Earning points on FirstToRead, and other observations

First launched in summer 2013, FirstToRead is Penguin’s answer to how to get ARCs and Galleys into the hands of readers. Every few weeks, anyone with a pulse (who also happens to live in the United States) can enter a lottery to receive any of a dozen upcoming books. Readers earn points by interacting with the site, reading and reviewing the books they win, and can then spend those points to get even more books.

But here’s the thing that’s been driving me crazy, the site says almost nothing about how their point award system works. When I joined FirstToRead, I’d explore the site, and when I’d next log in, mysterious points would appear in mysterious quantities. And I just gotta know exactly how much when why what and where. Google, unfortunately, has been a complete disappointment in solving this mystery.

So, reader friends, here are my observations, in case you’ve also wondered:

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Point Distributions:

One-time:

  • 100 for creating a FirstToRead profile
  • 100 points for linking to Facebook
  • 100 points for linking to Twitter

Continue reading

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Girls reading books about boys

I remember towing my kid brother around the library in a doomed attempt to inspire a love of reading.

“This one sounds cool,” I said, handing a book to my brother. It was an adventure story with a shiny gold spine. “It’s about a kid genius who tries to kidnap a fairy and ends up with high tech fairy operatives chasing him.”

My brother wasn’t impressed. He inspected the cover with a kind of resigned patience usually reserved for trips to the shoe store. With a furtive glance at me, he slid the book back into its slot on the shelf.

“What’s wrong with that one?”

“Dunno,” he mumbled. “It sounded boring.”

“Okay then, how about this one? It has a quest and dragons.” I said, pulling another book down. He was shaking his head before it cleared the shelf.

“No,” he said, looking relieved to finally have a good reason to veto my pick. “It has a girl on the cover.” Continue reading

Writing the impossible: Thoughts on immortal characters in fiction

Deities, vampires, demons, elves, artificial intelligences, cyborgs, genetically enhanced humans, sentient ships, aliens.

I love reading about inhuman aliens, about immortal characters, about the other that is, in some deep way, truly other. And so I am always more than deeply disappointed when the alien is merely a human with purple skin and the 400-year-old vampire prince has all the personality of a petulant teenager with pointy teeth. I am looking at you, urban fantasy. You, space opera. You, paranormal romance.

Immortality, like any story decision, deserves to be more than a cursory afterthought. What happens when immortality is granted to someone who would otherwise be human?

The questions are endless: What is it like to still be healthy and alive after a hundred years? In two hundred, how much has society changed and what is your role in it? In two thousand, how do you see time and the people around you? Does your perception of time continue speeding up, or do the days drag by? How has your religion changed, if it’s even still around? Is the passage of time oppressive or inspiring? Does living forever mean disengagement and bitterness, or compassion and patience? Do people still understand you when you talk? Which languages do you choose to learn and how often? What up with science? Have you upgraded your rotary phone yet?

Ever try talking to an older uncle about things you care about? Image your uncle grew up in ancient Mesopotamia. Or was a nomadic shepherd on the Asian continent. Or a British sailor on a whaling ship. Now he asks you what you’ve been up to. Probably in ancient Chinese.

Damn.

Immortals in romantic subplots

Is that a 475-year age gap I see? Is that a teen dating an octogenarian?

Immortal love interests are ubiquitous in the romance genres. They often come with troubled pasts – history is no cakewalk, after all. They demonstrate the weight of history through outbursts of anger, their iron-clad control, their impassive countenance, their pushy, alpha-male tendencies.

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Where are all the ancient alpha males who grew up in more egalitarian societies or encountered the hard, no-nonsense women running households and businesses?

I always feel vaguely cheated. Is that it? Is that all? You’ve lived for hundreds of years, and all I get is a foot-stamping romance-novel trope, muttering “mine” uneasily under its breath? Or else you are my immortal heroine acting with all the self-possession of a teen high on red bull and sugar. Continue reading

Defining Dystopia. Hint: It’s not about love triangles.

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I’m about halfway through reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale with Tash from The Bookie Monster, and it has dawned with me that over the last few years, I’ve slowly lost sight of what the dystopian genre is all about.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes North Korean oppression, mixes in the gender-driven segregation of fundamental Islam, and frames it all in the language of Christianity. In no place in the text can you take a step back and scoff, this can never happen. It might. The story makes you believe it might.

This is the chilling power of the genre – it says, This could be the world. Our world. Tomorrow. The dystopian genre is a cautionary tale. It’s a warning. It’s the uneasiness of premonition. It is the Greek seer Cassandra, blessed by the gods to see the future and cursed to never be believed.

Reading The Handmaid’s Tale, it occurred to me that the mushrooming teen dystopian genre has been selling oppression lite. To win itself a shiny “dystopian” label, the ubiquitous YA book checks the box  marked “oppressive society” and perform a token wave to its character’s rejection of the status quo. These worlds don’t need to be realistic or thoughtful or threatening (and perhaps that’s why Divergent’s world pissed me offSeveral times.) They just need to involve oppression. The weirder the better. Continue reading

My year of Non Fiction

Canary friends! Remember when I posted about how great it would be to diversify my own reading, dip my toes into some non fiction, try some new stuff out?* The dip turned out to be an all inclusive two-year stay.

But I’m back now. Fantasy and sci-fi, here I come.

2015-2016 Books Read List:

 The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson Under and Alone by William Queen Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn Everything is Obvious by Duncan J. Watts The Immortal Game by David ShenkAll the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister Ghettoside by Jill Leovy Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny LawsonCathedral of the Wild by Boyd Varty Animal Wise by Virginia Morell Being Mortal by Atul Gawande Pandemic by Sonia Shah The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami Rising Strong by Brené BrownThe Big Short by Michael Lewis I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling Bad Feminist by Roxane GayThe Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling Originals by Adam M. GrantWaste-Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders Spinster by Kate BolickDark Money by Jane Mayer Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari Never Broken by JewelSounds Like Me by Sara BareillesEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery America Again by Stephen Colbert Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss Kitchen Confidential by Anthony BourdainDaring Greatly by Brené Brown Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson Yes Please by Amy Poehler You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day First Bite by Bee WilsonMy Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem A Brief History of Creation by Bill Mesler Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell Grain Brain by David PerlmutterDays of Rage by Bryan Burrough When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew  Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim Working Stiff by Judy Melinek Kill Chain by Andrew CockburnThe Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee Endurance by Alfred Lansing Surprise by Tania Luna Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey Moody Bitches by Julie HollandThe Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee The Mormon People by Matthew Bowman Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter Future Crimes by Marc GoodmanIt Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell Made to Stick by Chip Heath It's What I Do by Lynsey Addario The Powerhouse by Steve Levine Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill LeporeHow Google Works by Eric Schmidt Angry Optimist by Lisa Rogak Now I See You by Nicole C. Kear Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo Switch by Chip Heath The $100 Startup by Chris GuillebeauBehind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel Drive by Daniel H. Pink Blink by Malcolm Gladwell Born to Run by Christopher McDougall How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters by Andrew Shaffer

 

*This is why I am not allowed to have reasonable sounding goals anymore. These things escalate quite quickly.

New Year Reading Resolutions 2014

One of my big resolutions last year was to read more and read across genres. I met my yearly reading goal of 100 books, with 114 books read in 2013! Canaries, how did you do?

Reading Pie 2013

Though, if you break it down, about a third of the books in the romance category were paranormal or science fiction romance, and 22 out of the 31 Fantasy books I read in 2013 were Urban Fantasy. Still, I’m getting closer to my goal of variety reading.

For 2014, my goal is to take this pie, and keep slicing it up. Let’s see if, by this time next year, I will have a few slivers of literary fiction and mystery in there, as well as beef up that science fiction slice. Brownie canary points to myself if I manage to slip in some international authors too!

Happy New Year, canaries!

What are your reading goals for 2014?

[Small Chirp] Top Posts of 2013

10. Urban Fantasy For Every State

We start off our countdown of our top ten blogs of 2013 with our attempt to find an urban fantasy novel set in every single state in the United States. We got pretty far! How many states have you visited while reading?

9. Book Review: The Host, or the trials and tribulations of the victorious alien invader

When I saw that The Host was coming out as a movie, I saw the writing on the wall. I was gonna read myself another Stephanie Meyer book. And, surprise, it was a pretty fun popcorn read. Plus, I’ve always wanted to read a story from the point of view of the brain-stealing alien invader! Continue reading