March wrap-up + the need for silence

Here we are in the beginning of April. Sure, spring technically comes in March, but April really shows the sun coming up earlier and going to bed later, like it’s too excited for the day to sleep any longer than necessary. Like it’s coming out of hibernation. I share the sentiment.

In March, we hit milestone: a year since COVID-19 joined our lexicon as an everyday word, since debates and discussions of the CDC and mask-wearing protocols and virtual school inserted themselves as dinner-table talk. Maybe also as breakfast- and lunch-table talk. Coupled with that milestone and the end of winter, my mind has been busy lately. And when my mind is busy, I need more silence.

Sometimes that looks paradoxical – it looks like more TV watching, less thinking. Or more thinking and less ambient noise. Or just working around the house without any music on (super unlike me). A result of needing more headspace has been reading fewer books.

This month I read a mix of a space opera, magical realism/kind-of fantasy, and meditation/poetry. While my attitude towards reading (or the books I read?) was kind of slump-y, I’m happy that I mixed up my genres.

Reading mountains of pages has seemed like a luxury throughout The Time of the Global Pandemic and the winter therein. It was easy to cozy up to books when it was cold outside. When more clothes and blankets and pillows were needed. When hot coffee or tea is protection from After a long day of virtual learning and working from home, it was easy to transition into a different headspace.

However, with the world (or at least Northern Hemisphere) opening up both seasonally and physically, it seems I should be doing something different than hibernating. Let me change that: could, not should. I could be doing something different.

Obviously books have a place. It’s a hobby I have really enjoyed and actually have found quite necessary. But tending the lawn and spring cleaning the house and purging the unnecessary also has a place that sometimes is just as important.

To be honest, I have dreaded this moment I’ve arrived at. The end of quarantine (or relative end… the end of strict quarantine), the end of a forced hibernation and hunkering-down. The beginning of more socialization and activities and meetings and…. well, there it is. The end of un-busy-ness.

The time and space created by a global health crisis is beginning to fly away, and I’m grasping on to it desperately, pleading with the world to not let it go. There is a place for shorter commutes and more time at home. There is a place for less aimless socializing and more intentional relationships. There is a place for less multitasking and more focused, high-quality work ethic.

While I’m navigating this difficult transition, I’ve allowed myself some space. For me, that looks like getting up earlier and going to bed later. That means letting go of control of some household tasks that I’ve held in my heart of pride for too long. That looks like ambivalence for committing to new activities, or restarting old ones. That means drinking in the stories I read, and taking time to curate the words I write. That looks like letting my brain rest, either with more running or sitting on the patio watching the birds or playing Nintendo or simply watching TV, accompanied by no other activities. Productivity is no longer my end goal.

I wasn’t quite sure how I would get here, but as they say, Necessity is the mother of invention, and where does invention start but in our own lives?

What I read in February – a hodge-podge

New Adult Fantasy Romance

The fourth book in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series was released in February, and to be honest, the books I read towards the beginning of the month were placeholders as I waited for my hardcover copy of A Court of Silver Flames. I also finished my re-read of the series – I finished a good portion of A Court of Wings and Ruin as well as the accompanying novella A Court of Frost and Starlight in one day. February was a strange month work-wise – lots of weather delays and a couple three-day weekends. Hence I feel I had more time to hunker down and read.

Emily and I will be talking about A Court of Silver Flames on our podcast later this week. I’ll give you a preview: it wasn’t my favorite! But there was amazing character development, relationship drama, and steam. Lots of steam, my friends.

Immigrants in America – Literary Fiction

This is a genre I haven’t read in a long time but have recently come back to it. The books I’ve been picking up have come highly recommended and they are relatively short: 250 pages or so. I’ve found that in order to handle these short books that pack a punch, I have to be in the right sort of headspace. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was heartwrenching but I couldn’t stop reading. It was beautifully written as it’s written by a poet, and the audiobook is narrated by him as well. I actually found myself drawn to the audiobook more than the paper copy – many names are Vietnamese and the way his grandmother talks is better expressed via voice.

I also read an early release via Book of the Month – Infinite Country. This was also a short but emotional ride about a Colombian-American family separated by miles and citizenship status. While it was fiction, it doesn’t seem far off from events that actually occur.

Dabbling in Sci-fi

Sci-fi is a genre that’s even newer to me than fantasy. From afar, something about it seems hard, cold, science-y…? But one of the best things about being a member of a book club is testing the waters of new genres and ideas. I’m coming up on a year of being in this club that reads award-winning sci-fi and fantasy, and I’ve come away with new favorites and surprises of books I’ve actually enjoyed. In February we read The Prey of Gods, and wow, was this a wild ride. I couldn’t put it down. The author allows us to follow the lives of many characters who actually all end up connected to one another somehow. If you’ve ever seen the show Manifest, the pace and unpredictability of the book remind me of that show.

Finally, a little bibliotherapy…

I read By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coehlo at the suggestion of my therapist. The plot in this book wasn’t my favorite, to be honest, but I love Coehlo’s writing style (or at least how it’s translated into English from Portuguese) and this book lets us live for a little bit in Spain and France. It’s completely relationship-driven, and those stories generally have me right from the beginning. There were many good quotes and ideas I pulled from this book and I’m excited to read more of his works.

A Memory Called Empire – Reading Blog (spoiler free)

January 8, 2021

I started this book soon after finishing a quick foray into the icy floes of the Arctic. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I don’t normally read “space operas” – in fact, I had to ask a friend what that even was. “Star Wars is a space opera,” he told me. Fair enough. I am familiar enough with Star Wars (at least the OG episodes) to understand. I have a deadline to finish this book – I am reading it for book club at the end of the month.

Page 100 – so far, so good. I can totally relate to this character’s innate flaw – the fact that she is trying to traverse and assimilate into the Teixcalaanli culture after years of study and even slight obsession. I make a connection in my mind to my slight obsession with Spanish and Latin American cultures, specifically Mexican. Fashioning the main character within a new world and language that is not her own is a great way to build suspense and conflict throughout – it will affect every interaction and event in the story.

There is a lot of talk about poetry and different structures the world employs to tell stories – history of the architecture, history of the world. It’s quite interesting, and definitely gives a sense that this world is steeped in culture, god-worship, and literature. Being a linguist myself (or at least, amateur), I so appreciated the line that says,

The Sunlit use of the first-person plural was unusual and slightly disconcerting. That last “we” ought to have grammatically been “I,” with the singular form of the possessing verb. Someone could write a linguistics paper, for girls on stations to gush over late on sleepshift–

page 98

Ok, friends. Have to get to work. I plan on reading quite a lot this weekend.


January 13, 2021

I stand corrected; I did not in fact read as much of this book as I wanted this past weekend. For some reason I imagine myself all coiled up on the couch with coffee for the entire weekend. Life has to happen, chorin’ has to happen. Another book caught my attention (Deep Work by Cal Newport) – and I finished that one instead. It was a good call because this week has been great at work.. so far.

Ok, I’m now at page 300.

For being a “brilliant space opera” (that is, not my first choice of genre), I am enjoying this book quite a bit. And I’m trying to figure out why. Maybe I should just accept that yes, I do like some science fiction, and let it be. But also I think part of a reading blog is to tease out the details of why I am enjoying said book. At least for me it is.

So much has happened to our main character, Ambassador Mahit Dzmare. It’s been less than a week into her assignment to Teixcalann from Lsel and she’s run into quite a bit of trouble. The synopsis will tell you that the former ambassador has died from unknown-to-our-protagonist causes, and that it’s up to her to figure out what’s going on before she gets killed.

We have a couple of allies helping our main character: Twelve Azalea and more notably, Three Seagrass, her cultural liaison. I don’t want to give much away because I want this to be a spoiler-free get-inside-my-head reading blog.

To that end, I will say that for someone who has not read hardly any science fiction in her life, the world building and immersion is supreme. Truly. Martine really has thought about all the aspects of a civilization and incorporated them into her created world. One of the most effective ways she creates this cohesion is by her use of epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. These range anywhere from transcriptions of flights, excerpts from scripts of a show or performance, quotes from seminal literature… all of those things help to create a well-rounded experience for the reader.

Below I’m including a few of my favorite quotes so far. I will say that generally when I pull a quote from a book, it is philosophical in nature, something that ties me down to the world I’m currently in. Interesting how created worlds still have so much to teach us. I will check in again after I finish the book. Toodles!

Better to take action than to be paralyzed by the thousands of shifting possibilities.

page 203

It is by such small degrees that a culture is devoured.

page 240

So much of who we are is what we remember and retell.

page 290

January 14, 2021

Patriotism seemed to derive quite easily from extremity.

page 304

Hmm. Interesting quote considering recent events.

I just finished the book today. I read 90% of it and listened to about 10%. To be honest, the big reason I listened to any portion of it was to hear the names read out loud.

That aside, the political intrigue and palace antics don’t stop before the end of the book, and they actually bring the plot right to the end. Since this is a spoiler-free blog, I won’t mention events, but I will say that this could be a stand-alone book as most things seemed to be brought to a resolution. Yes, there is a bit of romance, but nothing that overtakes the plot.

Overall, I would give this book 4.25 stars. A book full of political intrigue is generally not my number one pick, but then again, I read this for a book club. For me, one of the points of joining a book club is to be introduced to new books, new authors, new ideas.. so A Memory Called Empire definitely fits the bill.

I did a bit of research on the author, Arkady Martine, and based on her background in history, it makes sense how she came across all the ideas to meld them into this story. I also think it says a lot about an author when they can weave in different genres of writing, such as the poetry, play excerpts, and transcriptions in epigraphs preceding the chapters.

Finally, I identified and empathized so much with the situation of the main character, Mahit Dzmare, and the fact that she was finally immersed in a culture she’d been obsessively studying since she was a child. The way the author expresses Mahit’s experience of being multilingual is so spot-on. I think this part was maybe my favorite aspect of the book.

The sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, is on my To Be Read for this year. A couple of quotes to leave us with something to think about…

The world functions as it ought to and if I keep behaving as if it will continue to, nothing will go wrong.

page 378

Poetry is for the desperate, and for people who have grown old enough to have something to say.

page 387

Reading Goals and Contemplations for 2021

Here we are, another day, another post about reading. I’ve never really regularly written about my reading… ever. I think when I was younger, I was so unsure of myself as a reader, and trying to pretend I loved reading when it was all I could do to pay attention, read the Cliff Notes (for some books), and regurgitate information in class.

I was actually in the high-level English classes in high school, but I think it was because I was a really good test-taker. If I were to be asked to provide exposition about a particular book, I’d fall flat on my face. I relied on my smart classmates to provide that for me so I could jot it down in my notes for the eventual test.

To be honest, I’m not sure what all has changed in the past few years that I’ve been so interested and devouring books, especially this year. Maybe I’ll do a post soon about my 2020 stats. I’m still balls-deep in the Mistborn trilogy. Today is my first day of winter break (perks of being a teacher!) so I will definitely spend a chunk of time reading. I have so many thoughts…

Besides perhaps being more mature, one thing that has helped immensely in my rekindled love of reading is that people are out there talking about books. Some of our Maryland friends are huge readers and so they talk about things they read. I have discovered BookTube. My husband has been reading fantasy since he was a wee lad. My immediate family are big readers, too. So I have a lot of great influence and accountability, if I want it.

So… 2021. What’s on tap? With a gift card I received for Christmas I’ve ordered The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and Ship of Magic. These are all well-regarded books in the adult fantasy genre, ones that I’ve heard mentioned over and over. I generally don’t buy books, especially hardcovers, when I’m not sure if I will like it or not. A house project we have coming up is to install better bookshelves in the front room – so, of course more beautiful books to fill them won’t be a bad thing.

With the books I mentioned, I will delve into the writing of three new-to-me authors: V. E. Schwab, Scott Lynch, and Robin Hobb. I don’t know much about V. E. Schwab other than her books are lit. Scott Lynch wrote the introduction to a book I read recently for book club (Dragon Waiting by the late John M. Ford), and I won’t lie: I was so excited about his writing style that I wished the actual book had been written by him! I have also heard nothing but great things about Robin Hobb, a female author. Maybe I will also read the Farseer trilogy that she wrote.

I have also preordered the new Sarah J. Maas book that I think will be released in February, A Court of Silver Flames. This is the fourth book in the Court of Thorns and Roses series that I absolutely devoured end of 2019 through the beginning of 2020. Naturally, because it will have been a year since I completed those books, I should reread them, not only to have the events and characters in my mind, but also because they are such fun books to read.

I anticipate that I will read much more fantasy. Who knows.. maybe I’ll get into more of the Cosmere and read Way of Kings et al. I will be beginning two series with the Scott Lynch and Robin Hobb books, so I’ll have a natural TBR set up if I like those. I might continue with the Outlander series since I’ve had the fourth book on my monthly TBR for, well, months.

And then, of course, is the book club I belong to where we read award-winning fantasy and sci-fi. The first book of 2021 will be A Memory Called Empire, a space opera with indigenous Mexican vibes. I’m here for it. Never thought I’d say that about a fantasy or sci-fi book, but here we are. I will probably get started on it soon after I finish Mistborn.

As far as a number of books to read, I’m unsure about this goal. In 2020, my goal was 40 books, which for me at the time was realistic but still pushing it. So far, as of December 23, I’ve read 64 books. What. The. Heck. That’s more than a book a week. Even if I don’t include my DNF’s, that’s still more than a book a week. I guess 2020 was made for reading.

In 2021, I will also aim to discover more about why the genre of fantasy has appealed to me so much outside of the fact that it’s a convenient and fun escape from the current world we live in. It’s certainly not the only reason, though. Stay tuned!