Archive for the Reading List Category

2008 Reading Project

Posted in Reading List with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2017 by jaclemens

I joined Goodreads in April 2008 and began adding titles right away to my to-read shelf. These titles were the books I most wanted to read, foremost on my list, and yet some of them can still be found lingering in to-read limbo today. I realized that if I did not rectify this situation in 2017, I will be lamenting – not celebrating – my 10 year anniversary next spring!

Looking back on that first year, I read 44 books, many of them formative for my development as a book buyer. Three books by Michael Chabon (not my first, but it cemented his place as one of my favorite authors); three by Brandon Sanderson (ibid); The Book Thief; American Gods; Wicked; Reinhold Niebuhr and Isaac Bashevis Singer; and The Stress of Her Regard (one of my top ten favorite books), among other great reads. It was a tremendous year of reading for me, so it’s no slight on the books I didn’t get to in 2008.

Since then I have read plenty of books and added plenty more to my to-read list. From 2009 to 2011, I managed to move 20 more of my 2008 books from to-read to read (past tense), so it isn’t as if I forgot about the books that had earlier caught my eye. However, I have made no progress on that subset of books since re-reading The Stress of Her Regard in 2011. I wouldn’t say that I lost interest after three years – or that more appealing books intervened – but, for one reason or another, those books did not fit into my immediate reading plan.

In 2017, I will be reading 1-2 books each month from my 2008 list in order to finish the remaining 18 that have gone neglected for the last six years. I started my project in February with a pair of timely titles: 1984 by George Orwell and The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. I plan to read a larger amount of new releases combined with other books that haven’t languished as long on my to-read list, but the 2008 books will provide the basis for my reading this year. I don’t anticipate writing a review for every book I read in 2017, but hopefully working through the books I wanted to read back then will help recapture some of the magic of buying and reading books in 2008!

Undertakings

Posted in Events, New release, Non Fiction, Reading List with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2013 by jaclemens

Election Day 2013November has been a big month for author events at the University of Utah.  For the second straight year, I spent Election Night listening to a prominent author.  In 2012, it was Brandon Sanderson at Weller Book Works; in 2013, it was Malcolm Gladwell at Abravanel Hall.  Mr. Gladwell was the esteemed guest for the inaugural Sam Rich Speaking Series presented by the Hinckley Institute of Politics.  Fortunately for the University Campus Store, the Hinckley Institute chose us to provide copies of Mr. Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants for his first appearance in Salt Lake City.  It was easily the largest event I have worked in my bookselling career, and I didn’t do it all on my own.  Fortunately for me, one of our student supervisors volunteered to assist me in this undertaking. Lucy LaPutka’s involvement was an integral part of making this large event a success.  Lucy wanted to learn how events run, and she hoped to meet Mr. Gladwell.  We were able to listen to the closed-circuit telecast of his presentation – he handles his audience with exceptional skill – but we did not get the chance to meet him afterward.  Mr. Gladwell signed as many books as he could before he had to leave for his flight.  It still proved to be a late night, but I didn’t have much time to recover.

Sam Daley-HarrisTwo days later, the Hinckley Institute hosted Sam Daley-Harris, and invited me back to sell copies of the 20th anniversary edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government. Daley-Harris is the founder of RESULTS, and spoke about his experience in harnessing the enthusiasm of volunteers and directing it into meaningful channels of change. This was a smaller scale event, which is befitting the author’s approach.  He was able to poll the students in the audience about their belief in the efficacy of implementing change, and explained why he remains firmly in the hopeful camp.  It was an uplifting message for those who heard it in person or via radio broadcast.

I was surprised to learn of another event the following Tuesday.  A shipment of books arrived at our store without an order.  I contacted the publisher and was informed of an event that evening!  When I arrived at the venue on campus both the organizers and the authors said they weren’t aware I would be there.  Nor was I!  The topic of discussion was “The Loud Absence: Where is God in Suffering?”, sponsored by the Veritas Forum.  Margaret Battin, a professor of philosophy at the University of Utah, and John Lennox, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, led the discussion.  I was on hand to sell Lennox’s books, such as God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway? and God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?.   For an unanticipated event the sales were decent, but it made for a long bus ride late at night.

A week later I had a fourth event on campus.  I knew about it in advance, but I was one of the few who did.  A miscommunication in publicity resulted in a small audience for Tim Cope, who had spoken to 800 people the night before in Santa Barbara.  Cope is an adventurous Australian traveler, who has cycled through Siberia, rowed a river boat to the Arctic Ocean, and ridden horses from Mongolia to Hungary.  His book On the Trail of Genghis Khan: an Epic Journey through the Land of the Nomads recounts the daring 10,000 kilometer ride through five countries.  In October it won the Grand Prize at the Banff Book Festival.  The title of the book didn’t grab me, but Cope’s personal presentation certainly did.  He sat on the front of the stage and spoke to our intimate group over a slideshow of still shots and video footage from his immense journey.  It was an incredible presentation, and I urge you to visit his website, timcopejourneys.com, to learn more.

David and Goliath has been on my to read list for some time, but On the Trail of Genghis Khan is the book I’m reading right now!

Sunny Day

Posted in New release, Reading List, Young Adult with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2013 by jaclemens

Siege and StormI’m always glad when summer turns to fall, but I haven’t finished reviewing summer books yet! So if you didn’t get enough summer sun, I give you the Sun Summoner, Alina Starkov! She doesn’t just walk in darkness (see previous post) she dispels it, allowing safe passage through the deadly Fold that divides Ravka. When last we saw Alina, she was escaping the Darkling who had enthralled her power to increase his own. She abandoned him in the Fold, leaving him to perish in the everlasting darkness he created. Alina rescued her friend Mal, and together they sailed to a distant land to lead ordinary lives. That would be nice for them, but it would make a rotten second book in the series. Fortunately the Darkling tracks them down – he survived, and gained terrible new powers in the process! Even so he still requires Alina’s ability, and they go off in search of another amplifier to increase its potency. All the conflicting plans come to fruition with minimal resistance. A new character is introduced, and he spirits Alina and Mal away from the Darkling. What follows is a tour of the other districts countryside, complete with pseudo-love triangle, that reminded me too much of the second book in another young adult series. There is another overwhelming confrontation with the Darkling and his hordes, but Alina and her ragtag band of freedom fighters manage to slip through the siege. They take refuge in an underground bunker, and the Mockingjay Sun Summoner becomes a symbol of the uprising to come in the last book in the trilogy. I didn’t care for the third book in that other popular series, so I wouldn’t continue reading this series if not for a singular surprise in the ending. I prefer Bardugo’s short fables set in the same world, such as “The Too-Clever Fox,” to the tired trilogy approach.

FragmentsFragments by Dan Wells is an example of a second book in a series that is more exciting than the first. It’s not an example of a summer book – came out in February – but I read it in June and I’m reviewing it in September. I deliberately waited until I read Siege and Storm so I could review the two books together. I anticipate doing the same with the third books – Ruin and Rising (Grisha #3) and Ruins (Partials Sequence #3) – when they come out next year.

After learning that she is neither human (as she was brought up) nor a standard Partial (the enemies she was brought up to fear), Kira sets out on a voyage of discovery. She hopes to discover the truth about her own nature and hopefully unlock the secret to the survival of both races. Leaving behind Marcus, her human companion who wouldn’t understand, she goes off with Samm, her Partial counterpart with whom she cannot link. She is trying to embrace both sides, to bring them together and save both sides, but she is rejected by both sides. Kira is not mistaken for a saint or fanatically followed like Alina. She does get to travel cross-country, but in the place of the Shadow Fold there is the Desolation of the Midwest caused by the destruction of the oil fields of Texas. Flying monsters are replaced by acid rains. No edible forage remains for their horses, no bridges remain for crossing overflowing rivers. Kira and her traveling companions don’t have a fantastic flying contraption like Alina uses to traverse the wasteland, so they have to find their own innovative ways to cross. Where Ravka is thinly veiled, this post-apocalyptic America is nuanced and believable. First they travel to flooded Chicago, then on to ravaged Denver. It is a long journey on horseback, but the pace doesn’t slow down. Surviving the trip is challenging enough – one of the foursome doesn’t see the end destination – and finding the information they seek hits snag after snag. In pursuit of Kira and her peculiar genetic profile is the nefarious Dr. Morgan, from whom Samm helped her escape in book one. Wells broadens the scope and deepens the plot in book two, making it more compelling as the story progresses. I read Partials in May and Fragments in June, but even with waiting until September to write this review it still seems like a long wait for the conclusion of the series in March!

Open Season

Posted in Events, Fiction, Non Fiction, Reading List with tags , , , , , , on August 30, 2013 by jaclemens

WeddleUtah opened the football season with a rousing victory against Utah State last night! In preparation for the season I read No Excuses, No Regrets: The Eric Weddle Story by Trent Toone (another May release). I have another blog where I track the Utes who have gone on to play professionally, and Weddle is definitely one of my favorites. He isn’t going to grace the pages of ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue, but he is the epitome of a professional athlete in my eyes. His determination to make pivotal plays is unmatched, and he deserves to be one of the highest-paid players at his position. If only Toone was as dedicated to being the best at his profession as his subject, this would be a truly great read. This biography discusses Weddle’s accomplishments to date, but it also examines his high character, family life, and conversion to the LDS Church. I was already a Weddle fan, and now I’m determined to get The Man’s Chargers jersey (even if he did admit to reading the Twilight series!).

Billy LynnFor a more complicated subject and superior writing, I turned to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. I’m no fan of the Dallas Cowboys, Destiny’s Child, or the war in Iraq necessarily, but I am a fan of writers who can meld difficult subject matter into an entertaining book, so that makes me a Fountain fan! He deserved to be a National Book Award Finalist for what he did with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. It may not be the definitive literary work of the Iraq war, but I have already recommended it to my buddy in the Navy. I await his verdict as to the authenticity of Billy Lynn’s experiences on both fronts, battle and home, but I thought the book was terrific. And, as someone who recently suffered a migraine, I can attest to the horror of that halftime show!

100 thingsI completed my off-season workout with Patrick Sheltra’s 100 Things Utes Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. It came out in 2011 so it isn’t entirely up-to-date, but I’m familiar enough with recent developments; it’s the history of the program on which I needed to brush up. I was working concessions in the stadium for #17 Yergy’s Drive from 55 in the 1993 Holy War, and I was delivering pizza while listening to #23 Lusk’s Dash in the Dusk. I’ve already written about my reaction to listening to the 2005 Emerald Bowl. But I wasn’t around for #31 The Lost Championship of 1969, or Fred Gehrke painting the first horns on the helmets of the Cleveland Rams. I’ve been tracking Reggie Dunn’s preseason in Pittsburgh for my other blog, and it bears a resemblance to Erroll Tucker’s experience in 1986. These are some of the 100 things I needed to know. Eric Weddle comes in at #19, three spots behind Larry Wilson, the only player from Utah in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

150 Years After Vicksburg

Posted in Fiction, New release, Reading List with tags , , , on July 29, 2013 by jaclemens

Chain of ThunderI received this from First Reads, but I had to read the first book, A Blaze of Glory, before I could read this one. That meant I read it in July rather than May, but, as July 4th marked the 150th anniversary of the events described herein, the timing was salient. This series on the Western Theater is wonderful for the moderate Civil War buff, and I’ve learned plenty about the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege of Vicksburg. I found the second book carried the greater impact, particularly as Shaara made a civilian one of the point of view characters. Going behind the fortifications to show the deprivations inflicted on the people and the horrors of the field hospitals really brings the suffering home, even if young Lucy Spence never returned to her battle-damaged domicile.

Vital Publications

Posted in Book Buying, Fiction, Reading List, Recommendations with tags , , , , on July 25, 2013 by jaclemens

ConstellationA customer recently contacted our store to formally request that we not carry the August issue of Rolling Stone due to the controversial image on its cover. I appreciate her concerns, and agree that it’s poor taste for the magazine to portray the young man accused of planting bombs at the Boston Marathon as though he were a celebrity (see the Huffington Post for a discussion on the cover’s design). Personally I object to the portayal, but, as a university store, we have decided not to join the boycott of the issue. We want to add to the discussion, not take away from it. The issue will be available on request, but not displayed. In its place I will be promoting A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra.

It is a devastating story, told with immaculate care by a decorated debut author. Marra didn’t take an easy route for his first novel, although I wouldn’t term it overly ambitious. To crib from the title, it is a vital story, one that required refined skill to write and needed to be published (and I commend Hogarth for doing so). It is a necessary read for anyone trying to understand the violent forces that shape the people of Chechnya. There is nothing glamorous in the portrayal of violence for the sake of any cause, not even in the amputation of a leg mutilated by a mine, as in the attacks in Boston.

Only eight-year-old Havaa isn’t compromised in this constant struggle to survive, but she is without recourse when her father is taken by Russian forces. She hides in the woods as her house is burned to the ground. The Russians will leave no trace of her family, without exceptions. Her father’s friend Akhmed finds her first, and takes her from their remote village of Eldar to the city of Volchansk, where there is a shelled-out hospital. A single surgeon named Sonja still operates the hospital, but she too has been shelled out by ten years of fighting. Akhmed, the village’s unlicensed doctor, trades his rudimentary assistance for Havaa’s boarding in the hospital. Akhmed (a Chechnyan) and Sonja (a Russian) continue to function in their grim circumstances, and between them they manage to spare Havaa from a terrible fate.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a tragic tale of friends, family, and neighbors who alternately wrong and ultimately redeem one another. It should resonate with anyone who experienced the ‘B Strong’ resolve that swept through Boston in the wake of the deplorable attack. I recommend keeping the focus on the survivors who carried one another to safety, which is why I strongly recommend this book.

Circle in the Chalk

Posted in New release, Reading List, Recommendations, Young Adult with tags , on July 24, 2013 by jaclemens

RithmatistTriangles within circles within squares – it’s an indecipherable puzzle. But these aren’t crop circles; they’re chalk circles. The magic system in The Rithmatist is based on geometric lines written in chalk. It comes as no surprise that Brandon Sanderson is a whiz at inventing magic systems, but it’s refreshing to see a protagonist who’s a whiz at that system without any magical ability. Joel is a 16-year-old student at Armedius Academy, a school that instructs both traditional and magical students. Joel is neither a Rithmatist nor a traditional prep school student; as the son of a humble chalkmaker and a cleaning woman, he’s an aberration at a place like Armedius. He doesn’t fit in with either group, although he longs to be a Rithmatist. He’s memorized all the complicated variations of the defensive chalk circles they use in duels, as well as the history of the duelists who used them successfully. He’s a student of the game without the specialized skill set needed to participate. But when a mysterious attacker begins abducting the most skilled Rithmatists at Armedius, it’s up to Joel’s understanding of the magic, not his innate ability to use it, that unravels the secret plot.

I’m an unabashed fan of Sanderson, and there is a lot to love about this book. It’s a fantastic reworking of the magic school concept, with academics applying the magic to their advantage. Joel is an outsider who finds his way into the inner circle. The alternate history is great, with the United Isles of America bearing new names. Armedius is one of eight academies that teach Rithmatics, and it’s located in Jamestown on the Isle of New Britannia. Europe was conquered by the JoSeun Empire, and the exiled monarch of England is the one who discovered Rithmatics. That ties magic to the Monarchical Church, building another layer to the clockwork culture that developed in America. Joel is surrounded by a colorful cast of characters, and his interactions with them are perfect. The illustrations of the chalkings – chalk creatures drawn to assist in the duels – are delightful, and the diagrams of the different defenses are highly detailed. The Rithmatist is also Sanderson’s most personal book to date, with a main character who shares a name with the book’s dedicatee, and a dark menace located in Nebrask, the state based on Sanderson’s home state of Nebraska. The Rithmatist is a sheer delight for Sanderson fans like me, and would serve as an excellent introduction to a younger generation of new fans.