With My Eyes

I belong to an online salon, and one of its other members recently posed the following question: What’s your favorite way to read? He was not pleased when some of us answered that our preferred reading mode was with our eyeballs. I can’t speak for the others, but I wasn’t trying to be a smart-ass, honest.

It’s just that “way to read” is pretty vague, and I didn’t feel like analyzing all the options, so I went with a broad choice: with my eyes, as opposed to with my ears or with my fingers. I have tried several times to learn braille, as I have had vision problems since childhood and very nearly lost my vision in one eye a few years ago, but I thoroughly suck at it. I have come to appreciate audio-books, but listening is still something I have to work at. On the other hand, I’ve been reading with my eyeballs since I was three and am pretty much incapable of ignoring text, so “with my eyes” is the clear winner. I haven’t actually tried reading with my tongue or my nose, but I don’t anticipate that the results would be encouraging.

I do read e-books, and I have three Kindles if you count my phone (which also boasts at least two other e-reader apps), but in most situations I much prefer to have a dead-tree version. (Of those, I possess…well, let’s just call it more than three.) Even for travel, when mass is an issue.

Part of it is nostalgia, true. I love having tangible reminders of my favorite reading experiences and author events.

The smell of antique books takes me back to my grandparents’ home in St Joe. Grandpa had an estate sale addiction hobby and never failed to return with at least one box of books. Their two-story foyer/stairwell was lined floor-to-ceiling with shelves crammed full of books, and Grandpa always made sure I left with a fresh supply of reading material.

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One corner of the library after my parents moved out and put the house on the market.

 

My own childhood home also had a library, and I loved organizing my shelves (and everybody else’s), so it’s no surprise that I was also a student librarian in middle school. But my preference for “real” books also has a basis in practicality. I like to be able to flip back to earlier passages, scan ahead to see if a boring book picks up steam, scribble in the margins, puzzle over previous readers’ bookmark choices, build Christmas trees out of them…. IMG_20151225_170753 And don’t forget BookCrossing!

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Just one of the book buffets at the 10th Anniversary BookCrossing Convention in Washington, DC.

I’ll admit it, my inner smart-ass was tempted to answer with “hanging upside down from a railway bridge.” I can read just about anywhere, which my mother appreciated when I was a child. As long as she could stick me in a corner with a book, I’d stay out of trouble. And I’m the one who shows up at the 4th of July picnic with a flashlight and a book. In truth, though, I prefer sitting in my blue armchair next to the fireplace for reading. IMG_20150917_191801 I bought it specifically for that purpose. I was wandering through IKEA with no actual furniture-buying intent (I go primarily for the frozen Swedish pancakes), but I needed to sit for a bit (hey, IKEA can be physically taxing), and the chair I selected turned out to be perfect for reading.

Oh, who do I think I’m kidding? I was at IKEA to buy bookshelves.

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IKEA calls this a TV stand. ::smh::

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Review: Song Stories: Blaze of Glory

Song Stories: Blaze of Glory
Song Stories: Blaze of Glory by Wakefield Mahon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #56 for 2015
PopSugar Challenge Criterion Met: A book of short stories

This was a really neat anthology concept, basing weird west stories on songs, and most of the story concepts themselves were interesting. Execution of the concepts ranged from above average to pretty damn awesome.

“Death Letter” by Robert Jones. I liked the characters and the subtly post-apocalyptic setting, and the writing style was impressively visceral.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Jeff C Carter. The atmosphere work here is brilliant and chilling.

“Nor the Moon by Night” by Vivian Caethe. An interesting attempt to blend Catholic culture with Native American traditions, and the story had some nicely rendered visuals.

“A Link in the Legends” by Curtis James McConnell. I’ve never watched The Lone Ranger, so I didn’t really get this one.

“Don’t Fence Me In” by Curtis C Chen. Great suspense and characters in this story, with some interesting twists.

“Not a Drop to Drink” by David Boop. Good buildup to a seriously creepy finish, and I liked the obscure origins.

“Heart Made of Ground” by Camille Griep. Far and away my favorite of the bunch, this tale was beautiful and gripping.

Several of these stories are ones I think would transfer nicely to the big screen. I would recommend this to anybody with an interest in weird west stories or tales with a Twilight Zone kind of feel to them.

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Review: A Bargain for Frances

A Bargain for Frances
A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #55 for 2015
PopSugar Challenge Criterion Met: A book that came out the year you were born.

I remember having a book in this series when I was a kid — A Birthday for Frances, perhaps? I had a record of it as well, and Mom would play the record while I followed along in the book. I remember not understanding the point of that story, and I feel pretty underwhelmed by this one as well.

Frances is going to a tea party at her so-called friend Thelma’s house, and Frances’s mother reminds her that Thelma is one to “be careful” with. But does Frances use her brain at all? No, she lets Thelma bully her into the “bargain” tea set deal. Then, after Frances discovers the betrayal, she cooks up her own scheme to get Thelma to make things right.

The moral of the story — whether it’s better to be careful or be friends — seems like it’s a good message if you don’t think about it too much. But actually, it’s kind of awful. Thelma is never taken to task for her bullying ways and has no impetus to change her behavior, and Frances gets to feel smug for repaying mean-girl tactics with more of the same. And doesn’t our society already do a pretty good job of drumming the “turnabout’s fair play” message into our psyches our whole lives long?

So, yeah, not a fan of this series. This one gets two stars because I like the illustrations.

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Review: Light

Light
Light by Nathan Burgoine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #54 for 2015

If you know me, you are probably aware that erotica (gay, straight, or otherwise) doesn’t really interest me, so I’m always pleased when Burgoine publishes something a little more my speed. As a fan of his short fiction, I’m also pleased to have an actual novel from him. And as I expected, this was a delightful read. It’s lighthearted and fun, with a good dose of romance (but nothing tediously explicit), and at the same time it handles a serious topic, that of persecution of homosexuals by religious wackos. ‘Nathan balances all of that beautifully with an entertaining superhero tale and also manages to embed deeper themes of identity, community, belonging, power, vengeance, and greed.

I enjoyed all of ‘Nathan’s characters, but I especially liked Kieran. I could relate to him and I loved his sense of humor. I’m really looking forward to reading more tales of Kieran and company.

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Review: Murder on the Eiffel Tower

Murder on the Eiffel Tower
Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Book #53 for 2015

The translation did feel a bit clunky, but I doubt all of this book’s many flaws can be attributed to this. For one thing, our sleuth is an obnoxious ass who is a disgrace at solving mysteries. Then the mystery was actually “solved” almost entirely through an oddly timed confessional letter. Honestly, the book’s only redeeming feature is the authors’ attention to historical detail.

These authors should write just plain old historical fiction and give up on Victor and criminal plots. Frankly, as a lifelong mystery buff, I am a little insulted that they apparently thought, Hey, we should write a fiction book about 19th-century Paris. What’s some simple formula we can shove a plot into? I know, let’s write a murder mystery. That’s super-easy! They clearly have no respect for the genre.

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Review: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #52 for 2015

It’s hard for me to find much to say about this book. As I listened to it, I kept thinking, This sounds like it ought to be intensely fascinating; I wonder why it’s so incredibly boring. It wasn’t that the writing was bad. Fuller’s prose is extremely well done, and a few scenes, like the snake in the pantry, really stick with me. But it turns out that the author was intentionally keeping her emotional distance from her own story, in some misguided attempt at objectivity. Intellectually, I can understand why she did that. It especially makes sense given the extent of the casual racism and family dysfunction pervading the book. But it pretty much ruined the story for me as a reader.

Oddly enough, Fuller’s failure to engage me with this memoir makes me all the more curious about her other works. I may just have to read one of them to see if I can relate to her at all.

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Review: The Case of the Missing Moonstone

The Case of the Missing Moonstone
The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #51 for 2015

I zipped right through this on the way home from Washington, and it was delightful in so many ways that I was tempted to give it five stars. It gave me a better idea of what Ida Lovelace and Mary Shelley were like and how they might have interacted if their timelines had actually meshed like in the book. And I’m not docking the book a star for tinkering with timelines. I write steampunk and absolutely love tinkering with the 19th century, so I have zero room to talk. No, my discomfort with this story has more to do with Peebs and the mystery.

I’m not going to spoil the Peebs reveal, but I will say that I was a little disappointed in the sugarcoating. Yes, the notes at the end of the book go into some detail about later interactions, but it all felt so sanitized. I suppose this is a children’s book, and I should just let it go, but it still feels dishonest to me.

The mystery was, of course, inspired by Wilkie Collins’s much-revered novel, The Moonstone. Well, much-revered by people who are not me. I thought it kinda sucked. So when I saw where this mystery plot was going, I groaned inwardly. And the acorn shape of the moonstone in question bothered me. I’ve seen moonstones only as cabochons. Is that an actual thing, carving a moonstone into a shape? Maybe it is, but every single time they talked about the moonstone being acorn-shaped, it pulled me out of the story.

I have to remind myself that I am not the target market for this book. For its intended audience, I’d say this is probably a really good read. Young readers will be less concerned with things like moonstone shapes and the realities of 19th-century courtship, and they can focus on the fun aspects of the story, of which there are many. This story also presents truly interesting and capable female protagonists, which is a very good thing.

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