Little Black Classics: mini-reviews

If you live in the UK you will certainly have seen these little gems around. (I assume they’re floating around the American market too.) It’s a set of 80 tiny books to celebrate Penguin’s 80th birthday and each book costs only 80p! HURRAH!

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So I picked myself up a few of them. I thought I picked up only 5, but it turns out I picked up 6. Then I went to the bookshop again last weekend and picked up a 7th, so I don’t know when this little temptingly cheap collection will stop growing… (If I get all of them that’s, like, £64 so this needs to stop soon…or be collected over a long time because that just ain’t how I roll.) But I thought I’d compile my mini reviews of the first three that I’ve read because they all fall under the umbrella of poetry and it is poetry month after all!*

Let me be the first to admit that I don’t always understand everything in poetry…but I’d like to! It often feels purposefully inaccessible, esoteric and exclusive (similarly to the worlds of Fine Art and academia actually…) But I’m not giving up on poetry and I hope it doesn’t give up on me.

It is worth noting that many of these little books are excerpts and/or amalgamations taken from other works by the authors. Few of them were originally intended to be arranged in the way they are presented in this series, but I trust the curatorial work of the editors and I think a lot of consideration has been put into grouping works into subjects or pulling out substantial shorts.

 

• So the first Little Black Classics book I read was Come Close by Sappho.

I declare
That later on,
Even in an age unlike our own,
Someone will remember who we are.

Something about that simple sentiment is beautiful in its irony. I’ve wanted to try Sappho for a while now and, as it’s now poetry month, it seemed an appropriate time to try this short collection. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t always ‘get’ poetry and I can’t claim to have really thoroughly understood it all, but I feel like a got the feeling of most of it and I liked everything I did get. I’ll probably reread it a few times to see if my understanding gets any better though. I always feel like my understanding of ancient poetry would benefit from me knowing more about the context around which it was written. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to look more at ancient history myth and non-fiction as a supplement.

I assume the collection has been translated with an emphasis on reflecting the rhythm of the poems as there are a lot of rhyming lines and I would think a direct word for word (or even, maybe, meaning for meaning?) translation wouldn’t be wrapped so neatly, but I liked it. The flow helped me grasp what was being expressed a little better.

I think I am, perhaps, more interested in the story of Sappho herself than the work if I am honest with myself. She seems progressive for her time, but perhaps she wasn’t. Perhaps she was quite ordinary which, in itself, would be an interesting phenomenon: a more progressive past than our present…at least in some ways.

3 stars (though better understanding of more of the text might find it at 4 stars)

 

• Next came The Dhammapada

Exactly as one might expect (though with more hell-talk than I had anticipated). It expounds virtuous ideals about how to live. Not all of it is particularly logical in its deductions and contradiction abounds, but then that tends to be the nature of religion. It is often down to interpretation I suppose.
Many of the similes are dubious but, at the very least, they are perhaps culturally informative.

As a work of poetry, it uses a lot of repetition which, when using the text as a mantra or prayer, probably makes the verses easier to remember. I imagine this is more a practical device more than a poetic one. The Dhammapada is poetry of a kind, written in a similar fashion as The Bible. It feels somewhat dramatic and fun to read aloud at times.

2.5 stars

 

• And most recently I read Speaking of Śiva.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 18.02.28More poetic and less straightforward than The Dhammapada, but oddly more engaging and intriguing (…not to draw unfair comparisons) but that may be due in part to the subject matter: sex and death.

3 stars

*It’s also mental health month (and sexual assault awareness month?) so I might be reading some other books on those topics too if I can fit them into my schedule.

Have you picked up any Little Black Classics yet?

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Review: Harrison Squared

Book: Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory
Publisher: Tor Books, 2015
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi, YA
Rating:
Source + Date Read: ARC + Finished March 2015
Recommend: For those that love some laughter with their fantasy.
Book Pro’s: Hilarious fantasy/sci-fi addition with a YA feel.
Book Con’s: Some aspects of the plot seemed a little bit convenient.

Summary: Harrison Harrison—H2 to his mom—is a lonely teenager who’s been terrified of the water ever since he was a toddler in California, when a huge sea creature capsized their boat, and his father vanished. One of the “sensitives” who are attuned to the supernatural world, Harrison and his mother have just moved to the worst possible place for a boy like him: Dunnsmouth, a Lovecraftian town perched on rocks above the Atlantic, where strange things go on by night, monsters lurk under the waves, and creepy teachers run the local high school.
More Information: GoodReads

I remember requesting this on Netgalley, unsure of whether I’d be accepted or whether I’d even like it. You see, when it comes to reading I tend to play it safe and go for books I know that I will like 100% or that friends have recommended. This one, this, I had heard nothing about but I was impressed with the synopsis and found the cover intriguing. Actually, let’s discuss the cover for a moment– isn’t it quite good? I think it’s brilliantly simple and well executed and interesting. It sucks you in, what do you think?

Anyway, to the book! I loved Harrison Squared even though I’d never read anything by this author before. What I liked most about it is that it’s funny in an understated and sometimes cheesy way– I have no sense of humor so for me to get a joke it has to be quite good, I think. I laughed often in it and it’s an aspect that makes this novel quite a strong one. I say quite a lot, I see now… oh well!

Another strong aspect is that each character is truly a character. They’re odd, they’re quirky, they’re petty and highly unusual. And I think that quirkiness is amazing. I admit that it won’t appeal to everyone but for fans of Jasper Fforde, this might be a less sarcastic or odd book to add to your TBR! Harrison means well but he is so unequivocally odd. His Aunt, oh goodness, don’t get me started on his aunt, she’s a problem and a half and I loved her. Maybe because I’d be that semi-comatose irresponsible Aunt in real like, that and real children tend to terrify me into sarcasm. Read the below quote, it’s from when Harrison2 was a child:

“That morning, while Mom had fought with Grandpa, Aunt Sel had asked me to bring her a glass of wine—it was nine in the morning—and when I’d delivered it she’d handed me a ten dollar bill and said, “I dislike children, but I do appreciate decent service.”

Come on, how can you not fall in love with a line like that?

Thirdly, and this will be the last of my list style format for this review, I promise, is that the book is diverse. It’s seriously diverse. The protagonist is biracial and his comfort with this or his mother’s background are something that he is immensely comfortable with, I think it’s refreshing. Without giving away too much of the plot as well, he is differently-abled as well, and this is something that drives his personality and the plot in a specific direction. I liked that, to read something a bit different, it is a truly diverse read.

I do think that this novel isn’t for everyone and though I categorised it as a YA addition, I’m not exactly sure that it can count as a YA novel. I think it is, but I’m not sure. I think it’s an excellent book and I highly recommend it.

Has anyone else read this? I’d love to hear your thoughts if so! And if you haven’t, do you want to read it?

Name

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Coffee Table Books

love coffee table books. I really do. But I can never bring myself to buy any because (1) they’re often so expensive and (2) they’re not terribly practical. They’re often awkwardly big so(/because?) you don’t really just read them through – they’re usually intended to be thumbed through in small doses. Not to mention, (3) I don’t have a coffee table (or any good place!) to display them. I don’t like to add coffee table books to my Goodreads TBR because they’re more of “wishlist/maybe never” items. So I’ll put my coffee table wishlist here (maybe I’ll make it a semi-regular instalment because I have several). The ones I’ve chosen to feature today are affordable, books that I’d actually read through and books that I am actually planning to get my hands on…eventually.

 

1) Find Momo by Andrew Knapp

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Very simple concept: can you find Momo (the dog) in these beautiful photographed landscapes? A Where’s Wally of sorts. Each photo is so beautifully choreographed and Momo acts as a little ‘easter egg’ for you to find. It makes the landscapes that tiny bit more interactive and encourages you to really spend time to look at them thoroughly rather than just glance over them.

 

2) My Dirty Dumb Eyes by Lisa Hanawalt

16059657 lisahanawalt_2

Lisa Hanawalt is sort of like a comedian on paper. She draws those funny concepts you verbalise in stupid conversations with friends and the imagery is often hilarious (or at least humorously odd). Her images are laced with silliness and sarcasm, and I imagine this book would be a really great conversation starter.

 

3) Stories in the Stars: An Atlas of Constellations by Susanna Hislop

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I have always loved astronomy, since I was very young. This is a book I can imagine poring over, but not in the same way you would a novel. It doesn’t necessarily need to be read linearly. This is the type of non-fiction that I tend to think of primarily as a reference book – like a textbook – where you can dip in and out in any order when you have a quiet, introspective moment. Although I don’t much care for astrology, I feel humbled by the majesty of space and the thought of ancient civilisations looking up to the night sky and trying to find their myths and themselves in the stars, in the universe.

 

4) How To Be Happy by Eleanor Davis

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Eleanor Davis is another amazing illustrator whose work I am truly enamoured with. She is also witty and the feminist voice in her work is strong (like Lisa Hanawalt’s). However, where Hanawalt’s work is unabashedly silly, Davis’ work often merges lewd and elegant so perfectly it makes you double take then want to keep looking. It has a way of erasing all embarrassment from the most (ostensibly) rude of concepts. It reveals sexuality (not just between cis-men and cis-women) to be nothing less or more than a human expression of love in a very grounded, earthy way. Her work can be silly too…but in its silliness there are obviously very real, very serious conversations taking place. How to be Happy would be a great coffee table book to beautifully slide into animated, important discussion. Her work is rich with raw emotion and graceful playfulness and experimenting and confessed human anxiety. It is also questioning and satirical. I love it.

 

5) The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You by Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin

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A fun encyclopaedic tome for when you’re stuck for what to read next. The concept is great: a book to cure what ails you. Have a headache? Indigestion? Diarrhoea? Heart burn? Anxiety? Heartbreak? Here are some bookish suggestions to cure it. As the subtitle says, “From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You”. By the way, 751 books is a little more than a book every day for 2 years. And who can resist that punny title??

What are your favourite/wishlist coffee table books?

Nikki

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Overhyped Books

GETTIN’ CONTROVERSIAL NOW!!

Disclaimer: This post isn’t about being negative so much as asking the question: What is it about these books that people love that we don’t get? And, if you also don’t get it, let’s commiserate with each other.

Nikki

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
I don’t know why every woman within a ten mile radius wants a piece of our self-confessed boring-as-dirt, everyman protagonist (though this is common in Murakami novels). There were a lot of tangents and some things that not only weren’t resolved, they didn’t seem to have any bearing on anything. There’s maybe lots of symbolism I’m not appreciating. Or maybe ideas don’t quite line up and come together. I won’t be rereading to find out.

The Virgin Suicides
I’ve mentioned my feelings about this one before I’m sure. This is the only one that has barely any review on GR. SPOILER! Sisters commit suicide ostensibly because they have sort of strict parents END SPOILER! (Don’t ask me to confirm this, I never finished the book…see my DNF list). The neighbourhood boys are obsessed with the five ‘mysterious’ sisters before and especially after their suden suicides even though they don’t seem all that interesting (except maybe loose Lux who I could probably begin to really like if I continued the book). Maybe it was too quiet for me. Maybe it wasn’t the right time for me to read it. But it just felt overhyped at the time when a classmate raved to me about it and it seems overhyped every time I see someone’s inevitable 5 star rating on Goodreads. But you, whoever you are, will probably love it.

Red Sonja, vol 1: Queen of Plagues
Stiff and predictable with farfetched conclusions. I had high hopes, but it was pretty boring. I think the idea of this is what people love, not the actual thing.

Sex Criminals, vol 1: One Weird Trick
SUPER overhyped. I think this would have benefited from having women in the creative team. For one, it’s rife with uncomfortable stereotypes. The pages with each of their sexual exploits….UGH! Secondly, it starts out with an interesting, original concept and then takes it to a bit of a boring “pranks on people because this guy’s got a major chip on his shoulder” place and then it gets wacky in a ‘meh’ sort of way…

Rat Queens, vol 1: Sass & Sorcery
A lot of disappointment about this one. In the same vein as Sonja, but where Sonja was too stiff, this succeeded in loosening up. However, this brand of ‘female empowerment’ felt a little inauthentic and a lot like a male sex fantasy about unruly women… Obviously the only way for a woman to be badass and cool is if she acts like a man, but has a sexy body. Obviously. The diversity seems shallow: the nymphomaniac happens to be the lesbian because non-heterosexuals are sex fiends, and the black chick happens to be the one dealing with the religious stuff? Hmmm…I don’t know. Like, Sex Criminals, this may have benefited from having more than just straight white guys on staff. And, like Red Sonja, I think people are in love with the idea of this – a story about badass fantasy genre women warriors – more than the reality of what has actually been created. I want this kind of thing to exist really badly too! But I don’t want to settle for a B-rate version of what I wish existed in the world. I applaud the efforts though…

*

OK…I took out The Handmaid’s Tale because I felt it was unfair to call it overhyped just because it made me roll my eyes a lot. After all, I do appreciate it and think it has earned much of its praise…it just isn’t for me.

*Claire’s 5-Cents: wait, Sex Criminals is over-hyped? Hot damn… I want to read this quite badly still but I’m interested in hearing Nikki’s reasons for this.*

Divider

Claire

I’m hitting it hard and not even classics are safe from me. There are some books that no matter how much people love them, are just over-hyped to me. Prepare for a bit of bluntness.

The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis
Claire’s 5-Cents: I read this as a child and I quite enjoyed it then but not a huge ton. Adults expected for my mind to be blown and it wasn’t, it just wasn’t. I’ve since reread them and again, I wasn’t blown over. It’s good, but a bunch of meh for me.

State of Wonder by Anne Patchett
Claire’s 5-Cents: I tried to like this, I genuinely did, but I didn’t find it all powerful or gripping, just odd.

The Inheritance Cycle series by Christopher Paolini
Claire’s 5-Cents: This is an unusual inclusion for me because I loved the series, like I completely loved it. It was the first dragon book I read as a child and it rocked my world and yet I do think it’s overhyped. I fell into it, but it’s still over-saturated and hyped.

Anything by Dan Brown
Claire’s 5-Cents: I’m doing a blanket statement on this one. I enjoy this books but they are so massively over-hyped in the media, I have no idea why.

Matched series by Allie Condie
Claire’s 5-Cents: I don’t have much to say on this other than the series is a bit over-hyped to me… which is self-explanatory because it’s appearing on this list. I think it’s because one of the earliest contributions to modern YA dystopia?

In the end, we all know that this is subjective. I know for many my beloved Harry Potter series will appear on this. Some books are just hyped and to some, it’s overhyped.

NameNikkixClaire

 

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2015 Reading Challenges: Quarterly Check-In (Claire) & My First Month in London

readingchallenges2015

A quarterly challenge inspired by Nikki’s brilliance. I’ll also write about why I’ve been so absent for a bit too.

So some of you may know that in early March I moved country yet again and took up in London. I’ve since been here 3 long, long weeks and it’s been immensely busy and sometimes, very lonely. I’ve got to deal with the cold, which I don’t complain about but I did forget how much I dislike it. I was staying by family till a temporary let became available and it was in horrible conditions when I turned up, so that was some drama. A few tears were involved and I managed to get cleaned but I was misled about the flatshare so I’m only staying for 5 months, and come September, the search starts anew! My job is… OK, but I can put up with it for a bit. London is nice is a nice but very quick and busy place. I am so sorry that I’ve been distant but I didn’t have net where I was and everytime I thought of Bitches With Books it reminded me of the life I so willingly gave up, and it reminded me of family and warmth and friends, and it made me a bit sad to be honest. But now I am visiting my bestie in Canterbury so I have net to blog and stuff, as well as inspiration. Yay! Prepare for a number of book reviews in the upcoming weeks and some fun.

I do want to give a massive shout out to Nikki for holding down everything when I was spazzing out and disappearing. She’s amazing and I shall make sure that she has a million cookies shoved in her hands next time I see her (which I hope is soon!).

OK, back to the books. I’ve read some amazing stuff recently and I can’t wait to share my thoughts on all of it! Now to my challenge updates.

Non-Fiction Reading Challenge

Dilettante: 5 books

  1. The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay

Claire’s 5-Cents: This might be a difficult challenge to complete, sigh.

Women Challenge

Level 3: SUPER GIRL – read 16 to 20 books written by a woman author.

  1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
  2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
  3. The Sin Eater’s Daughter (The Sin Eater’s Daughter #1) by Malinda Salisbury
  4. The Buried Life (The Buried Life, #1) by Carrie Patel
  5. The Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoir by Lady Trent, #3) by Marie Brennan
  6. The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay

Claire’s 5-Cents: I’m not including all of the manga I’ve read this year (which is something like 25 manga books) in this list because then I’d have completed it. For the sake of a novel based challenge, I’ll keep this one as a “book” based thing, without short stories or manga or graphic novels. I miiiight reconsider the graphic novel portion. Maybe. That’s mostly for this challenge and the Diversity one as well. I’m not including it for Dragons & Jetpacks or my Goodreads Challenge.

Diversity on the Shelf Challenge

Third Shelf: Read 13 – 18 books with POC protagonists or written by POC.

  1. Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory (Goodreads Author)

Claire’s 5-Cents: I am really not doing well on this challenge… I thought it would be easy but it’s startling to see that it isn’t. This troubles me.

GoodReads Reading Challenge

Level: 75 Books

Completed: 42 books.

Claire’s 5-Cents: I’m including graphic novels, short stories, manga and novels in this section because regardless of shortness or how swiftly read, I read it and therefore I shall add it.

Dragons and Jetpacks Reading Challenge

Level: 30 books

Completed: 16 books.

Claire’s 5-Cents: I’m actually not sure how my progress in this is going, because I’ve read quite a few books but not all that can hit the categories. That being said I’ve read 16 sci-fi or fantasy related books, so that’s why I’ve included that number.

Are you doing any challenges this year? How’s it going?

Name

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Bookish apps

Seeing as we are living in the digital age and reading is becoming increasingly less tangible, I thought it would be cool to do a bit of a “What’s on my phone?” bookish apps edition!

So here we have the Books folder on my phone:

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I love how blue they all are! (Yes, this image was taken at 2:05am. What of it?)

  • Goodreads: So this is an obvious one. I think we can all agree the GR app is pretty poor. It’s awkward and lacking a lot of the features from the website but, since I have a Goodreads account and that’s how I choose to record my reading and the community I choose to interact with, it makes sense to have the app. And, to be fair, I use it frequently; mostly for updating my page progress which is extra insurance in case my bookmark falls out. I just discovered the free ebooks on Goodreads so I’ve been using that recently.
  •  Kindle: I haven’t used this app in yoinks(!). Not since I stopped using Amazon about a year or so ago now. I don’t think I ever actually bought anything through it, but I had one or two free books on it (I read a lot of classics which are often free because they’re old enough to be in the public domain). I think Kindle is the app that allows you to highlight quotes that fall across more than one page, which I liked.
  • Nook: I use this one pretty regularly. Like I said, I read a lot of classics which tend to be free because most are in the public domain. I like it. It isn’t connected to the Nook store though, so I’ll tend to get the books via my computer and read them later on the app. It comes with a random assortment of free books (I got Georgiana Darcy’s Diary and The One You Love?...neither of which I will probably read).
  • Kobo: I use it similarly to Nook, but less much regularly. I really like it because I think it’s sort of cute (it gives you cute reward badges for all sorts of random things: reading at certain times, reading a certain amount, reading a certain length book, taking advantage of the app’s functions, etc). However, as with Nook, you can’t get books straight from the app and it can be a little glitchy. More than once I’ve been trying to highlight something (which can be awkward in Kobo) and it has unexpectedly quit on me. It’s like it can’t take the pressure. It’s okay, Kobo. You still look cute! ;*
  • Overdrive: Free audiobooks! I just use overdrive to listen to audiobooks from my library, though I have heard it can be used for ebooks too. The interface is kind of ugly and a little clunky maybe, but it’ll do. Set up was a bit confusing and I have found bookmarking a bit faffy, but I may just be a doof.
  • Leeds Library: My library’s app! I…forget why I have this on here. I can check my library catalogue through Overdrive so it can’t be that. I think I downloaded this when I was trying to figure out Overdrive because I thought I needed to (I didn’t). I’ll have to look around and see if I can actually put this to any use…hah
  • WordWeb: Digital dictionary! Although all my reading apps have built-in dictionaries, I don’t have a physical dictionary in my house (which is shocking since I used to sort of collect them…I love dictionaries!). This is for when I’m reading a physical book and I need to look up a word.
  • Bluefire: The most recent addition. I added Bluefire so I can download and read .acsm (Adobe Content Server Manager) ebook files (like the ones from Net Galley). I haven’t had much chance to really explore this app yet, but it seems like your bog standard reader. It’s okay but maybe not noteworthy. It comes with a free book (I got Treasure Island) and it looks like you can get more books (via freebooks) while in the app. Handy.

Sometimes I shift between a preference for Nook or Kobo depending on which ones have which books, but I definitely find myself using certain apps way more than others (Goodreads, Nook and Overdrive are solid regulars). Still, they all have their uses.

What are your favourite reading apps? Do you use any of the ones I use?

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2015 Quarterly Check-In #1

So it’s Claire here and….APRIL FOOLS! It’s me, Nikki! Again… Claire has loads on her plate getting settled in so you’re gonna have to bear with just me on my lonesome a liiiiittle while longer. :’)

I thought I’d just show you how I’m coming on my challenges for the year so far!

First up, the Goodreads challenge!

Now, if you go to my Goodreads this looks a liiiittle skewed. It says I’ve read 36 out of 60 books (I increased the number from the original 35 to 60). Huzzah! However, this includes comics, audiobooks and short stories. Personally, I don’t mind including graphic novels and audiobooks as full books (they are!), but I’ve cut out short stories (and the 2 DNFs!) in my own personal count bringing the actual number of books (and 1 play) to: 26/60, which I’m mighty proud of if I do say so myself. (If you’re curious, without graphic novels, it’s 19/60.)

This year (and presumably in subsequent years until I die?) I’m putting a real focus on diversity in my reading but for now the two main areas I want to focus on is reading (A) more women and (B) more minorities. I was doing really well up until about mid-February. But right now I’m at 42% female authors. Not bad, I want it to be 50/50, but it’s way up from last year’s 27% female. And I have read 29% authors of colour so far. That’s around the 30% mark I’m aiming for (and up from last year’s 16%) and, without the Tor.com short stories, it would be 42% non-white, which is pretty good I think.

Only 6% of my reading has been translated. That’s not so great for finding out more from the non-anglophone/largely non-Western perspective that I know so little about.

I’m trying to clear out more of my TBR (particularly my physical bookshelf) and 33% of the books I’ve read have been from my TBR with 22% from my actual physical bookshelf.

Hopefully I can keep all this up through the rest of the year!

Notable genre trend alert: 35% of my reading has been fantasy (which I think is largely due to comics) and 16% of my reading has been memoir!

69% of my reading has been free either from the library or friends or eARCs.

• • •

10-10-10-10 challenge (formerly a 10-10-10-5 challenge):

TEN Novels (as in not non-fiction) by Female Authors:

  1. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  2. Wonder by RJ Palacio
  3. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  4. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

TEN Novels from Around the World: Doing so badly here…

  1. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

TEN Graphic Novels/Comics/Picture Books: Oh ho ho, I have no problems here at all…

  1. Saga, vol 3
  2. Saga, vol 4
  3. Red Sonja
  4. Ms Marvel
  5. Outcast, vol 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him
  6. Rat Queens, vol 1: Sass & Sorcery
  7. March: Book One

Five TEN Non-Fiction Books: Surprisingly, I’m doing well on this front too!

  1. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
  2. Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by Bell Hooks
  3. Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou
  4. Apology by Plato
  5. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
  6. Theory of Everything by Stephen Hawking
  7. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  8. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

• • •

And as for my 2015 Old & New Classics Challenge

I’m not doing terribly well, but not terribly badly either. I’m sort of on track with 3 out of 12 books tackled: Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood, Murder on the Orient Express and The Awakening (which I DNFed). Does a book count if I DNF it? Yes, I think so. I gave it a good go and I will not make myself suffer it any longer.

But I’ve lost a lot of enthusiasm for my Old/New Classics list. This is why I prefer to set a number and a book group than to specify particular books I will read…ugh! Also, I feel like I’m pretty happy in the realm of classics but not like I necessarily “need” to read more of them. I feel like I could be better educated by focussing on other genres, so I doubt I will do another classics challenge in future, but just pull my “women” and “authors of colour” and “translated works” from all eras.

• • •

Can you believe we’re already a quarter of the way through the year!? Crazy.

How are your challenges going??

Do you have any translated/non-Western/AoC book suggestions for me?

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Nikki’s Rating System (and related thoughts)

It occurred to me that, if I’m going to be making reviews about books, it might be good to share my thoughts on rating them. I’m always surprised when I learn that someone else’s rating system is very different from mine because I always assume mine is the obvious, natural method. I mean, logically I know it’s not. But sometimes I forget. Then I’ll come across someone who considers 3 stars a low rating or someone else who practically never gives 5 stars. I am neither of those people.

So firstly, I try to stick to the Goodreads rating system as closely as possible.

★★★★★ It was amazing

★★★★☆ Really liked it

★★★☆☆ Liked it

★★☆☆☆ It was OK

★☆☆☆☆ Did not like it

An aside: Despite the fact that in my reviews I might specify a half star rating sometimes, I’m actually not in support of official GR half star ratings. I like that whole stars force me to decide which general category a book fits into. It’s simple and it (generally)* works for me.
*more on this later…

This system is inherently very subjective. However, I want my reviews to be useful to as many people as possible as well as a documentation of my own thoughts on the books I’ve read. So, which rating is more valuable, a subjective one or an objective one? Naturally, it will be subjective because I am human, I have a certain perspective, I am affected by my experiences, so complete objectivity is impossible. Not much can be done about that. But I would like to support my opinions with as much evidence and explanation as possible so people reading it can understand my rating, my praises and my complaints. I also want to be fair to the book. I try to give some leeway if I was expecting something different that the book never intended to do. The book shouldn’t have its ratings lowered just because I expected Harry Potter to be a civil rights memoir and it didn’t involve enough of that content. You see what I’m saying?

If I don’t immediately have a star rating in my head, having my thoughts unfolded before me sometimes helps me to decide. A while ago climbthestacks (Ashley Riordan) posted a video on booktube about reviewing books which I think is a great guide for constructing a really helpful and interesting review for someone who might want to read the book (or discuss it after reading) as well as for uncovering your thoughts on what you’ve just read for yourself. It also helps to compare the book with other similar(ish) books I’ve read: “Is HG Wells’ The Invisible Man really on the same level as his The Island of Dr Moreau??” (No. The answer is no. It isn’t.)

Obviously some 5 star ratings are different from others. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back have both earned 5 star reviews from me, but they are very different books with very different 5 star ratings to suit their very different content and intentions. We can’t judge everything by the same bar. This is why kindergarteners don’t sit college exams. The books have different aims and should be judged by how successfully they’ve achieved what they intended.

It isn’t always so clear cut, though. Certain types of books always leave me conflicted about how to rate them. Those are books that I might think are good or even needed, but I wouldn’t say I “liked” them. Or disliked them! I’m just overall indifferent emotionally. I’m never sure what to rate these. This dilemma happens most often with non-fiction and with memoir in particular. It’s sort of like rating something that almost must necessarily be rated primarily subjectively. (I don’t know how true that is, but that’s how it feels.) Especially if I think a book is important and like it would benefit people to be aware of it, I want to rate it higher (like 4 stars)! But if I also didn’t feel personally moved by it or already was aware of much of what it was saying, I sometimes feel a mid rating (which, for me, is probably a 2 stars: “It was OK” or maybe a 3: “I liked it (but didn’t love it)”), is more true to how I felt about it.

OK. But do star ratings even matter anyway?

Yes, I think so.

Why?

Because people use them to determine whether a book is worth reading.* Because people use them to determine whether other people’s book opinions are in line with theirs and, therefore, to know how much to take on the reviewer’s recommendation (or opposition) for that book. Because people spend time thinking about how to wrap up the worth of a literary work in the most concise way possible for someone to understand at a glance. Because they are more easily averaged to get a general, wordless consensus about a book than reading (literally!) tens of thousands of reviews. Because star ratings often work as quick pre-review/overall opinions. Because it’s good when you’re navigating reviews to be able to immediately pick out the negative ones so you don’t have to trawl through loads of praise before uncovering the major criticisms. And for all sorts of other reasons!

*Mercy discusses in a recent booktube video how she tends not to read anything with less than a 3.6 rating. At first I thought “this seems kind of harsh” but then I went through my books and, by chance, my favourite (or even just well-liked) books don’t tend to have a rating lower than 3.6 even though I don’t intentionally take notice of specific average rating numbers on GR. In fact, only two books that I really enjoyed have ratings lower than 3.6 and, even then, they were only a little lower at 3.4 and 3.43.

And, for many of the same reasons as previously listed, if you don’t have any opinion about a book or you do have an opinion but have decided for whatever reason you don’t want to influence the book’s overall rating, you shouldn’t feel pressured to participate in the star rating system (either just for that book or in general – whichever you choose!). And, of course, that’s fine too.

I trust I’m not the only one who thinks this deeply into what/why I’m rating a book and the implications of that rating… (The implications, of course, being ridiculously trivial.) I’m not obsessive or anything…! I just have reasons for doing the things I do. There’s method to my madness!

How do you rate books? Is your system similar to mine?

Do you try to be objective or is it more about opinion?

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