Lying About Ruth Ware’s the Lying Game

Alright, so even though I’ve told just about everyone I know how much I love Ruth Ware, even though I’ve already blogged about how she’s one of the most amazing thriller/mystery writers I know, I did not find out that Ruth Ware had a new book coming out, The Lying Game, until I saw it on shelves in the bookstores.

As it stands, I’m scrambling to get a copy and am absolutely unprepared to review a new book by one of my favorite writers. Hold on though, I’m not gonna let that stop me! The very answer to my current dilemma is in the book’s title itself. I’ll have to play the so-called Lying Game.

The book is called the Lying game because, according to blurb on the jacket flap, the group of grown women featured in the story used to play this “Lying Game” when they were younger, specifically it seemed they all just tried to tell ridiculous lies and back each other up until someone’s about to call them on it, then they bail. Sounds like a silly, annoying children’s game that could perhaps echo the novel’s plot with perilous symbolic significance, something reminiscent both of Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott, the adults embroiled in dark, treacherous plots mirrored by the dangerous mischief young girls can get into. At least, that’s what it sounds like, from the summaries I’ve read. Sounded pretty good though, didn’t I? You thought I read the book for second even, maybe? That’s because I’m playing the Lying Game! Or am I?

Yup, I actually did the book, totally. Of course I knew it was coming out. Ware’s like, my favorite author. What kind of fan would I be, not knowing when her new book’s coming out? My favorite part? Well, not to give away any spoiler or anything, but I really admired the extended chase scene through the circus and carnival fairgrounds. I thought it might come off as too vaudevillian, but concluding it with the discovery of that triple suicide pact on top of that imposing cliff-side definitely saved it. Oh don’t worry, that’s barely a spoiler. This all happens in the first couple chapters or so. What a way to open the book!

The middle bit sagged. I think that  slack was due to all the extended conversations in Russian that the writer refused to translate in the text. Huge chunks of the plot were lost on me that way, because Google translate can only help so much. I suppose you have to admire her commitment to a creative choice, but I did feel the choice was just a bit too avant garde, dare I say even bizarre, compared to Ware’s other books, especially since all her characters were supposed  to be British, and it’s never even  mentioned where they picked up Russian in the first place, or maybe they did, in the Russian bits. Like I said. That part was lost me.

Yeah, I thought naming the main villain Angelina Jolie was a bit presumptuous. We get it, you already have the movie deal all planned out. No need to make it so obvious, Ruth! Still, though, the ending definitely redeemed that character in the most unusual way. Again, no spoilers, but I hope more thrillers incorporate baby pandas escaping perilous situations into their big finales. Such fluffiness!

Is any of what I just wrote true? Maybe… maybe not… I’ll never tell. Looks like you’ll have to read The Lying Game to find out. Then, and only then, will I be victorious because, you see, I was never playing to win the Lying Game at all. No sir, I was playing the Get As Many People as Possible to Read the Brilliant Ruth Ware’s New Book Game. Gotcha!

Or did I?

Like Books? Bored? Possibly Psychic? Try Bibliomancy!

Bibliomancy is the art of divining the future through randomly selecting book passages. Due to my own bookish nature, I was playing this game long before I realized it was actually something like and arcane art. Pick up a book, pick a random part to read, think about what it means. Surprise! You are actually practicing real fortune telling. Technically, there’s a bit more to it than that, but if you have books and enough time on your hands, you’re already mostly there.

When I was younger, I would call this game, “talking to the books.” I’d flip to a page with my eyes closed and read the passage my finger landed on, usually out of it’s original context, and see if I could carry on a “conversation” with a book in that way. When one book got too nonsensical or seemed to stop working, I’d pick up another and start “talking” to them. It was a silly game for a silly, over imaginative girl that needed to go outside more, or else find some real, non-paperback friends. That’s what I always told myself anyway.

Then, once I stumbled across the concept of bibliomancy years later, I realized that silly game was most likely my subconscious training me to unlock my dormant psychic powers. Either that, or most fortune telling systems are simple game-like rule sets created by desperate and/or bored people to make sense of this crazy world. Probably I was secretly psychic though.

Since I have secretly trained myself for years in this art, I figure why not give my audience of fellow book-lovers some tips, a fun little game to try with your books, or possibly an ancient mystic art. Go ahead, try it! what’s the worst thing that could happen?

I looked up additional rules for bibliomancy online, just to make sure I was doing it right, and it turns the most common type of bibliomancy uses the bible, letting the book fall open to a random page and putting your finger on the passage. That’s been practiced since medieval ages apparently, but I found a several religious websites that had to remind a straying public that even if it does use the bible, bibliomancy is still a form of divination and therefore a sin. Beware!

Okay then, so don’t use the bible. I don’t really want to cross the sort of people that would make those webpages in the first place. Wikipedia, a much chiller info source says that any book that “contains truth” should do fine, which really opens up our options, and means that what I was doing as a kid probably still counts as psychic powers training.

So, any book that holds truth? That’s basically any favorite book of yours, any one that spoke to you on a deep, emotional level. Suddenly, all my Mary Oliver books are both my favorite poetry books and divination tools. Go ahead and round up your favorite truth-telling books so we can get to this last part, telling the fortune itself.

Now, you can have a question in mind for the text or just come at it with an open mind. Methods to pick the passage vary. Some ancient people used dice or other random input to choose a page, which is kind of like gambling so that could be fun. Just letting the book fall open to a page seems like a bad idea to me, because it’ll just fall open to whatever page you read the most, if it’s thick enough to fall open by itself at all. We want real divination here people, not just random chance.

I personally like to pick up a book, eyes closed then randomly flip through the pages nice and quick, and jam my finger on a page to get my results. I did this with my Mary Oliver essay book Upstream, (a great read even when you’re not trying to tell the future,) and got the line, “What I mean by spirituality is not theology, but attitude.” Good line, right? I’m not sure what that means for my future exactly. I need to be more spiritual? I need to take up more of an attitude about religion, sass back at a priest, maybe? Taking lines from a poetry book or something similar means you’ll get a lot of these wise yet vague sage-like lines, which is why I like using them, but don’t be afraid to try your own favorites, maybe even the bible if you’re not afraid of upsetting some very concerned Christian internet people. Develop those psychic powers!

If you feel like trying this out, make sure you let me know how it turns out! Go ahead and post any fortunes in the comments below. After consulting my own texts, the powers that be tell me the best way to sign off this entry is with the line “Tempest gods send their clerics to inspire fear in the common folk,” whatever that means. I’m still practicing here guys, and I have a lot of fantasy books in my divination tools pile.

Jane Austen and the Reverse Bechdel Test

Jane-Austen-portrait-victorian-engravingHey everyone. I hope you’ll forgive me, but I have to start my Women’s History Month post with a fact that is technically about men. In all of Jane Austen’s books, there is never a scene of men alone, talking to each other. There are men, of course, in her books, and they do talk to each other on occasion, but always in mixed company, with men and women present. It’s not a perfect reverse Bechdel test fail, where two men don’t talk to each other about something other than a woman, but it’s close. Austen, of course, being a proper Regency-era lady would never have been able to witness men talking to each other without any women around, and being the brilliant author that she was, she wouldn’t settle for secondary resources illuminating the matter.

No, she made her books about women and their lives. The men could be there but they couldn’t expect any solo time on screen. This is a gross over-generalization, but the men were mostly there for the women to coyly flirt with and consider marrying. This, I think, is why Austen could be a very important educational tool for dudes  during Women’s History Month.

If you have a Y chromosome, here’s a fun little sympathetic exercise you could do next time you’re wondering why women  complain so much about Women’s Rights when they’re obviously totally fine today. I bet some of you dudes might already have experienced reading Austen in high school or for some literature class. Unless you’re an unusually intense English-lit nerd, it was probably an unpleasant experience. Sure, lit classes specialize in ruining old books for readers by forcing the classic down the student’s throat, but with Austen, there’s usually a different complaint. “Ew. It’s all about a bunch of chicks, just talking about what dudes they’re gonna marry. Boring!” Yeah, Regency-era  marriage politics were never my favorite part of Austen books either, but this illustrates an interesting point. It’s a point that you could illustrate with just about any type of chick-lit, but I want to show here with something that has more substance and staying power than that.

See, guys, how boring it is when the only men that are around are introduced for the sake of a love interest with the main protagonists? Really boring, isn’t it? Really, even an Austen book has a more male presence in it than the average movie has a female presence, so you’re not even experiencing the worst possible time here in this bizarro flipped universe that is Pride and Prejudice, Emma, or Persuasion. People can go on and on about the brilliant themes and character arcs Austen has in her books, but it just doesn’t feel like written for you dudes at all, so it’s really all so boring. How do women, (and people of color for that matter too,) deal with this stuff everyday? Well, women have managed, for quite a while now, with the help of society telling us our stories or less important and less interesting. So yeah, we’re doing great guys, no worries, (she says, before breathing in and out of a paper bag with Gloria Steinem’s face printed on it for a couple minutes.)

Women  find it notably easier to identify with male characters because that’s mostly all they’ve been given in any sort of story; books, movies, television, etc. Sure, books have a way better rate of female representation on average because, according to statistics, women read slightly more than men, but I’m bringing up the Austen of it all to illustrate a point. Literature, not just books but fine literature and books considered good enough to one day end up in that classy Western literary canon, is a field dominated by male authors and male characters. Sure, we’ve been given tastes of well written female characters in literary classics, and a smattering of female authors strong enough to be included in the literary canon, but with a vast and imbalanced history, women still have a seemingly impossible amount of catching up with the men folk if something like an equilibrium is to be reached.

Okay, so we’ve got a long road to go, still, when it comes to women being represented in literature, as characters and as writers. In the mean time, let’s try to actually celebrate Women’s History Month, not just by posting encouraging hashtags and reblogging posts about inspiring Women’s Rights activists, but by reminding people why we need this stuff. We may no longer live in a world where I need to plot out husbands and marriages in lieu of careers, but we do live in a world where not enough people realize that representing women isn’t as easy as putting a pink bow on one character or making kids read one incredibly talented Regency-era romance novelist in school. We can change that, one Reverse Bechdel test experience at a time.

Conjuring a Brilliant Finale

There’s not much better about being a book lover than that sudden rush you get when a book that you’ve been waiting forever for, (or at least, it feels like forever,) finally comes out, and you let a sudden, crazy rush of energy fuel you as you run and pounce on the nearest copy of the book you can get before devouring it. I got to indulge myself in this geeky rush earlier this week when I discovered A Conjuring of Light, the final book in V.E. Schwab’s  Shades of Magic series was released. Schwab dastardly ended the previous book in the series, A Gathering of Shadows, on a seriously high-stakes cliffhanger that left me tearing out my hear, so my excitement for this final book was even higher than normal. I’m in the thick of reading it right now, and so far it’s been more than worth the wait.

I don’t plan on giving a fully comprehensive review because I haven’t finished reading the book, which is notably longer than the other two, and it is the finale. I want to convince you to read the series, not spoil the whole entire thing.

I’m definitely not complaining about the book’s length. That’s just more time I get to spend in a fantastically inventive world, or worlds. As I mentioned in passing before when I referenced the series, these books take place in a couple different worlds, all layered over each other, all very different and unique, but all with a city called London in the exact same place. Red London is where the bulk of the action takes place, Grey London is actually our own London during the tale end of the reign of King George III. White London is a dangerous, magic-starved world and Black London is best left unspoken of. The series has dueling magicians, pirates, nobles, pirate nobles, and plenty of royal intrigue.

Schwab has a big job ahead of her in Conjuring, wrapping up all the plots, subplots and character arcs. That’s always the scariest part of any series ending, seeing if everything can be wrapped up satisfactorily. I find that, especially with popular series, you always wind up finding some people disappointed. I tend to be on the optimistic side with series that I’ve invested so much love and time into, seeing only the best in them. I’ve endured bloody, deadly, tragic endings and, (perhaps even more,) happy endings trying much too hard to adorn every possible surface with sentimental and frilly wrapped-up bows, but I still try to see the best in any big ending.

Schwab, though, is a highly experienced writer who’s written and concluded many books, and even another series, so I have no problem keeping faith in her and encouraging everyone I come across to try this series out. I’ve seen each book get progressively more buzz as it came out, and it warms my heart to see more and more people read and enjoy a series I love so much. That is one of the other chief joys of being a book lover, sharing that passionate frenzy over discovering a new read.

So what are you waiting for? Go check out this series! It’s a great, exploratory fantasy riff that’s original and engaging. You don’t even have to wait the agonizing months I did to resolve the second book’s brutal cliffhanger anymore. Just race out to the nearest bookstore and pick up the next one. Trust me, you’ll want to. This series is that addiciting.

Why Must the Good Dogs Die?

I’ve always been a dog person. I love ’em; walking them, cuddling them, reblogging cute pictures of them, and so of course I love reading about them, or I would. You might’ve noticed when your grade school teacher made you read Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows; books about dogs tend to kill off their main protagonist before the end. Heck, A Dog’s Purpose, the recent movie that was of course based on a book, features the same dog soul dying several times. It gets reincarnated of course, but we’re still left reading a book that kills multiple lovely doggies that we are made to fall in love with. MULTIPLE DOGGOS PEOPLE. I will not stand for it.

Sometimes though, I just need a good book about a dog. Books from the point of view of dogs are some of my favorites, because nonhuman narrators are always interesting when they are done well, and inside a dog’s mind is usually a fun place to be. That’s one of the reasons why I read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Someone recommended it to me a while ago and I finally got around to deciding I’d read it. The plot summary said the book was about a dog learning a lot from his human’s difficult life as a race car driver. Well, no reincarnations mentioned there, and they didn’t make it sound like the human had a great time, but hey. I’m worried about dogs having a bad time in my books, not people. Every other book I read is horrible stuff happening to people. It doesn’t phase me. Dogs though, dogs I care about.

Of course, The Art of Racing in the Rain opens on the main dog character talking about how he’s old, can’t walk, and knows he’s gonna die soon. The story technically encompasses the dog’s whole life with his human family, and that beginning point is just a starting point for that whole flashback to start, but c’mon! I should’ve known better than trust a dog book, I know. This one just straight up sucker punches me in the gut the minute I open it. Bam! Dog is dying right up in your face! I suppose you could view it as a warning that the story will end with a dead dog too, and I suppose in that way it’s just trying to tell me to get ready, but you know what else is an option? Not killing the dog at all!

We all know we’re going to die. Literature loves to remind us of that fact too, of course, but not every human protagonist’s story is defined by their eventual death. Why do so many classic and modern dog book hits involve the dog’s eventual death?

Drawing on my own experience, I know that when my first childhood dog died, it was emotionally  devastating for me. It was the first time I came to truly understand that all my loved ones, including the humans, are mortal and will die. Those half a dozen or so pet fish I killed did not have the same impact at all. I’m sure lots of people could say they had a similar experience, lots of writers, perhaps. I suppose I get the urge to want to write about that feeling, that first understanding, that microcosm of mortality. I understand, but that doesn’t make these books hurt any less.

Dogs just generally seem pretty good at getting to the meaning of life, living simply and for the most important, joyful parts. More books could be written about the lives of these zen masters. I never enjoy the part where they get to dying, but in the end that’s just a part of life, and you still have to do it and do it well. Maybe it is only fair dogs show us how to do this too.

Ghosts of Christmas Books

We all know that the Christmas season is the time when people with serious personal flaws get visited by ghosts that try and get them to change their erring ways. Well you guys, some freaky ghosts totally came and visited me for some time traveling lessons about my Christmases past, present and future. Normally I wouldn’t share my personal paranormal experiences on my book blog. That’s for my secret Illuminati Confirmed side blog. However, these ghosts had a lot to say about my reading habits and where they’ll get me in life, so here we go. It all started with a blast from the past.

Ghost of Christmas Books Past:

So This weird glowey little dude told me he wanted to take me to my Christmas past and I was like sure, sounds fun. So we go poof back in time, but all invisible like the ghost tells me so I can’t mess with people as a future person. We’re at my aunt’s house, where my extended family spent many Christmases. Adults joyfully chatter, children run around shrieking in play and laughter. Where, asks past ghosts, am I? Well duh, it’s about halfway through the night, I was obviously where I was every Christmas at that time.

I take the ghost up to my cousin’s bedroom closet. I’m in there, reading one of several Foxtrot books, collections of this newspaper comic strip by Bill Amend. I loved them, and my cousin’s closet was cozy and had enough light to read by. Past ghost saw this and was all like, what? That’s not even a Christmas book. Would you not be celebrating the holiday by playing festive Christmas games with your cousins? What are they playing– And I was like oh yeah it’s another lightsaber grand royale duel to the death. I was probably already tagged out. Melee with plastic lightsabers is more exhausting than you think, and I needed to recover.

I just always liked reading those little comic strips. My dad did, and he had those books all over. Maybe reading them  was all about feeling reading connecting me to my family… But then past ghost was all rude and interrupted saying laser-swords is not a Christmas game! What is with this family? Hitting people is as much against the Christmas spirit as isolating yourself behind the cover of a book! And I was like wow, rude. You interrupted me there but then the past ghost just sighed and took me home, back to the present just in time for…

Ghost of Christmas Books Present:

So I came back to my room and thought hey, maybe I’d get a quick break to read a few more pages, but then out of no where this ghost in fancy robes who was definitely more than a little wasted on ghost Christmas wine was there, and he was getting ready to get all up in my business too! He goes, Madeline, what is it you’re doing cooped up in here? Then I got all excited and got ready to tell him. Oh, I’m reading this great new book called News of the World by Paulette Jiles and it’s this beautiful, western with a unique style that… You’re wasting this splendid holiday season is what you are doing interjected the drunk ghost guy. Hear the frivolity outside, the laughter! You should join in the festivities. And I’m like, ew no. It’s negative something degrees out there. Walking from my car to my building earlier today made my face hurt. I’m staying here. You see, this book’s done in this really interesting fashion where they don’t denote any of the dialogue with quotation marks, giving it a really flowing, stream of consciousness effect, which can be quite terrible when not pulled off right, but here it works wonderfully…

But then he was all no, come on then, what about all that cheering down the hall, shall we not join the souls in this very building in celebrating Christmas? Oh that’s  just the girls getting drunk on white wine while they yell and reality TV and bad romcoms. That’s not really my scene, Mr. Ghost Guy. When I celebrate and socialize around the holidays, I just generally prefer more low key nights than what you’re going after, and honestly I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I enjoy engaging in rich conversations on topics I find interesting, like this book right here. What I really like about Jiles is how… Then Present Ghost interrupts, (again with these guys and the interrupting!), Laaaaaame. If you’re not getting completely wasted you’re not doing Christmas right. And then he just did a really long belch then mumbled about having another ridiculously large banquet feast to get to. He left me alone, but really soon afterwards the next guy showed up in some ridiculous cloak get-up. Oh well. At least I know it’s the last one.

Ghost of Christmas Books Future:

So this creepy cloaked guy goes Madeline, I’ve come to warn you of the path all this socially reclusive behavior and reading is taking you down, behold! Then bam we were somewhere completely different, the future I guessed. We were in the coolest room ever. The room was filled floor to ceiling with shelves full of books on every wall. And there was this old lady in the comfiest chair I’d even seen with a reading lamp right in the middle of the room, with several cats around here either demanding pets and attention or else pretending to ignore her for pets and attention, and some more hiding under the furniture. It looked pretty sweet, I gotta admit. My dream set up. Then Future Ghost started with his bit. See! this is what will become of you if you continue to shut yourself away at from people! You will become a crazy cat lady, foolish mortal!  I looked around the place again, realizing it was my home and that old lady in the comfy chair is old me. I honestly got a little teary eyed.

The ghost goes, Ah, now you see the gravity of your situation! And I’m like, wow, thanks ghost, I really gotta say, I never dreamed I could one day have it this good. All these books, those cats, that chair, I can’t say I ever really wanted more for myself in old age. Future ghost was just frustrated though. Come on! You should be scared of this, of ending up alone with no one but your books to keep you company And I just had to reply like, why, dude? This is great. I obviously did very well for myself, looking at this set up, or else I have a family that’s still taking really good care of me. You know, people always give me a hard time about finding fulfillment in solitary pleasures like reading, I think maybe because they think I’m trying to shut people out or even being snobbish, and it always gets worse on the holidays, when everyone’s planning parties and getting ready for Christmas. You know what? I love these things because that’s who I am and how I’m wired. I still enjoy myself plenty, even if it’s in a shy way most people don’t get to see. Books have always been a way for me to enjoy myself and connect with others in my own special way, and indulging in them and anything else that makes me so happy sounds like a wonderful life to me. I smile, but future ghost just screamed.

Oh my God we aren’t even doing that movie though, and then he stormed off to ghost world. I had to make my way to the present day corporeal plane all by myself too, but I figured it out after a couple of hours. All in all, not the worst ghost visitations I’ve ever experienced, but these guys weren’t very bright.

Here’s to books and the special places they hold in our hearts on the wintery holidays. Hurray for cozy reading!

Romeo and/or Juliet: Playing With a Classic

As a book nerd, I’m always look for fun ways to re-experience classics I’ve already read. Just this week I was lucky enough to find something really fun, fun and Shakespearean! I picked up two very exciting books, both by Ryan North and with the same concept; choose your own adventure Shakespeare plays.

Romeo and/ or Juliet tells the famous love story we think we know, but this time you get to choose the outcome of the play, meaning that a great deal of these love stories are actually nothing like Shakespeare’s work. What they are is hilarious. North plays around with the characters irreverently, making this book a fun way to make even reluctant high school English students connect with the material. You’d probably have to warn them first that they shouldn’t use this book when writing their essay though. You’re results may vary, but it’s actually very unlikely you’ll get the same ending, much less the play’s actual ending more than once.

I haven’t read all the endings in this book, not by a long shot, but in one Juliet marries Orlando from As You Like It somehow and in another one she ends up becoming a pirate and working as a personal trainer in a gym. When I played as Romeo, he got caught snooping around Castle Capulet and then murdered, but then I got better at playing a dude and Romeo and Juliet totally ended up getting married and living happily ever after. Sorry, I’m not sure what the spoiler rules are for choose your own adventure books, but I may have broke them a little bit just now. Technically, I only spoiled a few of the many endings you could find though. I just needed to show you that North takes the story in new directions that are extremely fun, but very confusing if you tried to incorporate them into an English essay. That detail about Juliet being obsessed with body building is a 21st century addition, not something you missed in the Sparknotes. I felt that almost all North’s choices and additions were very welcome.

Romeo and/or Juliet is the newest of Ryan’s work, but the story of R and/or/ J’s predecessor is actually very interesting. To Be or Not To Be was originally a Kickstarter project, pitched as a choose your own adventure version of Hamlet. He presented a demo online and his work was accompanied by many artists who wanted to get in on the project by adding fun illustrations. Two of my favorite nerdy artists, Kate Beaton and Emily Carroll, contribute to the both book’s hilarious artwork. Because of all the artists backing it and the generally awesome idea, To Be or Not To Be was extremely well funded, hence North being able to release this next adventure.

I think the popularity of these books show that classics benefit from taking time to not take themselves so seriously. Sometimes a good sense of humor offers the best insight, as North proves by offering numerous pointed jabs at the ridiculous intended message of each work he plays with. My favorite so far from Romeo and/or Juliet goes like this:

“[…]you begin to realize that relationships can be a success even if they end in a breakup. They have to, right? Otherwise every relationship you ever have ever will be a failure unless one or both of you DIES, and that’s baloney. That’s straight up baloney sandwiches.”

-Ryan North, Shakespearean Critic

I didn’t think one of the most emotionally mature analyses I’ve ever read of this play would contain the words “baloney sandwiches” in it, but I was wrong. While a bunch of stuffy old academics where busy glorifying the rushed romance of two underage teenagers ending in a double suicide, North was busy asking his friends to draw Juliet as a pirate or Romeo as a house maid and he still made a deliciously spot-on baloney sandwich of literary commentary.

This just demonstrates why I love playing around with classics. “Great” works only really grow when you aren’t afraid to play around with them, experiment, and have fun. If you excuse me now, I’m going to see if there’s a way I could make Hamlet be less of a whiny  emo boy.

 

Real Back to School Reading Prep

Everywhere around me, I see it happening. One by one, the young among us are dropping like flies, going back to school. Even I will be heading to graduate school soon, because when faced with entering the “real world” and quitting academia cold turkey, I just couldn’t quite do it. It’s all I know.

With my many years of experience, I’ve learned that you definitely have to change your reading habits and expectations during the school year. So I’ve picked out some books and reading habits that can help you readjust to the rigors of class-assigned reading. Some of these may seem strange or non-conventional to an outsider but remember, Grad student here; I know what I’m doing.

 

H.P. Lovecraft: While I’ve yet to come across a class that makes this famous old horror writer required reading, I can’t think of a man who acts as a better representation of most all the books you’ll have to read for school. You start out reading him, and he’s an old white guy with kind of dense and dated language. It’s no worse than you’d expect from an early 20th century writer though, and people say he’s really amazing, that he put words and ideas down in a way no one had before him, inventing the cosmic horror genre. Also, his stories do an excellent job of approximating the all-consuming horror you feel when faced with an average night’s worth of assigned reading.

Then you find out, boy howdy he was ridiculously racist. Immigrants terrified him almost as much as giant squid gods and he wrote a poem called “On the Creation of N——” That is about as bad as you could imagine. How are you supposed to reconcile this extreme prejudice with how revered he is today in many literary circles? Well, when you find the answer to that question, there’s hundred more long dead white guys from your required reading list waiting for you to answer the same queries about them.

A Phone Book: I know it’ll be difficult to find one in this day and age, but then again so are some textbooks. It doesn’t have to be an up to date one or even one for your area. Just pick a phone book and attempt to read it, cover to cover. Don’t forget to take notes! This will all be on the test, after all. You are required to try and read through this dull and endless list of names with intense and thoughtful rigor until your brain drips out your ears and life has no meaning. Words have no meaning. Are these words, these splotches on the page? I swear they once seemed so simple and boring but now I can’t even make out what they are anymore. Where’s the coffee? I need it to live. This is the quickest way to simulate midterms and finals week.

This exercise also happens to be a very useful empathizing tool for people who have not been to college, or graduated way too long ago and seem to think that all college students do is party and get black-out drunk. Try to make your way through a whole phone book in one night yourself and you just might wish for the sweet release of SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS! Or perhaps a good book and some tea, if that’s more your speed.

Certain Poetry: As an English major, a grad student, and an occasional poet on top of all that, I’m really not sure I’m supposed to admit this, but I will as it serves this back to school exercise too well to ignore. Sometimes, in certain genres poets can be freaking ridiculous. This is many people’s main criticism of poetry, that poets apparently wrote like they never imagined another human being would have to decode their words to get at the sentiment. I find that the more poetry you read, the less this is true, in most cases. I’m still pretty sure that one professor who made me read a Gertrude Stein poem as an undergraduate was punishing the class for some unknown reason.

Yeah, go read Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and get ready to sit in a discussion like you actually understand what’s going on. Write a 1,000 word paper on it. Oops, okay, now I’m really just asking you to do my homework for me, got a bit too transparent there. Pretty, pretty please guys? I have no idea what she’s saying. Being a graduate student is too hard!

There. You’ll be ready to start up school again in no time, and I’ll be waiting for you to copy and paste my homework into the comments below. Many thanks.

Going to Bookcon 2016!

An awesome convention is rolling right up into my hometown this Saturday, and I’m so excited for it. It couldn’t be more perfect for me and this blog. That’s right ladies and gents, I’m talking about BookCon 2016!

BookCon started out only in 2014, and this is the first time it’s taking place in Chicago. The previous two years were held in New York. Tomorrow, that’s Saturday, May 14th, (Only one day? Will that be enough time for me to properly geek out? Oh dear.)  the McCormick Convention Center will be hosting this great convention to all things bookish. Writers of varying levels of renown will come as special guests for autographs, and a whole bunch of panels and events that promise to talk about storytelling, do some storytelling, and talk about books in general. It’s all making me salivate, really.

Some of the guests I’ll be the most excited to see tomorrow include Cassandra Clare, author of the Mortal Instrument series and several others I love besides that, Hannah Hart, the vlogger behind Drunk Kitchen who has written a book, and Ransom Riggs, author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which might or might not soon be ruined by Hollywood. I’m really hoping for not ruined, but c’mon, the book is always better. There’s even a panel about that at BookCon, so you know I’m right. Well, it’s about YA authors having their work adapted to film, but anyway, close enough. There’s loads more interesting panels too, going with the loads of more interesting authors who will be there.

I only named  my top three guest authors, of course. A more comprehensive list of everyone I’m excited to see would include almost every author slated to come, and you could just check out their site for that. Seriously though, they’ve got some people I’m looking forward to see talking, like Sherman Alexie, Kate Dicamillo, Chris O’Dowd from Bridesmaids for some reason… No, I’m stopping. I promise, no more. Except I have to mention Veronica Roth… No, gah, no, I can’t! Too… many… brilliant… authors. Must. stay. brief… and Maggie Stiefvater. Gaaah! I can’t stop myself. There’s too much talent. Gotta keep talking, gotta change the subject.

There are definitely plenty of YA and children authors coming, as you could probably tell from the names above. That’s nothing I, nominally an adult, am gonna get upset about though, seeing as this is the exact sort of thing lil’ me would’ve loved. Tickets for kids are at a really reduced price too, so it could be a nice family weekend thing for all the bibliophiles with their bookworm spawn. My mom will be coming with me, and I’m not so much her spawn anymore as I am her fully grown bookworm mutant monster, finally risen hatched and fully grown out of the primordial ooze. She’s so proud of me.

There will also be plenty of publishing companies, book sellers, and other related companies on the convention floor. I’ll have to bring my roomiest duffel bag for all the merch (cool convention talk for merchandise of course) that I’m gonna pick up, and maybe I’ll just have to go without food for a week or so to offset the cost. It’ll be worth it. My buddy Anderson’s Books will have a booth there, as will a handful of independently published writers, among all those big professional, corporate publishing companies. As someone who is hoping to get involved in this industry upon graduation, meeting these people is exciting in its own way. If you’re looking to learn about publishers and authors from all over the world, BookCon is a good place to be this weekend.

When to get the Audio Book

I recently had to decide whether I should get a new book on audio or in print form. It was a tough decision for me, and one I realized I hadn’t necessarily discussed on this blog. I’ve discussed how I sometimes enjoy audio books and e-books in addition to regular print books, but I feel I haven’t yet addressed what makes me go for an audio or print version of a book, beyond simple convenience, which is probably the main factor in my decision, but not the only one. And naturally, of course, because I’m just such a genius in general, you may well want to heed my advice when considering whether or not to pick up an audio book.

1. The Reader: Who reads the book? That’s one of the main things that draws me towards a certain audio book. Some people just have voices so beautiful and rich that I follow them around like voice artist groupies. Jim Dale, the narrator of the Harry Potter audio books, is one such voice many people might be familiar with. Sometimes, listening to a series with the same narrator for each book can make that voice actor sound like home, a reason I love James Marsters (Yeah, Spike from Buffy, for real,) as the narrator of the Dresden Files. Another voice I love is Neil Gaiman, as he often narrates is own books.

That brings me to a tricky subject: authors narrating their own books. Sometimes it works out great, like with Gaiman, who has a voice that sounds like what cats feel when you pet them just right and they have to purr. IT’s that ultimate listening experience, the creator of this world giving you your own personal story time. On the other hand, and I won’t name names here, sometime writers just aren’t meant to be voice artists, and their performance goes either just so-so or terrible. This can happen when a famous writer or otherwise famous person writes a book and the gimmick of having them read the book is just too good to pass up from the marketing standpoint, even after the whole thing’s been recorded and they sound like a robot that had to stay up all night recording. Still, though, it’s a gimmick I usually fall for, because I just love it too much when it gets done right.

2.The Print Book’s Make-up: Okay, this one comes down mostly to practicality. Check out the print version of the book before you decide. How thick or heavy is it? Could you carry it around with you all day if you wanted? Sure, I’ve lugged some big books around with me, but sometimes that just isn’t worth it, like when I have to travel or I just really don’t wanna.

I got a copy of Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please ages ago, but only recently started “reading” it when I got the audio book, because the book was published on weirdly heavy, fancy glossed paper that made it too heavy for me to comfortably lug around, even though it fit in my purse.

Sure, you could also use this argument for getting the book on your e-reader, but I download most of my audio books straight onto my phone anyway, so that’s still one less thing I need to have with me.

3. Checking the Library: Books on CD can be insanely expensive if you want to try and by them yourself. Sure, Audible solves that by simply making you pay a monthly prescription to get whatever audio books you want, but there’s an even better way. Libraries.

Sure, you can go to the library and check out a book on CD for a car ride or your ancient walkman, if you like, but libraries are actually pretty forward thinking with technology these days. If you have a library card, then chances are you can borrow audio books, for the same number of days your library lets you borrow a regular book, from a website, straight onto your phone, and you can renew them and everything. I get most of my audio books this way, using the website OverDrive, which provides the service to a bunch of libraries, and I don’t even need to leave my house or talk to people, always a huge plus for me. I’d say my inner cheap introvert loves this site, but who am I kidding, that’s my outer persona too.

I ended up getting a print version of the new book I was mulling over, because it was right there in the bookstore looking at me so forlornly, but I went through all these thoughts in my head before I bought it. You might find it handy to do this next time you go on a book hunt too.