Library Checkout

I am utterly addicted to the Chicago Public Library so I love this check-in posted by Shannon at River City Reading talking about how you use your library.  It is not an exaggeration to say I am on the site or the app or swinging by a branch of the library nearly daily.  Due to a rather sad situation involving a cd my husband borrowed I am the current library card holder for my whole family.  Looking at this all in one list I’m a little embarrassed – I feel like such a book hoarder! 


Checked out To Be Read:

The Sandman Volume One by Neil Gaiman.  2015 TBR Challenge here I come!  

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein  

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – the Husband

The Graveyard Book also by Neil Gaiman – The Husband

Checked Out and Currently Being Read:

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Aqualicious by Victoria Kann – for Babycakes

Pete the Cat, Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin

10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle

Being repeatedly renewed:

Sekret by Lindsay Smith -Seriously I can’t admit how many times I’ve renewed this.

Read and Returned:

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Euphoria by Lily King

Returned Unread:

The Drifters by Kim Harrison

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski


Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R. King

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Martian by Andy Weir (this might go off the list because I am 383 for 78 copies)

Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews

Nil by Lynne Matson

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Dewalt (Babycakes but totally for me too)

Interstella Cinderella by Deborah Underwood (Babycakes)

Fancy Nancy: Soccer Mania by Jane O’Connor (Babycakes)

Don’t judge me for being a library hoarder! The CPL is that great that I have to get all the books!

On New Releases

Blogging about books has certainly changed the way I read. I read more, and pay more attention to details about each book so that I can have something (hopefully) interesting to write about. I keep better track of what I want to read soon, and what books might compliment one another. I have a better awareness of what books are out there, and what is getting good reviews, so I can choose more deliberately. Don’t get me wrong – I read always and only because I find it enjoyable, but blogging has made me a bit more systematic in my approach to books.

However, one thing that has not changed is that I just.don’ about reading new books right as they’re released.

Recently, I read this great round-up of books that will be adapted for TV and film in 2015 from River City Reading. I had a moment of panic about all the books I haven’t read yet (but mean to): The Casual Vacancy, Me Before You, The Maddaddam Trilogy, The Martian, and so on and so on! Ahhhh!

And then I remembered that in addition to rarely getting around to new release books (and yes, I realize that there are books on that list/link that are not at all new releases), I am also non-committal about seeing TV/movies when they’re released. I am currently (slowly) watching season 3 of Big Love, and just finished season 3 of Justified. I’m clearly okay with being behind the times.

I understand that there is some benefit of weighing in on cultural conversations when a new book/TV/movie is released. I also understand that many of those conversations take place on the Twitter these days, which is another area I just can’t keep up with. Maybe that’s why I don’t like Twitter – it’s too current. I should probably start reading backlist Tweets to see how that feels.

What do you think? Are you up-to-date on new releases? Or trying to finish books you’ve had since 1996?

With books, is possession 9/10 of the law?

Confession: I have one bookshelf. It’s a short-but-wide three-shelfer – and the entire bottom shelf is full of books for work. So I actually have two shelves for all the books I own – and I would be entirely okay with whittling this collection down further.

I love books, but I love reading books far more than I love owning books. My parents would probably beg to differ, as “my” books take up far more real estate in their house than they do in mine. My dad swears that he suffers back problems entirely cause by lifting boxes marked “Books – Holly – Heavy,” when they moved from Chicago to the sunny South.

Medical diagnoses aside, I say that proves my point further – I would have thought my parents well within their rights to consider my books abandoned since I didn’t come home to claim them before they moved. And every time I’m at their house now I make piles of stuff to get rid of.

Anyway, I know some people really take pride in their book collections, but I have developed more of an easy-come, easy-go relationship with most books. And in fact, this might actually be far more rewarding than maintaining a static book collection. The universe tried to drive home this lesson for me recently, so I thought I’d share it with you.

A few weeks ago, I had a great visit with two friends (and loyal GIAO readers!) and my friend Colleen needed something to read on her way home (with a caveat that she is only reading fiction all summer). I sent her off with two books: first,  Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects which I didn’t love (and which another visiting friend had left behind months ago), and second,  (which I threw in at the last minute) Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees. I love that book, but I reasoned that I’ve read it twice and the chances of my reading it again anytime in the next decade are slim to none (considering all the books that Amanda demands I read).

In return, Colleen left behind what looks like a fun read for me – MWF Seeking BFF.

The next day, in the mail, I received a copy of Dorothy Must Die, which Amanda snagged from the publisher for us. Yes!

Less than a week later, J & I went to a book talk for the author of Winnie Davis – Daughter of the Lost Cause (which Amanda had suggested to me months ago. She’s like the sixth sense for books). So now, I’ve got a signed copy of that to read and to fit somewhere on my bookshelf.

After the talk, we wandered into a record store in Richmond, and found the three Millenium Trilogy (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) movies on blu-ray for $15 – sold! So then I remembered that I have the first and the third books but not the second, so I grabbed a copy of that from a used bookstore, so that I can reread them soon.

And then I got home and found two books in the mail – from my friend Dusty, who sent me more David Foster Wallace reading – Infinite Jest and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Againeven though it took me three years to read the DFW article he suggested. (Sidenote: I have awesome friends.)

4 books in one day – until Amanda texted me shortly before bed and told me that The Golem and the Jinni was $1.99 on Kindle. The last time it was listed as a daily deal, I didn’t get it, and regretted it, so I jumped on it this time.

Of these recently acquired books, I’m not sure how many will remain on my bookshelf for the long-haul, but I’m sure I’ll pass on something else soon (to a friend, to, to a library booksale or a used bookstore). And I’m sure something else will find it’s way to me too.

If you love books, set them free! Or keep them at home and cultivate your own collection, if you’re into that. I don’t judge. Just don’t ask my dad to move it for you.

And now, for something completely different

Did anyone else notice that Feedly was down for a couple days last week?

I was really distressed by this. You see, as much as I love when people click “follow” (hint hint to the right) here on Gun In Act One, I don’t like to get blog posts from others in my inbox. As you’ll learn in a minute, that place is already sort of clogged up.

Anyway, I like to read blogs through Feedly (RIP Google Reader), because I can click one place on my phone and they’re all there, waiting for me to flip through. I catch up while I’m eating breakfast and I usually finish reading with my phone in one hand and carrying a cup of coffee in the other, walking up the stairs to my office. (Note: this has the potential for catastrophe written all over it, but that’s not what this post is about. Well, not directly.)

So, with Feedly down, I suppose I could have clicked on all the blogs I read individually, but that seemed sort of a daunting task. Instead, I headed to the very bottom of my email inbox, where I knew that was an article that a friend had sent me to read. On May 10.

Of 2011.

This is what happens to things in my inbox – sometimes they sit there until I’m ready to deal with them. Sometimes that takes an obscenely long amount of time.

The article was “The String Theory,” by David Foster Wallace, published in Esquire in 1996.

Some of you surely know exactly who DFW is. I didn’t until roughly May 9, 2011. DFW was a writer, most notably of Infinite Jest, who committed suicide in 2008. He wrote nonfiction and fiction pieces both, including this piece which I swear I’m getting to. He also grew up in central Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana, and was a competitive junior tennis player. My introduction to DFW was via my tennis buddies in CU – one of whom sent me the link to this article the day after we talked about it.

Since then, I’ve heard references to Infinite Jest now and again, usually in reference to how long it is – like, really long.  Like, I found a whole website devoted to helping people buck up and read this book over the course of a summer.

For this reason, I just wasn’t sure about diving into “The String Theory.” Would I enjoy it? Would I get it? Why should I spend my time on this article when I could be looking up cannoli recipes or buying shoes on the internet?

So, I just didn’t do it, until the great Feedly shutdown of 2014.

Finally, last week, I clicked. I started reading. And honestly, I read this slowly throughout the day – I’d read a section, do some work, come back and read a bit more when I needed to stop staring at Excel, back to work, back to reading. It’s not an unreasonably long piece, but I found it best digested in small bites.

Clearly I am in no place to tell you that you must go read this article right now, considering that it took me 3 years and all day to read. But, you should at least consider reading it – especially if you have a passing interest in tennis, or in athletics at all, or in life and reality and beautifully constructed sentences. In other words, you really should go read this. (For further incentive, there is a movie in the works with Jason Segel as DFW, so you should probably get in on this now so you can be informed when everyone starts talking about him.)

So, “The String Theory.” This is a non-fiction piece, an in-depth journalistic account of one man’s performance at a 1995 professional tennis tournament in the qualifying round. Michael T. Joyce was an American player, then ranked #79 in the world, vying for a spot in the Canadian Open.

Gratuitous pic from the trip Amanda and I recently took to watch tennis. (2014 Paris not 1995 Canada

Gratuitous pic from the trip Amanda and I recently took to watch tennis. (2014 Paris not 1995 Canada) 

DFW writes about the match – who’s playing, who is in the stands, what the ball sounds like, and what is on the line for both players. He writes about what has led up to the match – the mathematics and the politics and of earning a spot in pro tournaments, as well as the evolution of the sport, and how it came to be that the guys he is watching are playing the way they’re playing. He talks about what it means to be world-class:

“Watching Hlasek practice is probably the first time it really strikes me how good these professionals are, because even just fucking around Hlasek is the most impressive tennis player I’ve ever seen.”

and what it takes to get to the top:

“Somebody playing the qualies in Montreal is an undeniably world-class tennis player, but he’s not quite at the level where the serious TV and money are. In the main draw of the du Maurier Omnium Ltée, a first-round loser will earn $5,400, and a second-round loser $10,300. In the Montreal qualies, a player will receive $560 for losing in the second round and an even $0.00 for losing in the first. This might not be so bad if a lot of the entrants for the qualies hadn’t flown thousands of miles to get here. Plus, there’s the matter of supporting themselves in Montreal. The tournament pays the hotel and meal expenses of players in the main draw but not of those in the qualies. The seven survivors of the qualies, however, will get their hotel expenses retroactively picked up by the tournament. So there’s rather a lot at stake — some of the players in the qualies are literally playing for their supper or for the money to make airfare home or to the site of the next qualie.”

Though he also notes the presence of a lot of hot girlfriends:

Footnote: “Most of the girlfriends have something indefinable about them that suggests extremely wealthy parents whom the girls are pissing off by hooking up with an obscure professional tennis player.”

And then – boom – he calls us out for our complicity as spectators:

“Americans revere athletic excellence, competitive success, and it’s more than lip service we pay; we vote with our wallets. We’ll pay large sums to watch a truly great athlete; we’ll reward him with celebrity and adulation and will even go so far as to buy products and services he endorses.

But it’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way “up close and personal” profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life — outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence.”


At the same time, he closes with more details on Michael Joyce, who is the main focus throughout, emphasizing what Joyce wants and what he’s willing to do to get there:

“He wants to be the best, to have his name known, to hold professional trophies over his head as he patiently turns in all four directions for the media. He wants this and will pay to have it — to pursue it, let it define him — and will pay up with the regretless cheer of a man for whom issues of choice became irrelevant a long time ago. Already, for Joyce, at twenty-two, it’s too late for anything else; he’s invested too much, is in too deep. I think he’s both lucky and unlucky. He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well.”

And so, he’s written both this commentary on professional sports and culture and expectations and what’s behind all those stories of greatness – and a really insightful look at one young athlete’s dreams and commitment.

It’s worth reading – and don’t skip the footnotes.

[Spoiler alert: Michael Joyce reached his highest world ranking of #64 in April 1996, just nine months after DFW watched him in Canada and wrote this piece.]

It might take another few years, but I’m far less intimidated by Infinte Jest after making it through this article.

Review: Bring Up the Bodies

Title: Bring Up the Bodies

bring up the bodiesAuthor: Hilary Mantel

Series: Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #2

Reviewed by Holly

I have made some confessions already on this blog – that I don’t really know anything about the book blogging scene, that I once cry cry cried over Christian Slater, and that for a long time I didn’t ever think about reading non-fiction books for fun – but this time, I’ve got a real doozy for you: I am sort of obsessed with Henry VIII.

I know, I know – that might be sort of a trendy obsession, what with the Jonathan Rhys Meyers version on The Tudors, but that’s not where this started.


As kids, Amanda and I got to take a few family vacations to London, and somewhere in there, at age oh, 7, I learned of the British king who beheaded a few wives. What a great story! I was totally into it. So much that, when we visited Westminster Abbey and got to do the tourist thing of making brass rubbings, Amanda chose a nice knight, but I picked good ol’ Hank. He looked a lot like this, and hung in our house for years.


In more recent years, I watched – and loved – the Showtime series, and I was only convinced to start a twitter when Amanda told me that I could follow one Henry Tudor on there. (Note: totally worth it – he says all sorts of funny things.)

Anyway, rest assured that I generally don’t condone the beheadings of one’s wives. Or, breaking off and starting your own church so that you can divorce a wife. Or telling another wife – and the world –  that she looks like a horse. Yet somehow, I find all of these gestures wildly entertaining when they come from Henry.

Now that I have written the longest introduction to a review ever, I shall get on with it. I read Bring Up the Bodies after seeing it mentioned a few places (I am pretty sure I actually first saw it in People magazine – for shame!), because it is a fictional account of the period when the tide turns against Anne Boleyn, ushering in Jane Seymour to be the next in line. It’s actually the second in a trilogy from Hilary Mantel – the first is Wolf Hall, which, according to the synopsis, introduces the power struggle between Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. I haven’t read the first, but – spoiler alert – Cromwell comes out ahead, and he is the central figure in Bring Up the Bodies. Through his perspective, the book covers the period from September 1535 to May 1536, culminating in a less-than-stellar week to be a Boleyn.

I was not in love with the writing style at the beginning – actually, from the very first line of “his children are falling from the sky,” when it did not become apparent for a few more pages that “he” is Thomas Cromwell, and “his children” are hawks named after his dead children. Clearly.

Eventually, I did get (mostly) used to the narrative style, and, thanks to a handy cast of characters provided at the front of the book, managed to keep up with the story. At some point, I got hooked. I wanted to know exactly how they were going to damn poor Anne. (Er, I hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone.)

I wasn’t sure what to make of this book while I was reading it – it took me two weeks to finish, I never did quite manage to keep straight all of the courtiers, and I felt like having watching The Tudors helped quite a lot in understanding Cromwell, Wolsey, and Thomas More. (The fact that I am relying on my education from a Showtime series is probably problematic, yes?) However, now that I’m done, I am thinking that this book will be one that I’ll remember, and I added Wolf Hall to my to-be-read list.

Parting Words: This paragraph made me laugh a little, because it made Thomas Cromwell sound like a guy just trying to do his job, like the rest of us:

During December a landslide, an avalanche of papers has crossed his desk. Often he ends the day smarting and thwarted, because he has sent Henry vital and urgent messages and the gentlemen of the privy chamber have decided it’s easier for them if they keep the business back till Henry’s in the mood. Despite the good news he has had from the queen, Henry is testy, capricious. Any any moment he may demand the oddest item of information, or pose questions with no answer. What’s the market price of Berkshire wool? Do you speak Turkish? Why not? Who does speak Turkish? Who was the founder of the monastery at Hexham?

4 stars

Also, I totally welcome any suggestions for more reading on Henry VIII!

Update: I called Showtime HBO in the first version of this post. Oops. (I watched it on Netflix anyway.)

Waiting on Wednesday – Rogue Edition


Hi. Holly here. Amanda is out-of-town and she left me unsupervised. Amateur move, sister.

Amanda usually does these Waiting on Wednesday* posts, which makes sense because, she finishes about 6 books to every 1 of mine. Generally, I can’t be bothered to look at books that haven’t even come out yet, because I’m trying to keep up reading just enough to be able to write a review every week or so. Amanda, however, clearly needs to read all of the book just to keep herself occupied on her daily commute. Don’t worry though, as of this morning, the woman has 1087 books on her to-read shelf on Goodreads. That should do her for a month or two.

Wait, where was I going, besides making fun of my best pal? Right. Waiting on Wednesday.

So, for this Holly-edition of Waiting on Wednesday, I’m not going to tell you about a not-yet-released book that I’m anticipating. I’m going to list a few books that I’m excited to read, just as soon as I finish my library books – which, incidentally, I have managed to renew 4 times since checking out. Here’s hoping I finish before I reach the renewal limit!

tiny beautiful things


1. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed – because of this review. Well, actually just because of this line: “Cheryl Strayed can write like a motherfucker, and that talent is on display in every one of her lovely, profane, honest and frustrated columns collected in this book.” Sold.

for darkness shows the stars2. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund – because, since I started trying to keep up with Amanda, I realized just how much YA dystopia, fantasy, sci-fi-sh stuff is out there, and I thought perhaps I’d try to get ahead of the game for once instead of picking up things after everyone else has raved about them (see: Divergent). A lot of the YA reviews I read don’t appeal to me, but this one? Yes. Okay, maybe everyone is already raving about this one, but haven’t seen it all over the place yet.

history of the wife

3. A History of the Wife by Marilyn Yalom – because I like to know what I’m getting myself into.




* Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

I Can (Not) Cry if I Want To

Or, why I’m not that into The Fault in Our Stars.


I know John Green is basically the new patron saint of adolescent literature, and I know his YA books are appreciated by audiences of all ages, and I know everyone is super jazzed about the upcoming movie.

I have to say though, I’m just not that into it, for two reasons.

1. I’m just not a crier. I mean, maybe, once or twice a year when I’m frustrated and there are no words with which I can adequately express my frustration – then, okay, perhaps I’ll shed a few tears. But books? Movies*? Sure, I get caught up in the stories (I am, after all, writing a blog dedicated to books and stories), feel for the characters, and experience the same (assumed) cathartic release of emotions as the criers do.

I don’t think not being a crier is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s a thing – my thing. And being a crier is just a thing too, but there is something that irks me about how every single review/post/mention of TFIOS has some variation of “ermygod I ugly cried,” or “#criedsohard,” or “I am literally swimming in the tears produced by this book.”  Because when I read that everywhere, then I wonder if there really is something wrong with me (besides the fact that I clearly just have a cold black stone in place of a heart). So, can everyone please just stop trying to one-up each other on your tear volume?

*True story: I do vividly remember tearing up at ONE movie in middle school…Untamed Heart starring Christian Slater. My friends totally mocked me and I have not cried a drop at a movie ever since.

2. My second beef is more about the book than about everyone’s response to it. I liked the book just fine – I mean, it’s a nice YA story, as much as one can call a book about two kids with cancer a “nice” story. But it definitely is a book that makes heavy use of what I shall call The Dawson’s Creek Affect.** Dawson’s Creek, and, to give a more recent example, the movie Juno, presented adolescence the way that we all wish we’d experienced it, or the way we’d like to remember things happening. Everyone uses big words, and teens are incredibly self-aware and always standing by their well-developed inner convictions, and being quirky and uncool is really what’s cool.

Wait, is that how it happened for you?

Anyway, while everyone is going on and on about Hazel and Gus, and how amazing and strong and selfless and real they are (and not to mention, all of the tears), I just kept getting stuck on how well-developed and self-actualized these teenagers were. And, I am sure a teenager facing a terminal diagnosis is more likely to turn into a mindful and sensible person than one who is not battling cancer – but Hazel was just too smart for me to relate to. 16 year-old Holly would not have been friends with 16 year-old Hazel.

However, when I was relating my opinions to Amanda after reading this book, I realized that maybe the best YA works do deal with adolescents through adult glasses – because, while I may have been self-conscious, shallow, selfish, and naive as a teenager, I certainly don’t want to reminisce about those pain points from my clearly much more well-adjusted adult place. I’d much rather get caught up in Katniss Everdeen’s head than in that vapid girl from Twilight.

So maybe I’ll give another John Green book a shot – but don’t expect me to cry about it.

**References to Christian Slater AND Dawson’s Creek in one post? Hello 90s.