I'm an Editor in book publishing. All opinions are my own.
Fellow BookLikesers, I hit a serious reading slump.
My year had been going so well. By the end of March I was already ahead of target to achieve my annual reading goal of 120 copies, well on my way to a stellar reading year. Then . . .
What started it may have been that I read a couple books for work . . . and even though I liked them ok, I just didn't FEEL like reading those books, I was forcing myself to read them. Then I started A Feast for Crows, to try and stay ahead of the GOT show--I don't watch it, but wanted to keep up so if I heard spoilers for the show, I'd already be past that point in the books. The book is REALLY FREAKING SLOW. I was so bored out of my mind reading it that on my commute, I often chose to stare out the window of my train for 70 minutes rather than slog through another chapter.
I decided to set aside the Martin and come back to it later, but then had the ill fortune to choose a couple books in a row that were underwhelming enough I couldn't finish them.
Only recently did I start pulling myself together. Only now that I've finally started Shadow of Night do I finally feel right again. I feel the same interest and absorption I usually feel when I'm sucked into a story.
It's nice to have my groove back.
Last night my husband and I both sat on our couch, independently reading. I cracked open lauded fantasy novel The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I've long wanted to read, and which is impressing me so far. He's started anew The Lord of the Rings, perhaps his favorite novel, for a third reading.
Not a general fantasy reader, the DH read The Hobbit for the first time shortly before the first LOTR movie came out, and then read LOTR twice in quick succession--first for pleasure, and then for a Tolkien course at his college, the only humanities class he seems to remember with any pleasure, or at all. He still has his papers and notes, including a convincing paper on the importance of trees in Tolkien's universe (I read it). He takes this stuff seriously. He has Tolkien reference books, lists of terms and indices of minor historical incidents. Maps of Middle Earth. He genuinely wants the names Samwise, Meriadoc, or Eowyn to be in consideration for our children. I jokingly offer to call our first boy Helm Hammerhand.
And I was thinking last night, as we peacefully read our separate novels together, that it's a great thing to be married to a nerd.
I'm a hard person to buy books for -- I read so many, and because I work in the industry, I know more about what's out there than any of my family. So Santa (my in-laws, really) brought me a Barnes & Noble gift card! This is what I bought with it.
What books did Santa bring YOU?
This best-of lists continue with regular fiction! This list doesn't include subgenres like crime and speculative fiction, only novels that would be in the general fiction section (though sometimes the separation feels arbitrary). I read some amazing fiction this year, and my favorites covered a wide range, from a novel about baseball to one about a female pirate in the nineteenth century. A great haul!
What were your favorite novels read in 2013?
Continuing with my 2013 Best-of lists, herewith is the non-fiction I enjoyed or admired most this year. It seems I leaned most toward science writing and true crime.
What were your fav non-fiction reads of 2013?
I do love making lists, so today I'm kicking off my lists of the best books I read this year. Today, YA! Looking back through my reading record, YA seems like it was really hit or miss for me this year. Several works I read seemed to have great potential that faltered in the execution. But there were also some amazing standouts that I salute here.
What were your fav YA books read in 2013?
The Christmas season is still a magical one for me. There's something deeply comforting, fun, and joyous about enacting the same traditions every year. Putting up and decorating the Christmas tree, accompanied by carols. Carefully selecting and wrapping gifts. The truly special parts, though, are the traditions unique to each family and person. My family, for instance, always held a candlelight dinner on Christmas Eve. Breakfast on Christmas morning is homemade cinnamon rolls and orange juice. Through December I watch all my favorite holiday films--when I was a child, Care Bear Nutcracker, A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Muppet Christmas Carol, White Christmas, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Later other favorites were added: Love Actually, Elf. I still love to act out all these traditions.
I distinctly remember that in our living room--mostly a formal room that I didn't spend much time in--was a stack of Christmas picture books that sat under a side table. They were there year-round but only sparked my interest in December, when I'd pull out all the old favorites and read them over and over again. Sometimes we read as a family, and sometimes I read on my own. I don't remember most of the books, but know that The Polar Express and The Night Before Christmas were definitely among them.
I don't know if it's nostalgia, or the fact that, though I don't have children yet (eventually, I hope!) many friends and family members now have young ones, I've felt a strange compulsion to start afresh a holiday picture book collection. Old favorites would be necessary, but there's always room for newcomers. For now, I'll look forward to anticipating that first purchase, the one that will start the tradition anew...
Today I want to write about something close to my heart: the study of literature. I’ll warn now that this is an editorial. Opinions are mine alone.
Obviously literature is important to me, or I wouldn’t be here! I bet the same is true of the rest of you. I have loved reading my whole life, primarily fiction. I was an English major in college, and work as an Associate Editor at a major book publisher, again working primarily with fiction. Not only do I find reading enjoyable, but I find it important. The study of literature, particularly classic literature, has enriched my life. It has given me skills in literacy, vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and critical analysis. It has deepened my understanding of history: political, social, and cultural. It has given me a lifelong love for the written word.
Given this background, I am deeply concerned about the new educational standards for English Language Arts in the Common Core. The Common Core standards have been adopted in my state (NY) and 45 others across America, though a few states have halted, at least temporarily, its implementation due to myriad concerns. I share many of these concerns about the Common Core, but closest to my heart is the decreased emphasis on the study of classic literature in favor of non-fiction, informational texts. Indeed, the standards specify that 70% of student reading should be of informational texts over all courses, and 50% in English class.
Let me repeat that. The standards hold that IN ENGLISH CLASS, students should spend no more than 50% of their reading time on literature.
This makes me rage.
It gets worse. For instance, the recommended reading lists for informational texts are, at best, concerning and, at worst, suspiciously ideological. They might include, for instance, directives from the Environmental Protection Agency. Even if you personally agree with the readings, the system seems ripe for abuse and ideological one-sidedness depending on what the teacher believes. Further, the recommended texts may just be . . . tedious. An instruction manual, according to the Common Core, has as much value to confer literacy and intellectual engagement as a Jane Austen novel. Finally, the standards recommend the strange (to me) practice of telling teachers NOT to provide historical or cultural context to students about their reading material. Students are left to read a document blindly, with no guidance as to its relevance or importance.
As someone who majored in English at a top thirty university, I know that these standards would leave students woefully unprepared for the rigors of a selective institution in general, and for the study of English at the college level in particular. In fact, the leading English Language Arts and curriculum expert on the Common Core validation board, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, refused to validate the standards, citing her opinion that the standards will leave students unprepared for the rigors of a selective college (a link leading to some of the articles she has written or co-written on the subject is included below).
Students deserve better.
If you are a parent, future parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or anybody who cares about education--particularly reading and literacy--I urge you to examine deeply the Common Core standards. If you are as concerned as I, stopcommoncore.com is a wonderful resource to explore, and that website has links to state-based organizations as well.
A few resources:
Continuing with my best-read books of 2013, here's the list of the non-fiction I admired or enjoyed most this year. It seems that I leaned toward science writing and true crime, with the occasional memoir thrown in!
What was your favorite non-fiction read in 2013?
Ha! Via Julia Quinn on FB.
It's almost November! This is crazy. Tomorrow I will break out my Christmas music, and I've begun holiday shopping already. It's my favorite time of year.
It's also that time of year that I begin anticipating next year's book releases! I have a lot on my wishlist already that look great, and I'll be counting down the days to each. I've separated my list into relevant categories:
Next (and Sometimes Last) in a Series:
Cress by Marissa Meyer, third in the Lunar Chronicles (February 4)
Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal, fourth in her Glamourist Histories (April 8)
The One by Kiera Cass, last in The Selection series--I don't even think these are great, I just want to learn what happens (May 6)
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo, the last entry in the Grisha trilogy (June 3)
The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear, next in the Maisie Dobbs series (July 1)
Don't Talk to Strangers by Amanda Kyle Williams, third in the Keye Street PI series (July 1)
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, last in the All Souls Trilogy!! (July 15)
The Catch by Taylor Stevens, fourth in her wonderful Vanessa Michael Monroe thriller series (July 15)
Next Book by Author I Love:
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead, whose Seating Arrangements I love with all the loves (April 8)
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia, author of This Must Be the Place (May 13)
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen, all of whom's books I've adored (January 21)
Books That Just Look Good:
A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias (January 28)
The Martian by Andy Weir (February 11)
The Waking Engine by David Edison (February 11)
House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple (April 15)
What are your most anticipated releases for next year?
I love Halloween time -- the decorations, fall food, candy, and most of all, BEING SCARED. A longtime fan of horror movies, I'm always on the lookout for books that gives me the creeps.
It's a little tough. For one thing, part of why horror movies work on me is that I'm very easily startled. Even when I know the scare is coming. Even when I know it's just a cat rattling pottery, or the wind causing chimes to sound. IT STILL SCARES ME if the music and visuals are right.
This can't really happen in books. There's no rising crescendo to get the adrenaline pumping, no camera angle that carefully reveals the killer waiting in the shadows. The scares have got to rely on other things--eerie imagery; a sense that something is odd, or grotesque; the idea that what is happening is wrong or disturbing. And often, what works for one reader won't work for me. For instance, I've read two horror novels by Joe Hill -- HEART-SHAPED BOX and NOS4A2 -- and while I admired both very much, I just didn't find them scary. I seem to be in the minority.
Luckily for me, I recently picked up NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl from the library. I'd had it on hold for at least a month or so and it came in just in time for Halloween week. It is a perfect read for me, for this time of year. Eerie, creepy, mysterious, I can't wait to see where the story goes...