This amazingly fun read. I read this not long after If you ask me, by Betty White, and I found this to be everything that one was not. Poehler is constantly engaged with the reader. This is as much a story of her life as it is a conversation. Poehler writes in a way that completely pulls you in with he clever wit and charm. In the audiobook, that is magnified by a million, as she brings in voices of family, friends, and celebrity to really bring it home. I highly recommend you check out the audiobook. The book itself has great images too, but the audiobook is a unique performance.
I was very happy with the content. Poehler has the benefit of this being her first book while White had told us about things in past books. That means we get a good outline of her life, and then it is followed by a series of important milestones and aspects of her life. She didn’t shy away from tough topics like her divorce or other problems in her life. It was an interesting story that I enjoyed learning about. Everything flowed well; I think that is an important trait of a great memoir which can appear choppy or moment to moment.
In the end, it was like having an intimate conversation with Amy Poehler. It will likely appeal to any fan of Poehler, but even the casual reader is likely to leave with a smile. 4/5 stars
Rating Break Down Writing Style: 8/10 Content: 8/10 Structure: 9/10 Summary: 8/10 Engagement: 10/10 Enjoyment: 9/10 Comprehension: 10/10 Pacing: 8/10 Desire to Reread: 0/10 Special: 0/10 Final Rating: 4.05/5 Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance (see blog for more details).
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 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
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
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
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
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
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.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I just started this, and I am already a quarter of the way through this 400+pg book. There is so much to love.
Let’s start with Mary Robinette Kowal herself. She narrates the audiobook. I am not usually a fan of self narrations. While an author knows better than anyone how they perceive a character expressing a line, I don’t think they’re as effective as (some) professionals (e.g. Stephen King). Kowal is an exception. I was very happy to learn she is a professional narrator. In fact, she is a part of the duo who narrates the Devil and the Deep that I have been reading. That makes transitioning into this story far easier.
The story itself is amazingly engaging. I don’t always like historical fiction because I can get lost in the details (see To Say Nothing of the Dog). Then there are instances where the details are beautifully integrated into the story and around interesting characters (e.g. 11/22/63, one of my favorite books of all time). I also find the concept amazingly intriguing. An asteroid collides with the Earth, hitting right around Washington in the 1950s. Politics aside, it is fascinating to think about the geologic effects of such a real threat. In Calculating Stars, Kowal puts us in a world where an extinction level impact event takes place, altering the course of history. The reality of this situation (an impact event effecting the globe) is all too real. Kowal takes us through the moments of the impact, detailing what distinguishes it between an impact event and an atom bomb. What’s more, she takes on a journey of scientific discovery as our characters determine just how severe the damage is. Let it be known, an extinction event does not happen over night. It takes time, but not always as much time as we would like. The level of realism here makes me think about the distinction as “Science fiction and of Margaret Atwood’s famous novel, A Handmaids Tale, that is often classified as Science Fiction even though Atwood disagrees.
I like to make a distinction between science fiction proper and speculative fiction. For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can’t yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth.
So, how much science fiction really exists here? Speculation, sure, but the event this revolves around is all too real. This work is a prequel to Kowals 2012 short story, The Lady Astronaut of Mars. That suggests there will come a point that science of the Calculating Stars transitions from existing to futuristic, and it will be an interesting line to follow. A lot of what we need for space exploration exists. Although, there still exists significant barriers to colonization and human transport to and from Mars. It is still fascinating to think about how this type of event would expedite the process. I look forward to seeing how Kowal takes us on this journey. At this point, I am all in.
Some Additional Thoughts
I was worried coming into this. There is a certain part of me that feared this story was made to benefit from the current zeitgeist that has evolved from works like Hidden Figures or the rise of #metoo. Perhaps that is not a bad thing, even if it were true, but often this is used as an excuse to redo what as already been done and reclaim it as your own. Or, it is just a blatant money grab. That isn’t the impression I am getting. I think this story has the potential of contributing to the dialogue rather than leech off of it. I am hoping for a new look at women in history and a glimpse of what might have been and hopefully still can be. What’s more, the fact that this builds on an existing short story suggests it isn’t just reactionary.
I’m nearly 2/3rds of the way through the book, and I am still loving it. I think it may even be one of my favorite books of the year, up there with The Fifteen Lives of Harry August. There is definitely plenty to say about it.
First, I’d like to discuss it as a historical work of fiction. Overall, I would say it doesn’t excel all that great. While I do worry about getting lost in details, I feel as though this story could stand a bit more details about the time we are in. Obviously, there are points of world building to put is in the time, but it feels superficial. I still love the story. I don’t see this as a major disadvantage, nor do I feel I am being taken too far out of the story. It just takes away from the realism. On that not, I want to change focus to the discussion on the current cultural zeitgeist influencing this story. I think it is very apparent that it is the case. However, I don’t think it does that in a bad way. The author takes very relevant and important issues of today and applies them to the past in ways that are justified. My issue is that the way the issues are resolved feels a little optimistic. Again, it takes away from the realism. This may just be a function of my own pessimism, but it is still interesting to think about.
The reason this story is so intriguing is that it essentially uses a entirely realistic event (asteroid impact) to facilitate the requirement of decades of progress (and more) for the sack of humanity. That means we have to deal with climate change, racism, antisemitism, sexism and so much more. The author is presenting us with a world where humanity is able to make use of the tragedy to achieve the progress they need to survive. That is very optimistic, but the inherent speculation involved is enough for me to still enjoy the story. Because, at the core, this story is one of hope. It presents us with modern problems being solved in a world where they are objectively harder to solve. Despite that, there is a clear path to doing these things. That, is inspiring and fascinating to consider. For that, I absolutely love this novel. I am lucky enough to still have a third of the book left, but let there be no doubt, you should read this book.
This is tied for my favorite novel of the year next the Fifteen Lives of Harry August–maybe I like it even more. I don’t have much more to say since my last update. It maintains the tone and excellent story telling. The one thing I want to do is backtrack, if only slightly, on the book being overly optimistic. I will avoid details, so as to prevent spoilers, but there is plenty of shitty moments in this story. Our characters are often put through the ringer, and Kowal does not shy away from making the issues of that time (and still today in some fashion) very prominent in the story. The biggest issue with getting to space is never about technology; it is about the human race holding itself back. This is ultimately a story of whether we will overcome our own flaws. It does not happen easily, nor does it happen uniformly. Nevertheless, this story presents a mindset where it is possible with the right motivations.
Perhaps that is what makes the story such a thrill to read. It is a blessing not to read a dystopian novel with hope. All I want to do is keep reading. The fact that there is a sequel already out is torturing me. It would be so easy to put myself into the next book, but I am going to try not to just yet. 1) It is time for Halloween therefore horror galore, but 2) when I am done, I’m done. Then its an indefinite wait for the next one. This is a chance to pace myself and enjoy.
Finally, I want to touch on the only other issue I had with the book. This question of historical detail. I don’t want to be berated with complaints saying I am misrepresenting the book, so let me be clear that there are plenty of examples of us being grounded in the times. Personally, I’d love a deeper dive into the politics of the time. Then again, this book feels perfect, so me yearning for more, detail and story, may just be another example of how great it is. What’s more, I recognize this story is meant to follow our main character. For that reason, our perspective is somewhat limited to her own. Branching out beyond that would risk losing some of that cohesion.