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I used to know what my favourite books were

For about five years, I knew what my favourite books were. Each represented a series which I loved, but was my favourite of the series. I haven’t stopped reading but, it’s the end of the year, and I have realised that I can no longer tell you my favourite books, just the books I have read and enjoyed recently, perhaps. I feel like I’ve lost my gauge, that books still ground me, but for the moment it is books in general, and not any books in particular. 

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books · discussions · features · not books · shanti · writing

on absorbed capacity

hi virtually readers! it has been a long time, and this post is going to explain that a little bit. I miss writing about books. I’m still on Twitter far too often, and I have still been reading, although I seem to have ditched goodreads altogether. I’ve been a book blogger for almost five years, and now starting to wonder if that’s sustainable, or what it looks like in the future. As Shar has intimated, it’s definitely something we are going to keep talking and thinking about. in the meantime, though, we still have this space, and I plan to use it.

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book review · books · features · lists · shanti

Fiction-Non-Fiction, Economics Edition

Hi Virtually Readers! Uni has started again for me properly and I am extremely busy and trying to figure out how to keep fitting Virtually Read into my life. I’m also panicked that I’m going to stop loving reading somehow, but that seems stupid, right? Does anyone else ever feel that way? I wrote an article about how to read and study at the same time and feel like a bit of a hypocrite because I’m not very good at following this advice. Anyway, I’ve been thinking lots about the economy because it matters a lot and also needs a total restructure because capitalism really sucks (this is what you learn at university). I like to read economics books because I feel like that helps me to understand the financial system better. So this edition of Fiction-Non-Fiction recommendations is themed around the economy!

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Sacred EconomicsTess of the Road

Okay, full disclosure: I’m not actually done reading Sacred Economics. I’m about a third of the way through. It’s a book about why the economy is broken, and how it is set up in systems which perpetuates injustice and inequality. Beyond that, Sacred Economics is a book about healing the economy, understanding it enough to actually change it. I don’t know enough about policy to understand how these concepts could translate, but I really appreciate this visionary book. Tess of the Road is on the surface a very different book. But like the global economic system, Tess is shattered in hidden and blatant ways. The novel is about her quest for something larger and more mysterious–something underneath–an embodiment of the principles of the world and the way they exist. I reckon it pairs beautifully with Sacred Economics.

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Talking to My Daughter About the EconomyThe Islands at the End of the World

Talking With My Daughter About the Economy is an excellent, readable primer on fundamental principles that govern economics. If you’rs a bit intimidated by learning about the economy, I hightly recommend it. To be honest the ‘talking to my daughter’ aspect of the book was somewhat contrived in a ‘now child listen to my wisdom and I will contextualise it by entioning your iPad’ sort of way. Still, it’s a good idea. The Islands At the End of the World is similarly centred on a father daughter relationship, where a father and daughter are navigating a broen world made more frightening by their inadequacies. Together, with resoucefulness and vision, they can understand why they are so lost. Again, it sort of matches on a deepre level.

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No LogoTheir Fractured Light

Naomi Klein is a bit of a legend, and references to this tome, which I read ages ago but should probably read again, are all over the place in my reading for an Advertising critique paper I’m doing. In this book and This Changes Everything (also a great economics book!) she details some of the ways that the global economy is injust, particularly in the context of large corporations. Their Fractured Light is also about confronting massive corporations, from within and without, and seeking justice. It uses an astonishing range of characters to examine different responses to inequality. It’s also a fabulous adventure story.

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Naked EconomicsSpinning Silver

I read Naked Economics a few years ago when I was just reading non-fiction for Lent (this year I’m mostly vegan). Now I read HEAPS of non-fiction. I don’t really agree with the premise of Naked Economics; it’s very much a status-quo, liberalism-inspired approach to the economy (does anyone else find it confusing that liberal politicians don’t follow policies of economic liberalisation?). Charles Wheelan places far too much faith in the power of the trickle-down effect, for instance. Nevertheless, it’s important and useful to know how people with different economic opinions than me justify that position. Spinning Silver is a stellar book, and has a character who is venal and money focused. But as a compassionate writer, Naomi Novik gives Miriam the context to explain how she became that way, and the book is all about how money matters and how different people understand it.

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Doughnut EconomicsStation Eleven

Doughnut Economics, like Sacred Economics, is an invitation to reimagine the economy. It goes beyond identifying problems, and is quite data driven (compared to Sacred Economics, which is heavily philosophical). I really enjoyed it–although I don’t really know what I can do as a non-economics student who does not make policy. The principles of Doughnut Economics is that the systems of the world–social and cultural systems, ecological systems, climate systems, and of course financial systems, are deeply intertwined. Station Eleven demonstrates the same thing, by showing how interconnected different aspects of the world are, and what happens when they’re broken (The World Without Us is a non-fictional approach to the same thing). If you long to understand the world as interconnected in fragile and resilient ways, you’ll love both of these books.

do you understand economics? do you want to? and have you read any of these books?

book review · books · features · lists · shanti

Fiction-Non Fiction: Language

I have decided, in my finite knowledge and wisdom, to turn fiction-non-fiction recommendations into a series. This is mostly because I realized that I have been reading some non fiction books which group nicely into categories and non-fiction is AMAZING and somewhat underappreciated, I feel, in my blogging community. So over the next few months there will be a couple of these posts, once I figure out all of the groupings. There’s going to be a post about genetics books, nature writing books, semi-funny memoirs, economics possibly…it’s a series in development (if you have suggestions, please let me know!)

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books · features · shanti

Diagnosis: Stress Reading

Remember YA Psychologist? You should, because YA Psychologist was great. Anyway, in that vein, I thought I’d talk about a disease which has been afflicted me greatly recently: stress reading. Of course I read stressfully, when I am forced to read things for educational purposes. But I mostly read stressfully because of libraries. I love libraries and everyone should support them. But they do have due dates. This is particularly acute with digital books: because they’re digital, I don’t have to physically return them which makes me less likely to do so, and I also have ppor impulse control and end up with a whole lot of books that I don’t have time to read. But stress reading can happen to anyone, so I thought I’d share a diagnosis manual, because why not medicalise everything?

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Symptoms:

  • feeling like you have to read fast otherwise you’ll let people down
  • looking at your bookshelf and feeling panic rise within you
  • losing all self control when requesting books from publishers and at the library
  • having more than five books on your ‘currently reading’ list
  • not being able to read because you have so much to read

Possible Causes:

  • trying to read too much
  • underestimating how long it will take you to read things
  • going overboard at the library
  • prioritising what you read and therefore losing control of everything that is not a priority
  • Acquiring every book that is recommended to you
  • having other things going on in your life that mean you can’t read as much as you plan to

History:

This problem is almost as old as the written word. Since Lady Murasaki wrote The Tale of Genji in the 11th century, more and more books have appeared, and many of them would probably be great–if you had time to read them. Want to be readers tend to accumalate all the books they want to read, and consequently, are unable to actually read them. Book doctors through the centuries have diagnosed stress reading, and linked it to library fines, miscellaneous non-bookish responsibilities, and the ownership of book blogs. Cases have risen particularly in the last seven years with the rise of digital ARCS and digital libraries.

Treatment:

Unfortunately, stress reading is a recurring condition. No matter how you treat it, it will probably flare up again, probably when you have other things to worry about. Still, treatment is not futile. If you have a severe case, try to go on a book buying and library ban until you have read everything you have. Secondly, remember that a lot of pressure is self imposed. you can simply choose to return books without reading them. If you have books from publishers that you must review, don’t beat yourself up if they’ve been publisehd for a while by the time you review them. Healing will take some time; to find joy in reading and maximise chances of success, read slowly, read for enjoyment, and take breaks.

In case it wasn’t clear…I almost constantly have a low-grade case of stress reading. But I’m coming to terms with my condition, and am going to try to read a book I own for every library book I read from now on. Let’s see how that goes….

Do you suffer from stress reading? what do you do to treat it? tell me in the comments!

discussions · shanti

Seasonal Reading: a rambly discussion

Hey Virtually Readers! I know you missed me last week. But school is over (YAS) and I have seven weeks to write blog posts for you (okay I’ll probably do other things). There are loots of things lined up, including craft tutorials and reviews and pictures and it’s going to be awesome. But to kick things off, lets talk about seasonal reading, because it’s SUMMERTIME (in the Northern Hemisphere at least.) (Don’t forget though: it’s always a season of reading)

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This week I read lots of ‘light’ novels. These include the first three Geek Girl novels and Dreamology. I have lots of other contemporaries lined up (once I finish Seraphina) including The Unexpected Everything, Something Real and The Young Widow’s Club. All of these books have serious themes, but are mostly pretty light. I’m reading them because they’re enjoyable and after four months of doing lots of brain engaging things at school, I’m ready for some summery books.

BUT DOES SUCH A THING EXIST???????

Sorry. That was maybe a little dramatic. I’m not trying to write a post that unnecessarily sensationalises things so people will share it on Facebook (or am I?). Still, the question remains: are different books suited to different times of year? I mean, obviously, there are no laws governing when you read.  But is it possible to blanket generalise a book as a ‘winter’ one when every person has different connotations as to what that season means?

It seems to me that publishers, at least, have some awareness of this. You may have noticed that HEAPS AND HEAPS of YA books are being published in May. To me, it seems that this is because publishers know that most teenagers start their school holidays in June—when they’ll have lots of time to read all the books that were published in May. All of these major publishers have headquarters in the US, where June= summer (and teenagers having holidays and maybe jobs and money also). So I’m going to conduct a wee analysis, just looking at the novels that were published on May 3rd. (from this list). I’m going to define ‘summery’ book as a contemporary romance (no suicide, drugs, or other darker topics) or any other book that is focused on romance (just from the blurb) or has summer in the title or the blurb (as the main time setting) . I’m going to compare this to the books published six months ago on November 3rd (from this list), with the same criteria.

May 3rd:

YA Published: 33

‘Summer’ in the title: 2

Fits my Summer Criteria: 13

November 3rd:

YA Published: 15
‘Summer’ in the title: 0

Fits my Summer criteria: 3

Okay, so this is fairly unscientific (if I saw words like ‘brutality’ ‘murder’ or ‘violence’ I didn’t even read the whole blurb), I just made up the analysis on the spot, but it’s clearly very obvious that publishers want us to think of reading seasonally (but subtly! They want you to buy books all year round, after all.) As I explained above, the phenomenon of wanting to read different things at different times is true at least for me—but probably other people as well.

But is this a true phenomenon, or one created by publishers? Without doing some actual study and trying to get lots of data, I can’t really separate the two. I feel like the summer one is maybe more pronounced, because summer break has a very definite start, while winter is different for everyone and in different places spring comes at different times.  It might be the middle of winter where you are, but you feels stressed and want to read a summery book. Still, there’s something to be said for reading about the same season you’re in—and there’s certainly lots of recently published YA that is summery.

The question that is really here, I guess, is whether your mood is linked to the season. And that’s super complicated and psychological. Sometimes the seasons of your life match up to the actual seasons, but often they don’t. I read different things at different times. Right now I’m right into light books set in summer, but next week it might be high fantasy. The good thing is that, as I said earlier, there are no laws governing this. You can read what you want when you want.

Do I start too many sentences with ‘but’? What do you associate with summertime? (I’m maybe the only one who thinks ‘spontaneous research’) And do you believe in seasonal reading? Tell me in the comments.

 

 

book review

Series Review: The Archived

So I’ve heard a lot about Victoria Schwab’s books, especially A Darker Shade of Magic. (Alyssa in particular encouraged me) But I thought I’d start of with her YA books and see what I though. I loved them. They have the perfect amount of creepiness, a fabulous concept, amazing characters, good writing and some important themes. Just FYI: the first part of the review will be general things, then I’ll leave space and talk about the spoilery stuff. Also, I’ll only leave the description for the first book. The second one can be found here. I really hope the third book gets published eventually. 

-Shanti

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Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost, Da’s death was hard enough, but now that her little brother is gone too, Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself may crumble and fall.

First off, let me just say that I loved both the concept and the execution of this series. The balance between the real world and the Archived World was perfect, and it still felt real to me. I liked that the characters did get grounded by their parents and couldn’t just back out of things because that happens in real life too. I loved both books so much, though they do have a different feel to them, in the difference between summer time and school. The idea of having a record of human life hidden somewhere is also amazing, and the way it dealt with transportation and sadness worked very well. They aren’t quite ghosts but the Archived aren’t people either, and finding that distinguishing feature adds a solid undercurrent to the stories. The books had this perfectly eerie feel, but not enough to ever make me scared. (I don’t like horror)

I also loved the characters. I guess the main ones are Mackenzie and Wesley, but the side characters are interesting too, especially the Librarians and some of the people who go to Mack’s school in The Unbound. In both books Mack felt like this incredibly real character. She struggles to commit. She’s afraid. She can’t tell what’s real. She lies. But she’s also brave and kind and compassionate and believes in what she’s doing. It was so interesting to read about her, and the complexity of her character made me really invested in her journey. The bold sections in each chapter, which feature flashbacks, also provide a lot of insight to her state of mind. Wesley, good looks and omissions and kindness and eyeliner, is also awesome. He helps Mack out as well and is generally a good support person and interesting love interest. There isn’t really a love triangle in either book, but due to various things there is that tension which makes love triangles appealing (even though I don’t like it when they’re full blown, Twilight style)

The writing in these novels  is gorgeous. The dialogue and flashbacks are amazing. (though sometimes I didn’t quite see how the flashbacks related) But the real highlight in my opinion was the description and the voice. The way of describing things really helped me to see through Mack’s eyes and be present in the story. The empathy in the writing is amazing, and presents the characters and plot with these clear, vivid lines that bloom across the page. That sort of well crafted writing is a delight to read.

There are also themes I like in The Archived books: loss and friendship and brokenness and finding healing.

The plot is fabulous too with danger and action and darkness and conspiracy and all those good things. But I’ll discuss themes and plot in the spoiler section.

***Spoilers for both books***

So let’s talk plot. It was basically awesome. I did feel that the fighting scenes were a bit repetitive, and it seemed like Mackenzie had the same conversations with her parents lots of times. But the story arc was awesome, and it fit in really well between the books. (Now I just need the last one. Gah!) In The Archived, we have the rising action of Owen and the revelation of secrets and the blasting ending where doubt is planted and betrayal enacted. Then in The Unbound Mackenzie tries to put herself back together, with Owens appearances and the disapperances adding tension and then Owen’s plan connecting it to book one and Mackenzie’s doubt and problems leading to the cliffhanger ending. I was really attached to the plot. It felt tight and well planned, and not predictable (but not *that* surprising either*) The work Schwab put in of creating a world really paid off as the characters interacted in the space.

I also liked the themes. They fit in really well with everything else. I guess it’s English class or something, but I’m noticing themes more and more these days. Anyway, in book one, a central theme was loss with Da and Ben gone, and Mackenzie ripped from her house. The way she fit into the Conorado (doesn’t that name make you think of coronations?) and made friends brought her healing. Both The Archived and The Unbound also talked about trust and forgiveness through Mack’s relationships to the people around her and her guilt over lying and not fulfilling expectations. The Unbound had a lot of discussions around establishment and whether or not to challenge it, with the government class, Agatha+ the hearings, and Owens plans for overcoming the Archives. I really loved how Schwab wove the themes into the story.

***SPOILERS END***

So though the story was a little bit repetitive sometimes, overall I loved the atmosphere, writing, and characters of this story and definitely want to read more of Schwabs books in the future.

Have you read these books? What are some of your favourite series? tell me in the comments.

books

YA Psychologist

What is your bookish problem? If you’re a bookworm, you have probably encountered a lot of heartache for a lot of reasons. So today, I’m here to help diagnose you and offer you some counselling.

-Shanti

psychologist

Patient # 1: TBR sufferer

Patient: I don’t know what to do. My TBR is trying to kill me. I have so many books– books I bought, books I have from the library, audiobooks, ebooks, and arcs and I don’t know what to read, least of all what to read next. I want to read all of the books, but there are too many. I can’t survive this. *weeps*

Psychologist: TBR’s are terrible, I know. But you need to come to terms with the fact that, no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to read all of the books you want to. Once you internalise that fact, you can start to think about which books you really want to read. Is there something that you’ve heard a lot about, and own already? Is there a book that sounds so you you must feast your brain on it? Read those books, enjoy them (hopefully) and try not to panic. Panicking prevents reading from being fun.

 

Patient # 2: The Book Planner

Patient: I’m helpless. I spend all my time obsessing over books and making charts of when they come out and I have a spreadsheet of where and when I’m going to buy them and all the interviews the author ever gave and I need to check all the hashtags for the books every day. This takes up all my time, and now even my book reading friends think I’m weird.

Psychologist: It’s great that you love books so much. Still, planning around all the release dates can be very stressful. I recommend that you have a set amount of time for organising books, and then don’t go over that amount. You don’t really need to do very much, it’s the publishers job to monitor the release dates and everything. Give yourself a certain number of books, the ones which you’re most excited for, and preorder them, or ask your library to preorder them. That way, they’ll come when they come and you’ll be ready for it.

 

Patient # 3 : The Bookterneter

Patient: I love books and I love reading. But recently I’ve found that I spend more time on bookstagram and bookter and booklr and goodreads and booktube and book blogs than I do actually reading. As well as not reading, all this time means that I get really jealous of other peoples books when I hear so much about them, and I keep getting halfway through a book then stopping, because I’ve heard of another I want to read. I just love all the community around books online, and I don’t want to just leave it, but I still want to spend more time reading. How can I not be so distracted?
Psychologist: Well, first off, it’s people like you, who get people excited about books, who are really important to publishers. You are helping the whole book community by spending time online, but the reading books is still the uniting factor. If you struggle this much with being distracted (which is okay! It happens to the best of us!) then turn your wifi or data off– or outright shut down your device– for an amount of time you set yourself, which should be just for reading. And then you can come back to the internet and share your love or hate about the book.

Patient # 4: The book-ripped-my-heart-out-and-I-can’t-recoverer

Patient: I read this book. I read it six weeks ago. It was the end of a series. I had been anticipating it since I read the previous book, and I was so happy to have it in my hands. I read it, fast, and I loved it, but at the end there was a horrible plot twist and something bad happened to my favourite character. I left the world of the book when I closed it’s pages, but the story has been haunting me. I often find myself sobbing, because I’m thinking about the book. I can’t read, because the only story I can think about is that one. *bursts into tears*

Psychologist: It’s okay, it’s okay. Well actually, it isn’t. I can’t tell you that it’s just a book, because it isn’t just a book to you, is it? The book was a home to you, a place of refuge, a place of belonging, and you can’t just read another book while you’re still attached to this one. That said, sometimes the pages of another book is the best place to find recovery. So I suggest that you write a list of what you loved about the book you read. Then you can use that information to inform your next step. You could write fanfiction. You could make a tumblr account entirely dedicated to the book. You could reread the series. You could read another book that shares some of the things you loved about this one. There are so many options on the road to recovery.
Have you ever experienced any of these? What are your main bookish problems, and do you tell the people around you about them? Tell me in the comments!