TBR Shelf February: Shorts Stories and Essays

As you know, I’m really fond of theme reading. It clears my bookshelves and helps me get some genres read that I’ve been meaning to try. This month I thought I’d jump on my short story and essay collections. I have been accumulating them apparently. I’m going to try for the ones I own and if I get through those I’ll reach out to what I have on Scribd and get some recommendations from you guys (throw them in the comments, I’ll try to get to them). I read 34 books in January and I don’t think I have that many essay/short story collections on my shelf so it’s possible. I’m not only reading these, since The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee is coming out tomorrow! (Side note: This took all my willpower not to capitalize all of that and add all the exclamation points.)

Here’s my physical shelf.

  • Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
  • Trigger Warning by Neil Gaimain
  • Nocturne by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
  • Naked by David Sedaris
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  • Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris
  • How to be a Heroine: Or What I’ve Learned by Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis
  • Ghost Summer by TananariveDue (also my horror pick for my Read Harder Challenge)

On my digital shelf

  • Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions edited by Cami Ostman (my religion pick for #readharder)
  • Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker
  • A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
  • Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine edited by Lisa Jervis (possibly my #readharder feminist pick)
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
  • Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained by Maya Rodale

Do you have any recommendations for me? Read any of these? Any I should read sooner than the others? Talk to me, people!

Special Shelfies 

For a reader, part of our personality is our bookcases. How we organize them. What kind of bookcases to get (I want built-ins so badly). What we put on them. I found that along with my regular categories (fiction, nonfiction, classics) I needed some special categories. Or ways to make my TBR more manageable. Not pictured are my unread and read shelves. I have two bookcases in my living room of my unread books. Then I have three bookcases in our game room of books I’ve read.

This shelf is on the bookcases in the living room where the unread books live. Since I decided to read more diversely this month I thought it would be easier to pull the related books from my shelves so I could see them all at a glance. Also on the shelf are my unread comics. Mostly because this is the emptiest shelf. This shelf will change depending on what short term reading goal I’ve adopted. I didn’t pull all my diverse titles, but the ones that appealed to me the most.

On the two shelf bookcase that used to belong to my father, I have my long term book goal. When Book Riot announced their #readharder challenge, I spent about an hour pulling books that could possibly fit the categories. I pulled multiple titles for each category to give me some options. The reason the shelf looks kind of empty is I’ve either put back books that no longer appealed to me or already read a category and put its corresponding book back. I need to go back and curate this shelf I think.

My comics shelf which is below my #readharder shelf. Both my husband and a friend of mine commented on a picture I posted on Instagram of my stack of comics telling me I needed a shelf to keep them separate from my other books. My husband apparently doesn’t live in the same house as I do because this is that shelf. One I’ve had for awhile now. To be fair he stays out of the library/game room, so there is a little forgiveness there. Since I’m still a newbie at the comics game, it’s sort of empty, but also I’ve lent a few comics out (including two-thirds of Y: The Last Man). I figure I’ll expand it to the #readharder shelf, moving those books either back into my collection or cull a bit to make a new empty shelf.
Do you have any special shelves?

Task 16: An Audiobook: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

My introduction to comics in general, let alone Marvel comics, has been relatively new. I think like a lot of people, I was introduced through the movies. Iron Man to be specific. Before Iron Man, I could have probably named a few superheroes, but ask me which publisher they belonged to? Fuggedaboutit. Then came Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr., an actor who I had been a fan of way back in his Less Than Zero days. I knew absolutely nothing about the character, but man, that movie was good. I didn’t jump right into the comics, but I did start paying more attention to all the different comic characters. Either reading Wiki pages or what not. Anything but reading the source material because man, that stuff was still overwhelming. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe as an audiobook was a great find for the information as well as I really prefer my audiobooks to be nonfiction.

I now have read a few Marvel comics, even subscribing to Marvel Unlimited, a digital comics subscription and have Storm, Black Widow, and Elektra on my pull list (I had X-Men, but once they ended up in space decided to take a break). When I saw there was an audiobook talking about the history of the company I jumped on board. Aside from a short special they showed in place of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last year, I knew Stan Lee as that guy who cameos in the movies and maybe he wrote a bit for them and that was it. So that being said, cut me some slack on this one.

I’m having a hard time processing the history Howe describes. Part of me, the fan wants to think he pulled a lot of disgruntled employees and DC lovers and had them tear up Marvel, but the rational side of me realizes that Marvel isn’t the rainbows and hearts company that we are presented with now. There were some things that stood out to me.

Starting at the beginning comics were considered frivolous. In the thirties when money was tight due to the Great Depression and then the rationing of the Second World War, they just weren’t a priority. Writers like Stan Lee, who even created the pseudonym we all know him by so his comics work wouldn’t get in the way of ‘his real writing,’ weren’t exactly proud to be apart of the industry. I learned about the different ways Marvel reinvented not only itself as a company, but its characters and comics as a whole. Howe also talks about the creators/artists/writers of some of our favorite characters and their ginormous egos. That really shouldn’t have come as quite the surprise as it did. I think that there is a certain quality that most people attribute to people of a creative nature. Then when you have a company that wants to make the most money possible, things start to get interesting. I had no idea how comics worked in the ownership sense. How the artists/writers who came up with Iron Man, the X-Men, The Fantastic Four, etc. didn’t actually own their creations which created a lot of trouble for everyone involved.

In light of the recent Spider-woman debacle, I was pretty unsurprised to see how women and diverse characters were treated. It’s gotten better, but man we have a long way to go. Also how comics served as PSAs for drug use and other messages the government wanted delivered to kids.

I need to go back and do some research into the specific comics Howe talks about. See that epic issue where Gwen Stacy dies, read Civil Wars where Cap and Iron Man are pitted against each other, and find the issue where Dark Phoenix destroys whole planets.

What audiobook did you pick for this challenge? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?

Task 1: An Author under 25: White Teeth

I’ve picked up White Teeth by Zadie Smith a couple times, but couldn’t get through the first few pages. I was willing, but something never clicked. I resolved to finish for the challenge. I’m not sorry I did, but I’m also not really thrilled with the result. I also didn’t hate it. A sterling recommendation I’m sure. There were parts of the story that drew me in like Smith going into each character’s past to try to explain why they were the way they were. Then there was Marcus’ science descriptions that to be honest, I had to start skimming. I just couldn’t do it. I am not the kind of person who feels like I need to be best friends with the protagonists or anyone else in the story, but I do want to be interested in their journey. And sometimes, I just wasn’t. I have On Beauty sitting on my shelf and I’m willing to try again. I can see what all the fuss is about. Maybe this story just wasn’t the one for me. I wish I could get more descriptive on this one, I really do.

Do you have any books that you feel lukewarm about? That you couldn’t describe why you couldn’t like it nor dislike it?

Task 24: A Self Help book: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar

I needed this book without knowing I needed it. I generally come from a scoffing opinion when it comes to self help books. I know I’m not the only one. There are some silly ones out there that sometimes eclipse the awesome ones. I have a bias and I’m not proud of it. Which is why I’m glad to see it on the challenge. I’m trying to expand my horizons. However, Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things might have broken that bias a bit.
It’s at times beautiful, or soul wrenching, but it was always truthful. Strayed, or Sugar as she was referred to when she wrote the column for TheRumpus.com stands by the advice she gives as she says in the book. And she should. I don’t know if all of her advice is the right advice because like she also says, it’s not up to her to decide what is right for someone else. But she believes in her opinions.
I found a few of the letters hit amazingly close to home. I’m not in a place where I want to share which ones, but let’s just say to reading something that resembles something you’re dealing with or feeling is a bit like being struck by lightning. It’s awesome and terrifying.
I don’t do this often, but you need this book in your life. You need to pick it up and let Sugar tell you in her no-nonsense, profanity laden (I dig profanity when used right and she uses it beautifully) way that you’re in control of your own life and there are ways to deal with those fucked up situations that we all find ourselves in at some point or another. She’s not preachy or judgmental. Even when she’s telling someone they done messed up, I felt like she was doing from a place of empathy instead of righteousness.

How do you feel about self help books? Have you read any that helped you? Are there any books that you would recommend to people who shy away from self help books?

Task 17: A Collection of Poetry: Dragonfly Dance

I’m going to be honest here. I felt more trepidation reading Dragonfly Dance by Denise K. Lajimodiere, then the erotica romance earlier in the week.  Even though I went through an angsty period in high school writing poetry that my parents and friends pretended to gush over, I don’t really know too much about it. All my stuff was pretty self evident about what I was talking about. When I think of reading poetry, I worry that I’m missing some hidden message that smarter people are nodding at and applauding the poet’s use of metaphors.

Dragonfly Dance probably had some metaphors I wasn’t getting, however it seems most of Lajimodiere’s emotions could be seen on the surface, even by this Philistine. Among others there were poems about abuse, living on the reservation, and the white perception of Native Americans. My heart broke at times, but also it filled with tenderness. One of my favorites was “Grand Forks;” I lived there for 2 years and chortled at the line “how can anyone live here?” Another was “May 11, 1980” which was about a mom whose little girl tells her she wants to be white when she grows up because that’s all she’s seeing in magazines. That one broke my heart and continued to cement my belief that we have a long way to go in diversity in our media. The one that made me chuckle was “Kicking Thunder” because it’s about a little boy who is scared of the thunderstorm that’s happening, but only wearing a diaper he goes and gets his cowboy boots to go outside to “kick the thunder.” I have two little boys and it is something they would do.

I am going to try a bit harder to read more poetry. I definitely like Lajimodiere’s writing so her writing is something I’m  extremely interested in reading more of.

Anyone else intimidated by poetry? Any tips to work through the intimidation? Do you have a favorite collection? Favorite poet?

Task 13: A Romance: The Siren

Wow. Let me start there. So for task thirteen we were supposed to read a romance. I had a Sarah MacLean all picked out on Oyster, Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord. I’d read MacLean last year for the first time and her books convinced me not all romance novels were the stuff of my early twenties, silly names for genitals and rapey scenes. You know the ones I’m talking about. And if not her, then one by Tessa Dare, another historical romance author who MacLean herself had recommended.

Then I started thinking. The whole reason for me to do this challenge was to widen my horizons. Why not jump into a romance category that was new to me. So I jumped off the deep end right into BDSM. Whoa. From the title of the post you know I didn’t pick up that one EVERYBODY can name. That one was problematic from what people I actually trust in books were saying. So I listened to those same people I trust and found The Siren by Tiffany Reisz. I am not sure this is a genre or category that I’m going to jump into regularly, but I’m glad I did it. Not all romance is created equal. Not all relationships are either. The word “consent” is crucial here. This is a complex book. For that reason I absolutely adored it. I read a lot of romances back in the day and they were pretty boring. This book isn’t just one thing. It’s going to probably make you uncomfortable. I know there were scenes that made me cringe, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. Nora was pretty great. Wesley. Oh I adored Wesley. Zach? Zach had shades of every romance novel hero ever, but I think Nora rattled him pretty well. And that made it better. He wasn’t as alpha as the trope calls for. Søren? I don’t like him. I’m sorry. But I did think he was interesting. Which I think is more important than liking a character.

This book is not going to be for everyone. It’s not the type of romance novel I’m going to recommend to my mom, but I know a few people who would see the brilliance of it. It was about a range of other emotions just as it was about sexual encounters or even romantic notions. A reviewer on Goodreads said she was “completely not okay with just about everything in it [the book]. And I still loved it.”  I’m not sure I loved it, but she’s pretty close to exactly how I felt. A good way for me to like a book is for it to make me think (or not think, perversely enough) and The Siren did that. I’m still debating on reading the second book to find out what happens to Nora. I’m probably going to wait until I get a little more traction in the #readharder challenge.

Have you read outside your comfort zone before? What happened?

Task #2 A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65: Home

Home is my second Toni Morrison book (the first was Beloved) and I really loved it. I didn’t realize how short it was until I started reading it. It was so smooth to read that I finished in one sitting. I kind of wish I would have taken more time with it now, but it was so easy to turn the next page. I read Beloved in 2013 and while it was interesting, it didn’t go on my favorites list. Reading Home makes me continue reading more Morrison. I have The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Paradise so I’m sure I’ll be doing those later. Then of course there’s the new one coming out this year.

Home also is my second diverse book of the year (the first was Pissing in the River about a punk rocker who happens to be lesbian). I’m doing a few rereads that I’m not really going to talk about on here, but as far as my first time reads, I’m 2 for 2 for diversity. That makes me super happy.

It’s hard to talk about Home without giving away a lot. It is complex in spite of the short length of it. Could Morrison given even more depth to the story and her characters? Probably, but Home doesn’t need it. The adage short and sweet is the closest I can come to describing the story except the story really isn’t sweet.

Have you read Home? If you’re doing the #readharder challenge, have you finished any tasks yet? What are you working on?

Task #4 Indie Press: Pissing in a River

I really don’t want to do a full on review of each book I finish for Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge, but I do want to share some thoughts.

I just finished my first book for the challenge Pissing in a River by Lorrie Sprecher in the Indie Press category. It also could have easily been in the category for book about or by a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but I have some others for that one whereas this is my only indie book on hand. I’m trying to get some of the books I have here to fit the bill first before buying or borrowing others.

Pissing in a River was pretty great. I don’t listen to punk music, but even I recognized some of the bands that is mentioned. I loved the characters. They were flawed, gorgeously written women who cared for one another even while disagreeing. The relationships felt organic, both the romantic and platonic ones. I fell in love with the way Amanda tried to emulate the British slang.

I will gladly pick up Sprecher’s first book, Sister Safety Pin at some point and I’m interested to look at Feminist Press’s other titles.