What We’re Reading Wednesday-February 5, 2020

Currently, it is snowing outside my window. As luck would have it, my office is closed which means I get my own snow day! Unfortunately, I’m also sick with a terrible cold so I don’t feel like doing much of anything. However, I want to get back to posting twice a week on this blog. I discovered this cool reading meme from Allison at Mount to Be Read. What We’re Reading Wednesday is hosted by Taking on a World of Words, and I thought it would be a fun way to keep up my motivation. I probably won’t participate weekly, but maybe once or twice per month. It’s quite simple. Just answer these three questions:

What are you currently reading?

I actually have three books going on at once because I’m weird like that. I’m nearly done with the beautiful On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. If you haven’t heard of this one, you should immediately run out and buy it, or check it out from your local library like I did. Written in the form of a letter to his mother who cannot read, it is a poignant examination of race, class and trauma.

I also just started Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. This one is a reread, but it will be my first time reviewing it on this blog. My goal this year is to finish rereading all of Austen’s novels, a goal I began in 2019.

I’m also slowly working through the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake. I plan on taking my time through the rest of it as the writing is gorgeous but dense. At some point, I plan to check out the BBC adaption from a few years back.

What did you recently finish reading?

This year is off to a great start, as I’ve loved all four books I’ve read so far. Stephen King’s The Institute was a fantastic sci-fi thriller, perfect for fans of Stranger Things. A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install was a fun and endearing work about a friendship between a man and a loveable little robotThe Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern was a glorious fantasy epic nearly a decade in the making. I loved it and plan to reread The Night Circus in the near future. Last but certainly not least, I just finished Titus Groan for Classics Club. Larger than life characters inside an ancient rambling castle was so much fun. The writing was so brilliant that I can’t wait to finish Gormenghast. 

What do you think you’ll read next?

So many options! I’m thinking All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. I would love to read something to honor Black History Month, so I’m considering Jazz by Toni Morrison. I also have Stephen King’s The Outsider on deck because I can’t get enough King.

What books have you read so far this year? Comment below!

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Book Awards 2019

Welcome to the biggest blogging event of the year! It’s the Fourth Annual I Would Rather Be Reading Book Awards where I give accolades to my favorite books of 2019. I know everyone is just as excited as I am so let’s get started. Click on the title of the book for my full review.

2019 book awards

Best Translated Book

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Winner: Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

My second experience with Nabokov turned out to be one of my favorite reads in 2019. I enjoyed this novel immensely, but I realize it doesn’t read the way of a traditional plot-driven book. If you love highly philosophical and challenging works, then this is the novel for you. While Lolita may be Vladimir Nabokov’s crowning achievement, Invitation to a Beheading stands as his richest work and my personal favorite.

Honorable Mention: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Best Graphic Novel/Illustrated Work

Winner: The Illustrated Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

One of my favorite Neil Gaiman works was beautifully transformed into a lovely illustrated edition thanks to the talents of Charles Vess. If you love fantasy as much as I do, treat yourself to one of Gaiman’s finest tales.

Best Short Story Collection

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Winner: Collected Stories by Gabriel García Márquez

These short stories are so good that I had to write a second post covering two of my favorites. This collection contains Gabriel García Márquez’s best short fiction over the years, blending realism with the stranger magical realism that became his staple. I realize this collection won’t appeal to everyone, but if the bizarre is your thing, check out this author.

Honorable Mention: Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Novel

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Winner: Widdershins by Charles de Lint

I’ve loved Charles de Lint since I first read Dreams Underfoot. His Newford stories are so compelling as they are rich fantasy tales with superb characterization. He is one of the best writers of fantasy fiction and can definitely hold his own in the company of the likes of Neil Gaiman. If I had to select a work by de Lint that I would consider his finest, it would be this one. Widdershins manages to bring all the strands of his previous books together into a seamless whole that is both epic and completely masterful. If a book could be pure magic, it would be this one.

Best Classic Book

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Winner: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I’m not doing a “Best Nonfiction” this year as I only read two. However, I read several classics, so this category makes sense. How then do we classify The Picture of Dorian Gray? Is it a morality tale on the dangers of corruption? Perhaps it is an allegory to forbidden passions. Another option is that it is simply a science fiction/fantasy story about a magical painting that grants a young man’s wish. However you view it, Dorian Gray was one of my favorites this year.

Honorable Mention: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Best Literary Event

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Winner: Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Each June, In the Bookcase hosts this fun challenge. Last year, I read both Little Men and a collection of her children’s stories. Looking forward to participating again in 2020.

Most Disturbing Book

Winner: Beloved by Toni Morrison

I originally thought I would give this award to A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. While that work is definitely full of disturbing subject matter, Burgess manages to create a layer of separation through his language and humorous style. However, Beloved was a work that truly freaked me out, particularly one specific scene that I won’t spoil here. I will definitely be reading more from the incomparable Toni Morrison.

Honorable Mention: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Most Beautiful Cover

Winner: Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

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I love this cover that from a distance looks like clouds, but is actually made up of several people screaming.

Best Newcomer

Winner: Gabriel García Márquez

In 2019, I read three separate works for this author. Following a fantastic collection of short stories, I read his classic One Hundred Years of SolitudeLater in the year, I read Chronicle of a Death ForetoldI’m looking forward to Love in the Time of Cholera.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Winner: Jane Austen

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It only seems fitting that the author that I turn to again and again gets this award. After rereading both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, I continue to fall in love more and more. Ms. Austen will be returning in 2020 on this blog.

Worst Book


Winner: The Screaming Face by John Lymington

The premise of this book sounded promising: Earth facing an apocalypse, secret government projects, and an ominous screaming. Instead, this author focuses on his main character’s sexual lust for his sister-in-law. Plus, I found the whole thing boring and thought it could have worked better as a short story.

Best Book

Winner: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the coming-of-age story for fifteen-year-old Charlie. From the beginning, we learn that there is something a little different about him. While filled with a compassion for others, he is more an observer in his life than an active participant. He is someone who is beautiful but is unable to fully shine as brightly as he should. This story takes place over one year of Charlie’s life as he begins the tumultuous journey of high school. Someone close to him has recently passed away, so Charlie begins writing anonymous letters about his life to someone he simply refers to as “Friend.” The recipient of these letters is never revealed; this person is someone who Charlie overheard discussed by a mutual friend as a good person so he starts writing to him in order to process his feelings about the loss as well as his life over the next year. During that time, Charlie grows close to a select group of friends, endures some of the darker elements of life, and grows substantially as a person. He evolves from being a “wallflower” and learns the value of being infinite.

That’s a wrap for 2019! I will be posting my first proper review of 2020 within the week. What could it be? Here’s a couple of hints: newer book by an old favorite and experiments on children. Keep watching this site!

Book Awards 2018

One of the many pleasures of book blogging is going back and remembering the high points from all those books read. Do you know what that means? That’s right, it’s time for the I Would Rather Be Reading Annual Book Awards! I read 54 books in 2018, and let me tell you, choosing wasn’t easy. I promise a few surprises as well as some new categories!

So let’s get started. I know you are dying with anticipation. After all, this is the biggest awards show of the year! Alright, maybe that’s pushing it slightly. Here are the books that made the final cut for 2018:

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Best Translated Book

For the best work originally written in another language

Winner: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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We already have our first shocking twist! This book was my final review for last year. Han Kang is a completely new author for me, but I really loved this deliciously dark and surreal story. It often feels like you’re reading a dream come to life, and whether or not you love it as much as I did, I promise that you will be thinking about it long after you close the book.

Best Nonfiction Book

For the best dose of reality I received 

Winner: ‘Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

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Although there are tons of books about the craft of writing, only a few are true necessities. My wife bought me this beautiful 30th Anniversary Edition due to losing my other copy. If you are a writer, invest your money in this book. You can thank me later.

Best Graphic Novel

For the most beautiful combination of words and visuals 

Winner: Becoming Unbecoming by Una

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Selecting a winner from this category was a struggle because honestly there were three powerful works that are quite deserving. In fact, I recommend you read all three of these graphic novels (the link above is a triple review). Becoming Unbecoming is Una’s memoir that explores sexual abuse toward women. The book alternates between her own memories of being a victim of sexual abuse with the true history of the Yorkshire Ripper, a serial killer who murdered and terrorized several women during the 70’s and 80’s. The emotional power of the content is matched by the beautiful artwork.

Honorable Mentions: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Best Short Story Collection

For the most accomplished group of short tales

Winner: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

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This collection of sci-fi short stories demonstrates the extraordinary abilities of writer Ted Chiang. I loved this book from beginning to end. Intelligently written. a gift of pure genius in every single story.

Honorable Mention: Tenth of December by George Saunders

Best Science Fiction Novel

New category representing my undying love for the genre

Winner: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

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The year is 1996, and Earth is in the midst of an intergalactic war against a mysterious alien race known as the Taurans who have destroyed several of our exploration spaceships. Joe Haldeman’s classic novel is actually an allegory about Vietnam and soldiers returning to a home they no longer recognize. The Forever War is a phenomenal piece of science fiction.

Honorable Mention: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

Best Series

Winner: The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin

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I reread this trilogy in 2017 to relive some of my childhood, and it remains my favorite trilogy-not-a -trilogy of all time. Le Guin’s masterful writing shines through serving as an example of how fantasy fiction can be done properly. Hopefully soon I will read the fourth novel of the series called Tehanu. 

Most Disturbing Book

For the book that is both brilliant yet unsettling

Winner: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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After over half a century, Lolita still has the power to both mesmerize and unnerve. Nabokov was a genius, penning some of the most beautiful writing ever put to paper. The true genius of his most famous novel is that Nabokov manages to connive us into feeling some measure of sympathy for his notorious protagonist Humbert Humbert. Throughout your reading experience, you are torn between the unsettling plot and the beauty of the language.

Honorable Mention: Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Most Beautiful Cover

Winner: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

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Just look at this stunning cover with its combination of colors. It’s very pleasing to these eyes. The book itself is also quite a stunner, another solid work of science fiction.

Honorable Mention: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Best Literary Event

Winner: Meeting Terry Brooks

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Getting to meet the great Terry Brooks was such an honor. Hearing him speak and having this photo taken were the highlights of a great evening. I’m proud to now own two signed copies of his books.

Best Newcomer

For the best author I’ve read for the first time this year

Winner: Margaret Atwood

Photo credit: Ian Patterson of The New York Times

Prior to last year, I had never read anything by Margaret Atwood. After reading her short stories in Stone Mattress followed by her take on Homer’s Odyssey with The Penelopiad, I can clearly see why she is considered one of the best. Her use of humor combined with some brilliant insights into humanity make her one the best living authors today. I plan on reading several more works from this extraordinary writer including a little story called The Handmaid’s Tale (perhaps you’ve heard of it).

Lifetime Achievement Award

For the best author I have read this year, and before, who continues to impress

Winner: David Mitchell

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Photo credit: Murdo Macleod

This was another difficult decision between two of my favorite writers, but I have to give the award to David Mitchell because he consistently impresses me year after year. My first novel from him was his masterpiece Cloud Atlas. I was recently so blown away by his epic fantasy drama The Bone Clocks that I am now rereading Slade House and will make it a goal to read all of his books.

Worst Book

For the book that nearly zapped my zest for reading

Winner: The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

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Normally, I enjoy the macabre nature of McEwan’s work. I hated this one from start to finish. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t like any of the characters. I also got really bored despite the fact that it’s such a short work. Perhaps I missed the point McEwan was trying to make. Most likely, it was a combination of all of these factors. All I know is that it definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.

Best Book

For the tome that deserves top honors

Winner: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

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Last year, I read lots of stories filled with dramatic moments, epic battles, and went to the farthest reaches of space and beyond. To the Lighthouse has none of this, yet it is a book that I hold in the highest esteem thanks to the brilliant writing of Virginia Woolf.

Despite weighing in at under 200 pages, this novel was one of the most complex and insightful studies of the human condition I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Woolf’s command of narrative and voice makes her a genius when it comes to characterization. Rather than compose the story in terms of plot development, Woolf focuses more on form which is essential to literature of the modernist era. Told in three distinct sections, Part One titled “The Window” takes place over the course of one specific day and is written in a stream-consciousness style that allows us inside the thoughts of a specific character. The point-of-view switches often between the characters, sometimes mid-sentence. I was amazed at how Woolf captured so many different inner voices so well.

I cannot wait to read more from Virginia Woolf, a writer who possessed extraordinary gifts. From this novel, I learned the important of the every day details. For this year, I’m planning on reading both Orlando and Mrs. Dalloway.

“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”

As an added bonus, there is one final award……

Best Photographer Who Married Me

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You may notice that each review comes with a beautiful photograph of the book. Well, my wife Natalie has been the woman behind the lens. If I took the pictures, which I have a couple of times, you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell what book it is (or that it’s even a book). Natalie has also been incredibly supportive of my writing and maintaining this little blog So congratulations to our surprise winner. Your prize is that you get to continue to take pictures, as well as edit and provide support. She really is all purpose.

Congratulations to all of our winners. That is the end of our show. I read some incredible books in 2018, and they all helped me to gain a clearer idea of what I love to read. I love writing this blog as I now can look back on a review and remember exactly what was occurring in my life at the time.

What were some of your favorite books of 2018? Let me know with a comment below.

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An Evening with Terry Brooks

Many books ago, I was introduced to fantasy writer Terry Brooks. My best friend had been a loyal devotee since childhood. He loaned me his copy of The Sword of Shannara, and I stayed up most of the night devouring it. I completely fell in love with Shea Ohmsford and his quest to defeat the evil Warlock Lord. The book was such an epic masterpiece filled with some of the most incredible characters in a work of fantasy. Some time later, I started reading Brooks’s Magic Kingdom of Landover series and fell in love all over again. Imagine my excitement when my bestie informed me that Terry Brooks would be doing a speaking engagement and book signing near us! It was such a great evening and well worth it!

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Terry Brooks on the right! I tried to keep my gushing to a minimum!

I found Terry Brooks to be a fun and engaging speaker. He was kind of like the funny old uncle you see at family gatherings. It was great hearing him talk about his upcoming works. I’m most excited about the release of Street Freaks, his upcoming sci-fi thriller. Terry also read an excerpt from a new novella in his Word & Void series. He’s been a published author for over forty years, so he knows a thing or two about the craft. He was incredibly patient and took the time to answer several questions from the fans. I was most excited to hear that a new Landover book will be written in the next couple of years! Listening to Brooks discuss his career made me realize that I am so behind on the Shannara books. More for the TBR pile! I also really want to read his guide to writing, Sometimes the Magic Works. 

In order to participate in the book signing, you had to buy a copy of his newest release The Skaar Invasion, the next chapter in The Fall of Shannara series. We were told we could each bring one other book (although several people brought way more), so I chose my volume that holds the first three Landover books. Fortunately, the environment was quite pleasant. The event took place in a large bookstore, and I had fun looking at different books while my friend held my place in line. Unfortunately, budget issues kept my temptations in check.

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Despite the long wait, it was so worth it. Terry Brooks was a warm and caring individual who made it a point to talk to each fan for a few moments. I also loved that he wrote a different inspiring message for each of my books. After the event, my friend and I went to a place called Pops, a local landmark that sells (you guessed it) all brands of unique sodas. I made my friend buy a ranch-flavored soda. I tried a sip, and it was quite nasty. All in all, the whole adventure was a lot of fun. I can now say I’ve met and attended signings by two famous authors (the first was Kazuo Ishiguro). I’m motivated now to get caught up with the Shannara books and actually plan to reread the Landover novels in the near future.

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Have you read anything by Terry Brooks that you would recommend? Have you ever attended a book signing? Let me know with a comment down below!

The Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

In addition to my annual goal of reading and reviewing at least 50 books, I also signed up for three reading challenges this year. Feel free to see my progress by clicking here. I ask you though, can one have too many challenges? The answer is yes, but I don’t let that stop me! I am pleased to announce another special event just for the month of June! It is time for the 2018 Louisa May Alcott reading challenge hosted by In the BookcaseI had the pleasure of participating last year, and Tarissa kindly informed me last night that the Alcott challenge has returned!

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

I like this challenge because you set your own parameters. You can choose as many (or as few books) as you would like. These can be her novels, short stories, biographies about Alcott and her family, or even fictionalized accounts of Alcott’s life. Click on the link above for all the details. Did I mention that there are prizes? I’m so excited! Can you feel my enthusiasm people?

Since I read two books for last year’s challenge (under the post The Many Genres of Louisa May Alcott), I decided to step it up to three for this year.

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Since this year marks the 150th anniversary of Alcott’s classic Little Women, I thought it was fitting. Sadly, I’ve never read this book (but I saw the film version years ago). I look forward to finally crossing this one off of my list.

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Before she became a household name thanks to the March family, Alcott was a writer of Gothic thrillers! I thought this would serve as a nice contrast to the warmer and cozier Little Women. 

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I got this little known book as a free download and know next to nothing about it. My only knowledge is that was spawned from (you guessed it) the classic nursery rhyme.

In addition to reviewing all three of these books, I will be writing additional posts all about……wait for it……Louisa May Alcott. I’ve been toying with the idea of devoting each month to a special theme. such as a specific author, a particular genre, or even some other bookish topic. June will mostly be devoted to Alcott. However, I will continue to post regular book reviews as I always have. My apologies for a slow past couple of weeks, but getting sick will do that to you.

In the meantime, I hope to see some of you take part in this challenge.

What books by Louisa May Alcott have you read or want to read? Sound off with a comment down below!