Tag Archives: reading

At What Speed Do You Read?

Staples, of all places, came out with this cool little test to see how many words a minute you read. See how you do!

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

I think it’s a smidge disengenuous because it tells you to read at your normal speed, then clocks you against speed readers (as well as the national average), but I LOVE the part at the end that estimates how quickly you’d finish various books. It estimated I’d read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in less than 3 hours (at 455 words per minute), and I’m pretty sure I did!

How fast do you read? I know I’m slower on some kinds of stories; other ones speed me up because they’re so much fun!

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Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This classic fantasy novel, written in 1967 by one of the world’s top sci-fi/fantasy authors… just didn’t grab me. It’s well-composed, with a nicely fleshed-out world and an interesting power structure for the wizards and some cultural details, but the story of the Sparrowhawk’s beginnings left me wondering, “so why should I care?”
I think I’m ruined for this book by the Harry Potter era. It’s just hard to get attached to a boy wizard in this style, after I’ve gotten accustomed to the very feelings, friendships, and trials of a different, more relatable wizard. The whole “true name” thing may have been a cool storytelling concept, but it just serves as one more layer between the reader and the character–what’s his name again? (The main character has no less than three different names throughout the book!). It’s also told in a rather detached third-person; we only vaguely get a sense of Sparrowhawk/Ged’s feelings at any given time, and we are invited not to feel with him but to watch as he fumbles around. Throw in the jumpy time setting (following not a calendar but whenever the action seems likely to hit) and you’ve got a story I just never felt comfortable in.
I finished the book for the lessons of the craft I could learn, not from any deep affinity for it. In fact, I found the author’s afterward far, far more compelling and approachable than the rest of the story–I’d have rated THAT 5-stars!
Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s just that this book had its heyday in a different time, in a very different genre fiction landscape. It’s certainly not LeGuin’s fault; she’s a beautiful, if impassive, author who has my utmost respect. But I’m not sure I’ll bother picking up the rest of the series.

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Review: The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and WorkThe Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work by Christine Carter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was so persuasive, I implemented some of its suggestions even before buying and reading it!
It’s true. I first heard about The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work on the incredibly excellent radio program Think. I only heard the tail end of the discussion, but it was very convincing: that implementing a few routines and intentional habits into your life could make work, life, everything more copacetic.
And that’s how I started doing pushups as soon as I woke up. And then how I bought the book.
Carter does a great job in grouping concepts and providing both detailed research and easy action points. Because of that, I think this is the kind of book you read twice: once to grok it and let it really sink in, and a second time with a pencil and paper as you work out what you’re actually going to try to do.
The things she advocates are both really easy and seem like they’ll be very difficult to implement in real life. Most people already know they should get enough sleep, but allow themselves to stay up late anyway, for example. But even if you take only a little bit away from reading this book, you’ll probably be better for it. I fully intend to go back and complete some of the personal challenges Carter suggests. My favorite was outlining, literally, the top 5 most important things in your life, and only doing things that serve those goals. Oh, and I’m working on halting my habit of checking my cellphone at stop lights while driving, though “embracing boredom to allow for creativity” is proving easier said than done.
Why is this book only 3 stars? Well, it’s true that I liked it (what a 3-star rating on Goodreads means). But it felt a) a little sanctimonious and b) like doing literally all these things would make you a very boring person.
Carter often uses examples from her own life to explain how her concepts could be performed in real life. But these were the absolute low points of the narrative for me: the details of your childrens’ daily breakfasts (a “healthy meal of half an avocado spread on toast!”) just come across as a humblebrag for anyone who knows how much an avocado costs outside of California and how weird it is to eat that every single day. I was further (and possibly unjustifiably) irked when Carter got into her hard-knock story as a single mom…but she still paid for a regular, weekly housekeeper. #firstworldproblems? She gives herself a bedtime of 10 p.m. so that she can wake at 6 to begin her day–I had to wonder, does that ever vary?–and even went so far as so detail her wardrobe (if you have her as a speaker, don’t worry, you’ll know which of the three dresses she’ll be wearing!).
And yet despite the rigidity of her self-imposed habits, Carter never satisfactorily explained what it had gained her (except for the section on her morning workout routines; apparently that has led to some nice benefits). Presumably more creativity–but for what? Potentially more time with her kids, I guess, but they all sound relatively young, with early bedtimes?
Because of that, despite all the positive things I think I can get out of this book, I was a little distant from it and felt myself rebelling. What if I don’t want the same routine forever and always?
Honestly, Carter leaves room for that. She doesn’t necessarily want to make you accept her goals, but does want to teach you how to make your own. I’ll have to try it to see how well it works out.

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How to Support an Author

Bestseller and ebook trailblazer Hugh Howey had a blog post that I think bears repeating: What’s the Best Way to Support Your Favorite Authors?

The answer may surprise you: while buying stuff is absolutely great (and hey, you can buy my book here!), but it isn’t actually the best way to support someone.

Howey says:

“If you really want to support your favorite authors, my advice is simple: Read their books. Spread word-of-mouth. Write reviews. Email them and express your delight.”

The best–and easiest–way to support an author, be they independent, with a small publisher, or from one of the big publishers, is to tell someone else how great the book was. Despite all our gizmos and features, we still value word of mouth most. Telling your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and others how much you liked a book is powerful mojo. Tweeting about it, blogging, sharing on Facebook, or writing up a review on Goodreads or Amazon or anywhere else are all bonus ways to share with more people all at once.

It’s humbling, really, to know that the most powerful way to boost your favorite authors (or even your most recent read) is just to tell someone else about it. I review every book I read on Goodreads. How do you show your support?

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Review: Ship of Destiny

Ship of Destiny (Liveship Traders, #3)Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been waiting to read this book for something like 15 years. Robin Hobb‘s Liveship Traders series was the first to make me desperate for the next book…but it wasn’t written yet. But I also didn’t have much patience, so when I couldn’t get my hands on the book for a month, I gave up, moved on to other things, and forgot about it.

Until I saw Ship of Destiny in a used bookstore! Despite the long wait, Ship of Destiny did not disappoint!
Ship of Destiny is an epic fantasy that features stunning dragons, angsty/crazy talking ships, a horrible pirate, a fierce and bold woman, and desperate policitians. It’s fantastic. Robin Hobb’s knowledge of wooden galleys is incredible and makes it feel like you’re really there, feeling the sway of the swell and lash of the wind. Though the story is incredibly complex–following many paths simultaneously–it is easy to follow and all comes together beautifully.

It is one of those books that you’re both eager finish and sad to put down. It’s an epic conclusion to a great series, and I’m glad to finally have closure on it.

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Readers’ Choice: Undead Rising – Part 1

Undead Rising coverUndead Rising: Decide Your Destiny is a zombie experience like no other—you, the reader, get to choose how the adventure will unfold! As such, it seemed only right that my blog readers should get a free taste of the book. What will you choose? Answer the poll to decide which way the story will proceed!

Today has not been your day. First you woke up late, and had to wait behind the most indecisive person in New York—good god, how long does it take to order a tall nonfat latte with a doubleshot of caramel and no whip? Is this your first time picking out a goddamn drink? Moron.—So you were barely caffeinated by the time you made it into work, narrowly dodging a cabbie’s nasty road splash (but still winding up with something indescribable and sticky on your shoes). Your boss Lisette looked annoyed, and you hid in your cubicle, hoping not to be noticed, and spent the first hour staring at your ex’s photo on Facebook. Why did it have to end like that? Forget the other fishes in the sea, you two had something good.

But you aren’t even able to cling to your reverie. A little before lunch (geeze, can you not even catch the smallest break?!) the first announcement came: CDC officials identified the outbreak in Chicago. It is some new virus, really dangerous. There are whispers of bioterrorism, but nobody knows for sure. It is now in New York, and probably airborne. Then, block by block, the mayor put the city into lockdown. This is serious, guys.

This is an official outbreak.

Check back on Saturday for the result!

Edit: After further consideration (and a closer read of Amazon KDP’s rules), I’ve decided not to post more of the book for readers. Sorry! KDP is, it turns out, rather strict about giving away too much. You’ll have to buy the book and try for yourself!

Want to decide for yourself? Buy Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny now! (Also available for Kindle.)

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Review: Ender’s Game

Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet, #1)Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ender’s Game is one of those books that everyone just assumes you read in school as assigned reading, then they look shocked when they discover you hadn’t. Well, now I have.

It’s an interesting science-fiction book, and definitely would be classified as “young adult” now. The story–in case you also are late to the party–is about Ender Wiggen, a genius-level boy who is selected by mysterious government men to join the Battle School. These men are entrusted with the care of many such excellent children, with the goal of training them to be perfect soldiers, and, in Ender’s case, the perfect commander, in the human fight against the alien buggers. Because of this, Ender is subjected to trial after trial, both interpersonal as well as intellectual. He is isolated and suffers much. Meanwhile, back at home, his also-genius and somewhat sociopathic siblings Valentine and Peter concoct their own schemes to meddle in Earth politics and gain power…even as children.

The book really shines in the zero-G/null gravity tactical battles, which, according to the preface written by author Orson Scott Card, was what started the whole thing anyway. Card tackles the challenges of combat–distance and hand-to-hand–in three dimensions, adding challenges we just won’t face on Earth (hopefully). It’s easy to see why directors thought this would make a great movie; these scenes are vivid and enthralling.

Otherwise, I found the story a little far-fetched. Ender a super-duper genius at just 6? He certainly doesn’t have interactions like a 6-year-old. I’ll accede that possibly he could be really smart and particularly verbal and accept the language as it is, but even super-geniuses need a certain level of human companionship. I also don’t know that I ever fully bought into the validity of the scheme of isolation to produce leadership, that having no friends was explicitly what was going to make Ender a good leader. Which is one of the main conceits of the book…

Card notes in his preface that, when the book was first published, he received angry letters from parents who claimed no gifted child would talk like that. I’m not sure I see anything that seems totally out of the realm of possibility…not just for gifted children, but for any children. Kids can be sadistic bastards, yo. (And I think we as a culture may have gotten over that squeamishness some, at least in fiction, with Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, among many others, being highly cogent.)

I love the space stuff, but don’t particularly love the overall message and themes of this book. Perhaps I’m too old to really appreciate the tortured-youth of it; the adults just seem like unforgivable assholes to me.

The ending–the final ending, after the buggers have been defeated–felt so horribly tacked-on and unformed that it really took a lot away from the book for me. It felt like Card desperately wanted a happy ending for this character he unduly tortured but didn’t know how to get there, so slapped together 20 pages of falderal so he can write sequels. While I’m glad I finally read this book, I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the others.

Card’s highly controversial/offensive personal views–he is an active Mormon and has been outspoken about his disgust toward homosexuality, and has been a generous donor to anti-gay marriage folks–is interesting. I bought this book second-hand because I don’t support his views personally and therefore didn’t want extra money going to him, and perhaps that made it top-of-mind for me…but for all that he was anti-homosexuality, his book could very easily be read as including it in a positive way. It’s something the reader would have to bring to the book, so to speak, but there’s an awful lot of male nudity (I wish I’d kept tabs on how often the word “naked” was used!) and there’s a fight scene in a shower featuring highly lathered and soapy naked teenage boys. There are barely two female characters in the whole book; it’s not a huge leap. Worth thinking about, anyway.

(Related: I found it interesting/odd that religion is apparently gone from this Earth at the beginning of the book–banned, it seems–except that Jews are held in high regard, and by the end Ender has inadvertently created a religion? That seemed inconsistent.)

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2014 Year in Books

I like to use Goodreads.com to catalog what I’ve read (and to write reviews for all of them). Sometimes I forget what I’ve read or wanted to read, and it’s a great app. This year, just like last, I participated in a self-appointed reading challenge: 30 books by the end of the year. I managed to get to 33. But as a bonus, all the books I read just in 2014 are in one neat little list.
Here are the stats:
Books read: 33
Graphic novels: 8*
Male authors: 14
Female authors: 13
Most-read author (page/word count): Margaret Atwood
Most-read author (titles): Gail Simone (5)
Genres: Fantasy, Non-fiction; Horror; Science-Fiction; Chick Lit, Literary; Graphic Novels; Mystery
Most common genre: Fantasy (12 titles)
Books by Genre: 
2014 books by genre
Favorite Book: The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
Most-Hated Book: Sick Puppy, Carl Hiasson
Comics read as single-issues (and therefore didn’t count as a “book” in Goodreads): SagaBlack Widow, Bitch Planet, She-Hulk, Star Wars, Sandman prequel
*The graphic novel count is tough: I didn’t input all the single issues I read (they seemed too short to count as full “books”) and the collection of all the issues of Transmetropolitan counted as 1 book…but would have otherwise been 10. As such, Warren Ellis also gets recognition as a most-read author (10 graphic novels in one collected book).
What does your Year in Books look like? Any surprises?

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Gift from the Internet: LeVar Burton Reads Profane “Children’s Book”

Never again wonder about the power of reading, darlings, or of the internet: Here’s a video of LeVar Burton, of Star Trek: Next Generation and Reading Rainbow infamy, reading profane classic “Go the F*ck To Sleep” for charity.

Seriously, what could be better than childhood idols who support literacy efforts reading funny books to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network?

He helped raise $240,000. Oh, and he’s wearing a Captain Planet t-shirt. Best. Ever.

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November 1, 2014 · 9:10 am

Hate A Book? Don’t Force It.

Author Nick Hornby has made waves with this article about highbrow books, and people’s enjoyment of them. (And it’s fortuitous, because I just started reading one of his books, Juliet, Naked, and he’s just phenomenal.)
Some people have interpreted that article to mean: “don’t read anything hard.”
But I don’t think it’s that at all. I think Hornby is trying to emphasize that reading should not be a chore (though, as I’ve said, sometimes it’s inordinately made into one in school). He’s saying that a book can be a “classic” or “highbrow” or “important” without necessarily being something you’re interested in and will benefit from.
I find it interesting that people are upset by this idea at all. If you replaced “highbrow” with a genre, people wouldn’t be at all surprised that not everyone likes it: ex. “If you don’t like a horror book, it’s ok not to read it. Horror may just not be for you.”
See? Is that scandalous? I don’t think so.
But sometimes we put certain kinds of books on a pedestal, sometimes just because they are challenging. I get the impression that some books–perhaps War and Peace?–are idolized not as books but as achievements to be checked off. “Oh, I read that.” Could you have a conversation about it? Did you enjoy yourself? Probably not, but you can check it off your bucket list.
And if that appeals to you, go ahead, have at it. But I’m 100% unabashedly in support of people reading because they like to read. (And, given enough latitude and choice, that everyone could be a reader if they were only given the opportunity to read the kinds of things they may like.)
Full disclosure: I didn’t get through more than 25 pages of Moby Dick. I know it’s an important and worthy book and all that, but I felt like I was being stabbed by ice picks when I read it. And I don’t feel like I’m missing that much, honestly.
What do you think? Should you buckle down during a hard read, or is it ok to put it aside?


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