2020 Reading Review

I started writing about what I was reading in 2019. It started with a post where I talk about what I am reading. In the summer of that year, I started reading more, and my reading post turned into ongoing individual review posts. A few months later, I learned about Booktube which triggered an even larger jump what I read and my activity on my blog. My reading was flourishing, and I loved talking about it. This took a good deal of my time. I liked the idea of getting a Booktube channel, but I didn’t see how I could possibly have the time. In January, I was single again and had a lot more time, so I figured it was now or never.

I wasn’t sure if I could sustain the channel, but I decided to give it a shot. I think it was going well early in the year. Then the pandemic happened, and working from home really reshaped my life, paving the way for my channel to solidify itself. Now, reading is one of the many things I obsess over. Naturally, this obsession comes with an obsessive study of what I’m reading. I do enjoy this process, and Booktube has proven to be the perfect outlet for that passion. It also helps motivate me (and justify) the making of detailed statistics like this. It works out well because these reviews are also important to ensure I’m getting the most out of what I’m reading and that I am reading a good diverse set of books.

This last year I read about 212 books (I say about because I may be missing a comic or something) equating to about 72,500 pages. There is a lot to be understood by breaking this down by month. January was when I started my channel, and it was also when I was pushing myself to read as much as possible using the techniques I had ascertained from booktuber. While there is a dip in February (perhaps from classes or a reading slump), things increase as the pandemic starts. April is the month I really hit my max potential where I read a lot, but this was also when I started watching more TV. In fact, I watched Westworld and listened to several podcasts, so it is interesting how I was still able to reach such heights.

Number of Books Read per month

However, in May several things change. First, online classes began. Second, I made a goal to try to read less because I had obsessed so much over it that I let it stress me out. That goal doesn’t last as I start to creep back up in the summer, especially in August. Although, on the whole I do tend to read less. Even still, it was in October I began considering a new goal of limiting my TBR strictly to ~15 books or 1550 books. It seems to had made an impact. In December I read the least I had all year, yet I stayed home with two weeks off for the holiday’s.

Books by page length

There is less to learn from the range of book lengths, ratings, and publication dates of what I read. I see these more as goal oriented stats. My average book length is 342 pages plus or minus 150 pages (standard deviation) with a median of 329 pages. Standard deviation is a measure of the amount of variation; think of it as the boundary where most of the books are. The median just tells us there are plenty of shorter books despite a few longer ones making my average length a nearly 350 pages. The goal here is longer books. I have no other reason other than the satisfaction of finishing a long book.

Books by Rating

My average rating is too high at 4.08 stars with a median of 4.00. I feel like this is similar to course grades. You want the average to be in the middle. Like may be a 3, but I struggle to really give low ratings. This really doesn’t matter, but it feels akin to oversaturating the market with gold. It loses its value. What’s more, the purpose is to illustrate the range of quality I experience, and I fear I am limiting myself.

Books by Publication date

The average year published was 2005 with a median of 2017 and a standard deviation of ~30 years. The oldest was 1818 and the newest was this year (2020). I’d like my median to be more extreme especially since average doesn’t mean nearly as much as the median does here. I think it is easy to get distracted by flashy new things, and in doing so, I ignore a range of quality content that has more than flash by surviving the test of time. Perhaps that is a little extreme, but I think you get my point.

Pie chart splitting books read by genre, color coded into nonfiction (orange/yellow), general fiction (green), Horror/thriller (red /pink), and fantasy (purple) and science fiction (blue)

My favorite stat is the range of genres. Note, I choose one but most have multiple. A lot of scifi-fantasys overlap into the over genre. Classics are basically any older work. Historical can be fantasy. Usually, I will mark what I consider to be the dominate genre or a genre I am trying to get more of. I am very happy with this. It shows my love for scifi, fantasy, and horror as well as for history, politics and memoirs. I want to read more general fiction, but I think this year was a pretty good listing as is. I am blown away that nearly a third of what I read was nonfiction.

Now I want to look into the diversity of what I am reading with a focus on queer representation and authors of color.

Books by gender, with a special distinction for trans and non-binary authors

One of my biggest shortcomings has been my lack of non cis authors. At the very least I can read one a month, but I’d like to read more. To be clear, this isn’t just a quota. By allowing groups to go underrepresented, I am doing myself a disservice. Some of the best books I read this year were by non-binary (NB) authors. My goal in 2021 is to ensure at least 1 NB or trans author each month to ensure I continue to consider this when choosing what I want to read. Granted, part of this was a matter of looking for authors and buying books that will allow me to achieve this. 2020 was good for that, so I am very hopeful for a better year this year.

Books by ethnicity (note, Asian refers to east-asian)

Reading by a diverse range of authors by race has been a difficult thing to track and work towards. Race and ethnicity are not the same, and trying track this is not always straightforward. As with NB and trans authors, these people are not just quotas to be met, and I have to be aware of that while also trying to ensure I am not letting my bias drive what I choose to read. On the whole, ~1/3rd people of color (POC) is not a bad way to end the year. I don’t have a hard number that I am aiming for. Instead, my goal is to continue to improve. If I am at 1/3, I can push to a 1/2. While I read a large fraction of black authors, I ended up breaking what I read down to ensure other groups didn’t go underrepresented. I strive to ensure I seek out a range of voices, and this helps me think about that. That is especially true on a quarterly basis as I can look back and be aware of my on going tendencies. In this, I can be more cognizant and avoid just boiling this down to a monthly quota.

Books by queer representation (queer author or protagonist)

As a queer person, I am very disappointed with my queer representation in my books. As with everything, the goal is to improve; first I can strive for 1/3 and then a 1/2. Again, these are stories that I can both learn and connect to. My queer identity is an ongoing part of me that I am still learning about, and books are one of the many ways I learn to think about it while also empathizing with others.

POC authors of queer representation

In this year end review, I decided to consider a new data point. That is, I wanted to consider intersectionality within the queer books I am reading. It is a decent amount, but as with everything else, there is room for improvement. I should also add, I am still toying with how and what to consider for intersectionality. I would love recommendations for those who think there are other areas worth studying. I went with this analysis in part because I am partly limited by the data I have, but can gather some new data moving forward.

Where I am getting my books from

Lastly, I want to consider where I am getting my books from. To be clear, I listen to almost all the books I read, but I like to consider if it is a book I don’t own physically (which the goal is to own it first). If I don’t own it or it isn’t on my to be read (TBR) shelf, then why isn’t it? This is usually for book clubs and advanced reader copies as well as rereads. I try to keep book clubs of books I don’t own to a minimum. My level of rereading is more than 2 a month which I am perfectly happy with because there is so much to be had from rereading. I would like to read and review more ARCs, but that’s because I request so many. Naturally, I should request less. Lastly, I want to consider my TBR shelf.

My TBR shelf has grown significantly in the last couple years because as I read more I bought more. Technically, 3/4s of what I read is on my shelf, but a big portion of those are new books, so the question arises, am I reading my older (longer owned books). If I am, can and will I read my newer books? To answer this question, I began tracking how long a book is on my TBR shelf. That is, I track how long I’ve owned a physical copy of a book. Using this, I can see just how well I am addressing my older books.

A normalized view of how many books I read in 2020 (red) and is on my physical TBR (blue) by how long I owned them before reading them. The normalized values are just to make the two comparable.

This graph says a lot. First, I bought a lot of books in the last year and a half, and I have a lot of books preordered (less than zero). As a result, a lot of what I read are books I’ve owned for a short period. The goal is to read older books on my TBR, but if I own more newer books, naturally I will read more newer books. What this figure shows is that the books I read roughly reflect what I own. I may only read a few books that have been on my TBR shelf for 3-6 years, but the total number of books on my shelf that I have owned that long is also much lower.

In 2021 I have a book buying ban, or I have a ban on ordering new books to add to my TBR. I will still allow myself to buy books I review via ARC or that I have read but don’t own physically. I am still restricting how many books I will let myself read that are not on my shelf (outside of ARCs), so I think this should be fine. That said, I kind of gamed the system by preordering a lot of books in 2021.

All in all, 2020 was a great reading year, and I am looking forward to 2021.

Black Lives Matter and the Cost of Silence

As a white man, I am not writing this because I think I have a special insight that can’t be found elsewhere. I am writing this because 1) I have a platform, 2) to promote Black voices, and 3) to take responsibility. I will highlight things that I think are important but for the purpose of encouraging you to check out the various resources I’ve provided. A lot of this will be Booktube content, but I use them because they are completely reflective of society as a whole. I started this post with a video of Kimberly Jones, the author of “I’m Not Dying with You Tonight,” discussing the problem with the system and why the riots/protests/property damage are not the problem. If anything, they speak to the severity of the problem. What’s more, it was beautiful, profound, and devastating. Please watch it.

Silence and the Power of Social Media

Now lets talk about silence and complicity. People don’t want to talk about this. Why? Because they’re uncomfortable. They’re uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say or don’t want to say the wrong thing. Well, if you don’t know what to say, do same damn research. White Fragility (check that book out, I still need to read it), isn’t an excuse not to talk. You’re going to make mistakes. I continue to do that. Just the other day, I made a comment about our responsibility and described it in a way that perpetuated a white savior complex which goes right back to white supremacy and this idea of superiority. Obviously, that isn’t what I think, or maybe my ingrained prejudices have subconsciously made me think that. The fact is, consciously, I know it isn’t true. What I intend doesn’t matter when what I say and do feed into the ideas of white supremacy and oppression. I’ve used that phrase to a lot of people, and white fragility leads a lot of us to jump to the defense. We know we don’t want to be racist, so we assume that is enough. We have to take responsibility for what we say and do and that takes work and a desire to learn and listen.

However, learning is only the beginning. Another thing Francina (the booktuber in the video) touches on is the power of social media. Those of you who haven’t shared/said even the slightest thing, I’ve noticed. I can’t make you speak out, but if you are reading this, please recognize we have to do more. Now before I go on, I recognize social media isn’t a direct reflection of what someone is doing to support. Support can be shown through donations, petitions, and protesting, and complications in life happen too that may prevent you from being as active as you’d like to be. I say this to encourage self reflection on if you’re doing enough not to pass judgment. Social media is just one small way to make a difference.

Social media, even before Covid, has become the center of some many of our lives. It shapes how we see the world (e.g. Russian bots), and because of that, it’s a powerful tool. While it is a useful means of listening and learning, it is also an opportunity to share voices that some people aren’t exposed to. It is also a way to spark a conversation. Fundamentally, it is about getting people to listen.

Being Ignored and the importance of listening

Understanding racism is to understand the oppressed. That means we have to listen to Black voices. Looking back, we can see how support for Black Lives Matter has evolved. Look at everything that is happening, all because more people are listening and believing. One question that Ashley (I’m unsure about the spelling) poses is “Why now?” She doesn’t believe us. We sit here showing support but history shows it’s fake. History shows we speak up when it’s trendy, and go away when it is not. Again, I doubt few of us would say we intentionally would do that, but intent and actions are not the same. We have to recognize our silence. We have to ask why, and we have to be aware of how easy it is to let it just fade into the background (because we have the privilege to do that; black people can’t escape it so easily). I still don’t know why now is the moment people are listening. I wish I knew.

Support for BLM with time.

The closest answer I could come to seems to be the one Ashley gives: we are afraid of being called out, afraid of being shamed. I know I am ashamed. I think back to when BLM first arose; I considered myself an ally (a term we have not right to assign ourselves). In reality, I was, at best, complicit, at worst actively fighting against it. Both are just as bad. In my years here at Western, my best friend has accused me of racism, more than once. My first reaction is to get defensive, deny, reject, and gas light. I owe her an apology. Yes, I am ashamed but not because of how it makes me look; I’m ashamed of the harm I have put into the world, even on the people closest to me. I don’t say this looking for forgiveness or a pat on the back. Yes I am ashamed. That may have been what made me care enough to listen, but that doesn’t do jack-shit to fix the problem.

1 Being an ally and what we have to do to help
2 Being an ally and making a difference

I can sit here all day and cry about the bad I’ve done, but the point of self reflection is to figure out how to fix the problem. Diana, from the second video on being an ally, summed it up pretty well. Racism isn’t a black problem, it’s a white problem. We started it. We benefit from it. It’s up to us to fix it. Black people have been fighting racism for centuries because their resilient, strong, and capable; it’s on us to decide if we stand on the side of oppression or the side of equality.

Speaking up and joining the conversation is the first step. The other is calling people out; friends, coworkers, and family. Any time, any place. Speak up. This isn’t about politics; it is about basic human rights. I also intend to listen. Too often black voices are ignored, but I know as a white man, I can’t understand without listening because my experience is so fundamentally different than what it is for Black people and other POC. But more than that, I was raised by a system that taught me I should benefit from discrimination and oppression. I can easily sit here and say, “I don’t stand for that!” But that doesn’t change the fact that it is ingrained into my psyche and the society I live in.

That is why it is all the more important that we listen and believe Black people and other POC (Western students, check out the amazing memoir by an alumni of our own University, Eternity Martis). Then we use that to support them; stop supporting racist people and organizations that contribute to the oppression. Stop being silent. Lastly, vote and fight for systematic change.

I want to finish this post off with two videos from TikTok. I know many of you may scoff, but these highlight how powerful social media can be. In this first video we see a strong yet succinct message of how white people ignore Black people. Then we see a performance of a piece that references all the harm and fear the Black community has to experience. Like the first video I shared, it stresses the pain that is being felt.

September Update 2020

The more time passes the more I realize I don’t know. The biggest thing I realize is I need to listen more. There is a difference between promoting black voices and talking for them. Despite my intentions, I’ve continued to do harmful things, but it is an ongoing effort.

Resources

Support BLM: https://blacklivesmatter.com/

National Action Against Police Brutality Petition : https://www.change.org/p/national-act…

Victims Funds : https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#v…

Justice for Breonna Taylor Fund : https://www.gofundme.com/f/9v4q2-just… Bail Funds : https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#s…

NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund : https://www.naacpldf.org/

Ahmaud Arbery Fund : https://www.gofundme.com/f/i-run-with…

Minnesota Based Black Visions Collective : https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/about

Read and Learn

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racism in America by Ibram X. Kendi, available on Spotify in its entirety.

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

White Rage by Dr. Carol Anderson

How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

Here is another list of amazing resource of ways to educate yourself created by @Autumn_Bry

Battlecry of Freedom by James M. McPherson β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈΒ½

Read 1/31/20 – 2/4/20

The Battle Cry of Freedom is a nonfiction book by James M. McPherson. Coming in at just under 900 pages, it is a massive, one volume outline of the Civil War. The book was fascinating, engaging, and unbelievably informative. I recognize how easy it is to approach this book with a little bit of trepidation. Even ignoring the size, this Pulitzer Prize winner is the 6th in the Oxford History of the United States, and it isn’t hard to imagine all the ways this kind of story could be told in a dull and disengaged manner. McPherson earns the praise, however, as this is amazingly structured and written book.

For me, the biggest flaw was focus on the finer battles throughout the war, but this is a narrative of the Civil War. It is only reasonable that as a piece of the story. I still loved the book because so much time is taken to explore the societal and political changes that lead to the war. Then, he kept the narrative grounded by tying the battles to the greater picture at large. The result is a complete picture of the United States at that time and an depth analysis of the time.

I talk about the details in my Vlog (see above), but I do want to summarize it here. I choose read this book after buying it maybe five years ago when the confederate flag (and monuments) was such a major issue (at least in the south) in the news. As a Georgian, I have always felt I have an obligation to truly understand, remember, and appreciate the past for how it is. It is a common argument from many southerners that honoring the confederacy, its soldiers, and its flag is about heritage and states rights, not slavery.

One doesn’t have to be a historian to figure out that is revisionist history. Nevertheless, I wanted to able to speak on the subject with a more complete background on the topic. The size and content has kept me from reading it, until now, and I am really glad I did because it makes so very clear how the confederacy was entirely about slavery and white supremacy. Hence, we have sects of white supremacy that has pushed to survive since, like a bacteria trying to fight against the antibiotics.

I read this, and made the blog, as a way of reaching out to fellow southerners in hopes of communicating the harm they do when honoring the confederacy. The ways in which racism persists can be subtle, and it requires conscious effort by us to overcome. I read a fascinating article by Toni Morrison briefly after the election of Donald Trump about how white supremacy fueled his election that really illustrates how past racial biases can persist so strongly still today.

I can’t stress enough how impact this book was on me or how important it is that you read it as well. We have to remember history and learn from it. I can’t wait to check out the other books in the Oxford History Series, and I hope you consider checking this one out too (the audiobook was great!).

Rating Break Down
Writing Style (7%): 8/10
Content (15%): 10/10
Structure (15%): 9/10
Summary (1%): 8/10
Engagement (5%): 9/10
Enjoyment (25%): 8/10
Comprehension (20%): 8/10
Pacing (2%): 9/10
Desire to Reread (5%): 8/10
Special (5%): 10/10
Calculated Rating: 4.31/5
Final Rating: 4.50/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half.

2020 Reading Log

Last year, I began to blog about the books I read. I am glad I made that decision, and I am thankful to the friend who shared their blog post of them tracking their reading because it really got me motivated to read. I am going to try and continue that this year! In addition, I am also starting my own Booktube channel, Josh’s Bookish Voyage. I am loving it! Editing was a little scary at first, but it is a process I enjoy doing. Although I still worry that I might not have the time to do all I’d like to do.

Check out my new channel!

Hopefully, I can do both, but my time may end up monopolized by one sometimes. I’m already finding myself behind on my blogs (still 4 or 5 more to write, and I just finished 4!). I am loving making videos though, so it is worth it! I’ve set a limit and sort of a goal of 2 videos per week. This won’t always be feasible, but I know the more excited I get, the more likely I am to spend too much time on this. I am really excited for the channel. I want to point out, my channel name is an homage to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. He began the series with a moving quote,

We are going to explore the cosmos in a ship of the imagination.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos

I can’t think of a better way to encapsulate what reading means to me. I will continue my monthly updates, and I’ll keep those linked below. This is also where I will keep my complete list of books I’ve read (below). You can also follow me on Goodreads and see my 2020 progress there too! I’ve also added a breakdown of my new approach to rating each book I read.

Monthly Updates

JanFebMarApr
MayJunJulAug
SepOctNovDec
Each month, I’ll share my TBR for that month and review the month before it!

Ratings in 2020

If you read my 2019 stats post, you’ll know I wanted to change how I approach rating the books I read because I felt like I was too generous. My average rating was 4 or 4.5, and the fact is not every book is amazing. It is true that I enjoyed most of what I read. Nevertheless, I wanted to develop a more objective approach, so I broke it down into the factors I consider most important to me in a book.

Key priorities:

  • Enjoyment
  • Writing style
  • Engagement
  • Comprehension
  • Pacing
  • Desire to reread
  • “Special”

These can be expanded for fiction/nonfiction which I have slightly different expectations for:

  • Plot/Structure
  • Characters/Content
  • Ending/Summary

This may seem like a very convoluted way of thinking about these, but for me, rating a book isn’t about any one aspect of it. There are books that aren’t the most enjoyable that I feel like are still a positive experience. Sure, some of these matter more. The idea is, I can appreciate certain aspects of a book, and breaking it down is a way of thinking about each one then tying it together. This is still very much a measure of what I like in a book.

I’ve weighted each characteristic based on how important it is to me (see below). That means the rating I give one trait, say enjoyment, will matter more than say the writing style. Comprehension matters because I want to leave the book feeling like I understood what I read, but sometimes, confusion doesn’t ruin the book. Now, each of these will often effect my rating of the other; if I don’t find a book engaging, I probably won’t enjoy it. However, I think there are a lot of eccentricities that go into how we judge a book such that breaking it down feels like the best approach for me.

I mentioned “special” because it gets to the core of that special feeling a book can make you feel. I can read a book that I find enjoyable, engaging, and everything else seem perfect about it, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be a profound book to me. I think that should matter. Another trait is my desire to reread a book. Now, together these two are only worth a quarter of a star out of five stars. However, you might see how that can just barely shift a book into lower category. On that note, I am moving away from .25 ratings and rounding to the nearest half; on Goodreads I will round up or down based on if my final number is above or below .5.

blog

This is a breakdown of each aspect of a book that matters to me with a weight to indicate how important it is in the calculation of the final number.

Completed Books

  1. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈΒ½
  2. Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  3. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  4. Robin by Dave Itzkoff β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈΒ½
  5. Scythe by Neal Shusterman β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  6. Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈΒ½
  7. Underland by Robert Macfarlane β­οΈβ­οΈ
  8. How We Know What Isn’t So by Thomas Gilovich β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  9. If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t) by Betty White β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈΒ½
  10. Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  11. The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  12. The Road by Cormac McCarthy β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  13. Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse β­οΈβ­οΈΒ½
  14. Yes Please by Amy Poehler β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  15. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈΒ½
  16. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  17. In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈΒ½
  18. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy β­οΈβ­οΈ
  19. Wilder Girls by Rory Power β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  20. Something Deeply Hidden by Sean Carroll β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈ
  21. The Girl from Nowhere by Eliska Tanszer ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Updated 1/31/2020

*Novella(s)

Provided by NetGalley and/or publisher for a fair and honest review.

2019 End of Year Reading Stats

End of Year Thoughts (January 2020)

It’s 2020! That’s a new year and a new decade. This is the decade I really hope to hone in on my passion of reading, but that is only possible because I’ve had such a fantastic year in reading. I read 80 books this year. To put that in context, I’ve read ~250 books my entire life (save my very young reads, e.g. Magic Tree House). I was a decent reader in my teens, and I’ve always tried to keep that up every year with 10-15 books a year.

Fast forward to this year when I went from struggling to get fifteen, to an uptick in reading in July and even more in September when I came across Booktube for the first time. Booktube has proven to be a both an inspiration and a guide. It has pushed me to try new books, but it has also given me new challenges to spice up how I read. Most of them were audiobooks (see below), and it was because of Books and Lala that I decided to try listening to a book at double speed, revolutionizing my reading.

What’s more, I’ve read several physical books (maybe a tenth the number of audiobooks), and I haven’t read a physical book in years. The result is me reading one third of my total life time of books in a single year. I am so excited moving forward, and I hope you join me in discussing the different reading stats.

Stats are key to setting goals. I don’t just want to read more; I want a wider range of diversity and viewpoints to better myself for the better. There are a lot of stats, so I am going to create a Table of Contents so you can jump ahead if you prefer.

Table of Contents

Introduction (January 2019)

I saw a friend of mine share a post of all the books he read in 2018. He did it to encourage himself to read more, and I thought it was a great idea! I’ve decided to do it now. Of course, all of my casual reading will be via audiobooks. I’m sure there are some of you who may not consider that actually reading. I really don’t care. I’ll save the reading for my research.

I will try to post monthly updates. Below these, I will post ongoing reviews and commentary about the books I am reading, but I won’t post these until I finish the book. You can see the complete list below. I’ve got a couple large short story collections I am in the process of reading, but you can find those ongoing reviews on their own posts. These are books I am not reading consistently. Some of them I am reading but holding off posting until I make it through more stories.

Monthly Updates

Click on the month in question to see the update at the start of that month including the TBR (may not be there for the first part of the year). You can jump to the January 2020 update and TBR here.

JanFebMarApr
MayJunJulAug
SepOctNovDec

Yearly Stats

Monthly Book Count, Book Ratings and Book Pages
Books Finished by month

I finished 80 books this year. I started the year with an ambitious goal of 15 books this year, but I lost interest in March as I begun to read something I wasn’t loving. I also had a period of short stories/essays that I read without completing the entire collections. Fast forward to July, and I found myself reading so much more. It was September when I came across Booktube for the first time, and that changed everything. Once I saw I had read nearly 10 books both in August and September, I began to think I could read a lot more than I thought. It really was all about the routine. I stopped listening to as many podcasts and watching as many TV shows. By October, I started experimenting with 1.8 to 2.0 times speed. Naturally, that begets twice the reading. This year, shows a clear growth for the better, and it makes me so excited for next year.

Books by Page Count

This is interesting. My average count was in the mid 300s. I always thought I read a lot of long books, but clearly it is more balanced. I actually read a lot more novellas this year than I normally do (by %). I had been concerned about counting them towards my books read list, but my average length shows that it’s evened out by the longer books I read.

Star Ratings

This is a disappointing stat. My average rating was, I think, 4 stars, and that seems a little too generous. I think I am giving too many 4+ stars. I heard one person say 4 stars are good books, but 5 stars really should be absolute favorites, books you want to reread. I think that is a good standard. I intent to be more harsh in my ratings moving forward. The struggle is, if it is less than 3 stars, why finish it. Perhaps, my 2 star should be more “fine” categorically than “actively dislike.”

Types of Books (Genre, Audience, etc.)

Clearly, I have a bias for Horror, Scifi, and Fantasy. In fact, many of the scifi and fantasy overlap. I started reading more contemporary, mystery and historical fiction largely at the behest of Booktube. I think historical is the most difficult to read because there are a lot of that I am particular about. I love family drama, but I don’t like war or the Victorian. That said, I’ve made a point to vary my reading. I have my TBR shelf split by genre, and I make myself pick at least one book from each genre before I double up on another.

I find it very important to keep my reading varied to keep me interested. Some people might think this is me reading things I don’t want to read, but that isn’t the case. I am excited about everything on my shelf. Granted, there are those that I consider more experimental than others, but I still want to read them. This is to keep me from pushing through my most excited stack and lose stem when or if I got stuck on a bunch of duds. I want to make sure I always have a very highly anticipated book ahead of me.

I don’t read a lot of YA, but I am experimenting more with it. It it still hit and miss, but I think there is YA out there for me. I have definitely found some I love. I intent to experiment more this next year in hopes of finding more.

I started reading more graphic novels (comics) this year, and I hope to read more this next year. I’m not sure what more to do with this. I would like to read more anthologies. I actually read my first one this year with Ellen Datlow. Overall, I’d like this to be more varied just so I can get a better variety of experiences.

Books by Gender

It was 2015 when I realized I had a bias for men authors (85%), and that became the year of the women. In the sense that I chose to read only women. Since then, I have tried to increase that number. Part of it is my obsession with Stephen King and King rereads. My new favorites of the year would be Mary Robinette Kowal, A.S. King, Seanan McGuire, and Tananarive Due. Among men, my new favorites would be Stephen Graham Jones and maybe Jeff Vandermeer. My old favorites would of course be Octavia Butler, Stephen King, and Maya Angelou.

Books by Race

I read a lot of amazing fiction by POC. I clearly have room for improvement, and that is a goal of mine this next year. However, there are a lot of writers worth mentioning. Stephen Graham Jones writes amazing horror and is a native american author. Maya Angelou and Octavia Butler still stand out as favorites, but Tananarive Due was a new find of mine. She writes fantastic horror, and I look forward to reading more by her. Shobha Rao is an Indian aurthor who wrote one of my top ten books of the year. The last person who really stood out to me (that I can recall at the moment) is Celeste Ng who writes the best domestic dramas. I cannot wait to read more of her books; I’ll probably reread her existing ones.

I want to be clear, I don’t mention this authors because they are people of color. I mention them because they are some of the best authors I read last year. I just think its beneficial to make note of those books that are also by authors of color because I am aware of my bias and the bias of others to read what we know. This is a way of drawing attention to books that are just as worthy of your time that may not get the attention it deserves. And, if your like me, maybe you’re looking specifically authors of colors at times to make sure you are reading a more varied list of books.

Book Purchases (Owned vs Bought)

This was a bad year for book buying. I spent more money than I have. I found BookOutlet and BookTube. Now, this is not the complete list of books I bought. These are books I read. I have created a strict monthly book budget, and I am at the point where I should be able to read only books I own (or get from NetGalley). It is a good discipline to have. I hope to spend less money on Amazon this year, but when I do, it is for newer books which makes sense why I gravitated toward reading those if I have them. Thrift books is a site in the states that offers super cheap used books. Usually, I read then buy those, but since I am reading books I own, that won’t happen as much (hopefully).

DNF (Did not finish) Books

I did not DNF a lot of books this year. I quit To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis not because I hated it but because I was in a slump. Still, I find myself finishing most books I start. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so strict with myself. Alas, it is what it is, but maybe I can be more liberal with my DNFs. I just hate not meeting a goal. I also hate not finishing books I already own physically. The only other book I didn’t finish was Essay’s by Christopher Hitchens. I really tried (twice. I read the essay’s that interested me, but too many of them were esoteric and a waste of my time. I decided to give up on it, and still keep it on my shelf.

Another book I technically didn’t finish was The Time Travelers Almanac. I’ve been reviewing it as I go along, but I haven’t finished it. I am going to. I think I’ve set too strict with how I’m trying to review it, but I’m not rushing through it.

Completed Books

  1. Firestarter, by Stephen King β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  2. The Time Travelers Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜† 
  3. The Dry, by Jane Harper β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†β˜†
  4. The Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  5. The Cabin at the End of the World, by Paule Tremblay β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜† 
  6. Redshirts, by John Scalzi β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  7. Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜† 
  8. Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries)*, by Martha Wells β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  9. Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries)*, by Martha Wells β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  10. Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries)*, by Martha Wells β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  11. All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries)*, by Martha Wells β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  12. Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  13. Mapping the Interior, by Stephen Graham Jones  β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  14. The Last Final Girl, by Stephen Graham Jones  β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  15. The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  16. The Devil and the Deep, edited by Ellen Datlow β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  17. The House of Dies Drear, by Virginia Hamilton β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  18. The Good House, by Tananarive Due β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  19. A Wizard of Earthsea* by Ursula K. Le Guin β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜† 
  20. Fledgling, by Octavia Butler β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  21. Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  22. Finders Keepers, by Stephen King β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  23. End of Watch, by Stephen King β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜† 
  24. Dolores Claiborne, by Stephen King β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  25. The Outsider, by Stephen King β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  26. Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  27. Insomnia, by Stephen King β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  28. Fearful Symmetries, Edited by Ellen Datlow β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  29. The Dark: New Ghost Stories, Edited by Ellen Datlow β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  30. Vicious by V.E. Schwab β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  31. Mongrels by Stephen Graham β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  32. Life Among Savages by Shirley Jackson β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  33. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemiβ˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  34. Summer of Night by Dan Simmons β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  35. The Institute by Stephen King β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  36. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜† 
  37. The Ancestors by Brandon Massey. L.A. Banks, and Tananarive Due β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  38. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  39. Middlegame by Seanan McGuire β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  40. Every Heart a Doorway* by Seanan McGuire β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  41. Circe by Madeline Miller β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  42. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  43. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  44. Time Reborn by Lee Smolin β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  45. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  46. Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  47. Down Among the Sticks and Bones* by Seanan McGuire β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  48. The Tombs of Atuan* by Ursula K. Le Guin β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  49. Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  50. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  51. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  52. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  53. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  54. The 7Β½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†β˜†
  55. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  56. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  57. Sadie by Courtney Summers β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  58. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  59. From Eternity to Here by Sean Carroll β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  60. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler and (adapted) Damian Duffy β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  61. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  62. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  63. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire SΓ‘enz β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  64. The Farthest Shore* by Ursula K. Le Guin β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜† 
  65. The Goldfinch by Donna Tart β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  66. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  67. Beneath the Sugar Sky* by Seanan McGuire β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  68. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  69. An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  70. The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  71. Mr. Dickens and his Carol by Samantha Silva β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  72. A Christmas Carol* by Charles Dickens β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  73. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  74. How I Broke Up With My Colon by Nick Seluk β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  75. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  76. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  77. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†
  78. Gone Girl by Gillian Glynn β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
  79. Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†
  80. Kindred by Octavia Butler β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

*Novella(s)

Provided by NetGalley and publisher for a fair and honest review.

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Kindred by Octavia Butler β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

Originally Read March 2015 (General Thoughts)

In March 2015, I read Kindred, after years of wanting to read it. It was the year of women; I had become aware of my bias for men authors and dedicated 2015 to reading only women. In doing so, I read what would come to be my favorite book of all time (let alone the decade). This book had everything I love in a book: real characters, a dark premise, time travel, and addressed serious societal topics. In particular, I am very interested in the discussion of slavery and race because it is such an important part of American history. Even more so, it is a significant part of southern history, and as a white man I believe I have a responsibility to understand the atrocities of the past that is very much a part of my history.

It is next to impossible to tell somewhat what your favorite thing is. Favorite movie, show, or book. Every time I am asked this kind of question, I find my mind racing. Nevertheless, a few possible candidates always come to mind, and for me, more often than not, Kindred was always one of those that never left my mind. When I read it, I felt liked I loved it, but so much about how you read a book can be situational. That is, the mindset you are in at the time. I’ve always been hesitant to call a book I’ve read once, an all time favorite. There are other books I’ve read countless times, yet I still don’t feel like they are the absolute best book ever.

When I read this, I loved it. In fact, I have the draft of a blog post I started to make to talk about this book–something I had never done. I’ve since considered going back and writing this discussion, but I wanted to wait until I had reread it. Over the summer, I came across the Graphic Novel Adaption for this book, and I knew I had to have it. I read it this fall, but before I did, I started rereading the main novel in October. I got about a third of the way and stopped (I started it on a road trip with friends). I decided to finish it the last day of the decade because it seemed fitting. I am so glad I did. This reread cements this book as an all time favorite. Not just of the decade but of all time.

Reread October 2019 and December 31st, 2019

The first thing I love about this is Butler’s writing. It is easy to read and get lost in the world she develops. One of the few problems with the Graphic Novel was the pacing. It felt like it jumped or skipped details. Butler has created a fast paced novel, and by the end, it’s hard to imagine how quickly we’ve made it through everything in the book. Still, the book never feels rushed. Butler was a master writer and one of the most creative writer’s of the modern era.

The most important part of the book is how well Butler is able to bring to life something so many people mistakenly assume is in the distant past. She explores the nature of racism by following the a young man as he grows up to become his father. People are not born racist. Racism is learned. Nothing is more obvious in than that. Although, Butler makes use of this story to address common problems that still exist today. From the words we use to what people are willing to tolerate.

One thing I absolutely adored in this was how Butler focused so much on the strength and courage of all the slaves who lived in the past. Dana, the main protagonist, discusses how she just doesn’t have what it takes to survive long term. That is, there is only so much she can take. That is not a fault of hers; it is a recognition of how different things are these days. It also highlights how truly atrocious America was. The laws we had to the actions we made. Despite this, it doesn’t stop Dana from taking every opportunity she has to help slaves learn or do things they aren’t supposed to do. Regardless how scared she may be, she recognizes a moral obligation to act if you can. That is a message that is very important for everyone. If you can push back against atrocities, you have to do so.

Lastly, I wanted to discuss religion in the context of slavery and morality. I recognize, most readers are probably religious (most people are). However, slavery is the perfect example of how religion has been used to justify moral atrocities. Many say religion isn’t perfect, but it offers us moral guidance. To which I say, no, it does not. Religion is an authority, created by man for man. Morality is more than a command; morality is a conscious effort to do better by asking about how our actions effect others. The bible is full of guidance that can be twisted any way you like. Morality requires more. If you feel confident in your actions and choices, you should be able to demonstrate without referring to an objective authority figure. It is this kind of thinking that paves the way for slavery and other atrocities.

I love this book. I recommend it to everyone. 5/5 stars.

The God Delusion: 10 Years Later

This book had a profound effect on me. I don’t want to pretend it is the singular reason I became an atheist; that was a series of things that had morphed my beliefs as I entered young adulthood. What this novel did was open my eyes to the world of nonbelievers of which I lacked any real knowledge of.

I recall meeting two people in high school once who told me nonchalantly that they were atheist. Of course, they seemed so nice and so normal. I was so confused. I asked why? They had no good reason, so I went on believing. Perhaps, had they actually put thought into what the believe, I would have stopped believing sooner. Sadly, I didn’t. It took a long time for me to appreciate the level of uncertainty and debate around the concept of a god. This novel was a pivotal part of that revelation.

On Goodreads, I rated this 4/5 stars, but I decided not to feature that here because I read it so long ago. I thought this was a good opportunity to share my thoughts on religion and Dawkins as a whole.

The novel worked for me: someone curious about religion, what they believe, and pretty much on the edge of disbelief. I had become a very liberal christian. Public school mixed with the literature I read in school (and on my own) had really began to challenge my perception of morality. More specifically, I was struggling with the idea of evil and the nature of beings influencing their actions. For example, is Grendel (of Beowolf) an evil monster or simply a creature who was doing what he was born to do. His incompatibility with the surrounding village was clear, but that doesn’t mean he should be punished for all eternity. Ideally, he (it?), like a wild animal, ought to have the chance to live on his own, in a way that won’t conflict with the lives of humans.

When I was finally faced with the notion that religion is not the default (in fact, it is an outrageous notion if we think about it) I fell victim to an emotional swapping of sides. It took a great deal of time for me to settle on my final, agnostic atheist position (a disbelief acknowledging ones inability to know) with a gnostic atheism towards specific gods with outright falsifiable claims attributed to them.

That took a long time. I even went through a period of deism (a greater disconnected higher power), and a period of asshole atheism. I am sure there are some who would say I am still that. However, I no longer go out of my way just to get people riled up about religion (usually). That said, I don’t think it’s not my responsibility to “respect” a religion or a religious practice. I am not a member of said religion, so don’t expect me to acknowledge it. That is to say, people get offended by the mere notion that I don’t believe it. If speak ill of their god or religious figures, they take it as a personal attack. I’ll respect your right to practice your religion however you see fit, but understand, me blaspheming Jehovah or Allah is no more immoral than me blaspheming Zeus.

In any case, when I discuss the topic of belief with people, I’ve come to appreciate the problem of religion lies less on theism itself, but rather a lack skepticism and logical way of thinking. It is also easier to address minor things like how someone approaches a problem rather than trying to undermine a fundamental belief. If a person can abide by logical reasoning in everyday life, recognizing their religion is held to a separate, lower, standard, then I am all for it. In practice, I have don’t have much faith in most people to be able to do such a thing. That said, there are some. I know of one scientist, communicator, and skeptic Dr. Pamela Gay is one such person. Even if it is a failed endeavor, the approach is still more likely to do at least a bit of good, if not what I would consider the ideal result.

That is where I think this book fails. It relies so heavily on the emotional side of the debate. Granted, there are some valid points, but atrocities of religion is not evidence against a creator (maybe an all good creator). I would recommend the Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan to most people in search of informative ways of thinking. The ideas and principles of that book should lead you to the same, or similar, conclusion. What’s more, it is a measured approach to pseudoscience and religion.

The last thing I want touch on are the problems with this author. Dawkins is an excellent scientist, but his atheism pushes on racism. There is a difference in attacking the institution than the people themselves. He is also a misogynistic asshole. Perhaps that influenced my own atheistic asshole phase. Overall though, take this work with a grain of salt. Sure, most of what he says is fair, so far as I can remember, but it isn’t the best way of convincing anyone who hasn’t already taken themselves part of the way. Nor does it promote a good approach to handling religion either.

Spookathon 2019

Image result for trick or treating silhouette

Spookathon was a 7 day readathon to read books that meet a set of spooky themed challenges. Jump to my reading updates as it happened. Jumpy to my closing thoughts.

I have recently come across Booktube, which I will discuss when I make my end of month update. Long story short, it has opened my eyes to just how large book world is online. One of my recent encounters was with a video discussing this thing called Spookathon that I was interested in participating in. Essentially, its 7 days where a group of booktubers are going to try to read 5 books, one that fits each of these categories:

  • A thriller
  • A book with red on the cover
  • A book with a spooky word in the title
  • A book with a spooky setting
  • A book you don’t normally read

Can I actually do it?

I love this idea, so I want to think whether or not this is something I can do. By the end of this month, I think I may clock in at 10 books read in the last 2 months. That number along shocks me and makes me seriously wonder what I would be capable of achieving over 12 months. Still, that’s 5 in a month, on average. Could I actually read 5 in one week? I am not sure if I physically have the time, motivation aside. Last I check, I read ~10 pages in 30-40 minutes, of a mass paperback. Say 300 x 5, 1500, assume 10 per half an hour, and we are at 150 half hours or 75 hours, or 15 hours per book.

Actually, that isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I would be doing most of my books on audio anyway. Fledgling is about 12 hours, and 300 pages. I’m listening to that at 1.3 speed, knocking it down to 9 hours or so. Lets be conservative and say I can work with whatever speed gets me down to an average of 10 hours per book. 50 hours, one week. That isn’t impossible in theory. Even assuming I was a good grad student, worked 40 hours, a 90hr work week is a bit much, but people do it. Realistically, we are talking a 50-70hr work week if I were to succeed.

Step 2, check my schedule. The 14th is the Canadian Thanksgiving, and it just so happens to be the first day of the marathon. That is also the week of the Lab Midterms. That means I have to do grading that weekend. The way this class is set up, there are very few weeks where I have to grade, so this is bad timing. Still, it isn’t a deal breaker. It probably won’t even take up as much time as I would theoretically get from having monday off (as grad student, is it really off though?). All in all, it feels manageable, so lets get down to brass tacks.

Assume I read 2 hours in the morning (wake up, get ready, bike to school), no reading at school (conservative), ~1hr leaving and getting home. Lets say I leave at 5 (reasonable). I listen the entire time and continue when I get home until midnight. 7hrs, decent time for bed. That is 9 x 4 + 16 x 3 (assume read 8 to 12, no rest monday, and weekend). 36+48 = 84. Enough time. It is doable. Will I enjoy it? Will I be able to focus on the book? How much of this depends on the books I choose? These are all very relevant questions I don’t know the answer to, but suppose I can. Suppose my ability to get through books vastly exceeds my expectations. Imagine the books I can through for the next 4-6 decades of my life. 5 in a week? Then of course I can do 5 in a month; compare that to my 10 or so per year, the last few years. #lifegoals.

Okay, I’m doing this. So what am I going to read?

1) A Thriller: The Institute by Stephen King

Image result for the institute cover

I am not a big thriller fan, but I love horror. I could make an argument for horror fitting into thriller, but it feels like cheating if Goodreads doesn’t explicitly say Thriller. Lucky for me, The Institute is listed as both. In addition, I haven’t read many of Stephen Kings newest novels since 11/22/63 (which I’ve reread a lot). Scratch that, I read Under the Dome. I loved it at the time, but I think I saw it through rose colored glasses. I’ve come to recognize now King isn’t a god; not all of his books are worth reading. The mediocrity of Under the Dome has made me more hesitant to pick up his newest book. Whats more, I am trying to really diversify what I read. I don’t have the time for filler (not that all my selections or the cream of the crop despite how I try). I have heard some good things about this, but it can be hard to weed through all those readers who also see King through rose colored glasses. Even if this isn’t in Kings top 10, I know it ties into the King Universe rather well, so at least I’ll have that.

2) A Book With Red on the Cover: The Ancestors, by Brandon Massey, Tananarive Due, and L.A. Banks

Image result for the ancestors banks

This is harder. I could easily and happily say IT by Stephen King. Red, creepy name, creepy place (Derry). It isn’t new, and it feels like cheating. I am not going to do another Stephen King, even if I haven’t read it. I read the Cabin at the End of the World, so that’s a no. One of the things I learned from Booktube is how bad I need to read Vicious, by V.E. Schwab, but this isn’t thriller or horror. It’s Spookathon for a reason.

I am looking to read The Ancestors, a collection of novellas by Brandon Massey, Tananarive Due, and L.A. Banks. This is one I found when looking for black horror writers, but I am considering using this for something I don’t usually read. Sure I am reading Due’s The Good House, but one book doesn’t make a pattern. It is, however, a book with a red cover. In the same line of thinking, there is The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi or Dark Dreams, a collection of short stories by black writers, edited by Brandon Massey. My biggest issue with these is that I selected these to push the boundary of what I read, and I fear it may take me time to get into them in a way that may slow me down, or worse, turn me off to them. Still, I am inclined to read one of Massey’s collections. Both are ~300pgs, so I tentatively plan for The Ancestors since it’s only 3 stories. Hopefully, it will be easier to get invested into 3 stories rather than a bunch of short stories (which I find I need to pace myself).

3) A Book With a Spooky Word in the Title: Summer of Night, Dan Simmons

Image result for summer of night cover

First off, let me say, this category is confusing or hard to figure out what fits. I am going with a word or phrase that is creepy or spooky. I googled words that are creepy, but it feels so arbitrary. Some titles have creepy phrases some don’t. Dark Dreams could work here, but like I said, I don’t want to go too far into experimental and risk losing energy. I already picked King, but a King like substitute might be Summer of Night, by Dan Simmons, book one of the Seasons of Horror series. Sure, I may be stretching the spookiness, but I think the phrase is ominous enough to justify it belonging here. Tthink of The Long Night described in GOT or Children of Night, in Dracula; night makes things spooky. The biggest reasons against this is it is 22hrs (600 pages!). Listing at 1.3 can get me to ~17hrs, which is a bit high, but doable. Some books I can only do 1.2 without being bothered, but even then its ~18hrs. I don’t want to rule it out just yet, but if I finish this list and find myself way over budget with my time then I will reconsider. The reason I want to do this is because I know its a well known horror series by an author I’ve never read. This hasn’t been a priority because I am really trying to cut back on the number of white guys I read especially since there are other authors I know who have books I want to read (King included). However, this a 7 day binge of 5 books. I think it evens out.

I do want to mention some back ups in case I need to reconsider this slot. Dark Dreams, obviously still an option, half the size of this one. Obviously, I could speed through it faster than Simmons. In addition to not wanting to lose steam, I really don’t want my first experience with all these authors be rushed or feel like an assignment. I want each of them to have a chance to impress me. The Devil in Silver, by Victor LaValle is a novel by a black man that I think I learned about in a bootube video. It is in my to be read (TBR) list, but I don’t remember a lot about it. It says it’s set in an insane asylum. Maybe that is better suited for the next category. I could do a classic. Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor is a fantasy, science fiction alien story. This isn’t a thriller or a horror novel, but there is something about an alien story that feels fitting for this type of readathon. A couple other options are Demon Theory (which is also an unusual book, i.e. better for #5) and Mongrels, both by Stephen Graham Jones. I am more likely to read Mongrels because its a more straight forward book.

4) A Book With a Spooky Setting: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Image result for something wicked this way comes book cover

The Devil in Silver, by Victor LaValle is a strong contender here, set in an asylum. If this were a strict set of rules I might pick it, but there is another I have been dying to read. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury about a satanic carnival that comes to town. It doesn’t fit as well, but I feel the carnival should work as a spook setting. I have never read this. I feel as if I can’t call myself a horror fan without adding this to my read list. Plus, I expect it will be a fun quick read (293 pages). Another option is We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. This is a classic set in a haunted house. I’ve read Hill House, but not this one. My line about Something Wicked being essential definitely fits Jackson’s work as well. It is also very short. This may change, but I think I will just read Jackson’s story before the Spookathon. The Spookathon is actually taking care of a couple books I had lined up to read for Halloween which frees up my normal routine reading time (it’s more of a novella anyway).

5) A Book You Don’t Normally Read: White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi

Image result for white is for witching

I am going to try reading a physical book (or ebook) of White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi because this is a fantasy, horror, paranormal book that I came across that I want to read that is sadly not on audio. That makes this book a perfect example of a book I don’t usually read. That is coupled with Oyeyemi being a young black woman horror/fantasy writer. Part of the reason I chose not to go with The Icarus Girl was because I knew I wanted to read this. Assuming I read at the same rate I mentioned above, this will take ~12hrs. That is manageable, I just won’t be able to multitask as well. I definitely want to start here, I think that Monday so I can really try and dig in. My follow up, will be Kindred, the graphic novel. I have read Kindred, but I recently bought the graphic novel and would love to read it. Needless to say, I don’t often (as in never have I ever) read a graphic novel. If all else fails, I go to Gone Girl. Your classic thriller which I am sure I will love. I just never read it, even as it is on my TBR because I don’t often go for strictly Thriller novels. I won’t be happy if that’s where I end up, but I want to kill it at this challenge which means I need to be prepared for bumps in the road.

I also want to plug Chesya Burke’s Let’s Play White which is a collection of short stories in fantasy, science fiction and horror. Burke is also a young black author. The book is nearly 50 pages shorter, but in the end, I am more intrigued by Oyeyemi’s book. I would like to try this collection out eventually too. I may give this a shot leading up to the Spookathon.

Preparing for whats to come

I got a copy of White is for Witching from bookoutlet.ca (thanks to @BooksandLala for constantly mentioning this bookstore). It is the paperback, which I prefer hardback. Plus this cover isn’t as nice as the one above. If I end up loving it, I’ll probably get it on hardback. The others are on audio, and I can get either on audible with existing credits or through other resources. I am also buying physical copies because I want a copy of what I read, especially if I get the audiobook from special sources.

  1. The Institute: 19 hrs or under 15 hrs at 1.3 speed
  2. The Ancestors: 9.5 hrs or ~7.5 hrs at ~1.3 speed
  3. Summer of Night: 22 hrs or 17 hrs at 1.3 speed
  4. Something Wicked This Way Comes: 9 hrs or ~7 hrs at 1.3 speed
  5. White is for Witching: ~12 hrs*

*assumes I have the endurance for reading a physical copy as I do for listening to an audiobook.

In total, this will take ~60 hrs hours if I am lucky. For the audiobooks, worst case I lose an hour because I need to back up to 1.2 normal speed, but at 1.3 speed I am saving ~10 hrs. If I can keep the strict schedule of continuous listening, I feel confident I can make it through the books. It leaves me 24 hrs to spare. Even if I take twice as long to finish White is for Witching, that leaves another 12 hours to spare (aka write, tweet, and follow others doing the challenge.

Updates

10/13/19 – One more day

It is nearly 3 am, and I’m up preparing for my blogs to come over the next week! I am so excited. In particular, I am excited to read White is for Witching. I just really hope I have the attention span to finish this in a week. I still haven’t finished Maya Angelou’s second autobiography when I should be. It’s all about time management. I think I am ready because since I set this up, I’ve got into listening at 1.8 x speeds. That means I am going to save a lot more time on the other books.

10/15/19 – Chug, Chug, Chugging along
10/17/19 – White is for Witching Done. Summer of Night almost there

I finished White is for Witching. I gave it 4.5/5 stars. I read this as a book I don’t normally read. It fit that category in several ways 1) not an audiobook, 2) considered literary and definitely confusing in structure, 3) a woman of color horror writer. I discuss this in my review, but I had an amazing experience reading a physical copy again, at least toward the end. I won’t lie, it felt like a chore at first. It was daunting. Large parts of it I narrated out loud to help keep myself focused. I am not sure if I have that kind of patience to keep that going. That said, I also appreciate that it just takes time.

If it is a good book, it’s time I might otherwise be spent watching TV or wasting time on Facebook. I am currently reading the second autobiography in Maya Angelou’s series via a physical book. I have been reading it for at least a month. I started with a chapter a day. Then I read it for pleasure for a couple hours one weekend. Then I just stopped for a couple weeks and it sat. I feel like I can do better. I enjoyed reading with a cup of coffee at Starbucks these past two nights. Perhaps I can dedicate a night each week for such a thing. At the very least, a book a month seems reasonable. If not for the joy of reading a physical book, then for the risk of missing hidden gems like White is for Witching that isn’t on audio.

I wish I had as many great things to say about Summer of Night. I’m nearly 2/3rds through the book with ~3 hrs left. It isn’t as emotionally satisfying as White is for Witching. I don’t feel all that invested, but there isn’t much left in any case. It is very long, and it makes me worried for King’s The Institute. I’m already feeling fatigued. Which sucks.

Updates 10/18/19

I finished Summer of Night and started The Institute and Ancestors. I’m over half way through the former and over 1/3 through the later. Luckily, the first story was the longest. It was also better than I expected based on reviews. The Institute still has over 4 hrs, add on ~5hr for Something Wicked and probably a couple more hours for Ancestors and that leaves me with ~12 hrs. My birthday being today, yay me, means I’m hanging with friends today and tomorrow. That will make this difficult, but with 2 days, I think I can make ~6hrs a day work. Even if I can’t, this is for fun! Who care is I have to spend an extra day to finish up.

I am enjoying this. Summer of Night was the only disappointment, and that’s mostly because it was so long and so “okay”. I think when this is done, I may begin some non Halloween stories. I’m ready for a chance, and a little eager to start my TBR for next month.

Update 10/19/19

I spent as much of Saturday as I could trying to get through Something Wicked this Way Comes. My birthday was on Friday, so I was busy at least part of each day this weekend. Luckily, I knew that was going to happen, so I stayed up until 4 AM Friday night to finish the Institute. Luckily, Stephen King is a master writer and I can speed through his work without any issues.

Finished 10/20/19

I finished Something Wicked This Way Comes, listening while I cleaned up after my Saturday night partying. Luckily, the intense ringing from the night before wasn’t so bad I couldn’t hear what was going on. I enjoyed it more today than the day before. I don’t know if that’

s the book or the fact that I was on the bus and at the mall while listening. It was a bit distracting. Today, though, I had the cleaning and laundry. Mindless tasks work so well as a way to focus on the story.

Dishes, laundry, earbuds in my ear! Such fun.

I took my time finishing the last story of The Ancestors. It was split into three stories, so I’ve been listening to one story in between each new book I read after Summer of Night. I finished it as I edited my TBR for November and the upcoming #buzzwordAthon 5.0.

Editing and planning while listening to the last story in The Ancestors.

I was definitely pushing my cognitive abilities here. I’m just so excited for next month and the books I will get to read. I wasn’t adding books. I was just figuring out which books I have on hand and cued up. I kept pausing it though because I kept wanting to watch a video or read good reads descriptions. I eventually finished it, spending my last 20-30 minutes (1/3) preparing some food. That’s it! It’s done.

Closing thoughts

I really enjoyed this even if I got a little fatigued. It gets me excited about books, even those I don’t read. There are 10-15 I want to read for the next readathon, but I know I can’t. This readathon gives me a reference point to plan around in the future because I definitely want to keep doing one every month. Its usually one week where my social life is more book centered. I think that’s reasonable. It also easily doubles my reading for the month, or if I find myself waning as I approach my comps, I might end up only reading during this point. That’s okay. I just want something interactive to keep me going!

I will try to continue the “read a physical book” during each readathon because I really enjoyed that. It does take up a lot more time. I read about 3-4 times slower than I listen. Still, I think it’s worth it. After all, White is for Witching was my only 5/5 star read. Imagine all the gems I’m missing because they aren’t on audio. Plus, I learned how much I enjoy reading at a coffee shop; I’d like to keep that up regularly. I could easily read one night every week for a few hours. I want to finish the last 30 pages or so of Maya Angelou’s second autobiography. I think I could still finish Kindred, the Graphic Novel. Granted, I’ve never read a graphic novel. I don’t know how long it will take or how much time I should admire the pictures. I’m betting on it being a quick read, but hey, I’ll learn as I go!

TEPS 2019 Summer Internship

Summer loving, had me a blast

Picture it, Atlanta 2019. Here I am, working with my old research group at Georgia Tech in the Planetary Habitability and Technology Lab. It is quite the change from London, Ontario. The temperature alone is roughly 10 degrees hotter on average (5 in C). Returning to Western campus will be far more comfortable, but that will soon turn uncomfortably cold. Then there’s the city. Everywhere you look theirs something to do. Great food is in abundance (hence the ~5 pounds I’ve gained while I’m here), and there is infrastructure for biking.

Even with the unbearable heat, I take my bike to the old town beltline-trail, and I ride till I can’t no more. I got my water in the bag, bike bags are attached. stickers on my Black helmet with black tennis shoes to match. Can’t nobody tell me nothin’.

There’s also the distance. Its been great seeing friends and family. I went to some fresh water springs last weekend with my sister, father and a couple step siblings. I also spent my sisters 30th birthday with her and her friends at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. I spent 4th of July with my dad at his house in South GA near Jacksonville. I visited a few friends and my mom a couple times over the summer too; they’re just an hour north east of Atlanta. I also got to see my grand mother and grand father in Macon!

My sister and I swimming at a fresh water spring in north Florida. You are looking at us above a deep whole, maybe a couple meters below the surface and itself another couple meters deep.

Then there’s Werewolf ATL. It was great seeing all my werewolf friends in Atlanta. I was able to join in on their monthly WW meet ups and a couple birthday parties too! That has all be a blast, but the best is yet to come. Dragon Con is upon’s us. It is the superbowl for WW (in my opinion). We will be doing pregaming the Saturday and Wednesday leading up to it. (This all may have passed by the time I publish this post). This year I am volunteering and will enjoy moderating games for part of my time. This year, I have a strict schedule for myself to ensure I get a few hours of sleep (most of the nights), but I also want to make sure I diversify my time at DragonCon. There is so much more to DC than WW.

My first year at DC was dedicated entirely to Space, Science, and Skepticism tracks with a special focus on Space Track. This is where I first saw Dr. Trina Ray talk about the wonderful Cassini mission and how it had been officially extended. It was here that I chose to change focus and give space science a shot. Sure, I had years of love for space and science that had been culminating up to this point, but the space track is what did it, introducing me to people who work in the field. What’s more, it showed me just how much planetary science was left to be done. I must stop or this will become a love fest for space and science and so on.

Image result for cassini
An artistic representation of Cassini as it plunged itself into the atmosphere of Saturn.

My point is there are other things that are worthy of my attention. There are also other geek tracks that focus on science fiction and fantasy in tv, film, and literature. I have so much passion for the things I consume, and I have no doubt I would love these panels if I just made a point to attend.

That will conclude my trip as I return right after it ends on Tuesday, the 3rd of September. Then it’s back to reality.

Modeling Update

New readers may want to check out my previous discussions on what I have been working on. I don’t have the pretty pictures I would like just yet. I have been modeling Titan impact craters with a mix of HCN and water for a range of concentrations to hundreds of meters in depth. The goal has been to find the concentration of HCN in the ice after it freezes assuming an initial concentration. We find this at a range of thermal gradients (depths), and this is all we need to do a 2D model for a melt lens of a given shape and size. Then, we can track the thermal gradient at each point in the pond and get a clear picture of the distribution of concentrations within the ice.

I have the concentrations. I need to fit it to a series of functions to plug into Chase’s model. We have discussed what I need to do to adjust it for Titan. I have not had a chance to do that yet. Once it is set up, we can run it. This is work I am trying to get started on. With the end of my trip and my impending manuscript deadline (I haven’t mentioned that have I?) I haven’t had a chance to dig into that yet. This is work I intend to get into this as soon as I get back. However, the actual results are still several weeks away because I identified a problem with my data. I have enough data to work with the model and get it set up (the hardest part), but the data I have is bad.

I made a mistake in the eutectic curve I used in the model that determines the HCN concentrations. This curve essentially says, if the concentration of HCN is X, the melting temperature is Y. The problem was that I mistakenly type 7307 when I meant to put 73.7. How I missed this is beyond me, but suffice it to say, it probably skewed parts of the data. That means I need to rerun my results. This isn’t all bad. I have a better idea how to expedite this process and can adjust a few of my input parameters. It will still take a few weeks to get the data I need because modeling centimeters in a profile of 100s of meters is tedious work.

The eutectic curve used for HCN (Coates and Hartshorne, 1931).

But fear not! There is a clear path forward, and I still see myself on track to finish this this fall. That paves the way for the daunting task of where to go from there! I’m not scared. Why would I be afraid of reaching a point with no clear path forward (*sarcasm*).

Manuscript Update

I have finished making the updates for my manuscript. I haven’t done a lot of blogging about my work because when I wasn’t blogging, I was editing the manuscript. Forgive me if I was not too keen to carry over my thoughts to here (although you can enjoy my recent writings on books I’ve been reading). I sent my edits to my coauthors. I hope there aren’t too many complaints; the deadline is right at the start of September. The comments weren’t too extreme, but they did prove time intensive. There were changes I might could have justified not doing which would have saved me time, but it was hard to ignore it if I knew it could be done slightly better. Some of the more tedious tasks (table and figure updates) even gave me a chance to enjoy some audiobooks while I worked.

IT: Chapter 2

Finally, in what is undoubtedly the most important event of our lifetime, IT: Chapter 2 is set to release on September 6th. As sad I am to leave Atlanta, I am so excite to finally see IT: Chapter 2. It was such a blessing when the first was released a couple years ago, and I am so happy to see such a major motion picture production for one of my favorite books of all time.

I may update this with some post Dragon Con pictures and comments, but for now, I am going to sign off until I’m back beyond the wall.

Image result for game of thrones the wall
The actual wall separating Canada and the US, as documented by one explorer.

My Vegan Cookie Recipes (and More!)

nailed-it

A few years ago, I decided to go vegan, and a big reason I did that was to help keep myself from eating so poorly. I have since learned that you don’t have to eat meat to eat poorly. In fact, you can stuff yourself with all the fat and sugar your heart desires, and you don’t have to sacrifice taste. I’ve managed to perfect the recipe for the most delicious cookies and some other baked goods. Although, all of my recipes originate from the recipe outlinedΒ here, which was given to me by the very vegan whoΒ sired me in the first place.

This is an excellent recipe.

Ingredients
  • Β½ cup coconut oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ΒΌ cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour (please note alternate flours WILL change the outcome of the recipe!)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Β½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips (Trader Joe’s chocolate chips are accidentally vegan!)

Mix dry ingredients and then mix wet ingredients (including brown sugar) separately, then combine and bake.

At the core, all of my recipes are this, but I’ve made some crucial changes that I think make a real difference.

First off, I don’t use coconut oil. There are plenty of people who will try to sell you this product for a number of reasons, often revolving health. That is nonsense. I say that, not as a matter of opinion, but one based on science. I encourage you to check out that link, and Science Based Medicine as a whole. I find it to be a good source when thinking about pseudoscience in medicine and health, but that is not the purpose of this post.

I don’t use coconut oil because

  1. It’s expensive.
  2. It’s ridiculously high in saturated fats compared to other oils.
  3. It can change the taste of your cookies.

In my opinion, the taste is the worst part, but price matters too. A single container may cost upwards of $10. Alternatively, something like Canola oil is ~$3 for a liter. The difference in saturated fats is anΒ order of magnitude different. In 100g of Coconut Oil, there is 87g of saturated fats. In 100g of Canola oil, there is 8g of saturated fats. To be clear, canola has its far share of fats, but they’re primarilyΒ unsaturated. Again, the purpose of this post isn’t to lecture you on health and nutrition. Everything you need to know can be found hereΒ  (again, Science Based Medicine).

I have a few more notes in regards to the general ingredients. I find that its a bit better when I am more liberal with my vanilla extract, maybe 1.5 Tbsp instead of 1 Tbsp, and in some recipes I will go so far as 2 Tbsp. I’ll explain more in a bit. For the milk, I prefer to use almond milk if I can, but sometimes I am out and use water instead. I find that works well enough. For the vegan chocolate chips, it can be difficult to find them, but it doesn’t have to read vegan. Check in the ingredients list. some brands (particularly here in Canada) or naturally free of milk. Look for bold letters that say it contains milk. If it saysΒ May contain milk, that just means it was made in a facility that uses milk, but it’s ok to use. The trick is, sometimes, it uses butter or milk power or a milk product, so look for that. When in doubt, pay extra for the shit in the organic section (boo organic). Finally, be precise with your 1 Tsp of baking soda and 1 Tsp of baking powder. Messing this up can really mess up the consistency of your cookies. Sure, sugar is sugar, but no one really wants a cake cookie.

One last thing, when cooking theΒ cookies, cook at 325F for 13 minutes +/- 1 minute depending on how crunchy you want it. Sure add 2 minutes and you’re fine, but be very careful. I have found 13 minutes to give the exact right consistency (crunch and chewy) almost every time.

Most of these recipes are the same with the slight changes that may seem obvious. Still, I’ll go through each and say what seems to work for me.

The Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie

This one is straight forward, nothing new.

choc

  • Β½ cup oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ΒΌ cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Β½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips

Double Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cookies

chocchoc

This one took some time to get right, but it isΒ amazing. For chocolaty rich cookies, I add 1 cup of cocoa, but to prevent it from drying out the mix, I remove 1 cup of flour. The result is like a brownie, but I a swear to god, it is the absolute best. Fun fact, put it in a pan and you get vegan brownies. Cooking time will be longer if you choose to make brownies; you’ll just have to experiment to find the right time .

  • Β½ cup oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ΒΌ-1/3 cup white sugar (by preference)
  • ΒΌ cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Β½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips (works fine without)

Snicker Doodle Cookies

snik

This one is straight forward. You keep the basic cookie ingredients then you add cinnamon. I find 1:3 ratio of cinnamon and sugar does the trick. I list 1 tsp, but really, you could add more if you want it richer. You might also consider coating the top with cinnamon sugar.

  • Β½ cup oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ΒΌ cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Β½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon mixed with 3 tsp of sugar (or double)

Sugar Cookies

sugar

There is nothing special about this. It’s exactly chocolate chip cookies without the chips. I also suggest using white sugar just so it has that brighter color you usually see with sugar cookies

  • Β½ cup oil
  • 1 cup white sugar (for color)
  • ΒΌ cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Β½ teaspoon salt

Peanut butter Cookie

peanut

These are by far the most difficult for me to master. The peanut butter changes the consistency of the mix, and I have found it difficult to easily add or remove something in favor of the peanut butter. The result tends to be dry and crumbly and possibly cakey. However, I did manage a miracle over the past winter holiday (2018) that begot perfect peanut butter cookies.

Start with only 1 1/2 cups of flour and go through the regular motions of making the dry mix. Proceed to make the wet mix, excluding the peanut butter. Now, before mixing, prepare the peanut butter.

Take the peanut butter that fills ~1 cup container and melt it in microwave a bit, so it is easier to mix. The result should bring it down toΒ lessΒ than 1 cup in as a liquid. This is where things get iffy because I am working on a one time success that I did not measure precisely. I only recall getting large spoon fulls of peanut butter that mostly filled a 1 cup container. I tried repeating it, making sure to top off the cup with peanut butter and it came our too dry. Point being, you want less than a cup. Maybe even start with half a cup of liquid peanut butter. Then mix this into the wet mix, and proceed to mix it all together.

You should find your mix very liquidy. Begin to add flower to bring it to a more manageable state. It doesn’t need to be as dry as other recipes. It can be sticky, but dry enough to put into balls. Again, you don’t want it to be too dry. With that done, cook!

Update

I have finally managed to portion it just right so that the perfect cookie is precisely as presented.

  • Β½ cup oil
  • .5 cup of solid peanut butter (it doesn’t have to be heated)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ΒΌ cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour (please note alternate flours WILL change the outcome of the recipe!)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Β½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips (optional)

Gingerbread Cookie

ginger

  • TBD
  • I have not tried this, but I want to. I will update this when I have tried it. I suggest looking up the spice ingredients in a regular soft gingerbread cookie and using it in place of chocolate chips like I did with the snicker doodle.

Pumpkin Bread (with Chocolate Chips)

pump
My own pumpkin bread (the other picks are stock photos).

This started out as a pumpkin cookie. Then I decided to turn into a cake, except it isn’t a cake, but more of a bread. Regardless of what you call it, its delicious. Its a mix of pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg with the chocolate chips complementing it nicely. Add the pumpkin puree to the wet mix and the nutmeg and cinnamon to the dry mix. You shouldn’t need more sugar to compensate for the nutmeg or cinnamon, but if you love it sweet go ahead and add sugar. I usually use >1 cup of pumpkin, basically overfilling the measuring cup. It’s hard to get this wrong. Once that is all mixed, cook it at probably 350F in a cake pan of some sort. Check on it every 15 minutes or so, stabbing it with a fork or knife. It should stick to the fork until its done (30-45 minutes in my experience in a convection oven).

Considering topping it with Betty Crocker cream cheese icing (or another type), but make sure it is vegan, as several of their icing products are.

  • Β½ cup oil
  • 1 LARGE cup of pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ΒΌ cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Β½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips (not required)

The Path Forward: Publication, Teaching, and a Summer “Abroad”

I recently sent off my manuscript to the coauthors for review. Our goal is to finish up the final revisions to submit it in time for Icarus’ Special Cassini edition issue. I also received an offer to teach Astrobiology in the Winter 2019 term. Beyond that, have been granted funding to travel home (abroad) to Atlanta for the summer where I will work with my old adviser Dr. Britney Schmidt and her PhD student Jacob BuffoΒ on a project I touched on in June 2018. Although, first I have to finish proctoring and grading for Earth RocksΒ this semester.

I have my work cut out for me, and I think we are the point where I’m in need of a good old timeline to set some goals for myself.

Manuscript

The manuscript has been sent to the coauthors. We have to make revisions to their suggestions. Then we have to send it to the Cassini team to repeat the process before the actual submission in January.

  • December 21st: Deadline for coauthors to return suggestions
  • January 1st: Deadline to send updated draft to Cassini RADAR Team
  • January 10th: Deadline for Cassini RADAR Team to return suggestions
  • January 10th-15th: Make final revisions and submit to Icarus

Teaching Astrobiology

I applied to teach Astrobiology (I think a 3rd year course) in lieu of Catherine next semester. I got the offer (which I was expecting), so I can officially say I will be teaching it next semester. Catherine has generously offered me all her material for the lecture and labs. However, I still have to prepare for the lectures and decide if there are any changes I want to make. I suppose this all will seem obvious, but I think it’s necessary to approach this large problem step by step to avoid issues.

I have to organize the course material (Class site, etc.). Then create a timeline for the different subjects. I need to decide when lectures are covered and how to fit labs around them. The class project needs deadlines set up. These are all initial steps that need to be taken this month.

Even though I have the lectures, I need to sit down and develop my own approach for each lecture. That means, reading through each respective chapter and making sure I have an idea of what I am presenting it and how I want to communicate it. This is the most taxing thing I think. I need to begin this this month as soon as possible because I want to make sure I’m not falling behind with the course. Ideally, I’ll have 4 weeks (8 days) worth of material lined up, but I still need to make sure I have a clear plan on how to continue the process as the semester continues.

I have plans to change at least one of the labs. I need to get into contact with a professor at the University of Washington to get started. That may or may not happen, but I need to start working on that. With that in mind, I want to work through at least some of the labs to see if there is room for improvement. Particularly the one I helped make two years ago. I’d put these tasks as lower priority because what we have works, I’d just like to see if we can make it better. I’ll translate it to excel later.

  • December 7th:
    • Set up OWL (online site), make schedule, update syllabus, organize material from Catherine. Plan Project timeline.
    • Get in contact with Dr. Rory Barnes at UW!
    • Review First Lab:Β Lab 1: What is Life?
  • December 10th-14th:
    • Set up meeting with Gavin to discuss first couple lab and course set up (he won’t be here until the day of lab that first week).Β 
    • I could include the second TA, but I am not sure if it’s for sure.
  • December 14th:
    • Prepare lectures forΒ Ch 1: Astrobiology and Life
    • Review Lab 2: Solvents for Life
  • December 21st:
    • Prepare lectures for Ch 3: Life’s Structure
    • Review Lab 3: Viking Labeled Release
  • January 4th:
    • Prepare lectures for Ch 5: Energy for Life
    • Review Lab 4: Titan’s primordial soup
  • January 7th-9th: Meet with 2nd TA
  • January 11th:
    • Prepare lectures for 1st half ofΒ Ch 6: The Tree of Life
    • Set up Outline to new lab
    • Do Lab 1; Ch1
  • January 18th:
    • Prepare for 2nd half ofΒ Ch 6: The Tree of Life
    • Develop Methods and Question for new lab
    • Do Lab 2; Ch3
  • January 25th:
    • Prepare lectures for Ch 7: The Limits of the Biospace
    • Complete/Troubleshoot lab; send to TAs to complete and make suggestions
    • Do Lab 3; Ch5
  • February 1th:
    • Prepare lectures for Ch 16: The Habitability of Planets
    • Do Lab 4; Ch11
    • Review Lab 5: Is it science?
  • February 7th:
    • Prepare lectures for Ch 17: The Astrobiology of Mars
    • Do Lab 5; Ch12
    • Review Lab 6: Tree of life
  • February 14th:
    • Prepare lectures for Ch 18: The Astrobiology of Icy Moons
    • Do Lab 6; Ch6p1
  • February 21th:
    • Prepare lectures for Ch 19: Exoplanets (Last Chapter)
    • Review/ Edit/ Update Lab 10: Icy satellites lab (Cassini INMS)
      • Lab 7 would be the new lab developed earlier in semester.
  • February 28th:
    • Do Ch6p2; Midterm/ Lab break
    • Review Lab 8: Remote sensing and Intro to JMARS
  • March 1st:
    • Do Lab 7; Ch7
    • Review Lab 9: Mars landing site selection
  • March 8th:
    • Do Lab 8; Ch16
    • Review Lab 10: Icy satellites lab (Cassini INMS) L11
  • March 15th: Do Lab 9; Ch17
  • March 22nd:
    • Do Lab 10; Ch19
    • Begin project presentations
  • March 29th: More presentations; Report Due
  • April 5th: Grade reports
  • April 12th or so: Finals

Organics in Titan Crater Melt

I’m going to use some of the content I proposed this internship for background.

Dr. Schmidt and her team have been studying the Antarctic ice as an analogue for the Europa ice-ocean interface. Mr. Buffo has been developing a model of this boundary on Earth where it can be tested and validated, and then a few parameters are changed for application to the Europa environment. It follows the interactions between the salt impurities and the ice. One thing we see on Earth, is that even when the water-ice is pure, salty brine layers may still form within the ice.
Dr. Schmidt, Mr. Buffo, and I are working to apply his model to Titan melt ponds to better understand how the organics will be collected in the ice. The biggest obstacle in applying this to Titan will be substituting Titan organics for the salty brines being modeled on Earth. It requires an understanding of their physical properties in water. Some assumptions will need to be made, but we believe this will help improve Dragonfly’s search for biomolecules on Titan.

I did a rough plan for the internship, which will extend between Monday May 13th, 2019 and Friday August 30th, 2019. chose the middle of May to allow ample time for finals to be completed and processed at both universities. The nearly 4-month internship is meant to provide abundant time for learning, troubleshooting, and application. I ended it in August because classes at Western University begin in September.

Below is a plan for while I am there.

  • 2 weeks for troubleshooting issues I have understanding the existing model
  • 2 weeks to familiarize myself with Mr. Buffo’s results
  • 1 week discussing how we will go about applying the code to Titan
  • Titan atmospheric and melt pond environment
  • 3 weeks implementing Titan specific molecules in the code
  • 2 weeks troubleshooting using the new molecule
  • 6 weeks to apply the molecule for different crater environments
    • 2 weeks modeling 40km crater sized melt pond near the surface for non-draining ponds
    • 4 weeks modeling ~80km crater sized melt pond near the surface (2 weeks) and near the middle of the melt pond (2 weeks) for a non-draining and draining ponds

That’s probably not new for Catherine, but for others it may be. It’s also nice to have it here to reference more easily. I still take it a step further, because May is a ways away and I need to begin looking at this more closely. Realistically, I’ll be tackling the very problems that are listed above, but nevertheless I’ll write out clear deadlines to strive for.

  • January 18th: Understand how the existing model works. Run, repeat, experiment. Review all available reading material.
  • FebruaryΒ  1st: Understand the role of brines/salts vs organics. Understand what is required to substitute it and what out options are.
  • February 8th: Test the limits of the existing code. What can be changed. What it does to the system.
  • February 15th: Try regular code under Titan physical conditions (rather than composition).
  • March 29: Try a new molecule (HCN? vs salinity)
    • Find required chemical and physical inputs for molecule
      • may require some code based methods
    • Try testing it
  • April: With finals and projects, I’ll leave this free. Plus, if I make it to the March 29th step, I feel certain thats where I’ll need to sit down with Jacob to begin making the code work.
  • May: Take it from there to the list above.

Bonus: Crevasses in Greenland Glaciers

Several years ago, I submitted a paper for my undergraduate work with Dr. Schmidt mapping crevasses or fractures on Helheim glacier. This observational paper was rejected. Firstly, it was my first attempt and there is plenty of room for improvements writing wise, but more fundamentally, they needed more. They need use to analysis our results and toΒ quantify them.

 

Dr. Catherine Walker, Britney’s one time post doc, was going to do modeling using them. I’m not sure where that went, but we wanted to get my work published as well. More specifically I want to. I began working on quantifying these results. I had hoped to get it done much sooner. That has not happened. There has been a lot of troubleshooting mixed with long bits of no progress do to other responsibilities by all parties involved. We have all tried to return our eyes to this to bring it to fruition. I have been working with undergraduate student Kathrine Udell who has done similar work to what I’ve done. Shes done other types of mapping in addition to fractures. I did not. However, I’ve worked to get results for my glacier, Helheim and for her’s, Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier.Β 

I should take a step back and say, I’ve developed a code in matlab to quantify the maps. Katherine has helped me refine it to both improve our results and identify the best way to present the data. Presentation has been the biggest hurdle. Deciding how to talk about this type of data. This is already become more detailed than I intended, but long story short, I developed a grid to measure the fractures across the glacier. We’re looking at including orientation as well. This is a quick view of the most recent output.

orientation

I don’t want to get lost in the methodology, but the point is, we reaching our close. We don’t plan on working on this over the summer because we intend it to be submitted by then, so I need a plan. I need a plan that somehow gets me a paper with all I have ahead of me.

  • December 14: Outline of paper with major Figures and a clear idea of other figures left to make.
  • December 21: Finalize figures and send in depth outline to Britney, Catherine (Walker) and Katherine with a K (this has been my life for the last 2 years).
  • January 14th-25th (after Icarus paper is submitted): Methodology
  • January 28th-February 15th: Results
  • February 18th-28th: Introduction and conclusion.
  • March 1st: Send out for review.

I need to run these dates by them, but I like them and think its reasonable. Up to now, I haven’t done much with the paper. I’ve been so lost in the methodology; we have finally reached a point where we are comfortable with the approach we are using. Obviously, this is my lowest priority, but it’s something I need to think about. I’m glad I at least have something written out there.Β 

Update: I’ve discussed this with my adviser, and I’m being too ambitious. I need to postpone this until the summer.