Review-orama 2014

It’s that time again, so let’s take a look back at the last year in reading and see how my basic impressions stack up. Click on the book title to go to the full review, where I’ve written one.

1. British History for Dummies, finished Jan 4th. These books are always well-done and succeed in their intended purpose. The difficulty is that no matter how much you try to dumb it down, it still ends up being way too long.

2. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, finished Jan 14th. This book was fascinating and well worth the read.

3. Doctors From Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans, finished Jan 22nd. An important bart of the world’s past that I feel it’s important to know.

4. A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, finished Jan 28th. Not a waste of time, but those who are not incredibly interested in the history of feminism may find it boring.

5. Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn And Made America a Democracy, finished March 2nd. Damn, I sure read books with long titles. This book is important. Read it.

6. Madame Du Barry: The Wages of Beauty, finished March 14th. Surprisingly boring.

7. Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, finished March 16th. The content is fascinating, but the scientific descriptions were right over my head, and I got bored.

8. Push, finished March 17th. Very good, just like the movie.

9. Black Cargoes: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1518-1865, finished March 26th. Very interesting content, but the writing could have been less dry.

10. The Night the Defeos Died, Reinvestigating the Amityville Murders, finished March 31st. Hands down my favorite book of the year. Awesome.

11. Knocked Up: Confessions of a Hip Mother-To-Be, finished April 4th. This is just fluffy entertainment. Nothing that great or valuable here.

12. Twelve Years a Slave, finished April 13th. Very personal and moving.

13. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, finished April 21st. Totally boring.

14. The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, finished May 5th. Antonia Fraser is always a delight, but this book may be more suited to have around just as reference, or it can get very long.

15. The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture, finished May 8th. As I try to think of something to say here, it occurs to me that this book was forgettable. But I do remember liking it.

16. The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, finished May 10th. Maybe it’s just the authors I’m choosing, but I find comedy books to be more valuable than people probably give them credit for.

17. In Cold Blood, finished May 16th. Awesome. There’s a reason this book is a classic.

18. The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber, finished May 20th. Dark books are my weakness, but this was without any flavor at all.

19. African American History for Dummies, finished June 13th. Even though the For Dummies books are by different authors, my impressions of them are always the same.

20. Haunted: The Incredible True Story of a Canadian Family’s Experience Living in a Haunted House, finished June 17th. Mildly interesting, but not the least bit scary. Poop.

21. Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, finished July 12th. Very interesting, very much worth the read.

22. Lord High Executioner: An Unashamed Look at Hangmen, Headsmen, and Their Kind, finished July 22nd. A surprisingly light read for such a dark subject.

23. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, finished August 29th. A valuable read for every kind of woman.

24. Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, finished Sept 8th. Horrifying.

25. Sasquatch: North America’s Enduring Mystery, finished Sept 12th. A very complete explanation, but still a little meh :/

26. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, finished Sept 22nd. Both depressing and uplifting at the same time, and all around very impressive.

27. Dead Until Dark, finished Sept 23rd. Surprisingly fluffy and weak, considering such a great show came out of it.

28. The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women, finished Oct 6th. Pretty interesting, very engaging novel-like style.

29. Wicked River: The Mississippi When it Last Ran Wild, finished Oct 16th. Well-written, and cool information, but arguably with limited importance. That sounds bad…

30. Vittorio, The Vampire, finished Oct 24th. It’s an Anne Rice book, enough said.

31. Living Dead in Dallas, finished Nov 16th. More fun and interesting than Dead Until Dark, but still fluff.

32. Prince Lestat, finished Dec 5th. Well worth the wait.

33. Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, finished Dec 27th. Perfection.

Advertisements

DIY Bookshelf

If you’re like me and you have a habit of occasionally reading and getting angry, as most people do, you’ll know that “bookcases” sold in stores exist only for storing a small pot of flowers and a couple CDs. Trying to store actual books on them is an absurd idea, as you will no doubt see here.

Sonofabitch!!

It is almost always true that the older something is, the more it was built to last. So vintage or antique bookcases are always superior, and often more beautiful,  but not always affordable. It may also happen that the place in which you’d like to store your books is not ideal for a bookcase. So this, Strangers, is why I built my own, and why you should consider doing so too.

First of all, this shelf is built right into the wall, instead of being a standalone book case. So to give it a more “complete” look as opposed to something just floating (which is still not at all a bad choice) I covered the wall where the shelves would be with an accenting wallpaper, which came in a little roll at Walmart. Our living room is a beautiful grey-blue, so for the wallpaper I chose a distressed silver damask. I would also love to make a second accent with this above the mantle, but that will be for another day. The exact height of the paper doesn’t really matter. I matched mine up with the light switch and thus is looks somewhat like a back splash. You may want to get some help with this, because putting it up is very awkward. Consider it a team-building exercise.

A shelf I built 8 years ago with bird feeder hangers, and a great place to display my sword.

Next up, the brackets. To know how far up the shelves need to be from each other, measure with your largest book. That way you’ll know that all of your books will fit and won’t have to be placed front end down, because that’s annoying and you can’t easily see what the book is that way. As far as horizontal distance, we placed each bracket more towards the center than on the absolute edges of the space to prevent bowing of the shelves. The longer your shelves are of course, the more brackets you’ll need. You can get these at different price points from Home Depot, but years ago I used beautiful wrought iron bird feeder hangers that cost just $2 each, so keep in mind that improvising is totally ok here. Remember also to use a level.

For our own shelves we salvaged what was left of the old bookcase, but barring any available scrap you can get some small sturdy shelf boards from Home Depot or even better just cut some solid wood to size and stain it the shade of rich mahogany, or whatever color you prefer. You don’t absolutely need to secure the boards to the brackets. We didn’t. You’ll see here that although we used a level, the boards appear to be slanted. This is because the actual house is slanted, so what can you do.

Because our baseboards are quite high and we didn’t want to ruin them with holes, we used the baseboards themselves as a support system for the bottom shelf. To prop up the remaining corner we piled beautiful yet totally useless old dictionaries to the correct height. If your house is similar to ours in this way you can do the same thing, and use anything you like here, like a pretty dowel or a skull.

Speaking of skulls, no spooky library is complete without one, so among some of the decorative features I placed on the shelves is a beautiful skull candle. The wax inside is red so it looks like it’s bleeding when you light it, but we thought it was just too pretty to burn. Don’t overdo the decorations though, this is a place for books after all. If your decorative items are heavy and unbreakable enough you can use them as book ends. Just to be sure though I used some cheap standard ones I got from Staples. You’re going to need book ends if your shelf doesn’t have sides!

Ta-Da!

Creating shelf space in this way doesn’t have to be just for books, and is ideal for small spaces. We did this for night stands, and you can also put a very long shelf on the wall behind your couch to act as a console table or end table. You can even create a lovely little surface by lining an old drawer with beautiful wall paper and hanging it vertically on the wall as you can see in this lovely example. Of course once I do this I’ll probably still fill it with books.

Review-orama 2013

I had a goal to read 30 books last year, as I’ve been doing every year. This year I made it to 29. So close! Let’s take a look at the list and my basic impressions.

1. Freakonomics, completed January 5th. This book was really fascinating.

2. The Burlesque Handbook, completed January 20th. Excellent primer for burlesque beginners. This will come in handy.

3. The Stepford Wives, completed January 23rd. Totally better than either movie

4. The History of Marriage, completed April 19th. As a married nerd this was a must. Don’t let the gap fool you; this was a great book including bits and pieces on the history of women, family planning, and even racism.

5. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, completed April 22nd. A great book a la Lives of the Rich and Famous circa 1890-1925.

6. The Uninvited: The True Story of the Union Screaming House, completed April 23rd. I was told this book would be scary. It was not. But despite this and the amateurish writing, I still really liked it.

7. Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy, completed May 4th. Well done, but this was just information overload. Only really suitable for minds like a computer.

8. Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, completed May 10th. A little disappointing, but only because the history of Halloween is not very spooky.

9. The King’s Speech, completed May 19th. Unlike the movie, this was a double-biography.

10. The Nun’s Story, completed May 29th. I don’t always read fiction, but when I do it’s the best fiction ever.

11. Edison and the Electric Chair, completed June 7th. Parts of this were shocking!

12. Life is So Good, completed June 13th. A super sweet, heartwarming, inspirational book.

13. Under The Black Flag, completed June 21st. The author didn’t seem to care about his subject, so neither will you.

14. Hubbub: Filth, noise & Stench in England, completed June 30th. History is totally gross, you guys.

15. Paranormal State, completed July 15th. Everybody needs to lay off Ryan Buell. He’s a cool guy with a cool book.

16. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, completed August 7th. Antonia Fraser is a great writer. Also, I think she is a time traveler.

17. Life in a Medieval Village, completed August 11th. Totally informative, but totally dry.

18. In The President’s Secret Service, completed August 18th. A guilty-pleasure read with a moral purpose.

19. Deliver Me From Evil, completed August 20th. Powerful.

20. Carny Folk, completed August 24th. More than just a fun primer on sideshow standouts.

21. Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans, Completed September 21st. Mardi Gras used to be totally racist, Strangers. Unfortunately this book was mostly pretty dry.

22. U.S. History for Dummies, completed November 17th. I kind of tuned out after the 1960s, but it was definitely helpful.

23. The Corset: A Cultural History, completed November 20th. This book goes way beyond girl fashion. 10/10, would recommend.

24. Mirror, Mirror, Off The Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at it For a Year, completed November 24th. It’s a sociology book, and it’s very insightful.

25. Jack The Ripper: Murder, Mystery and Intrigue in London’s East End, completed November 25th. Quick and dirty. Or, make that messy.

26. How the States Got Their Shapes, completed November 28th. The TV series is way better.

27. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, completed December 3rd. The depression was really depressing. At least the writing this inspired is beautiful.

28. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, completed December 17th. Wars are political, but the content of this book was not. It brought a ton of humanity and new perspective to a distant time in American history.

29. The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Century Edition, Volume 4. This book is about 80 years old so I could not find an accurate link to it. I have to ask, WTF were you smoking, Edgar? This wasn’t dark, it was just plain weird.

Well, that’s all for 2013. This year’s lineup consists of women’s studies, black history, atheism, and the dark and spooky. You can check out my updated to-read list here. Let’s hope I can actually make it to 30 this time.

Books vs. Ereaders

I love to buy books, organize books, look at books, plan my next home library upgrade, scavenge through used book stores, screw around on Goodreads (add me!), everything. So it was only natural that my dad, who prefers to buy technological gadgets as gifts, got me a Kobo Touch for Christmas three years ago. At first, I really didn’t want one. I did love them, I loved the idea of them being compact and portable and environmentally friendly, all of that. But how could I give up REAL books? Well obviously I didn’t have to. I made a weird little compromise with myself, and as long as I’m still buying the real thing, I really do enjoy reading them on my Kobo. I get a book to flip through and display on the shelf, with an epub file for easy portability. It’s the best of both worlds.

Good stuff about ereaders:

-You can adjust the font and font size. A lot of books have very tiny print, but now it’s not an issue.

-I’ll never run out of anything to read. Even if for whatever reason I had to stop buying real books, I’ve downloaded hundreds, so I won’t run out for many years, making this one thing I would definitely want with me on a desert island. In the past this has been an issue about once or twice a year, making me resort to whatever odds and ends I could find on my shelf. This is the reason I can say I’ve read A Practical Guide to Racism, and Why Do Men Have Nipples?. Those were dark times, indeed.

-If I want to read in the bath, I can put it in a ziploc bag and not worry about it getting damaged. Last time I tried this with a paper book, it got all soggy. Some obsessive readers have taken it into the shower. At least I can say I’m not THAT bad. If you are, well, you have my respect, Weirdo.

-Ebooks are pirate-able. I freely admit that as I always purchase a hard copy of everything I read, I don’t feel obligated to pay again for the epub file, and don’t expect that I ever will. If I can’t download it, a paper copy alone it shall be.

-If I’m leaving the house and know I will finish a book before I get home, it no longer means I have to cram two into my bag.

-Customizing with decals and cases is fun.

-Reading life, the Kobo page that gives you your reading stats, is mildly neat.

-I can freely give away infinite copies of my epub files to friends who also have ereaders.

The Bad, and why I still buy paper:

Finishing a book on the Kobo and then starting another one is really anti-climactic. It doesn’t feel like you really DID anything. You just turn the page, touch the screen, and there’s another book. I love being able to close a paper book, go add it to the shelf, and pick up another one. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but to me it kind of is. Kobo books just don’t feel that “real” to me. The compact-ness also has that downside. It’s just not as satisfying to stare at your screen of downloads as it is to gaze lovingly at your big beautiful library shelves. There’s something lame, artificial, and wimpy about it in comparison. And you can’t play with categorizing the books on the Kobo either. They’re just alphabetical. And it’s pretty stupid to will your kobo to a needy school when you die. Yes, I have big plans for my library. Important ones. Hopefully libraries as we know them won’t by then be a hilariously outdated relic of the past.

So this is why I enjoy both. I’m downloading to the Kobo and reading whatever I find available for free on there. Whatever I read on it, I go ahead and buy a used copy of the real thing to flip through and all that good stuff. When I finish it, I still get to put the real thing on the real shelf. Whatever I can’t download, I just stick with the real thing. I’m enjoying this system.

So whether you love ereaders or hate them, I can see your point. If you like both, go ahead and have both 🙂