Then Now Next Thursday (May 7, 2015)

How to Be a HeroineTHEN

blew through How to Be a Heroine over the week, although I seriously wondered if Samatha Ellis only ever read classics growing up. Review to come later. I had a busy offline week.

NOW

On a reading memoir kick from How to Be a Heroine, I picked up Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. It’s … okay. I don’t find it as witty or as well researched as Heroine, but I also haven’t put it down yet. It’s easy to read, a series of small (aptly named…) “book reports” on a theme, like kids in danger or supernatural powers. I was hoping for a little more research and self reflection, but you can’t win ’em all.

NEXT

This week blew by me pretty quickly because it was a vacation, so I still have to start my #SecondChanceChallenge books, Pantomine and The Twistrose Key. Plus, I have a library meeting coming up tomorrow where we all get together and debate books until we can agree on a list of twenty(ish) picture, chapter, middle, and high school books for the upcoming school year reading program, and I always end up with a lot on my TBR shelf after that, even if not everything makes the shortlist.

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Then Now Next Thursday (April 30, 2015)

The Darkest Part of the Forest THEN

I finished reading (and reviewed) Virgin: The Untouched History. Since I last posted a round up, I’ve also started and finished Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest. That’s the quickest I’ve finished a fiction book, like, all year. I’m just having such a hard time concentrating, but man, it’s so good.

NOW

I’ve been really into nonfiction this year, so I read the intro to Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, but then found that I wasn’t really interested in the stories, so I put it down and picked up How to be a Heroine, which I like a lot, even though I haven’t read most of these classics, except Anne of Green Gables.

NEXT

Karen Jensen on Teen Librarian Toolbox proposed the #SecondChanceChallenge, to give a book you dropped a second chance. I signed up and said I would try to read and finish The Twistrose Key and Shadowplay. Both were very good (like, I loved Pantomime, which is the first book in Shadowplay‘s series) but just not what I was looking for at the time, so I’ll give them both another chance.

Irregular Review: Virgin: The Untouched History

Virgin: The Untouched HistoryVirgin: The Untouched History
Hanne Blank
★★☆☆☆ (It was OK.)

Goodreads summary:

Why has an indefinable state of being commanded the attention and fascination of the human race since the dawn of time? In Virgin, Hanne Blank brings us a revolutionary, rich and entertaining survey of an astonishing untouched history.

From the simple task of determining what constitutes its loss to why it matters to us in the first place, Blank gets to the heart of why we even care about it in the first place. She tackles the reality of what we do and don’t know about virginity and provides a sweeping tour of virgins in history–from virgin martyrs to Queen Elizabeth to billboards in downtown Baltimore telling young women it’s not a “dirty word.” Virgin proves, as well, how utterly contemporary the topic is–the butt of innumerable jokes, center of spiritual mysteries, locus of teenage angst, popular genre for pornography and nucleus around which the world’s most powerful government has created an unprecedented abstinence policy. In this fascinating work, Hanne Blank shows for the first time why this is, and why everything we think we know about virginity is wrong.

While I was reading, a friend stopped by on my personal blog to ask how I was liking Virgin: The Untouched History. I told her, truthfully, that it was okay.

The Good

I like this kind of book, that examines, in detail, something everyday that we take for granted: cupcakes, harsh language, virginity, whatever. Virgin was a quick history of Western civilization from ancient Greek and Roman through Judaism and the rise Christianity, and then then advent of capitalism and urbanization through the lens of virginity. Interesting!

I also have a personal interest in this topic. I’m asexual; I’ve never been kissed. I wanted to read this and contextualize it in history. Blank covers it a bit towards the end, but virginity today gets a bad rap as “repressed” and associated with the heavy handed ideology of “abstinence-only education.” So what about holy virgins, Vestals and nuns?

The Bad

Virgin: The Untouched History was interesting, but not quite as interesting as I hope. Blank failed to strike an either properly academic tone (no footnotes, a casual writing style) or the jocular, chatty style of Mary Roach (Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex) or Melissa Mohr (Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing). The attempts at humor fell flat, and detracted from the text as authoritative. (I’m not questioning her research, only her presentation.)

My other concern with this book was the hetero- and cis-sexism. I understand that the historical record might be thin about gay, lesbian, and bisexual virginities, and the virginities of trans people, but it can’t be empty. Even so, there is more recent writing on these subjects that warranted inclusion in the later chapters. There was a brief mention of a lesbian woman who sold her (penis-in-vagina) virginity, which would have benefitted from some exploration. Then at the end was a quote about stone butch lesbians, but it wasn’t explored, either. There was no mention of asexuality.

The Verdict

All I can say about Virgin: The Untouched History is “it’s okay.” If this is a topic that interests you, check it out. (I wouldn’t recommend spending money on it.) Otherwise, there are other, better popular nonfiction books that I’d recommend unless you have a particular interest in virginity. If you are, you’re in good company: virginity has been with humanity since the dawn of time.

If you’re not, I would suggest Holy Sh*t or Bonk instead.

Then Now Next Thursday (April 23, 2015)

Let's Eat RamenTHEN

I’m back to bouncing around from one thing to another and never finishing a book. It’s very frustrating, but I just can’t focus! I did manage to finish Let’s Eat Ramen, a manga dojinshi collection. Maybe I should stick to graphic novels for now?

NOW

Currently, I’m reading the only kind of book it feels like I can finish lately, a cultural history. This one is called Virgin: The Untouched History. It’s no Holy Sh*t, but I’m enjoying it well enough to keep reading. I love learning more about concepts we take for granted, like virginity, or swearing, or cupcakes.

I’m still reading The Story Thieves, but the going is slow because 1) it’s kind of boring? which is a huge letdown because I loved the premise, and 2) I’m taking extensive notes on craft while I read, because I’m trying to improve as a writer, and because I love the concept of the book, but it’s just not working for me and I’m trying to figure out why (so I don’t make the same mistake)


Story ThievesNEXT

Well, if the sun ever comes out again, it will be spring/early summer, which is, in my opinion, the (second) best time (after New Year’s) to (re)read Weetzie Bat or Witch Baby or Baby Be-bop, or maybe all three. (I have the whole Dangerous Angels collection, but I don’t care much for either Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys or Missing Angel Juan.)

I have a library meeting coming up the week after next where we’ll get together and argue about books (it’s one of my favorite days of the school year), so I’m sure my TBR will get some substantial additions for summer reading, regardless of what we decide makes the final cut.

Then Now Next Thursday (April 2, 2015)

The WhisperI decided to make up a weekly check-in since the demise of both What Are You Reading? Wednesdays and What’s Up? Wednesdays.

THEN

I recently finished reading Aaron Starmer’s The Whisper, second book of three in the Riverman TrilogyHoly Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, by Melissa Mohr; and since we’re reading poetry books in library class to celebrate National Poetry Month, I read Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s The Gruffalo with my students. They can vote on The Gruffalo or a selection of dinosaur-themed poems; votes have overwhelmingly gone to The Gruffalo in every class so far this week.

NOW

I picked up Story Thieves, by James Riley, when I finished Holy Sh*tI knew after enjoying a nonfiction book that much, I’d need to switch genre tracks, so I went for MG meta fantasy. Then I got really into writing a detailed annotation of Story Thieves, but I needed something to just read on the train, so I went back to Iron-Hearted Violet after literally months hiatus in the middle of the book.

Iron Hearted VioletI don’t know why I had to press pause on this book. It’s so good. Maybe it was too good. Sometimes, if I’m not in a good headspace and something is too beautiful, it hurts and I just can’t. Well, I picked it back up, and it’s so beautiful and so perfect. Iron-Hearted Violet is everything.

NEXT

What I really want to read is the third volume of the Riverman Trilogy, but not only has it not been released, there’s not even any title, release date, or cover! Rude. I really need to know what happens to Aquavania before I can decide wether or not I liked The Riverman and The Whisper.

Seeing as I can’t have that, instead I’m going to finish up the books I’m reading (including The Silmarillion) and I got really excited about The Great Beanie Baby Bubble when I first heard about it on BookRiot.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year

Top Ten Tuesday

It’s a liiiiitle late for Christmas shopping – my friends/Japan family and I are having our Christmas dinner tonight, since half of us have work on Christmas Eve and Christmas – but just in case: here are my Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year.

I’m breaking the list into two: five books I want for myself, and five books I want for my library.

For My Personal Collection:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone 2014Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone “But Leslie, don’t you already have this? Isn’t it, like, your favorite book?”
    Yes, yes, I do. I have numerous copies, even, but I always want more, like the adorable new Bloomsbury paperback or this French paperback. I collect different editions of this book, but really, I wouldn’t mind if Santa would just bring my existing collection to Tokyo on his sleigh.
  2. Sacred High City, Sacred Low City: A Tale of Religious Sites in Two Tokyo Neighborhoods Living in Tokyo, I’ve developed a hobby bordering on a religious obsession with Shinto shrines, but most of my knowledge is informal, gleaned from what little I remember of undergrad and my limited ability to read the informational pamphlets the priests sometimes give me with my goshuinchō stamps. In 2015, I’d like to do a little more serious research, including this book.
  3. Critical Perspectives on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials While Harry Potter was my obsession, His Dark Materials changed me in quieter, deeper ways that I didn’t fully realize until I reread the trilogy after moving to Tokyo. I love books about books – at home, I have heaps of books with titles like The Psychology of Harry Potter and The World of The Golden Compassbut this is a more in-depth, scholarly (and thus, expensive) book that I haven’t had the chance to read yet and I would love to get deeper into this story.
  4. NimonaThe Magician’s Book I already have this one in ebook format, but I loved it so much that it would be an honor to have the print edition on my shelf beside my own Magician’s Book(s), The Golden Compass and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (mentioned above). 2014 was the Year of the Magician’s Book, and I’d love to hold the actual, you know, book.
  5. Nimona I read most of this comic free online, but I liked it so much that I want to hold it in my hands and hug it and keep it on my bookshelf and admire it forever. This one might also double-up and go in the secondary library collection, too, because it is just soo great. I haven’t cried over a webcomic since seventh grade.

For My Library Collection:

  1. Olivia Kidney and the…  There are a couple of these (Secret Beneath the City and Exit Academy), and I want them both for the library after a student came up with a copy of the first book, begging me for the rest of the series. I didn’t even know it was a series, but how do you say “no” to one of your best patrons – a girl who comes in every single day to borrow new books and help sticker and shelve for fun in her free time – when they’re just dying for the next book in their new favorite series?
  2. Blossoming Universe of Violet DiamondThe Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond I tried to order this with the last PTA batch, only to realize – d’oh! – it won’t be released until next year. Oops! But I do really, really want it. I’m trying to build a diverse collection. Many of my students are biracial/bicultural, and I think this is a story that would resonate with them, even if the specifics are different than their own situation – it’s a mirror and a window.
  3. The School for Good and Evil Soman Chainani was one of my Top Ten New-To-Me Authors of 2014, and I really want this book in the library collection. I know what my patrons like, and a certain faction of my patrons likes princesses – loves princesses, even. I think this book would support their interest while maybe subtly dismantling the “princess” archetype, where “princess” means “pretty and helpless.”
  4. Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile (Series) Some of my “reluctant” readers have finally branched out from Captain Underpants and started reading Jack Stalwart and Zac Power and asking for more. We don’t have more, is the thing. For some reason, my library collection is weirdly lacking in adventure stories. Here is a solution to that problem.
  5. My Mixed-up Berry Blue Summer I want this book for a bunch of reasons. For one thing, queer characters are underrepresented in my library collection, but And Tango Makes Three is one of the most popular titles. For another, it takes place in Vermont, which is where I grew up, and that’s cool. The students – all international – like asking about where the teachers are from. I tried to buy it last year, but it was “not a priority,” while none of my other fiction picks had any complaints. Hmm. Hopefully Santa can help me out here…

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (December 17, 2014)

What are you currently reading?

Pantomime

When I first head about Laura Lam’s Pantomime, I really had no interest in reading it, because the blurb made it sound like some kind of hetero paranormal steampunk fantasy romance. Which, I mean, okay, fine, that’s cool I guess but I don’t really care.

Oh, except that Micah is a bisexual intersex trans man. That is much more relevant to my interests, thank you. I didn’t learn about that until I read the blurb for the sequel, which made me go back and get the first book. I’m glad I didn’t recognize Shadowplay as the sequel of Pantomime when I first saw it, or I would have skipped over it and gone to something else. Instead, I went back for the first book and it’s really good. I’m looking forward to the second already.

I also got a shipment of library books to my place, since they were arriving after vacation started, which means that I have a copy of Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant just sitting there, waiting for me. I’ve read a few pages and I’m already in love with Delilah.

What did you recently finish reading?

I finished (re)reading Scott Westerfeld’s So Yesterday, a book I’ve mentioned that I adored in high school. I’m not sure it entirely stood the test of time, but part of that is because it’s so dated. 2004 is a decade ago, and because so much of the story relies on trendiness and cutting edge technology, it’s a little jarring to read about tiny, blurry pictures taken on flip phones as a cool new thing.

PlayI also picked up Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. We got it for the professional development collection at work. It was okay. The research was interesting, but the author’s casual classism and sexism really made it hard to focus on the science. It was very, like, “boys will be boys and girls will gossip.” Uhm, no.

I also, admittedly to catch up on my Goodreads challenge, marked Shadowscapes Companion as “read.” I’ve been using it for tarot since February, and I’ve memorized most of the cards. It’s not really the kind of book you read front-to-back, but I figured it was close enough. I’ll never really be finished reading it, as long as I still practice tarot with that deck, you know?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Shadowplay. Obviously. I can’t wait to get started on it. I only picked up Pantomime on Monday, and I’m already 150+ pages into it. (I read really slowly. That’s a lot for me.)

I also borrowed The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic from the library at work to read over vacation when none of the students needed it.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesdays are hosted by Should be Reading.