What are we reading: special edition

I read this book, and it is so great: Blind to Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren’t Being Fooled, by Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell.  Authors’ page for the book here, where you can read the preface and a sample chapter.

One thing I love about this book is the authors’ voices.  The two authors are long-time collaborators, and their friendship comes through in the writing.  The cover is kind of dumb, but ignore that — this isn’t a romance book or even necessarily about romantic relationships (though they are in there).

The idea behind this book is to look at how we fool ourselves, in all sorts of relationships, into being unaware of the bad things we “should” know are going on.  This includes spouses not knowing their partners are cheating on them, but it also includes employees not being aware of how badly their companies are screwing over the employees legally and financially (see: Enron).  Through easy-to-read, nonacademic summaries of science and also through numerous personal stories, the authors lay out many situations in which it is adaptive and necessary for people to be unaware of being cheated: to be blind to betrayal.  The tone has a lot of sympathy for people who find themselves struggling to explain this situation in themselves, and even includes some of the authors’ own experiences.  This book sheds a light on what we can do as individuals who are dependent on institutions (marriages, governments, workplaces) that may not act in our best interests.  I appreciate the hopeful ending.

You should really read this book, and tell your friends.  It’s very readable and would even make a good gift.  It’s available on kindle and audible too.  Check it out of the library, buy it, ILL it.

Try reading the samples and tell us what you think in the comments?

A budding feminist spec fic reader

A boy who is turning 12 years old wants to read sci fi and fantasy with strong females.  We have suggestions, of course.

Ursula K. LeGuin is probably the textbook choice, along with contemporary writer Andre Norton.  These strong women both address feminist themes through science fiction, though in different ways.

Ann McCaffrey is often suggested because she’s a woman who writes science fiction and therefore must be feminist.  Turns out that’s not true.  She’s a VERY BAD CHOICE as she promotes rape culture.  (Third book, protagonist rapes his girlfriend, and makes everything ok by helping her clean afterward.  No. No. No. No.  I stopped reading her after that book, but I am told that her later books have similar or worse issues with rape.)  (Thanks to #2’s warning, #1 hasn’t read that series, but I haven’t found anything problematic in the McCaffrey I have read.  #2 notes that’s probably because McCaffrey coauthors with actual feminists in many of her other series.)

I keep meaning to read C. J. Cherryh‘s  Pride of Chanur series.

Elizabeth Moon.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are excellent choices, together or separately (try The Wee Free Men).

Brian Sanderson’s Mistborn series is fantastic.  The Hunger GamesOctavia Butler.

Tamora Pierce in general and in specific, though #2 has a bit of a problem with the fourth book in her first series… the main character has a lot of messed up sex, and by messed up, she means messed up in terms of power differentials.  The sex is not really consensual given the power differences in one “relationship” and the age differences in the other.  (#1 missed that series.  The Pierce I have read has been fantastic!)  Holly Lisle probably has too much sex for a 12-year old.  Pre-read Diplomacy of Wolves to see if your kid is old enough for it.

Robin McKinley (her lighter stuff… Deerskin [a retelling of Donkeyskin] is feminist, and amazingly good, but it contains rather violent incest… Sunshine has happy sex in it IIRC, but is definitely more YA than Junior). The Blue Sword was the first grown-up fantasy book I ever read (fourth grade assigned reading, I LOVED Mrs. A.) and it got me hooked on the entire genre.

Patricia C. Wrede, particularly the first two books in the Dragon series (Dealing with Dragons is the start).  The third and fourth books leave the protagonist somewhat helpless until a boy grows up to save the day.

Carolyn Stevermer, both with and without Patricia Wrede.

Joan Aiken’s Dido Twite series: first is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Martha Wells.

Margaret Ball.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  Though she does address some adult themes, they always have happened off-stage before the book starts.  The characters heal during the book.

For hard sci-fi, you could start the Honor Harrington series with On Basilisk Station by David Weber. Jane Yolen’s graphic novel Foiled is a must (the sequel is Curses! Foiled Again). Anything by Susan Cooper, though #2 notes that The Dark is Rising has a stereotypical female character, the stereotypical “male” action coming from the boys.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (her other series is for adults, but this one is YA with no sex).  IT IS ADDICTING.  I WANT MORE MORE MORE.

You could try Diane Duane’s series starting with So You Want to Be a Wizard. Everything by Diana Wynne Jones is very excellent, though her last book has an inappropriate sexual relationship thrown in as an afterthought.  A 12 year old might not notice it. (#1 didn’t.)

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman.  Only sort of fantasy, but has sequels if you like it.

The Blossom Culp series by Richard Peck (time travel, ghosts, etc. put this fully into spec fic!)

Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series, starting with The Illyrian Adventure (spec fic in the sense that Indiana Jones is spec fic).

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.  (Sure, this is historical, but… you could pretend it’s fantasy.)

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (the sequel, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is out now).

Graceling by Kristin Cashore is excellent (though somewhat hardcore, violence-wise). It has sequels but I never read them.

Other good YA stuff is by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (any of it).

I can go on if you want… but I would need to check DC’s bookshelves for all my old YA books.  (I’m totally going to read hir The Real Me at some point, though that is not science fiction or fantasy at all.)

Chime in, readers!

A review of this library that you might not even know is here

There is kind of a “stealth” library really near where I live.  It is part of the county system, not the city system, so I didn’t know about it until I walked in looking for a place to work on my laptop.   It looks like a secret from the parking lot.

It turns out to be a pretty good place to work if I’m feeling done with the coffee shop for the day.

It’s quiet, with just enough noise to not be creepy.  It has lots of places to sit, including this:

bookcase fakeout

Facilities include study rooms, a computer room, and a surprisingly decent collection of graphic novels.  I started a new series while I was there, and I’m planning to go back for 2 more.

Near a sofa is a vase with some yarn and a pair of knitting needles in it.

In the back is a huge classroom with kid- and adult-sized chairs.  I don’t know what classes are held there.

It has carrells, an enclosed children’s room where they can make some noise, and a “Christmas tree” made out of old encyclopedia volumes (it was summer when I went).

If you get bored you can wander around and look at all the pocket pets they have distributed throughout the library in little cages: tiny tree frogs, a guinea pig, gerbil, bearded dragon, gecko, dove, koi.

As you may be gathering, it’s much bigger than it looks from the outside, as well as having good a/c and wireless access.  On the somewhat sad side, there are surprisingly fewer books than I think it needs (the shelves are not full and there is room for a lot more of them).

There are some “honor books” by the front that you can take without checking out and return whenever.  I haven’t checked out their bookstore yet.

It’s really doing a pretty decent job overall!  It sort of looks like they have not grown into their huge space yet, though they have been there at least 3 years.

This review does you no good, Grumpeteers, but it amuses us.  #2 adds:  What do you like about your favorite library?  What would your dream library have?

What are we reading over break?

I just finished The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson.  A thousand pages of epic high fantasy, and it went pretty quickly.  Interesting characters, some more compelling than others, and unique magic systems that have a lot of potential.  Two characters in particular allow it to scrape a pass on the Bechdel test.  Near the end of the book was a revelation so shocking that I would read the sequel right now if it were out yet.

Also, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened was a big winner in our family this year.  Several of us gave it to each other.  I laughed and cried, sometimes at the same time.  I’m happy to support this artist!  (Currently bathroom reading for #2.)

#2 finally got a chance to have some mental space outside of Georgette Heyer rereads!  Sure, she’s only up to children’s literature but…

Unfortunately, her first pick was Wednesdays in the Tower.  She has literally three shelves double stacked of books she hasn’t read before and she picked this one because she liked Tuesdays at the Castle so much.  Wednesdays in the Tower is a lovely HALF of a book that ends exactly on a cliffhanger.  The next book doesn’t even have a title yet.  So wait to start this one until Thursdays off the Cliff (or whatever she decides to call it) at least gets a release date you can live with.

#2 was also jonesing for some Blossom Culp, which is possibly Richard Peck’s greatest series.  #1 was delightful enough to get her the entire set both new and used.  It was every bit as enchanting as #2 remembered, perhaps even a bit more as I get more of the adult jokes that probably went over my head when I read and reread these books from the library.  The first is The Ghost Belonged to Me, but the first from Blossom’s perspective is Ghosts I Have Been.  And for those of you who grew up in the 1980s, it’s interesting thinking about how this generation would read The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp… her going from 1914 to the 1980s would be like us going to the 1950s… an odd thought.  Kind of like when you watch Back to the Future.

Finally, we recommend The Book Shopper: A Life in Review by Murray Browne if you like books even half as much as we do.

Do you?

Some notes for book publishers and all types of writers

  • We really really need to stop titling novels “The [X]‘s Daughter”.  Not only are they hard to tell apart, and way overdone, but must we continue to define girls and women this way?
  • Alternate titles:
    “The woman in relationship only to herself”
    “The woman defined as her own person rather than as her relationship to another”
  • Also, why does everything have “: A Novel” in the title?  For real, you think we can’t tell it’s a novel?  Stop with cutesy titles and just call things the names of novels!  I know it’s really hard to think of good new names, but start now.
  • Could we maybe have pop songs retire the phrase, “You’re a good girl”?  I get that they’re into the whole madonna – whore thing, but can’t we retire it?
  • Note:  it is ok to use the phrase, “You’re a good girl” if the song is about an actual canine.  But you can’t then put sexual euphemisms or overt sexual stuff in there because dogs can’t consent.
  • We are happy to see women’s heads back on covers.
  • Misogyny, I hate you.

What are we getting for people?

Lessee…

MIL completely remodeled her kitchen and is removing the 1990s style country accents and replacing them with red things.  So we bought a whole lot of red things, including an ice cream scoop since theirs kept breaking on me last Christmas.

FIL dropped a hint that he wanted a specific expensive book by a hunter about bow hunting, so we did that.  (Not available on Amazon.)

BIL1 gets a game.  SIL1 gets colored pencils off her wish list.  Nephew1 gets sheet music to Mario Brothers.  Niece gets a box of books about a character who shares her first name.

SIL2 and BIL2 get a fancy crock-pot off their wishlist.  Nephew2 gets an assortment of books I would recommend for a 1-2 year old.  He also gets a contribution to his 529.  (Why none for the other sibs– It’s Nephew2’s first Christmas and we made the offer for BIL1’s kids, but BIL1 never got around to setting up an account, so we didn’t contribute.)

My sister requested a checked luggage.  So I got her that.

My mom I will get a B&N gift certificate, though I think I’ll up the amount from $50 to $60 this year.

My father we usually buy some hard liquor.  He tends to like high quality on-the-sweet-side stuff.  We’ve done fancy rum and fancy brandies the past few years.  Also some apple jack that I suspect he didn’t like as much.  I wonder if I can get Dumante delivered to their place…  No, scratch that.  This just in:  He doesn’t want any more alcohol and they’ve switched to a no-sugar diet.  Uh…

Are you getting anything fun for people on your list?

Books for 3 year olds

CPP asks:

Can you two suggest some good books for two-three year-olds? Want to buy some for our twin nieces. And if you have a blogge post on this topic, link would be great!

Three is a fun age– three year olds understand things and they can talk and they have great senses of humor.  That means you can break away from books that are just animal sounds and opposites etc. and into things that parents enjoy as well.

Probably our favorite author for this age is Mo Willems.  We especially like Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, and all the others in the Pigeon series!Knuffle Bunny, while not as much fun for the parents to read, is also enjoyed by the children.

Sandra Boynton is more popular at this age, and is always popular among parents.  Blue Hat, Green Hat is always good for a laugh.  And there’s cute little boxed sets you can get of her stuff.

If You Give the Mouse a Cookie– quite popular among the pre-school set, a bit less fun for the parents.  There’s a big series of these as well.

Llama Llama Mad at Mama is a fun one.  Again, there are others in the Llama Llama series.  Some of these others seemed a bit out of touch for kids with a working mom, but whatever.

As we mentioned in our email to you, 3-4 year olds tend to be dinosaur mad.  You can get any book about dinosaurs, fiction or non- and it will be devoured.  How do dinosaurs do X? is a cute series– even though it’s not really about dinosaurs (real dinosaurs presumably didn’t clean their rooms), it does have drawings and the names of real dinosaurs in it.  Some kids are really into Thomas the Train Engine or Dora the Explorer or construction trucks at this age, but that would be something to ask your relatives about as some kids never really get hooked by these.

And, of course, there is always Dr. Seuss.

If you dislike your relatives (the parents, not the children), you can go a bit more grim.  DC1 loved the Gruffalo, but it creeps me out.  Laura Vanderkam’s kid thinks that I Want My Hat Back is great, but my DC2 certainly does not need permission to use violence against people who take hir stuff (as that is already hir natural inclination).

Beginning readers may enjoy Step Into Reading Step 1 books.  Hot Dog was a favorite of DC1.    Cat Traps was another.  There are a whole bunch of these.

If the kids are wunderkinds, 3 is a good time to start The Magic Treehouse.  But this series is of chapter books, and most kids aren’t reading, much less reading third grade level.  We do have a post on what books a three year old who is reading chapter books would enjoy, but that’s probably not what you’re looking for.  The Magic School Bus is another fun series for the more advanced reader.

You may be thinking of chapter books that parents can read to their children at this age.  The Wizard of Oz is a good one.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle another good one.  Frog and Toad is another good one (who doesn’t love Arnold Lobel?)

What recommendations do you have for CPP?

Read these! Read these!

What have we been reading lately (that we loved)? Click the titles to see the descriptions on amazon.

The Incrementalists, by Steven Brust and Skyler White.  It reminds me of Kage Baker’s Company series, and of Charles Stross, and both of those are good things.  Not that wonderful on representations of women, but worth it nonetheless.

The Unquiet Bones: The First Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon. Looked interesting from the description, and I already like the Father Cadfael series.  I’m glad I started this series, and I’m several books in by now.

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.  It’s sweet and somewhat peaceful until it gets darker and darker… Would make for a great discussion of utopia/dystopia.  If you’d like to see a female protagonist over the age of 40, pick this one up!  Passes the Bechdel test.

Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen.  A bickering couple arrives for their couples counseling… to find their therapist gnawing on the previous client.  The initial premise got me, and it turned out to be delightful and surprisingly moving. I will probably read the sequel.

Trial of Flowers by Jay Lake, a cool guy. Strange, wondrous, interesting.

The Lab Rat Chronicles: A Neuroscientist Reveals Life Lessons from the Planet’s Most Successful Mammals by Kelly Lambert — Makes a great gift for whoever likes nonfiction.  Fascinating! After the first few chapters I didn’t expect too much, but I actually learned a lot of cool things.

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg is amazeballs.  I read it in one sitting, staying up way too late. Read this! It packs an emotional punch but is also funny (especially the parents) and sweet.

#2 has been slowly rereading Georgette Heyers that we’ve already talked about here the first and second time she read through them!  Poor #2.  Maybe she’ll get some brain power back over Christmas break.

What have you been reading lately?

Fun books that our parents read as young adults

And we read at the library as teens…

I wonder if our kids could do the same or if they’re long gone?  Ah, the glorious 60s.

Richard Armour wrote a series of brilliant hilariously funny lite-history books, with titles starting, “It all started with…”  It All Started With Eve, It All Started with Columbus, It All Started With Europa: Being an Undigested History of Europe from Prehistoric Man to the Present, Proving That We Remember Best Whatever Is Least Important, and so on.  I devoured these in the non-fiction adult’s section.   Twisted Tales From Shakespeare was another fun one.

Peg Bracken wrote a brilliant cookbook called The I Hate to Cook Book.  I recently purchased another copy and read through it, marveling at how nice it is that women are no longer responsible for 100% of the cooking.  And how many of the recipes in there were already familiar to me– things I know how to make from memory because my mother and everybody else’s mother made them too.

Jean Kerr wrote a series of books collecting delightful essays together.  She was in the humor section.  (Please Don’t Eat the Daisies was made into a movie.)  I remember most her essay about why she writes– because she has children and she wants to sleep in and therefore must make enough money to hire a nanny.  Sleep is an excellent reason/way to choose a career.

Erma Bombeck was not quite as good as Jean Kerr, but still good to read.

I suppose James Thurber will still be around and not forgotten… his stuff probably qualifies as classics.

What are your favorite books from the 50s, 60s, and 70s?

Ten Books By Which Ye Shall Know Me

… As of this moment.

I was re-reading The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction and the author was talking about how you would know him by the books he re-reads.

This list is based on number of re-reads, not on anything else (quality, influence, etc.).  It was hard to make!  It is in no particular order.

1.  Dune – Frank Herbert (SciFi) (my cover is cooler than this, though)

2.  Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Classic, Gothic)

3.  Arrows of the Queen – Mercedes Lackey (Fantasy)

4.  Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader – Anne Fadiman (Essays)

5.  Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott (Advice)

6.  Gaudy Night – Dorothy L. Sayers (Mystery)

7.  The Initiate Brother – Sean Russell (Fantasy)

8.  Going Postal – Terry Pratchett (Fantasy)

9.  A College of Magics – Caroline Stevermer (Fantasy)

10.  The Blue Sword – Robin McKinley (Fantasy)

The runner-up list had even more fantasy on it!

Does #2 have a list?

[No, but if she did it wouldn't include Dune, or Mercedes Lackey.  I'll have to check out Sean Russell-- hadn't heard of him.]  I can make an off-the-top-of-my-head list that isn’t well thought out.  Rereads are heavily populated by classics and children’s fiction.

1.  Frederica by Georgette Heyer

2.  Jane Eyre

3.  Pride and Prejudice, though honestly I haven’t been able to read it again since I took a class on Austen in college.  I think I have it memorized.

4.  Captain Blood by Raphael Sabatini (Free on kindle!  Also the movie is wonderful.)

5.  Anne of Windy Poplars (also Anne of Green Gables)

6.  A College of Magics – Caroline Stevermer, though it bugs me that my copy is still at my parents’

7.  Witch Week and The Lives of Christopher Chant (and many others, but especially the entire Chrestomanci series) by Diana Wynne Jones

8.  The Thread that Binds the Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (though A Fistful of Sky is close)

9.  Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin

10.  Spindle’s End edges out Hero and the Crown or Blue Sword for the Robin McKinley spot.  Because I’m older now.

What are your rereads?  What books should we know you by?

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