as well as a few stories from Men Without Women. Parable of the Sower and Bitch Planet were recent picks for my international book club with my friend Anthony, and it was so great to read these along with him.

This last month I made a detailed plan for catching up on book posts here. I want to write a little bit about everything and I WILL get to it all! I’m traveling for several weeks in June and July, so I’m not sure how many posts I can write up and schedule ahead, but I’ll try my best to keep this space active a bit while I’m away.

I’m currently listening to¬†Going Clear on audio, the expos√© on Scientology that came out a few years ago, and it’s riveting so far. I also recently purchased¬†Van Gogh’s Ear and Pachinko, which I’ve had my eye on for weeks! I also would like to pick up Chris Haye’s A Colony in a Nation and Roxane Gay’s new one, Hunger, while I’m on the road this summer.¬†What are you planning for summer reading?
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reading recap: april 2017

It’s May! Officially a quarter through the year and I’m on a reading roll. In April, I read eleven books, although almost all were experienced on audio:

  • Deviant (audio) ‚Ķ Harold Schechter, read by R. C. Bray
  • Tears We Cannot Stop (audio) ‚Ķ Michael Eric Dyson, read by author
  • The Hate U Give (audio) ‚Ķ Angie Thomas, read by Bahni Turpin
  • White Tears (audio) ‚Ķ Hari Kunzru, read by various
  • On Tyranny¬†(ebook) ‚Ķ Timothy Snyder
  • The Stand (audio) ‚Ķ Stephen King, complete/uncut, read by Grover Gardner
  • Sorry to Disrupt the Peace (audio) ‚Ķ Patty Yumi Cottrell, read by Nancy Wu
  • Exit West ‚Ķ Mohsin Hamid
  • American War (audio) ‚Ķ Omar El Akkad, read by Dion Graham
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns (audio) ‚Ķ Khaled Hosseini, read by Atossa Leoni
  • The Lathe of Heaven (audio) … Ursula K. Le Guin, read by Susan O’Malley

I didn’t mean to end up with so many audiobooks, especially since I have a ton of paper books I want to get through. But I’m really into The 100 Day Project, which started April 4. It’s a 100-day-long challenge¬†to be¬†creative every day. I chose my pencil drawing as my project, not to create a new piece every day necessarily but to get myself into committing myself to spending time drawing. I’ll write a more in-depth post about the experience soon, but basically¬†I’ve been listening to audiobooks while I spend all this time drawing!

Besides the drawing, getting back into my blogging here is another new goal. I miss thinking more deeply about what I’m reading, and I want to keep up my writing skills. I have a lot to catch up on as far as book posts, and I’m planning writing about concerts, CDs, food, and more too!

I was a terrible Dewey’s 24-Hour Readthon participant! I have a hard time starting at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. I only read 10 pages of¬†Parable of the Sower, and I did finish¬†The Lathe of Heaven on audio while I was drawing. Then my husband wanted to take a walk which, here in Singapore, can end up taking a couple-two-three hours. We walked to a gourmet ice cream shop 2 miles from our apartment, and half the way back before hopping a bus. I love how close everything can be here but the heat can be a lot to handle if you’re outside for too long. The ice cream was worth it though ūüėČ

As for the best in April, though, I sincerely hope that everyone reads¬†Tears We Cannot Stop¬†and¬†On Tyranny‚ÄĒsuper important¬†for these times we’re having in the United States. If I could, I’d buy everyone I know a copy of these two books. Best of the month for me. All these books were good! It may take me a while, but I’m looking forward to doing individual posts on all of them.

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reading recap: march 2017

I had another prolific month of reading! It’s really nice to be back in a groove after so many blah months. I’m trying to catch up on books I’ve had forever and not buy new ones, and I’m doing okay with that, better than in the past. My audiobook reading has skyrocketed, though. Without a regular 8-to-5 I have tons of time to listen at home and on¬†bus/subway rides. These ten books makes my 2017 total 27 already‚ÄĒmore than halfway to my Goodreads goal of 50 for the year, so I may raise that soon enough!

  • Americanah … Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Stranger in the Woods (audio) … Michael Finkel, read by Mark Bramhall
  • When Breath Becomes Air … Paul Kalanithi
  • The Last One (win) … Alexandra Oliva
  • Psycho (audio) … Robert Bloch, read by Paul Michael Garcia
  • Brown Girl Dreaming (audio) … Jacqueline Woodson, read by author
  • Get in Trouble: Stories … Kelly Link
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (audio) … Ken Kesey, read by Tom Parker
  • Hidden Figures (ebook) … Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Mom & Me & Mom (audio) … Maya Angelou, read by author

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,¬†When Breath Becomes Air, and¬†The Stranger in the Woods were my favorites read in March. I loved¬†Americanah, but I finished right before Adichie’s controversial interview comments came out, so I’m still sort of reconciling my feelings about it in retrospect. There were some really great stories in¬†Get in Trouble, too, and Psycho¬†was fabulous. I really wanted Hidden Figures¬†to live up to all the grand hype, but for me it fell flat. The parts about the women themselves and their lives were excellent, but you have to wade through lots of textbook-like technical chapters that bored me. I still want to see the movie, though.

Okay. I think if I’m going to be getting through this volume of books¬†(or close to it) each month, I’m going to have to get back into individual posts. It’ll be good for me, another project to keep me occupied!

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find me

Find Me by Laura van den Berg caught my eye on several “anticipated for 2015”¬†lists earlier in the year, so I thought I’d give it a shot. From Goodreads:

Joy has no one. She spends her days working the graveyard shift at a grocery store outside Boston and nursing an addiction to cough syrup, an attempt to suppress her troubled past. But when a sickness that begins with memory loss and ends with death sweeps the country, Joy, for the first time in her life, seems to have an advantage: she is immune. When Joy‚Äôs immunity gains her admittance to a hospital in rural Kansas, she sees a chance to escape her bleak existence. There she submits to peculiar treatments and follows seemingly arbitrary rules, forming cautious bonds with other patients‚ÄĒincluding her roommate, whom she turns to in the night for comfort, and twin boys who are digging a secret tunnel.¬†As winter descends, the hospital‚Äôs fragile order breaks down and Joy breaks free, embarking on a journey from Kansas to Florida, where she believes she can find her birth mother, the woman who abandoned her as a child. On the road in a devastated America, she encounters mysterious companions, cities turned strange, and one very eerie house. As Joy closes in on Florida, she must confront her own damaged memory and the secrets she has been keeping from herself.

I half liked it, half “huh?” with Find Me. The premise is intriguing and full of potential, if not exactly original (plague post-apocalyptic stories are everywhere these days). I was gripped by the whole first half of the book, while Joy was in the hospital and her flashbacks to life before/during the memory sickness outbreak.

Then the second half of the book came along. Hmm. It started off well‚ÄĒand I’m sure I’m biased here‚ÄĒwith Joy leaving the hospital and taking a bus to Kansas City, my town! Kudos to van den Berg for obviously extensive research into the book’s real-life locales. She was spot on with the Kansas City descriptions:

In Kansas City, we pass an empty square and a bronze statue of a winged horse. (159)

I decide to get off on Seventh Street. … A block down, there’s a motel called the Walnut. (159‚Äď60)

I ask No Name what he knows about Kansas City and he tells me this place is nicknamed the City of Fountains because there are hundreds of fountains. The cowboy boot was invented here. Kansas City is home to one of the world’s largest roller coasters.¬†(164)

This is all pretty much right on! Must be referring to the statues outside City Hall on 12th Street (Wikipedia image) for the winged horse; there’s the Walnut Tower Apartments building at Walnut and 7th Streets (not a motel, but you know, I understand the use of artistic license here).¬†Yes, City of Fountains; yes, the roller coaster¬†(located at Worlds of Fun). The cowboy boot invention was new to me, so I looked it up‚ÄĒapparently just outside of KC in Olathe is where this style was started, among other nearby places. Nice!

After that, the book started to aimlessly drift into a very dreamlike state for me… kind of like Joy on her¬†cross-country bus trip. Things just seemed to happen, like, I don’t recall buildup of tension or action leading up to an event or change, it just¬†was all of a sudden. Maybe I wasn’t reading as carefully as I should have, but my interest waned.¬†The last third is especially trippy and surreal. The more I think about it, the more I can see that Joy is an unreliable narrator, which is a feature I enjoy in books, but perhaps Joy is just a little too young for me to be enthralled by her journey (she’s just 19‚ÄĒthis hinges on YA, or maybe more accurately the “New Adult” genre).

It’s a little hard to talk about¬†Find Me without giving away spoilers! Maybe it would have worked better as a short story or novella. But I think it’s a worthwhile read¬†if you enjoy a great premise, beautiful writing, and a thought-provoking meditation on memory and its reliability.

Read from May 11 to 17, 2015.

rivers

Continuing my Ebook Challenge this year! I recently chose to read Rivers by Michael Farris Smith off my iPad. From Goodreads:

It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn’t rained, when the storms gave way to the pale blue of the Gulf sky, when the birds flew and the clouds were white and sunshine glistened across the drenched land.

Following years of catastrophic hurricanes, the Gulf Coast‚ÄĒstretching from the Florida panhandle to the western Louisiana border‚ÄĒhas been brought to its knees. The region is so punished and depleted that the government has drawn a new boundary ninety miles north of the coastline. Life below the Line offers no services, no electricity, and no resources, and those who stay behind live by their own rules.

Eerily prophetic in its depiction of a southern landscape ravaged by extreme weather, Rivers is a masterful tale of survival and redemption in a world where the next devastating storm is never far behind.

I am so in the mood for post-apocalypse books right now, and¬†Rivers worked well for me. It’s hard not to compare to Cormac McCarthy’s¬†The Road, of course, and these books could be cousins as far as the devastating near-future setting goes, but they are different enough to be enjoyed without wishing you were reading the other.

The aspect I liked best about¬†Rivers was Smith’s detailed world building, especially for the crushing weather‚ÄĒconstant rain, frequent hurricanes gaining strength one after another. The bleak, brutal wetness and cold is palpable in this book. Also, there was a lot more action in Rivers than I expected‚ÄĒimpossible situations, violence, kill-or-be-killed stuff, which I found all appropriate to the desperate nature of this new world.

A few things didn’t quite work for me, specifically that I didn’t feel like I really¬†knew Cohen, despite being the protagonist and several flashbacks to his life before the storms (which had a tendency to be long sometimes, I’m not sure I cared so much). None of the characters were fleshed out much‚Äö Cohen is the only one whose past we learn about and I still didn’t feel like he was fully realized.

I enjoyed it a lot though‚ÄĒthis scenario of seemingly endless storms ravaging our country is a terrifying prospect and I thought it was imagined well here in¬†Rivers. I’m sure I would have gotten through this faster if I didn’t feel a pinch by a few library books¬†that were coming up due and other life stuff in general.

Rivers is my second of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from February 17 to March 14, 2015.