The End of the Year Book Tag 2019

I have a great support system when it comes to my books and reading and when one of my coven suggested we do an end of the year book tag, I was thrilled.

1. Are there any books you started this year that you need to finish?

With the move this summer I started and abandoned a lot of books. Not on purpose. It just happened. I got a few of them finished with Nonfiction November, but there are still some fiction titles out there. And then there are a few titles like Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir that I had to put down because my brain wasn’t being able to handle the mindfuckery she was putting me through at the time.

2. Do you have an autumnal book to transition into the end of the year?

Not really. I’m just looking to finish a few that I already started and some stragglers that I didn’t get to with Nonfiction November.

3. Is there a new release you’re still waiting for?

No, I think thanks to access to Advanced Reader Copies I’ve read all the things I was super excited about already.

4. What are three books you want to read before the end of the year?

The aforementioned Harrow the Ninth for sure. Alisha Rai’s Girl Gone Viral. And I’m cheating on this because it’s a series, but Sarah Kozloff’s The Nine Realms series. It’s meant to be binged so I have 3 books to finish.

5. Is there a book you think could still shock you and become your favorite book of the year?

Doubtful. This was a year of Middlegame, Gideon the Ninth, The Starless Sea, The Ten Thousand Doors of January and those were just the SFF titles I loved.

6. Have you already started making reading plans for 2020?

I’m definitely going to hit my Goodreads goal which was 300 books (at the time of writing this I’m at 292 out of 300), and next year my husband challenged me to try for 365. At the moment I’m not working so maybe this is something I can accomplish.

two french bulldogs in front of a fireplace

A Dream Come True: An Interview with Erin Morgenstern

I got to do something that was a chance of a lifetime this summer. As we were moving from Santa Cruz to Pittsburgh, I was contacted by my former coworkers at Bookshop Santa Cruz. They had achieved the only West Coast appearance of Erin Morgenstern for her latest book The Starless Sea and would I be interested in interviewing her for their Winter Newsletter. The answer is obviously absolutely. Without further ado, I give you my interview with the amazing Erin Morgenstern. I also want to give credit to Jessica Harwick and Jax Dunn for helping me cultivate questions and just being generally awesome.

THE LITERARY MAGIC OF ERIN MORGENSTERN

by Karena Fagan

The cover of the book The Night Circus
The cover of the book The Starless Sea

The publication of The Night Circus in 2011 arrived without warning and with it came Erin Morgenstern and a story of illusion, love, and friendship. Eight years later, Morgenstern brings us The Starless Sea, which follows a fortuneteller’s son into subterranean libraries with mysterious people with dangerous secrets, and the kind of adventure that you can only find in stories. Morgenstern has a gift for creating worlds where every word is placed with purpose and every sentence is a feast for the senses. I reread The Night Circus every year, have a tattoo of Marco and Celia, and have two sibling French bulldogs named Widget and Poppet. I was lucky enough to be asked to interview Erin in preparation for her offsite event with Bookshop Santa Cruz on November 12th.

Erin Morgenstern

Karena Fagan: You use keys, bees, and swords as your principal symbols of the story. At what point did you decide to use allegory as a part of the fabric of the library?

Erin Morgenstern: Very early on I knew I wanted to use symbols of some sort because I wanted this book to have a strong visual language similarly but different to the way The Night Circus has its color scheme. Keys fit well with all the doors, and swords managed to feel both classic fairy tale and video game appropriate at the same time. I also really liked playing with the ideas of what all of these symbols meant or used to mean or didn’t mean and all the layers of possibilities in between. I knew I wanted an animal symbol, preferably something that felt a bit ancient, and when I was first working I kept encountering bees everywhere. A friend of mine sent me a “mystery” Squishable stuffed animal that turned out to be a bee. A honeybee flew through an open window in my Manhattan apartment. They made it clear that they wanted to be in the book.

KF: Video games are a huge part of the novel. How did you decide to make Zachary a game theory major?

EM: I always wanted it to be a story that felt old and new at the same time and at first I’d assumed that Zachary was an English major spending his January reading, but it never felt right. I remember it hit me in the middle of playing something (probably Dragon Age) that one could probably get advanced degrees in video game study now, something that hadn’t occurred to me because I was in college 20 years ago. It felt like the perfect story-related field to put him in.

KF: What is your favorite cocktail, and why did you choose the Sidecar for Zachary?

EM: I have several favorite cocktails, though I am quite partial to a Last Word or a Bee’s Knees because I tend to be a gin baby. Slightly dressed-up gin and tonics are my go-to when I’m feeling too lazy for mixing. For Zachary, though, I wanted something a little more fall/winter appropriate and in that time of year I tend to move in a bourbon/cognac direction. I wanted him to have that drink he orders when there’s nothing else to order, something classic that most if not all bars could manage. A comfort cocktail that tastes familiar no matter where you’re drinking it. (Side note: The only sugared rim I’ve had on a Sidecar that didn’t completely annoy me was once when the bartender only sugared half the rim so you could control the amount of sugar per sip.)

KF: You mention a lot of real life titles (e.g., The Catcher in the Rye) in The Starless Sea, which makes sense since it’s a book about books. Is there any significance to the specific titles or were they chosen at random?

EM: Most of the references are to particular favorites of mine or things that felt suitable. Some of Zachary’s choices are books I thought he might pick up in the winter for catching up on things he’d been meaning to read or somehow never read before, like The Catcher in the Rye. Dorian got my complicated feelings about Donna Tartt novels.

KF: There’s been a lot of talk about fantasy as a genre breaking into mainstream culture. Why do you think that is, and why are we hungry for the fantastical?

EM: I think people have probably always been hungry for the fantastical but there’s greater access to it now. I think a lot of it probably has to do with the advent of the internet, where even niche interests can find wider communities. I also think there seems to be less of a stigma around carrying childhood interests over into adulthood and I think that can range from video games and toy collecting to fairy tales and cosplay and beyond.I dislike using the word “escapism,” which gets thrown around so much about the fantastical, but I do think the world is going through a lot of horrible things right now and it can be refreshing and comforting to imagine other worlds and other stories and even other problems beyond the ones we’re faced with day to day.

KF: You’ve said that you thought you were writing a book about books, but that you actually wrote a book about stories. What’s the difference to you, and why is it an important distinction?

EM: Early on I started to expand the scope beyond books. Part of it was pulling in the video game element, but also so much is fairy tale/myth inspired that I started thinking more about retellings and different versions of stories, which I think is my primary distinction: A book is a fixed story, but a story itself is a malleable thing. ¶

Former Bookshop Santa Cruz bookseller Karena Fagan lives in Pittsburgh with her family and is in a non-monogamous relationship with Speculative Fiction, Romance, and Feminist manifestos. Snarky heroines are her weakness. You can find her at theunread.net.

You can find the interview also here on Bookshop Santa Cruz’s website.

Cravats, Corsets, and Canoodling

I’ve fallen into the blackhole that is historical romance and I’m not sorry. Well, I’m not sorry now. I was sorry. I did that stupid thing where I felt guilty over what I was reading. Because I’m dumb. I’m not really dumb, I just got caught in the web that is literary snobbery. It’s not the first time, but this will be the last time I let it bother me. Here’s a little background.

I used to read a lot of romance. In fact, my early adult reading was pretty much just romance novels. That’s what my mom read and bought so that’s what i had easy access to once I got out of what we call now YA. Not that it really resembled the YA we have now, but that’s the closest thing I can think of. I remember pretty much jumping from Fear Street books right into Danielle Steel. Then I moved on to Jayne Ann Krentz and historical romance. My mom was/is a contemporary romance type of lady, so I had to outsource historical romances. For those I went to her best friend. That’s where I discovered the Malorys. She had ALL the Johanna Lindsey novels out at the time. Later, I would find Judith MacNaught, Catherine Coulter, Jennifer Crusie (I love her still), JAK’s other pen names in which she wrote historical romances and futuristic romances, Mary Balogh, Elizabeth Lowell, Suzanne Brockmann, and last but not least, the “Queen” of romance, Nora Roberts.

I read romantic suspense, paranormal romance, historical romance, and contemporary romance. Pretty much to the exclusion of anything else. Remember while this wasn’t pre-internet, it was pre-Goodreads and social media. It was when your favorite author really didn’t have their own website, but were listed on their publisher’s site which weren’t as polished as they are now. Discoverability was tough when I didn’t really have any other people in my life who were readers. Working in a library on Grand Forks Air Force Base in my early twenties helped a bit, but it was still a lot of genre. Most of the patrons were reading the typical airport reads. I did discover Dan Brown and Steig Larsson, and also my next phase of urban fantasy with Kim Harrison and Kelley Armstrong.

Because I was the only heavy reader in my life, it wasn’t until I met some other heavy readers, that I found out that romance was looked down upon. Until then, it was my reading in general people couldn’t comprehend. I admit, I fell for it. I buckled and stopped reading romance altogether. I donated all the books I had slowly. To be fair, some of them I was getting tired of on my own. Some authors were just recycling material, some went a route I was unwilling to follow them on. But mostly, I got scared. What if I wasn’t doing this reading thing right?

Obviously now I know there is no right or wrong way to read as long as you’re doing it. Barring some of the problematic things like that “romance” novel floating around about Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, I mean. But that’s a discussion for another day.

I found Sarah MacLean a couple years ago thanks to Book Riot and fell back in love with historical romance. I also learned about Beverly Jenkins, Lisa Kleypas, Maya Rodale, and a few more. I do favor Regency historical romance over other eras, although medieval is another I’ll contemplate. I learned about Tiffany Reisz and discovered erotic romance (a subgenre I’d never been brave enough to try). Sonali Dev was my re-introduction to contemporary. I’ll be honest and say I’m still working on contemporary. So far, I’m really only reading Reisz, Dev, and Alisha Rai in my contemporary romances/eroticas. I’m working on discovering new authors. I also really don’t have any interest in paranormal anymore. I prefer my vampires and werewolves in urban fantasy.

This sounds great right? I’m reading all kinds of genres now. The problem? I relapsed for lack of a better term. After reading a lot of great Regency historical romance series, I realized I was just reading those. That wasn’t really the problem. The problem was I felt guilty over it. I was guilty that I was “ignoring” my other books or not reading anything “substantial.” Don’t get mad at me, I know it’s ridiculous. Those other books will still be there. Also my diversity stats fall when I read Regency historical romances. This is where only reading that subgenre fails. I don’t know of many PoC writing it. I can name Courtney Milan. I would love to read others, of different countries in the same time period. I’ve read a few historical fiction of China in the same time, but no romance. Give me your recs!

In the case of the blackhole, the only thing that I can do is ride the wave. I eventually fizzle out and start to crave a fantasy adventure or a feminist manifesto. One cannot live on cravats, corsets, and canoodling (also the name of my memoir) alone. Well, some probably can (and that’s perfectly okay!), but I have an appetite for variety. I’m sure in a month or two, I’ll have another foray into that world, hopefully this time, I won’t neglect my other TBRs.

Have you ever gotten stuck in a blackhole of a certain genre? How did you get out? Did you get out? Do you need me to throw you a feminist manifesto?

When Excel Sheets Aren’t Enough 

I have a secret and not all the way expressed infatuation. I like stats. I especially love book stats. I like seeing how many books I read in a certain amount of time and I like breaking it down into genres, author nationalities, etc. I’m not alone. I know so many book nerds who have Excel, Numbers, or Goodreads accounts to keep track of their books. I took it a little bit deeper. My hubs works for Apple and uses the program Filemaker all the time so when I expressed a better method of keeping track of my books, he jumped at the chance to make me a book database. (This is one of the many reasons he’s a keeper.)

Screenshot 2016-05-09 11.38.57

Screenshot 2016-05-09 11.39.11Screenshot 2016-05-09 11.38.57

My database is no way complete. I’m always adding things I want to keep track of, always changing how I want the data to be displayed, or taking out things that I thought I would use and I don’t. For example I’m tempted to take out the author website and just put in their Twitter handle. I’m on Twitter enough and their websites are generally in their bios. Also I need a better way of tracking my diversity stats. I only have AoC right now, but have notes for others for my husband to add (let’s face it, he’s better at tech, I’m better at the words).

Screenshot 2016-05-09 11.58.02

I have to add prices in, and covers. I lost a bit when I exported from Goodreads to Filemaker and it can be tedious, yet when I need those stats for a post or when talking to other people, it’s so easily accessible that the work is worth it. It allows me to put in multiple “read dates” for rereads. I can say if it was print or if I got it at the library. I also have tabs if it won awards like the Pulitzer, or if it’s on one of the best of lists or even the Rory Gilmore reading challenge. I can put in associations. Need books with witches? I can find them.

Right now I mostly just have books read, but I’m working on a total inventory of both comics and books. Now that I have more bookish buddies close by I also want to add a lent/borrowed function to keep track of who and what goes where. I’m tempted to also add on the inventory where the book is. Is it on the third bookcase in the office? On the TBR shelves in my living room? The bottom shelf in my bedroom. I’m probably going overboard there, but it’s tempting.

There is even an app I can use to access it on my mobile device so when I’m out at the library or bookstore I can quickly check if I have a certain book already. There are possibilities of being able to take the information and export it to charts when it’s time to calculate my end of the year stats. I’m looking into it.

Do you keep track of your reading? What do you use?

 

*I am not being sponsored by Filemaker, but if they want to send money my way so I can buy more books, that would be awesome.

Independent Bookstore Day

What a day. If you’re a book nerd (which you’re here, so I’m gonna assume that’s a yes), you know that April 30th was Independent Bookstore Day which basically as you can tell from the name, celebrates our indie bookstores. It started in 2014 as California (hells yeah) Bookstore Day, but quickly the whole nation got jealous on board with the awesome. I’ve been going to my local indie Bookshop Santa Cruz from the first year. Usually there are exclusive items you can only buy on that day, games to play, prizes to be won, and other fun activities. This year BSC kept up their reputation for awesome. There was a wheel to spin if you bought at least one of the exclusive items and were a part of their reader’s club that awarded fabulous prizes. I won a tote which I swapped to my bestie for a 20% off one item since she wanted a tote and I have approximately one million of them.

The exclusive loot
The exclusive loot

We also did a fun scavenger hunt around the bookstore where they gave us a partial thumbnail of  several book covers and hints where to find them around the store. We ran into a few problems when books had been moved from their places, but I worked with two of my buddies (and fellow Ladies Reading Speculative Fiction members) and we prevailed. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it.

Then there was the photo booth! I gathered part of the book club and we got our glam on.

IMG_1250
I’m a little sad you can’t see my bunny ears!

After an afternoon of haircuts and other fun errands, we gathered back at Bookshop for Trivia Night. Armed with free beer from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, six of the Speculative Fiction book club came and we almost conquered. After three rounds of literary trivia, we came in second place. I’m pretty proud of that. We won the third round after a tie breaker and won fabulous BSC mugs.

Some sample questions:

  • Richard Bachman is the pen name of what famous author? (I spit out almost half his bibliography before I could remember his name.)
  • A round robin where the teams in turn had to name all 24 of the characters who had a POV chapter in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. We won that one by pulling out Areo and Arianne.
  • What family from Harry Potter lived at 12 Grimmauld Place?
  • Another round robin where we had to name the author of the book our Trivia Master Thomas gave us. Kon-Tiki was our downfall.
  • Name a book that won the Pulitzer Prize in the last three years.
  • What was the secret identity of the pulp hero Don Diego de la Vega?
  • What Dr. Seuss book character had 5o0 hats that he sold for 500 gold coins?
  • Who put a fatwa on Salman Rushdie?

Without googling see if you can answer these! Put your answers in the comments. If you love me though, you’ll skip the GoT one though.

IMG_1263 trivia scoreboard

How did you celebrate Indie Bookstore Day?

 

In the Beginning…Start there.

I can’t start a series in the middle. I don’t care that the characters might be slightly different in different books (romance does this) or that they’re kind of sort of standalones (urban fantasy has been known to try this tactic). I want book one EVERY TIME. Nothing frustrates me more than getting halfway through a book and finding out there was even one before it. It’s not as often as it was the pre internet days. Remember picking up a paperback and checking out the bibliography and the publisher just put every book the author wrote on it, without separating the series ones? These were the days where I was only scouring used bookstores to fill my collection because full price was not an option. It also was pretty difficult to get all the romances that I wanted at new bookstores. A lot were older and bookstores (depending on the store) don’t usually carry a lot of romances. Which is dumb because it’s only one of the most selling genres, but I digress. Then when I got into urban fantasy it was a very small genre and super hard to find at the time. Especially where I grew up. They didn’t really play around with that supernatural “nonsense.” The used bookstores didn’t have booksellers that could help you either. They could probably tell you where the certain section you were looking for, but anything really detailed about those books? Not a chance. At least this is what I experienced in my local used bookstores.

Don’t get me started on those standalone series. One that immediately comes to mind as a series that the author claims is a standalone is the Elemental Assassin series. Jennifer Estep is lovely (I’ve talked to her a lot on Twitter), but she insists the books are standalone when people ask. The reason she says this is is because she spends an enormous chunk of each book recounting what happened in the last book, who all the people are. As a series reader, this is seriously (see what I did there?) frustrating. Just tell people, “Nope, they don’t standalone, start at book one like everyone else.” That way you don’t have to waste a good word count on summaries. You can give a few sentences, “Hey, remember that bad guy that we chased last summer who wore his victim’s lungs around his neck like a scarf? Yeah, while I was learning to use my psychic powers and being broody. Anyway, he’s back.”

And then there’s Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series where I’m told there is no real beginning. I really want to bust in to that one, but the whole thing scares me to death. I’m told Color of Magic is the first, but then I’m told to read Mort or The Wyrd Sisters to start. I think every different Discworld fan has their favorites to beginning. Is there a wrong answer? Kind of. What if the first one I pick I don’t like so I don’t want to try the next? I have quite the TBR, I don’t have time for books or series I don’t like.

As I said, it’s harder these days to catch me, but it does happen. I’ll pick something up and forget to check Goodreads or be in a place where I can’t check like at a library book sale where speed is important. There will be a online sale on the last book in a trilogy so I’ll have to go back and hopefully not pay full price for the first one just to see if I like it.

I don’t have the rule of some people that the series must be finished for me to start it, however. That’s probably from the days of not having a wide reading range. I read what I could get my hands on and a lot of the time the books I liked were in ongoing series.

Now I actually have only a few series that I’m following. Most have already wrapped up or I abandoned them. I have a few UF’s that are floating around and some others that I’m not sure are going to be series or just trilogies. We’ll see.

Do you have any rules about reading at the beginning of a series? Or do you just drop in?

TBR

Recently I read a piece on Book Riot with the author talking about their TBR (which stands for To Be Read) list as if it was this ironclad thing, a ‘commitment’ in their words. If that’s how you use your TBR, more power to you. This isn’t an argument with them, on what is better. I want to explore what TBR means to me. I’ve just never thought of them that way. I’ve always used my TBR as a list of books one day I’d like to get to. I cull it quarterly. Sometimes a book that caught my eye and I added it on impulse has lost its luster. I have no qualms about removing books that have been sitting on the list forever. I’m obviously not going to read them. I do like to keep it a bit organized, but I’m not at all married to the idea they have to be read in some kind of strict order.

I did go through a phase where I added ALL the entries from all the years from 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. WTF was I thinking? I can tell you actually. I was thinking that I was coming from this very limited range of books and I wanted to be cultured and educated. It took me a bit, but then I realized…I’m really not that cultured. I read a few books from the list that made me what to bash my head against the wall. I kept a few that I really do want to get to, but the rest were cut. I’m not going to force myself through this subjective list (which ends up being way more than 1001 if you start adding all the revisions) to read books that don’t interest me. I could be reading these other really great books. I already came to terms with the fact I’m not going to be able to read all the books. But I want to try. I want to read all the books that interest me. I can’t do that if I’m stuck reading books that other people think I should be reading. I would understand if I was in the same place I was three years ago, just reading urban fantasy and mystery novels, but I read pretty widely now. I am keeping books like Jane Austen on my shelves. I have two kids and they might want them one day. I tend to do my genre fiction on e format because those tastes are pretty much mine and tend to be a little more depending on my age and what’s going on.

I do make a monthly TBR as you probably aware of if you read the blog regularly. I take books of my TBR shelves (I have separate bookshelves for the unread books and the read books) that look the most interesting to me at this time. Sometimes I get to them, oftentimes they stay on the shelf for the next month or they get removed for awhile. This sounds crazy probably, but I found I get through books a lot quicker if I have a (somewhat loose) plan. The only hiccup tends to come in the form of my ebooks. I like both my print books and my ebooks, yet the physically of the print books tends to cause me more panic to read them. Because I can see them literally piling up where my e books are really just ones and zeros on this nifty electronic device. That’s a dilemma for another day though. It doesn’t stop me from picking random books from either medium though. I tend to have an ebook going on each of my apps, Kindle, Kobo, and Scribd as well as an audiobook on the Audible app.

But again, I never feel like my book choices aren’t spontaneous. I still randomly pick a book of any of my shelves. In fact I raved about a book I’d read so well to my friend that I just went and picked it up off my shelf for a reread (note: it’s The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey). TBRs do help me also with my diversity goals. I’ve already noticed if I get too spontaneous, due to the problems in publishing, I end up with a pretty narrow batch of authors (hello all straight white people). I do tend to lean more to women authors automatically so that part isn’t problem for me, but like I said, my book picks by other marginalized authors suffer.

How do you treat your TBR? Is it something you HAVE to stay committed to? Is it fluid? Is it just a list of books you’d someday like to read? A list of books to keep track of?

Tiny Letter

Until I can figure out how to embed this thing into the site itself, I’m going to leave this link here if you’re interested in subscribing to my TinyLetter. I’m thinking it’s going to be once a week on Sundays and it’s going to be about all the non book things that I love or maybe things I don’t love and want to rant about. So be ready to read about television, movies, tattoos, and the like. Really anything that catches my fancy.

 

This Broad’s Life – Literary Ladies suggestions

Jezebel just started a video series ‘in which Hillary Crosley Coker trails interesting and kick-ass women as they navigate this thing called life.’ The first guest was trans activist, author, and the all around awesome Janet Mock (fun fact: I walked in the SF Pride Parade last year and she was the Grand Marshal).

So I was thinking which bookish broads would I like to see interviewed. This list is just the beginning so blow up the comments section with others you’d like to see as well.

*Roxane Gay – It’s no secret that I love her. So a whole interview? Bring it on.
*Toni Morrison – This feels like a gimme. Of course Hillary should interview TMo.
*Mallory Ortberg- She’s hilarious and talented and does amazing commentary with classic paintings featuring the ladies.
*Kelley Sue DeConnick – Comics count too! KS is a freaking powerhouse and is making awesome things happen with comics like most recently Bitch Planet.
*G.Willow Wilson- We can’t leave her out. It’s not fucking allowed. Not only a great novel writer (Alif the Unseen) she also writes the Ms. Marvel comics.
*Jennifer Weiner – Genre always gets left out. JW is a champion for the ladies getting love in literary circles and not only writes some great books, but also has on point The Bachelor live tweeting skills .
*Seanan McGuire – I just love what this lady does. She just helped kickstart Queers Destroy Science Fiction and writes in a variety of genres.
*Jacqueline Woodson – Just won so many awards for Brown Girl Dreaming which might have changed my mind about poetry.

Who else would you add?