The Year In Reading 2014 and Onward to 2015

According to Goodreads — my only real authority on anything reading-wise — I read 64 books in 2014. My first thought upon seeing that was, “Bummer. I didn’t read the 100 I set out to read.”

My second thought was “Whoa! 64!”

I also made a pretty good dent in what I dub my Complete Works Of Project. Basically, I said I’d work my way through William Shakespeare, Stephen King, and Jane Austen. And work I did. I haven’t hit the end of Will and Steve, but I did read all of Jane’s Completed Works. (I still have to read her juvenalia and some of her incomplete works to say I’ve read everything…but that’s a project for a different time.)

Surely, having read so much last year, I must have an opinion on some things, yes?

Why yes I do.

Jane Austen
The woman is, of course, a bad ass. My faves are Northanger Abbey, Emma, and the quintessential
Pride and Prejudice. I also really enjoyed Persuasion, which is kind of like a baby P&P. Sense and Sensibility gets an ‘okay’ as far as I’m concerned.

I have to tell you, five outta six ain’t bad.

Jane’s Mistake Park

But, man Mansfield Park can go suck it. What a preachy load of preachiness. Everyone’s a jerk. When you’re cheering for the rival, there’s a problem.

Stephen King
I’ve read almost 40 King books at this point — including his two newest ones Revival and Mr. Mercedes. (See? Say you’re gonna read a living writer and they come out with multiple books in a year, just to make sure you can’t quite catch up…ever.)

Revival — what a dark bummer of a book. A great bildingsroman, but dark. Damn. Not even horrific. Just DARK.

Mr. Mercedes — more of a mystery/thriller kind of romp. Easily on par with J.K. Rowling’s new nom-de-plume Richard Galbraith stuff. So, not bad. Not great. But not bad.

William Shakespeare
All I’ll say is that I’m reading his early comedies right now and I’m trying not to hate him as a misogynistic butthead. And this is after coming off early histories….

Faves of 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir (badass survival on Mars)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (surprisingly funnier than I anticipated)
The Secret Place by Tana French (the ultimate frenemy book)
What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions  by Randall Munroe (non-fiction, crazy shit)

Not so Faves of 2014
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (sorry, Jane, this one’s a stinker)
Writing with the Master by Tony Vanderwarker (the story of how John Grisham didn’t actually help a dude write a novel)

Now that 2014 is over and in the books (ha!) time for my goals for 2015.
1. Continue to plug away at William Shakespeare and Stephen King.
2. I’ve added in Virginia Woolf.
3. 56 books total for 2015 — not necessarily all Complete Works Of Project.

King Henry VI, Part 2King Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Henry plays — and a great deal of Shakespeare’s history plays — were written prior to 1594. These are Shakespeare’s early attempts and a lot of critics have pointed out: it shows.

Henry VI, Pt 2, is definitely rough. There are a crap-ton of characters, some of whom only show up once for a couple lines and then disappear. In a production of these plays, a lot of these roles would be doubled-up. The result is a somewhat chaotic read, though I bet it’s much easier to follow on stage.

All I really have to say about this play is: Early Shakespeare is Still Shakespeare!

And I think Shakespeare might’ve missed his true calling: darkKill-Bill-style comedy.

Yes, I think Shakespeare and Quentin Tarantino should get together. Wait, scratch that. They’d never shut up so they’d never get anything done. Both are kind of long winded.

However! Jack Cade, the badass-but-not-too-bright leader of the rebels, who appears near the end of the play, is the epitome of a Tarantino talky-crazed bad guy. He makes decapitated heads kiss each other. He kills people for calling him the wrong name. He proclaims random laws. His scenes are straight out of Pulp Fiction. It’s a good thing Shakespeare didn’t have access to needles. (Or, maybe, a bad thing.)

Some of that shit was so disturbing I laughed out loud.

Do the nobles plot for an unreasonable amount of time? Yes.
Is it sometimes difficult to follow characters and their motivations? Sometimes. Yes.

But I liked it way more than I thought I would.

View all my reviews

The Original Pronunciation of Shakespeare

I’m trying to read Shakespeare’s works in the (generally) agreed upon order in which they were written. That means there’s a lot of histories up front. Right now, I’ve finished the Henry VI trilogy and am moving on to Richard III.

And, really, the only thing clear to me is Shakespeare’s historical presentations are quite questionable. There weren’t any archaeologists or disciplined historians back in the day. Most of the base material he used to produce these works are biased at the very least.

So, I find it ironic that English majors, historians, and armchair quarterbacks use such rigorous focus when studying the Bard.

For example, there have been several productions of Shakespeare’s plays in the past few years who have gone to a lot of trouble to recreate the original pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time period. Below, you’ll find a video featuring David Crystal, Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, presenting the methodology behind figuring out Shakespeare’s language.

But the real question is why do we even care about Shakespeare’s original pronunciation?

A couple different reasons off the top of my head:

1. Meaning. As Crystal points out in the video, the original pronunciation alters the meaning of the words themselves — you can see changes in jokes/puns. This is a real-life exploration of the evolution of language. And evolution of meaning affects:

2. History. It’s also pointed out in the video that Shakespeare’s language/dialect was the language/dialect of the first colonists of the United States. While the presenters of the video are focused exclusively on Shakespeare, it’s just a natural leap to assume the language (and possible meaning alterations) transfers to historical documents.

And that doesn’t even come close to the several ways of understanding the plays themselves, which these gentlemen do a much better job of explaining:

Challenges 2014: EPIC Edition

Because I’m a little insane, I’ve decided to give myself some challenges this year. (I don’t like to call them “resolutions” because then I won’t do them. I rebel against that kinda shit.)

So, instead, I’ve decided that I will do a writing challenge, an acting challenge, a blogging challenge, a reading challenge, and a physical challenge.

The Writing Challenge
I challenge myself to write two (2) full fledged novels this year. This means that I will have two completed first drafts by December 31, 2014. The first one is to be finished by March 31. The second is to be finished by October 31.

The Acting Challenge
I will act in three (3) different plays this year. This one might not be that difficult, since I’m already cast in two plays already. However, with theatre, since it’s such a subjective kinda gig, it’s hard to know when a director will be like “YES” or “no.”

The thing that is within my control, however, is auditions. I’m going to any and all local auditions I can get to until I land that third part.

The Blogging Challenge
I’m gonna write a blog a day for 2014. It might not be good. It might be boring as hell for you. It might degenerate to kitten pictures. But there will be a post-a-day.

The Reading Challenge
I will finish reading the complete works of Stephen King, William Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. This means that any books by these authors that I have not already read previously, I will read. That’s something like 30 from King, 20 from Shakespeare, and two from Austen. (See Goodreads sidebar for progress!)

The Physical Challenge
Confession. I have been unhappy in my body for a little while now. So I’m going to start putting it back into shape. I’m 101 pounds overweight. This year, I’m going to lose 60 pounds. There might be a lot of blog-crying on this one, so just a heads up…health related posts are sure to pop up!

So, 2014 should be delightfully busy, busy, busy!

Missing Your Goal Doesn’t Mean You Didn’t Accomplish Anything

2013 has five weeks left in it. Back in January I set myself a Goodreads goal to read 100 books this year. By October, I’d fallen so far behind the pace that there was no way for me to hit my goal. I was something like 30 books behind and it would take me the rest of the year just to catch up, let alone hit the goal. So I dropped the goal to 90, which cut my catch-up in half, and I proceeded to read as many books as I possibly could.

I’m not gonna hit 90 books.

Last night I looked at my numbers. This year I’ve read 64 books. According to the Goodreads counter, I’m fifteen books behind. So I have to read at least three books a week for the rest of the year to even catch the books I’m behind.

Last night I felt like a failure. I’d missed what I’d set out to do. In frustration, I looked at my stats — the section in Goodreads where you can see how many books you’ve read and how many pages you’ve read and compare that to other years. I stared at the 64 books. I stared at 20,000+ pages. And felt like a failure.

Then Shane, who was reading over my shoulder said something like, “That’s over a book a week.” He said something like, “I’ve never read that many in a year.”

So I looked at my stats again.

Prior to this year, the most books I’d read in a single year was 56.

Prior to this year, the most pages I’d read in a single year was 15,745.

Both of these records I’ve blown away this year. And I realized that I was being too hard on myself. Did I hit my goal? No. Which stings. I said I would do something, and then I didn’t do it. It’s like breaking a promise to myself.

But I have done more this year than I have ever done before. How could I not be proud of that? How could I beat myself up for that?

The answer is I shouldn’t, and I’m going to stop right now. In the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, I’m not going to look at what I don’t have and be thankful for what I do. And what I have are 64 new books under my belt, five weeks to read more of what I want to read, and an opportunity to set a new, badass record for myself.  

Time to clear the stack:JenRidReadMo

Last month, as you guys know, was National Novel Writing Month. Millions of writers across the country set pen to paper/fingers to keyboard in order to write an entire novel in a month. Which is a crazy idea, when you get right down to it.

Partly to recover from this last bout of ridiculousness, and partly because I set myself the challenge of reading 80 books this year, I will be reading a book a day until the end of the year.

I’m dubbing this challenge: JenRidReadMo. (Jenny’s Ridiculous Reading Month)

Why? I’m sure my friend John is asking (because he’s always the one looking at me like I’ve lost my mind when I say “I’m gonna do this [fill in random thought]!”).

My Reasons:
Palate cleansing. Post NaNo, I find I need a break from writing. I’m still working on a couple things, and by working I mean fiddling and getting nothing accomplished. And reading will help reboot the system.

Well filling. During NaNo my brain stopped working correctly. I didn’t entirely lose the vision of my novel, but it definitely got blurred around the edges. I need fuel to kick the ol’ imagination back in gear. Right now I feel like I have nothing to pull from. Time to chill and gather my brilliant thoughts again.

Because I wanna. Like NaNo, JenRidReadMo, is a challenge. I’d like to say that I did it. And I don’t mean 35 books in one month, I’m referring to the goal I set back way early in the year – which I already missed because my original insane goal was 100. My previous years (according to Goodreads stats) I’ve managed about 30 books a year. I don’t want to set it back again – that feels like failing and I don’t like to fail. So this is an area where I’d like to push myself.

And a quick shout out to Deniz – who is doing her own removal of her teetering to-read pile.


Tuesday Post of Accountability! Writing! Yeah!

Ah, Tuesday. Time to be held accountable.

Here’s what I was up to:

1. Writing. Woo-whee! Finished a chapter and am half through another, for a grand total of twenty-odd pages this past week. Since I figured out the schedule that I need to be on, I’ve been sticking to it pretty consistently. Of course, I only figured it out last week…so let’s see how long I stick to it, yeah?

Another reason I think I’ve been so productive is that I’ve figured out not to try too much new. A certain pattern has emerged on the projects I finish and, if that’s how I’m finishing, then that’s what I need to do, right?

So, my process (my real process, as I figure out every time…so remind me next time I try something too different): hand-write in the cheap notebooks that are so plentiful this time of year – because they’re cheap I don’t have an ounce of guilt about what should or should not go in them, which plagues me for some reason with the nicer notebooks/journals. Then edit as I type it in later.

Another weird thing I’ve noticed: when I’m working on a big project I like to use one writing utensil – whether pencil or pen – until said utensil runs out (either the pencil is so short it’s awkward to hold, or until the pen runs out of ink). Seems strange to the outside world, I’m sure, but I think I use these as measuring sticks. If I ever feel I’m not making progress…I can just look at the length of my pencil, or my pen will suddenly refuse to write another word. Then I have the distinct triumphant feeling of: Ha! I beat that one!

2. Finished reading some books that I’ve been monkeying around with. On Goodreads I entered 100 books as my reading goal this year, so when I plotted my writing goals I plotted my reading goals as well. Turns out that I was a tad smidgen too ambitious. So I’ve revised to eighty books and I’ve actually scheduled out how much time I’ll need to read said books to hit my goal by the end of the year.

Shane looked at me and said “You’re a little intense.”

Well, writing and reading are pretty much my thing, so it doesn’t feel like work. I want to be an expert and all….

3. Learned to pity English teachers (well, actually, all teachers). I’m from a family of teachers, and my husband is one. He’s just taken on a job at, basically, a Talented and Gifted charter school that can get kind of intense. He had stacks of stuff to grade this weekend – drafts of paragraphs that he had to mark up and get back to the kids by today. I had mercy on him and helped edit…though I don’t know how helpful I was with the rubric schtuff. I’m sure he wasn’t the only teacher grading on Labor Day, so let me give a shout-out to my teacher people: I LOVE YOU! YOUR STUDENTS LOVE YOU! KEEP IT UP!!!

Tuesday Post of Accountability!: Reading Should Count As Writing

It’s Tuesday again! And every Tuesday you will be subjected to regaled by the writing progress I have made over the last week. But! I insist that I not be the only one exposing myself sounding off. Let your comments reflect what kind of suffering butt-kicking you have done too!

And now we get to why a consistent accountability post is necessary:

I did not write a word this week. (Except for blog posts…)

Sad faces all around.

However, I did do a LOAD of reading. I finished Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and am halfway through Kerouac’s The Subterraneans and Erasmus’s Praise of Folly. And guys, I hafta tell you, these are not the easiest books I’ve ever read.

However, we all know reading is very important to writing!

For example: Two of the books I’ve read this week, of course, have to do with this month’s mentor. I look at technique, tone, or whatever else I can pull from it for my own work…but it’s not necessarily related to the WIP. This kind of reading is more like buying tools for the toolbox, if you catch my drift.

The other two books (Atwood and Erasmus) have more to do with my WIP. I’ve determined, since The Line is all dystopian future that I should (duh!) read more dystopian novels. (Plus I have to read Atwood for the September/October mentoring session – two for one!)

Erasmus isn’t dystopian but I think his work speaks to the social consciences in my novel. (Whoa. That sounds high-fallutin’…no worries, I’m more about entertainment.)

Plus this week we’ve been getting everyone prepped for the start of school. Yippee skippee.

Please tell me you guys were more successful on the word count bit.

Oh, and a big shout out to Deniz, who finished her round of editing!

The Animal Angle

I dont’ think anyone can talk about Rita Mae Brown’s work fairly without discussing the “animal angle.”

I’ve never written a story or a novel from the POV of an animal. Mostly because I, personally, have never been inspired to do so. However, Rita Mae Brown has made quite a lucrative career from writing from the POV of a cat.

This can be seen in the literary realm (as opposed to the genre arena of cozy mysteries, etc.) as well–some of the bestest-best sellers of recent years have had, at least partially, the POV of an animal: The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Dogs of Babel, Dog Gone It, etc.

The challenge presented by this creative style is obvious: we don’t know how animals think, so how can we, as humans, possibly narrate convincingly? Brown is surrounded by animals day in and day out. She lives on a farm and is, therefore, familiar with animal behavior. This experience is reflected in her work–with lots of focus on smells, etc.

I think Brown has hit on the answer for this creative dilemma. If you’re going to write from the POV of an animal, then you better darn well observe that animal. And not just on Animal Planet. The movement, the engagement, the habits, and (ahem) the smell of the animal is something that should be witnessed in person.

Jenny is a Sexist

I admit it.

I just started reading Murder Most Frothy. Upon opening the book I was confronted with *gasp* a brief prologue in which the anonymous killer is shooting the hapless victim. I got through the first couple paragraphs (paragraphs about gun models, bullet calibers, etc.) and had the immediate thought: Cleo Coyle is a pen name and the author is a dude.

I have no problem with dude writers–in fact I read quite a lot of dudes. And, in fact, I immediately liked this book better than the previously-read, obviously-written-by-a-woman Scrub-a-Dub Dead. Am I being sexist? Yes, but the response is important, I think.

Immediately I flipped to the About the Author section in which I learned that “Cleo Coyle” is indeed a pen name–for a husband and wife team. So I was at least half right. A dude was definitely involved in the writing of this book.

Does this mean that women can’t write spectacular scenes that also explain gun makes and models? Hell no. (In fact, I don’t know that the wife portion of the team didn’t write the prologue, I’m just sexistly assuming.) It just means that there is a different sound to the writing in this particular book that reads more masculine. I’m not making any judgement call on it. But, as writers, I think that’s something to be aware of because it can affect your audience. There’s a chance that the masculine tone is even off-putting to some readers of the cozy mystery genre–which is predominately women.

Ali once posted a test where you inserted a piece of writing and it would tell you whether you were a girl or a boy. I consistently got ‘boy’–and I tried not to take it too personally. There are some famous and talented men writing out there somewhere. (Easy fellas! Just teasing.)

How about you? Do you lean toward reading a feminine voice or a masculine voice? How do you think your writing speaks to your readers? Manly Man? Gentlewoman? Troubled Teen?