June Reading Roundup

I know, I know. I’ve promised you all like a dozen blog posts at this point, but I’ve been super busy. I was finishing up my internship at NIST in Maryland (I’m going to write a whole post about that because it was great), and then I was moving to Boston and starting work at Analytical Space. I’ve been unpacking and reorganizing myself, and I only just got groceries into my apartment. I’m low-key starting to stress about the 3L job search looming over me. Oh, and I’m writing again. Fiction. It’s very exciting (there’s a blog post coming on that too), and since it’s a big deal for me that I’m writing again, that takes precedent over blogging. I have written about half of each of the posts I’ve promised you all, so never fear, they are coming. In the meantime, I want to post about what I read in June before we get so far into July it becomes ridiculous.

 

I didn’t read as much in June as I have in the past few months. I only read ten books. (The fact that I’m saying “only” still kind of wows me). Since I was working full time, my main reading time was on the weekend, and this month I spent one weekend at my grandmother’s and flew home to New Hampshire for another weekend for my Dad’s birthday, and my mom came down to Maryland for my whole last week there, so I couldn’t very well walk around with headphones in all the time. As with the books I read in May, they were all audiobooks except one, because my reading time was mainly while I was doing other stuff. I did read one nonfiction book this month. And a couple of the books I read were a lot longer than I have been reading.

 

So here are the ten books I read in June. I continued the series I’ve been reading, started some new series, and read quite a few stand-alone books. As with my previous posts, I’m keeping these thoughts as spoiler-free as possible.

 

First, I read When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 by Ronald C. Rossbottom. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of World War II books and I’m really interested in World War II history. Most of my research in the past has focused on World War II in Italy, since that’s what I did my senior honors thesis on. But I’m interested in all World War II history, and since I just spent a year studying French and learning about Parisian culture and identity, I was really excited to pick up this book. Unfortunately, it was a disappointment. It claimed to focus on the people of Paris, but it really focused on the city, and while some aspects of it were interesting, like how the Parisian apartment seemed to shrink as the war went on, the book glossed over important historical events, like the Holocaust, and that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Also, it was just difficult to get through. I probably wouldn’t recommend this one, but it did inspire me to actually go back and start thinking about my senior honors thesis (the World War II Italy novella), which I haven’t touched since I graduated four years ago. I actually have some ideas I’m pretty excited about, and I’m going to start by reading as many World War II books as I can to put myself in the right mindset to dig into some revisions. So even though I wasn’t wild about this book, it did spark something in me, so I guess it was worth something.

 

Next, I read The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. This is the first book in her Raven Cycle series, and I cannot wait to see what happens next. I fell in love with all the characters and the world, and the lirical writing and slow and steady pace of the book worked perfectly. Blue is fated to kill the first boy she kisses, but against her better judgment, she goes and becomes friends with a group of prep school boys on a magical quest. There’s an evil Latin teacher, plenty of ghosts, and a whole lot of excellent feelings. This book works really well as a standalone, too, so even if I hate the rest of the series, I definitely recommend this one.

 

Next, I read Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff. This was the first World War II book I could get out of the library after When Paris Went Dark. It’s a middle grade story about a young girl, Lily, left at home while her father goes off to fight in France, befriending a Hungarian refugee boy who left his sick sister in France. Together, they rescue a baby kitten, sneak into movies, and dream of crossing the ocean to find their family. This is a heartfelt book that does a great job depicting what it was like on the home front during World War II. I was also interested in it because my World War II Italy novella is also going to be a children’s book, though probably aimed at kids slightly older than Lily’s Crossing, and it’s good to know the market.

 

Since I was on this World War II reading spree, when I went home for the weekend I picked up my Braille copy of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. This was the one Braille book I read this month. It’s about a ten-year-old Danish girl Annemarie and her family as they rescue their Jewish friends from the Nazi roundup in Denmark. I remember really enjoying this book when I was a kid, and I still really enjoyed it, though it’s definitely aimed younger than I would like. It glosses over a lot, and honestly I think what was actually happening could have been alluded to in a way that would have gone over kids’ heads but would have been recognizable to adults. Still, this book had so many great feels, and I would definitely recommend it.

 

I continued my World War II spree with Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff. Like Lily’s Crossing, this was a book about the home front in World War Ii. Jayna’s big brother is her only family, and when he goes off to fight and becomes missing in action, Jayna sets out to find the long lost grandmother he mentioned before he left. This was another heartfelt book, and it also had characters who liked to cook, which I’m always a big fan of.

 

After that, I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I read this in high school, and again in college. I adored it both times. This time, though I still loved Jane, I didn’t like Rochester as much. He’s a pretty huge jerk. And I don’t like the whole you did bad thing and so you go blind and you deserve it and when you repent you get your sight back thing. I don’t feel bad about spoiling this one a little because you’ve had over a hundred years to read it. I still enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t the one hundred percent wholehearted love of it that I had when I first read it in high school.

 

After Jane Eyre, I returned to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. I read the fourth book, The Battle of the Labyrinth. Annabeth finally gets to lead a quest, and it’s the story of Daedalus and Icarus. On the whole a really good book, though it does feel like a transition book in the series, ramping up for the grand finale. Which I am still waiting for from the library.

 

I read one more Patricia Reilly Giff book this month, Pictures of Hollis Woods. This is not a World War II book, but it is a book about a foster kid finding a family, which I am an absolute sucker for. This book was really just great. I loved the style, the pace, the colors of the writing. It just made me so happy.

 

I got back to Suzanne Collins’s Underland Chronicles series too with the fourth book, Gregor and the Marks of Secret. This was a solid book, but it’s definitely the weakest in the series so far. Sort of spoiler alert: It’s basically the holocaust, except with mice and rats. It’s so obviously the holocaust I kept expecting someone to reference World War II and be like, yeah, this is like that. Still, I love Gregor and his friends, and it’s definitely building up to a great conclusion.

 

Finally, I finished June with Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This is another World War II book—sort of. I actually read it back in the fall of my senior year as part of my preparation for writing my honors thesis. But since I was in excruciating pain because of my exploding eyeball, I had literally no recollection of it. The premise is that whenever Ursula dies, she is reborn and has the opportunity to live her life again. We go through Ursula’s life over and over again, watching her make fatal errors, then the next time around realizing something terrible is about to happen and doing something different. Eventually, she figures out what’s going on and starts using her ability to try to stop the war and change history. This is a beautifully written book, and I love the premise and the look at all the possibilities choices can make. I would definitely recommend this book. I also discovered there’s a sequel to this one, and I’m looking forward to reading that too.

 

And that’s it for June. While I read less than I have been reading, I did reach a hundred books, completing my goal for 2018. Since 2018 is only halfway through, I increased my Goodreads reading challenge to 150. I didn’t double it because I have a really busy fall. But let it be said that I read a hundred books in six months holy cow!

 

So, have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

 

Happy reading!

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February Reading Roundup

If you thought it was crazy that I read eighteen books in January—and I certainly thought so—then get this. I read another eighteen books in February. And February is a short month. Okay so law school is hard, and right now writing is hard, and I tend to stress read. But still. By this time last year, I think I may have read, like, twelve books. Maybe? I am well on my way to trouncing my goal of reading a hundred books this year. And I am seriously freaking myself out. I’m measuring time in the number of books I’ve read.

 

This month, I continued on with the series I’m in the middle of, started a couple new series, read some cool stand-alone novels, and read three more nonfiction books. In the past two months, I think I’ve surpassed my record for the number of nonfiction books I’ve voluntarily read in a year by about a factor of three. I’m also continuing with my goal of reading more books in Braille this year instead of just all audiobooks all the time, and this month I read seven books in Braille. Not too shabby.

 

As with my January reading roundup, I’m doing my best to keep my thoughts on these books spoiler-free. Also, these books aren’t listed in precisely the order I read them in, because I wanted to keep books in a series together. So without further ado, here are the eighteen books I read in February 2018.

 

First, I finally got back to James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. I read books 2 through 4 this month: School’s Out Forever, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, and The Final Warning. School’s Out Forever and Saving the World etc. did a really good job of continuing what the first book started—the flock’s search for the truth and Max’s mission to save the world. There was some really great character development too. I have to say the explanation of what had really been going on in the end of Saving the World etc. left a lot to be desired, so I kept reading, hoping for more on that. The Final Warning was a major disappointment. The books went all political at the expense of pretty important things like plot and character. I’m pressing on because I’m a completionist that way and I’m hoping they’ll pick up, but it was a serious drop in quality after the third book, and I’m pretty sure at this point it would have been better to stop after book 3. But we’ll see.

 

Next, I read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This was a really interesting book, all about behavioral psychology and how our brains work, but while I found it interesting, I also found it really boring. It was too long, and most of the examples were visual, which I found very frustrating. But if you’re interested in this kind of stuff, this was definitely  a very readable book.

 

After that, I read Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody, which I talk about a bit in this post. I really really liked this book. Sorina is an illusionist in a traveling carnival, but someone is killing her illusions. There’s a healthy dash of political intrigue, really interesting magic, and romance. It was fast-paced and full of feelings and really well-done. My one problem, and it’s a big one for me, is that Sorina has no eyes, but this doesn’t affect her because of her magic. For a while it seemed like Foody was going to do something really cool with this, but she didn’t. And as I’ve discussed multiple times the disabled-but-not-because-magic thing really bothers me, because it’s an attempt to represent disability without capturing any of the real struggles that someone with a disability faces. It’s true that Sorina is treated differently because she’s visibly deformed—she’s even called a freak—but there’s so much more that people with disabilities have to face that it felt feeble. So as much as I liked this book, it ultimately didn’t stand up for me.

 

I also read Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This was a middle grade book about a girl learning about what happened on September 11, fifteen years after the attacks. But the book tackles other huge issues, like homelessness and race and trauma. This was a really great book, and it reminds me of a Madeleine L’Engle quote which I fundamentally believe in: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

 

Next was A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb. This book is about two ghosts who find each other after decades of floating around haunting places and people. They take over the bodies of high school students which don’t have spirits and fall in love and deal with their hosts’ seriously disfunctional families. This was a really interesting premise and on the whole well-executed, but I could never really figure out how someone could be a totally functional human being without a spirit inside, and that kept throwing me out of the story. I also found it to be a little too sentimental, especially in the end. So not one of my favorites, but a decent book.

 

Now, with twenty-four books under my belt for the year I decided it was time for a reread. So I picked up Divergent, and then Insurgent, by Veronica Roth. I realize that these books are far from perfect, but I still really like them, particularly Insurgent, which I feel handles the fallout from Divergent very well and is on the whole pretty nuanced.

 

I also continued with Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm series. This month, I read books 5 and 6: Magic and Other Misdemeanors and Tales from the Hood. I’m still really enjoying these books. They’re so much fun, and with each book we’re putting one more piece in the puzzle. I have the next one from the library now and I can’t wait to get started on it.

 

Next, I read City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this. It’s a stand-alone young adult book set in contemporary Kenya. It’s half mystery, half thriller, half revenge quest (and yes I know that’s three halves). Tina is trying to get revenge for her mother’s murder, but she discovers there’s more to it than she thinks, and she sets out on a journey to figure it all out and discover the truth. This was a really fast, exciting, excellent book.

 

I went home for the long weekend for President’s Day, and since I’d started myself on a dystopian kick with Divergent, I picked up my Braille copy of The Giver, and then its sequel, Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry. This was kind of a freaky experience for me. I can’t believe that I read The Giver when I was ten. Granted, I think most of the horror went right over my head then, but still, yikes! For me, this was another book that was seminal in my understanding of dystopian worlds, and it was only when I reread it now that I realized how much it ‘has influenced some of my writing, which is a weird feeling too, let me tell you. Anyway, if you don’t know, The Giver takes place in a futuristic, dystopian society where to prevent conflict everything about the characters’ lives is micromanaged, including their feelings. When Jonas turns twelve, he becomes the Receiver of Memory, entrusted with all the memories of the time before Sameness. The GIVER passes on the memories, and Jonas learns about color, and pain, and war, and love. And of course he learns a terrible truth about his community and decides to right it. I absolutely love this book, creepiness and all. We’re fully inside Jonas’s head, so that the highly regulated community where he lives feels natural, even as we the reader can see what is creepy about it. I found Gathering Blue, which is more of a companion novel than a sequel, to be a lot less intriguing. It’s set in another village in this futuristic world, but this village is very primitive. For example, anyone born with a disability or injured beyond a certain point is killed. The main character, Kira, has a twisted leg, but her mother protected her and refused to let them kill her. But when her mother dies, Kira is in danger again. Except she has some kind of magical power with thread that the town leaders want, and so her life is spared. Over the course of the book, Kira learns how to refine her craft with her threads, and also uncovers another terrible secret about the town. The problem that I had with this book was that Kira had very little agency. It’s a lot of stuff happening to Kira, rather than Kira making things happen herself. This feels particularly problematic when compared with the message that Kira’s mother tried so hard to send to her daughter and to the other villagers, that people with disabilities can do things of value. Also, in general I found the world in Gathering Blue less intriguing than I did in The Giver. I think I enjoyed Gathering Blue more the first time I read it because I accidentally read Messenger—the third book in the series before I read Gathering Blue, and since Gathering Blue and Messenger are more tightly connected it worked better for me. I’m looking forward to rereading Messenger and seeing how it works coming after The Giver and Gathering Blue, and I just found out that there’s a fourth book I never knew about, so it will be interesting to see if it can all be tied together.

 

I finally got back to the Anne of Green Gables books by L. M. Montgomery. I read the first six books last year, and in February, I read the seventh book in the series, Rainbow Valley. The books aren’t about Anne anymore, which is a huge disappointment. This book wasn’t even about Anne’s kids. It was about the new minister’s kids and their crazy stunts that they didn’t realize were horrible things to be doing. I enjoyed the kids’ shenanigans, but after a while they became kind of dull because it always wound up that someone was scandalized and the kids hadn’t meant to scandalize anyone so they hadn’t really done anything wrong. Basically, this was a book about a bunch of perfect kids making mistakes that I didn’t really care about. The only reason I pressed through it is because I’m excited about the next book in the series, which according to the plot summary is about Anne’s youngest daughter adopting an orphan during World War I. Should be interesting.

 

Next, I read Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil. This was another book where I read the first chapter for a class and then picked up the whole thing because it was interesting. It was a fascinating read. First, it gives a simple, comprehensible explanation of how machine learning works (which I found very helpful for my Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence course). Then it gives several examples of how biased data algorithms are causing problems in everything from recidivism models, teacher performance evaluations, credit scores, college loans, work schedules, and more that I can’t think of off the top of my head. This was a fast, easy read, and it greatly impacted how I think about our society right now. Bonus, Cathy O’Neill actually came to talk to our class, and it was really great. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in social justice and artificial intelligence.

 

After that, I read Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love by Dava Sobel. I really enjoyed this book, but fair warning, it isn’t really about Galileo’s daughter. It’s about Galileo. It tells his life story, particularly through his interactions with his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun. I learned so much about Galileo that I didn’t know before, and if you’re interested in history of science, this is definitely a good book to pick up.

 

Finally, I rounded off February with Jack Cheng’s delightful and heartbreaking middle grade novel, See You in the Cosmos. Last year, when I read Every Soul A Star and Counting by 7s, I discovered a genre of contemporary middle grade books about kids obsessed with science, and I fell in love. See You In the Cosmos is one of those books, and it’s just great. It’s written as a series of recordings that eleven-year-old Alex is making on his golden iPod, which he hopes to launch into space aboard his rocket Voyager 3—he figures aliens won’t be able to listen to the golden record sent up with the earlier Voyager spaceships. So he sets out to go to a rocket festival to launch Voyager 3 into space, and he ends up taking a road trip of his life with a bunch of fun quirky characters, and learning about a whole lot more than space. It was a bit episodic at times, but on the whole, this book was such fun, and so sweet, and so beautiful. Also, if you like audiobooks, this was a great book to listen too. Definitely going to be one of my favorites for the year.

 

And that’s it. As much as I’m enjoying this mega reading spree, I’m hoping I won’t read as much in March, because I’m hoping to break out of this writer’s block I’m kind of stuck in. more on that later. Probably. In the meattime, have you read any of the books I read last month? What did you think of them?

January Reading Roundup

I realize it’s actually March now, but bear with me. I’ve decided to try something new here. I thought, since I’ve already read so many books this year, that I would briefly go through all the books I read each month, my favorites and not so favorites, in a blog post. I’m keeping these thoughts spoiler-free, so if you haven’t read any of these books, you can read on without fear. So here we go.

 

My 2018 reading challenge on Goodreads is to read one hundred books, and I hit the ground running, reading eighteen books in January. These weren’t all four hundred page epics, certainly, and most of them were audiobooks, so I was reading while doing other things like cooking and laundry. I did read four books in Braille, and three of the books I read this month were nonfiction, which may be a record for me. Whatever kind of books I read, this many books is pretty much unheard of for me, and it’s kind of freaking me out.

 

Note that in the interest of clarity and also not writing a novel of my own here, I’ve put books that are all part of the same series together in this list, even though I generally read them with at least one book in between them.

 

First, I finished The Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo. I read the first five books in this series last December, so I started out this year with books 6, 7, and 8: Charlie Bone and the Beast, Charlie Bone and the Shadow, and Charlie Bone and the Red Knight. I enjoyed these books, but I certainly didn’t enjoy them as much as the first five books in the series. Honestly, the series could have ended after Book 5, because the main mysteries had been solved and the bad guys had been defeated. These books introduced new characters—good and bad guys—and a new set of mysteries and challenges for our scrappy band of magical children. Charlie’s parents have gone off on a second honeymoon, but the Bloors know that Charlie’s father has hidden a will that  may say their fortune actually belongs to Billy, so they bring in a guy who can control the oceans all over the world to drown Charlie’s parents while they’re whale watching. Meanwhile Charlie has to contend with the ocean-moving guy’s creepy son at school, the evil sorcerer from the earlier books has captured Billy, and the kids’ enemies among the other Endowed are trying to close down the Pets’ Café–a terrible fate to be sure. So lots of great stuff going on. I’d say that the writing was stronger, the characters were more nuanced, and the main mystery was more central to the plot of these three books. This whole series was definitely really fun.

 

Next, I read The Angel Experiment by James Patterson, the first book in the Maximum Ride series. I reae this book way back when I was in middle school, but I just discovered that the audiobook that I had was abridged. Blegh. So I found the udabridged book in Braille and read it, and let me tell you, it makes way more sense when you have the whole book. Max and her five “siblings” are 98% human, b% bird. They have wings and can fly, and they’ve escaped from the super scary science lab where they were created. They’ve been on the run and on their own for two years when the bad guys show up again and kidnap Angel, the youngest member of the flock. Rescue and adventures and a quest for the truth ensues. This was an fast-paced, action-packed, fun book. Max has a great voice, and it’s obvious that so much is going on that we don’t know about yet.  Because of this, it sometimes didn’t make a lot of sense what the bad guys’ motives were, but since this is the first in a series, I forgave that. On the whole a pretty good read.

 

Next was The Power by Naomi Alderman. This was the first book of the year for my book club. Basically the premise is that women develop the ability to electrocute people with their fingers, and they quickly rise to become the dominant gender. The book follows four main characters, three women and one man, through the early years of this new world order. The book spans about ten years, I think, and the whole world, and it’s a really interesting exploration of gender politics. There was a little too much graphic sex and violence (including rape) for my taste, but I also appreciate that a large part of the book was to make the reader uncomfortable. The writing was also very good, and I sped through this book. Despite all this, there was something about this book that just didn’t work for me. I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what that is, but I can’t. This goes back to my discussion of my gut feeling in how I review books in this post. Objectively, this was a really good book. I just didn’t really like it.

 

I also continued the Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley, which I started at the very end of last December. Over the course of January, I read books 2, 3, and 4 of this series: The Unusual Suspects, The Problem Child, and Once Upon a Crime. These books are just so much fun I can’t stand it. Yes, they’re a bit episodic, and yes, Sabrina is still a bit of a jerk, but I like her anyway, and I love Puc. and as episodic as each book is within the larger series, they each add to the larger mystery. If like middle grade fiction and quirky retold fairytales, these books are for you.

 

Next, I finally got off the waitlist at the library for The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. All I have to say here is that if you haven’t read this book, you need to go read it now. That being said, I’m going to break with all the hype and say that it isn’t a perfect book. It has a lot of disconnected subplots that mostly come together in the end, and there are parts where it drags. But honestly, I don’t mind so much. If you don’t already know, here’s the basic premise: When sixteen-year-old Star sees her best friend shot by a police officer at a traffic stop, she has to decide whether to speak up or not. This is a deeply emotional and beautiful look into a very important issue in our country, and it should be required reading.

 

When I was home for Martin Luther King Day weekend, I piaked up and reread my braille copy of A Wrinkle in Time and its sequel, A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle. Now I remember really liking these books when I was a kid, though I didn’t get past the first two because they were the only ones I had in Braille and this was before the days of refreshable Braille displays and digital Braille files. The world of Camazotz and It from A Wrinkle in Time is still the first thing I picture when I hear the word “dystopian.” But now that I’m older, I found the books to be pretty weird. Now I have a high tolerance for weird, but these were just really weird, especially A Wind in the Door. I also found the books to be a little too moralizing for my tastes. But I still enjoyed them, and I’m really looking forward to the movie this month and to reading the next book in the series (I have it from the library now).

 

Next, I read The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel. A lot of the reviews I read on Goodreads were upset that this book was more about the astronomy and the history of astronomy than the social movement of female computers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but since I’m an astronomy geek and that’s what I was in it for, I didn’t mind. So yeah, a hundred years before Hidden Figures, the Harvard Observatory was hiring female computers, and The Glass Universe tells their story, from the days of photospectroscopy on glass plates all the way through World War II. I found this book to be an absolutely fascinating read, though it might be difficult if you don’t already know a bit about the science, and if you have any interest in astronomy or the history of science or the work of female computers, I highly recommend you check this book out.

 

After that, I dove back into fiction with I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is probably one of my all-time favorite books (I’ll probably reread it sometime this year because it’s been a while). I tried really hard not to judge I Am the Messenger against The Book Thief, and I think I mostly succeeded. I enjoyed I Am the Messenger, which is about a perfectly ordinary kid in Australia who’s life becomes extraordinary when he starts receiving mysterious message he has to deliver all over town. These aren’t written letters or anything. They’re puzzles that he has to solve to find people who need help and to help them. And the ending was a twist I didn’t see coming. All in all, it was a pretty good book, but honestly it just didn’t drag me in the way I expected it to, and I finished it with a general feeling of “well, okay, that’s done. What’s next?”

 

Next was the Shanghai Girls duology, Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See. I absolutely loved Shanghai Girls. It’s a sprawling family epic about two sisters who immigrate from China to the United States because of arranged marriages, but along the way they are kidnapped by Japanese soldiers, held at Angel Island, and other harrowing things that I won’t say because I don’t want to spoil it. It was so well-put-together and so intricate. I will say that without the sequel, the ending would have sucked, but since there was a sequel, it was okay. I didn’t enjoy Dreams of Joy as much as Shanghai Girls. It was more of a slow burn, and it was more predictable, but it completed the first book nicely. On the whole, a really good series, and I recommend.

 

At the same time I was reading the Shanghai Girls books, I had to reread Getting to Yes: Negotiating An Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton for a class. Since it isn’t a case book, I’m counting it towards my reading challenge. I actually read this book last year for the negotiations workshop I took. It was required reading for the Negotiating and Drafting International Business Transactions course I’m taking. Since the Negotiations Workshop, I’ve delved so deeply into negotiations that I felt it would be a good idea to get a refresher on the basics, so I reread it. Getting to Yes is an excellent and easy-to-read primer on win-win negotiations, and if you’re at all interested in learning to negotiate effectively, I highly recommend it.

 

After that, I read Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. This book is another book about immigrants, two Irish sisters who immigrate to Boston in the 1950s. It alternates between the past, when the sisters are settling into life in Boston, and the present, when a car accident forces the estranged sisters back together. It was a pretty good book, on the whole. I especially enjoyed the writing. But it was pretty bland, and the concept was so similar to the premise of Shanghai Girls—and I’m not just talking about the immigrating sisters here—that it was hard not to compare them. And Saints For All Occasions was just missing something that Shanghai Girls had. I think if I hadn’t read Shanghai Girls, I would have enjoyed this book a lot, because I wouldn’t have the comparison. But there you have it.

 

Finally, I rounded off January with Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight by Robert Mnookin. This was a book for my Negotiation and Diplomacy class this semester. We only had to read the first three chapters or so, but I was so interested I kept reading. What I really liked about this book was that it provided some nuance to the negotiation framework I’ve been studying for the last three semesters. Instead of just talking about how to negotiate and how negotiation is better than litigation, this book actually explores times when it may be appropriate not to negotiate. It goes through several historical examples, including Churchill’s famous decision not to negotiate with Hitler. It also looks at more personal examples, such as divorce, inheritance, and business disputes. As with Getting To Yes, this book is interesting and easy to read.  So if you are interested in negotiations and want to add another layer to your understanding of it, this is a good book for you.

 

So that’s what I read this past January. I’ll be back soon with my February reads. In the meantime, have you read any of these books? Do you agree with me? Disagree with me? Let me know what you think in the comments.

I Read Too

I talk a lot about Braille literacy. Many of you have probably heard this before—multiple times—and I’m sorry for repeating myself, but I’m going to anyway. Actually, I’m not sorry at all, because it just keeps coming up. This is the area of disability rights that I am most passionate about (at least right now), and for obvious reasons: I love to read. Books have always been my best friends.

 

So like any bookworm, I measure time by when books I want to read are coming out. In the last two weeks, two books I’m excited about have been released: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne Valente and Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare. Just today, I found out about another book I want to read that was released today—Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate (a current Kenyon student). Later this month, the third Colours of Madeleine book—A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty—will be coming out. But I don’t know when I’m going to be able to actually read these books. Not because I’m super busy (I always make time for books), but because they aren’t available in Braille yet. They will be, I’m sure, but I have no idea when.

 

This has been an issue my whole life. I had every single Harry Potter book spoiled for me except the last one, because the publishers gave an advance copy to the National Braille Press so they could translate it into Braille and ship the books to arrive on the release day. And that was a big deal. It shouldn’t be a big deal anymore. Technology has advanced so much since 2007, what with the proliferation of eBooks and Braille displays alike. It should just be the press of a few buttons to take a digital file of a book and translate it into electronic Braille. So why isn’t it happening like that?

 

The answer is that it’s probably a matter of some complicated subsidiary right that hardly anyone thinks about because the blind population is so small and the Braille reading population is even smaller. Which brings me to Braille literacy. Now, I enjoy a good audiobook as much as the next person, but I prefer to read in Braille. And the idea that the Braille-reading population is so small they don’t warrant the same attention as the general populace only perpetuates the problem.

 

The idea behind disability rights is inclusion in society at large, but because we can’t read a book at the same time as our peers, we are excluded. At best, we end up playing catch-up to our friends who have already read and discussed the book. But more often than not, especially with the internet and the way it tends to go crazy when long-anticipated books are suddenly available, major plot points of the book are spoiled for us, which could ruin our enjoyment of the book.

 

Yes, I’m blind, but I read too. And the problem of Braille literacy extends beyond fiction to education and employment issues as well.

 

Here’s the deal: only 10% of the blind read Braille—it’s true. It’s also true that hardcopy Braille is expensive and huge, and Braille displays and notetakers are expensive too (though considerably less huge). But none of this means Braille should be abandoned. Braille is the only viable way for blind people to read. A literacy rate of 10% is not evidence that Braille is impractical; it is evidence that 90% of the blind population is illiterate. Studies have shown that blind children who just use audio in school instead of learning to read do not develop the critical reading and thinking skills necessary for success in school and society. Denying blind children their right to be taught because it is inconvenient or expensive—as so many are—is a violation of their civil and human rights. All children who can see learn to read. It should be the same for children who are blind.

 

To give one analogy, the literacy rate of the blind in America is less than the total literacy rate in some of the least educated countries of the world, and it would be unacceptable to say the people of Afghanistan or Mali or Niger or South Sudan are illiterate because it is too expensive or inconvenient to teach them.

 

I love to read, but I am passionate about Braille literacy for reasons beyond my desire to be able to have a book in my hands the day it comes out (like everybody else, I might add). My parents had to fight for my right to learn Braille in elementary school, but many parents don’t have the knowledge or means to do that. When the school district insists that students who are blind don’t need Braille, how can they argue? But there is no substitute for reading when it comes to fostering independence.

 

Braille literacy is an issue all over the world. Programs like Perkins International send teachers and equipment to developing countries to teach Braille, believing that reading is fundamental to education, and education is fundamental to success. Yet Braille literacy is still a huge problem, even in the United States. Almost 70% of the adult blind population is unemployed, and this can be traced back to inappropriate or absent services in school, including lack of training in Braille.

 

On my first day at the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center, one of the attorneys told me about a decision involving a child who was not being taught Braille. The judge gave the decision to the school district in Braille and told them to read it without accommodations. This is the kind of thinking and action that makes a difference. It’s also just plain awesome! But there still needs to be a shift in the overall discussion towards how Braille can be extended to those who need it so the blind can have the same advantages as the sighted and reach their full potential as contributing members of society.

 

Books for ALL the Ages

Over the last few weeks, I have found myself involved in several discussions about the differences between young adult and adult literature and the validity of both. I read both, and personally all I really care about is whether it’s a good book or not, but I also tend to write YA, and as a writer I’ve found that I sometimes get confused about where exactly that oh-so-fuzzy line dividing the age ranges is. And what about the subcategories like middle grade and new adult? So, partly because I wanted to iron out my own confusion and partly because I wanted an organized response to all these discussions I’ve been involved in, I decided to write out what I see as the differences between the two.

 

Character’s Age

 

The age of the main character is perhaps the easiest and simplest way to define young adult fiction. Generally speaking, if a character is between the ages of ten and nineteen, the book is young adult, with ten- to twelve-year-old protagonists largely falling into the middle grade subcategory. There’s also this new-ish category called New Adult, which is generally about characters from nineteen to twenty-five years old. Adult books are about, well, adults.

 

But the key word here is “generally.” As with every pattern, there are exceptions. With this one, there are a lot of exceptions. The main character of Janice Hardy’s series The Healing Wars, for example, is fifteen, but the books are classified as middle grade. Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a middle grade book, but it alternates between the story of twelve-year-old Henry and Keiko’s forbidden friendship during the time of Japanese Internment in World War II and the story of Henry trying to find her forty years later. And a large part of Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner is about Amir as a young boy, but The Kite Runner is an adult novel. And these are just the exceptions I came up with off the top of my head.

 

So while age is a good rule of thumb, it is by no means the only criteria for young adult literature.

 

Character’s Place in Society

 

Along the same lines as the main character’s age, the protagonist’s place in society is also important. Let’s say to simplify things that the main character is a teenager. What being a teenager means varies greatly depending on where and when the novel takes place. Throughout most of history, and even in some cultures today, a teenager might already be married, managing a household, and have children. This would place the teenager in the adult sphere of society and therefore make it ambiguous whether the book would be adult or young adult. Conversely, there could be a young adult novel about a twenty-something just finding their way into adult society (I’ve never read such a book myself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one exists).

 

Young adult books tend to involve characters who are just moving into society. They are on the edge between childhood and adulthood, or they are forced as children to take on the responsibilities of adults, usually without the support of family members or other adults. As John Green said, teenagers in any setting are going through so many new experiences—first love, first heartbreak, first encounter with the death of someone close to them.

 

Content and Themes

 

As you can see, the dividing line between young adult and adult is already fuzzy, but this is the part where it becomes even fuzzier, because none of this is easily definable. Adult books are supposed to deal with more “adult” themes than young adult books, which seems obvious when you say it out loud, but young adult books often deal with similar themes as adult books. Young adult confronts these themes differently from adult, but young adult’s approach is typically just as complex and thoughtful as the adult approach. There isn’t a limit on topic or theme for either young adult or adult literature. Lois Lowry’s book The Giver, for example, deals with the euthanasia of those who do not fit into or function within society’s standards, and that’s a middle grade book. Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why confronts a teenage girl’s reasons for committing suicide. And The Hunger Games is about a bunch of teenagers forced to fight to the death to preserve peace.

 

Guys, this is deep stuff.

 

There does, however, seem to be a spectrum of what content can be shown and what can’t, particularly concerning explicit sex and violence. As I understand it, middle grade books have limited explicit violence and no sex at all—kissing is the limit. Young adult books can have more explicit violence and limited explicit sex—they tend to fade to black before actual sex happens. New adult books (and I know very little about this) have more explicit sex and violence than young adult books. And I’m pretty sure almost anything goes in adult books. Personally, I’m vague about where exactly all of these dividing lines are, and there are always exceptions.

 

This brings me to my last, and to my mind most important, distinction between adult and young adult literature.

 

Restraint

 

To me, the biggest difference between adult and young adult books is the restraint shown by young adult books. I’m using the word “restraint” loosely here, but there isn’t one all-encompassing word for what I’m talking about, and it gets the point across. In a young adult book, everything the author does has to matter to the story. The majority of young adult books are shorter than adult books (this has changed since Harry Potter but it’s still largely true), and this coupled with the limitations on content means that everything the author chooses to include in the story has to matter. If characters are going to fall in love and have sex, that’s fine, but it needs to matter to the characters’ growth and overall arc over the course of the novel, if not the plot itself. If Character X is going to beat up Character Y, it has to change things. On the other hand, the lack of limitations on adult books has resulted in far too many novels that, to my mind, are full of needlessly explicit sex and violence that has very little or nothing to do with the actual story and is only present because people believe a book needs to have these things to sell. (Note: I like adult books, and this is, of course, not true of all of them, but I’ve seen it enough that it frustrates me).

 

A great example of this is the difference between Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Mary Doria Russel’s A Thread of Grace. Both books are set during World War II and involve Jews fleeing the Holocaust. The Book Thief is young adult, and A Thread of Grace is adult, and in my opinion, Zusak’s restrained way of confronting the reality of death, the war, and the Holocaust is more emotionally powerful than Russel’s excessively violent and almost chaotically complicated narrative.

 

In general, young adult authors show more restraint than adult authors, and sometimes I feel it makes for a stronger book.

 

All of these distinctions, however, mainly exist so that publishers and bookstores know where to put books on the shelves, and for each difference I just listed, there are probably a dozen books or more that prove me wrong.

 

And as for those who think it’s immature—at best—for an adult to read young adult, all I have to say is that while there are certainly books that give young adult a bad name, there are definitely books that give adult a bad name too. It’s also important to note that many books called “serious” or “Capital L” literature that we read in high school, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, would actually be considered young adult literature if they were published today, but they were published before young adult was created.

 

But what does it matter who the book was written for, anyway? I read everything I can get my hands on, and some of the best books I’ve read are middle grade and young adult. If it’s a good book, where you found it in the bookstore shouldn’t matter.