books i’ve read, 2014

I was very disappointed with my reading efforts this year. Five novels and a handful of single comic issues? I can do better.

But maybe I’m being too hard on myself. I actually read a lot this year.

I read news articles every day in my efforts to keep up with what’s happening in the US and to better understand Australia’s political and cultural landscape (there were many articles on international news as well). I read countless blog entries on Jezebel, Cracked, and Lifehacker (many were actually very informative and insightful). I also read two excellent long-form articles– The Overprotected Kid (via The Atlantic) and The Strange Tale of the North Pond Hermit (via GQ) that I highly recommend.

People get too hung up on what counts as reading, myself included. My husband reads the newspaper at least once a week and finishes dozens of comic books each year, and yet people don’t consider him a reader. I don’t think he even considers himself a reader. But maybe he should. Maybe it’s time for us recognize that so-called “light reading”– the kind that comes from pages other than books– is still important reading. There’s still a lot to be learned, and it often leads to reading books.

So, without further ado, here is the list of the book-reading I completed in 2014. Though it is in no way more significant than all the other items I read throughout the year.

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Free Comic Book Day issues
    • The New 52: Future’s End #0 Special Edition
    • Guardians of the Galaxy
    • Archie Digest
    • Rocket Raccoon
    • Bongo Comics Free-For-All!
    • All You Need is Kill
    • Raising a Reader!
    • 2000 A.D.
  • One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
  • Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (reread)
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Best Book:
This is a toss up between Gone Girl and Dark Places. Gillian Flynn has quickly become one of my favorite fiction writers, and I honestly can’t decide which novel I liked most. What the two have in common is that Flynn manages to make the reader care about some really unlikable protagonists. Her characters are incredibly flawed, but you can’t help rooting for them. (I also highly recommend the movie version of Gone Girl. Flynn wrote the screenplay, so it is incredibly true to the book. It also has some excellent performances.)
Worst Book:
There really wasn’t anything I read this year that I hated. The ending of 11/22/63 was a tad disappointing and the story dragged on horribly in parts, but overall I did enjoy the story. Not sure if I’ll be seeking out any other Stephen King books based on this one. I think I’ll stick with the film and television versions of his work.
I also reread To Kill a Mockingbird for a book club, and wasn’t as impressed with it as I was when I was first introduced to it in high school. It’s still a great novel, I was just expected more.
Looking forward to in 2015:
I have so much reading to do, that I purposely asked for as many non-book items as possible for Christmas so I can clear my shelves and Kindle app. Still, my husband got me Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please, which I’m excited to start. I also have two Erik Larson non-fiction books to finally get to. We’ll see how successful I am this year, given that I’ve also resolved to focus more on my design and art work, dedicate more time to this blog, and will be continuing the movie review blog.

It’s going to be a busy year!

butterfly in the sky: why i contributed to the reading rainbow kickstarter campaign

readingrainbowTo say that PBS programming was a big part of my childhood is an understatement. PBS shows were everything. I grew up on Sesame Street and Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, transitioned to Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and Ghostwriter as I grew up, and even developed a love for Arthur‘s off beat humor in high school. But of all the shows PBS broadcast into my living room over the years, none made an impact on me quite like Reading Rainbow.  Big Bird may have helped me learn how to read, but LeVar Burton taught me to love it.

Contributing to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter campaign was an easy decision. Of course there was a heavy nostalgia factor involved; this is probably a big motivator for many people my age. I haven’t watched the show in decades, but the theme song is still stuck in my head (“Butterfly in the skyyyyyy/I can go twice as hiiiiiiigh!”). My favorite part of each episode was always the book narrated by a celebrity, and I have particularly strong memories of Buddy Ebsen reading Paul Bunyan and Lorne Greene’s  rendition of Ox-Cart Man. The famous voices may have been lost on me, but the stories they read went on to become some of my favorites.

Childhood memories aside, I want to bring Reading Rainbow back in a big way for another important reason. Rainbow was created to foster a love of reading. Its magic certainly worked on me– I have a rapidly filling bookshelf and a few years worth of reading lists to prove it. I have no doubt that LeVar and his team can do the same for a new generation of children, even though they are meeting them online instead of on the television.

While there’s been some criticism that this won’t do much to improve literacy rates in the US, I would beg to differ. This may not be a perfect analogy, but math was always my least favorite school subject. My teachers’ constant refrains of “You’ll need to use this in real life!” did nothing to spark my interest. Of course I understood the practical applications of math as a kid– balancing a checkbook, measuring in cooking, making a budget– but they were all very grown up and boring.

Where I came alive in the classroom was during reading. It wasn’t phonics worksheets or spelling tests that inspired me to learn this necessary skill– it was the books I saw every day in the classroom, at home, in the library, and on Reading Rainbow. As much as I loved the illustrations, I wanted to know what the words said too. Learning to read became important to me because I recognized that the adults in my life weren’t always available to read to me, and if I couldn’t read to myself then I was missing half the story. The practical applications of literacy would become apparent to me as I grew older, but at the start I just wanted to escape into a fun story. This is what inspired me to practice and do my homework, not the knowledge that I’d one day need to understand legal contracts or read street signs.

To me, Reading Rainbow is an important tool in promoting literacy. Will it decrease illiteracy rates in the US by itself? No, but putting it in the hands of kids who are struggling to read will encourage them to keep practicing. Providing the app to children who would rather play on a tablet will show them that reading is more fun and rewarding than Angry Birds. Bringing Reading Rainbow in classrooms will inspire a new generation of students to pick up a book, where they can “go anywhere” and “be anything.” But you don’t have to take my word for it.

post-free comic book day wrap up


Yesterday I participated in my first Free Comic Book Day!

For those not in the know, every year on the first Saturday in May comic shops around the world give away comic books and other freebies. This is a great event meant to promote the industry and local shops. It was great seeing so many different readers gathering together to celebrate the art form.

When my husband first asked if I’d be interested in going this year my mind immediately went to Archie Comics. The Riverdale gang were my first introduction to comic books as a kid (along with Barbie, Scrooge McDuck, and Casper the Friendly Ghost), so they’ve always held a special place in my heart. I’ve also been impressed with stories of how the books have changed with the times, most notably by introducing LGBT friendly story lines.

So of course when I discovered that an Archie Digest was available today I knew I’d be choosing it. I look forward to getting reacquainted with Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest. I’m also excited to discover some new characters (Guardians of the Galaxy) and learning a bit about the source material of some of my new favorite films (Dredd, via 2000 A.D.).

Only 364 days until the next Free Comic Book Day…

books i’ve read, 2013

Unfortunately, I did not read much this year. But then, it was a very busy 12 months. I planned a wedding from a foreign country, started a new full-time job, and purchased a new home, among many other things. Given that, I think I made an admirable effort.

+ Tales from a Midwife by Jennifer Worth
+ Fables: Witches by Willingham, Buckingham, et al.
+ Fables: Rose Red by Willingham, Buckingham, et al.
+ The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
+ Shades of Earth by Beth Revis (Awesome trilogy! Loved the ending, and want to buy the first book so I can read it again.)
+ Reached by Ally Condie (I don’t know why this series was optioned for a movie. The first two could make exciting enough movies, but this one would be incredibly boring to watch.)
+ Fables: Super Team by Willingham, Buckingham, et al
+ Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky (Moral of the story: Do not be a jerk and tip the staff.)
+ The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (reread)
+ Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel (Great fairytale, but I wasn’t crazy about the art style.)
+ Total Recall by Arnold Schwarznegger (A very engaging read, but I get the impression he’s still holding a lot back.)
+ The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling is such a great author! Hoping there will be a sequel.)

Best Books: Given my love of Harry Potter, I was worried that The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Happily, J.K. Rowling is an incredibly talented writer, and both of these are great reads. I enjoy how she has her finger on the pulse of society, whether she’s writing about social injustices or our celebrity obsessed culture.
I also really enjoyed Arnold Schwarznegger’s autobiography. Having never been a big fan of his movies, I wasn’t sure it would keep my attention. But the man has lead an entertaining life, and it makes for a fun read. Still, it’s clear that he’s still holding a lot back. No doubt the real, unfiltered story is even more interesting.

Worst Books: No real disappointments this year. Reached, the final installment of the Matched series was a bit of a let down, but not entirely disappointing.

Looking forward to in 2014: I just started reading Gone Girl, and am interested to see where it goes. Other than that nothing is really on the docket just yet. I’ve been thinking of joining a Sydney area book club, and also encourage people’s suggestions!