A Challenging Season

Okay, let’s try to think happy thoughts, like maybe I will actually live to see 2018. (That’s looking pretty iffy with the incoming administration, but stranger things have happened.) So let’s take a look at the upcoming reading challenges.

The PopSugar reading challenge has become something of a staple in my life, so I will be setting up a 2017 shelf for that one. I have just now discovered the Goodreads group devoted to this one, and I am pleased to see that PopSugar has been paying attention to its discussions and suggestions. Another Goodreads challenge group I joined this year is the one for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. I stand a solid chance of completing that one this year! I’m looking forward to next year’s, but as far as I know, they haven’t posted it yet. I’m also looking forward to next year’s Award-Winning Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Challenge, even though I’m still behind on the 3-month version running through the end of this year.

I am continuing my Completist Christie Challenge, of course, and I welcome people to join me. I don’t feel like administering others’ involvement, but discussion on the post is certainly fine. Likewise, I will be repeating my Personal Reading Challenge in 2017, so watch for that post. (Yes, I know, I still need to go in and do a massive update on the 2016 post.)

And now my friend Michelle Stockard Miller has created an entire Facebook group just for reading challenges, the aptly named Sleep Less – Read More. And…wow…okay, let’s see what I’m letting myself in for.

I am selecting the Mt Vancouver challenge level in the Mt TBR Reading Challenge 2017. That’s 36 books from my TBR piles. Here’s hoping I upgrade and scale even larger peaks as the year goes on! It looks like I will be joining several of the challenges posed by Bev Hankins. The Follow the Clues Mystery Challenge puts a clever spin on the game by requiring links in a “chain of evidence.” I’m going for a six-book “infraction” to start with and maybe I’ll be able to level up! Oh, and sure, let’s do the Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunts. Both of them, why the hell not! I’ve just printed off the checklists and noted the date ranges on them, and my goal is at least six checks on each list.

Jamie Ghione is running several challenges in 2017, and I think I will give the Humor Reading Challenge a shot at the Cartoonist (1 to 5 books) level.

I was considering using the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge to bridge 2016 and 2017, but I just don’t think I’m up for it this time. It starts next week, and I need to get focused on NaNoWriMo instead.

I might host a real challenge myself for 2017. I’ve been trying to make “Start Less – Finish More” my personal reading mantra, and I track my ratio. I’m not doing all that well. So the No Book Left Behind Challenge would be for encouraging me to go find all those books I have abandoned and either finish them or give up on them. It should be a nice complement to Bev’s Mt TBR challenge. And maybe I can find a Keep Them Moving challenge over on the BookCrossing forums. Oh, dear, that’s another dangerous place!

Review: Hex

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #49 for 2016
Habitica’s Legendary Book Club Modest Reading Challenge Task: A book published this year.
PopSugar Challenge Category: A book that is published in 2016.

Wow, this was one creepy book! Even more so because it’s almost a perfect allegory of this election season. That makes for quite a lot to unpack from this strange tale of witchcraft unleashed.

Although the story started off in an amusing manner, the undercurrent of gravity was definitely present. I had the distinct impression of “laugh so you don’t cry” terror coming from these people who were trying to a comical degree to behave normally. But the stress and fatigue were beginning to show.

I found it interesting that the theme of “a terrible choice” was highlighted many times in the book and was even a major piece of the witch’s origin story, but the male-centric leadership of the village never understood its import. There were female characters, yes, but they lacked agency. All they could ever do was try to bargain their way out of situations or, failing that, lash out in anger. And I think it is telling that the author focused on their roles as mothers. He also incorporated a lot of breast imagery, and it seems to me it was purposeful. Despite the lack of strong female characters, I think he was trying to demonstrate how misogyny leads society into a downward spiral.

The choice of Stephen Grant as the main character is interesting, not only because he is male, but also because he is not very active when compared to the other characters whose actions precipitate the unravelling of the village’s tenuous stability. I wonder if the author was trying to make a statement about keeping silent for the sake of stability and yet being just as culpable as those who would court instability.

I would dearly love to see this made into a movie. Not that I would have the fortitude to go see that movie, but what a badass movie it would be!

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Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #48 for 2016

It took me a while to warm to this book. For the first CD or so, it seemed like I was in for another The Invisible Circus disappointment. There were all these characters I could not force myself to care about yammering on about the punk rock world of the ’70s and ’80s. I was a kid in those days, and I find that books that depict what was going on in the adult world while I was busy playing Charlie’s Angels or shopping for Jordache jeans just depress the hell out of me.

But then I started catching on to the structure Egan was using, and my interest was well and truly piqued. It would be a stretch to say I found any of the characters likeable, but looking for the patterns in their interconnectedness was engaging, and I found I appreciated the roles they had to play. The titular goon is Time, and the overarching theme of the novel is that Time has one job to do for Big Boss Entropy, and it doesn’t much care what happens as a consequence of battering its targets and leaving so much wreckage in its wake. So the characters became a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of interaction and reaction whenever Time smacked them upside the head.

I also think Egan was demonstrating the folly of thinking of time in linear terms. It’s more of an intricately woven jacquard. And the swirl of relationships implies that time is cyclical and renewable, at once finite and infinite.

I listened to this on audiobook, but then a lady at book club was kind enough to give me her paperback copy so I could re-read the notorious PowerPoint chapter. The audiobook reader did a fine job, but I’d say it’s worth hunting down a hard copy, if only for that section. It really helps to be able to see how the slides are arranged. I mean, that’s their whole point, so it makes a difference.

This book is definitely not for everybody, but if you like to think about time and causality and interpersonal connections, or if you are one of those people who think the “Are you a big picture person or a detail person” interview question sets up a false dichotomy, this book may be for you. This is one of those rare books that I plan to re-read someday. I think it would be fun to piece together a master timeline…er, time-swirl…yeah….

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Voter’s Remorse

Tomorrow is the big day here in the US of A. But the state I live in mails out ballots, so I voted last week. That doesn’t mean I am entirely comfortable with my choice for President, though. As you can probably guess, I voted for Hillary Clinton. You may find, however, that my reason for doubting my vote is harder to guess. It’s not because I would rather be voting for Bernie Sanders. (I would.) It’s not because I buy into all the right-wing bullshit about “Crooked Hillary.” (Really, I have enough policy quibbles with her as it is. I don’t need lies to reinforce it.) It’s not because I want to “send a message” to the DNC. (I do, actually, but I’ve looked at the other 20 — yes, 20! — POTUS candidates on my ballot, and none of them deserves my protest vote.) And it’s certainly not because I’ve decided Trump is the guy to vote for. (FUCK, no!)

No, I am just now realizing that I got something very important a little bit backwards. Well, maybe “backwards” isn’t the right word. “Sideways”? You see, I know very well that a Trump Presidency would mean a very bad scene for just about everybody in this country who isn’t part of the Trump/Pence theocratic oligarchy. Trump himself I am not so scared of, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand that Trump, being too lazy to actually do anything (besides swagger about and be braggadocious**), will simply turn everything over to Pence, who is a true nightmare. You thought John Ashcroft as Attorney General was scary? Just wait for the horror show that is Pence. Ashcroft may have wanted to turn this country into Atwood‘s Gilead, but he didn’t have the popular momentum that Pence would have, thanks to Trump.

Yes, Trump/Pence could send us into a real-life The Handmaid’s Tale, and that’s just their opening act. Before long, I and many, many people I hold dear would be in fear for our lives. But the sideways thing? “Before long” gives us a little bit of time to come up with some sort of escape plan. I’m not sure what mine would be, since I doubt I would qualify for citizenship anyplace else. My mormor’s family came to America several generations ago, and my dad’s family qualifies me for the DAR. So I would most likely end up frantically fleeing to Canada and begging my (distant) cousins there to hide me behind a bookcase or something. But at least I’d have a chance of survival, what with more than two months of a self-satisfied lull between election and inauguration day.

With a Clinton win? Not so much. I forgot to take into consideration that Trump and his supporters are not the kind of people to concede in a civilized fashion and step aside. Trump has already primed them with talk of a “rigged” election. He has taught them that the rules don’t matter if you’re a white male. And apparently he’s right on that one. All you have to do is compare the Oregon Wildlife Refuge incident to what’s happening now at Standing Rock. So if Clinton is declared the winner, the backlash will be immediate, and it will be bloody. And do you think Obama will do anything about it? HA! I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he will possibly try. But he would be trying to mobilize forces that — to phrase it delicately — have shown very little interest in standing up for “liberals.”

Would I be immediately targeted? Probably not. I’m a white female, so I have their misogynistic protectionism working in my favor for a little bit. But I am neither young nor attractive, so that magic is short-lived. And as soon as I open my mouth, the spell will be broken, because I am many things that they find repugnant. But I will still have a head start on my LGBTQ friends, my non-white friends, my Muslim friends, my Jewish friends, my pagan friends, not to mention all sorts of people I’ve never even met but who “offend” Trump and his ilk. They will be on the front lines. And this is unacceptable to me. Yet this is the November 9, 2016, for which I have voted.

** Can’t resist: