Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir

A few weeks ago I was struggling reading a book that was feeling pretty dense. It felt like a slog. Dealing as I have been with a new job in a new location with new co-workers, routines, and duties, my brain felt tired. So I put that book down at about 200 pages in. (I will pick it up again as I still find myself thinking about the characters and the story.) I was wanting something a little lighter.

Around this time, The Martian was recommended to me by two friends of mine who don't know each other. When two different people recommend the same book, I take notice.

Here's the premise...

Mark Watney is an astronaut on Mars. He and his fellow crew-members are part of Ares 3, third in a series of manned missions to Mars. The crew lands on Mars, six days later encounter a severe storm and the mission is aborted. Mark is left for dead as the rest of the crew leaves for the safety of Hermes, their transport ship back to Earth.


Mark finds himself not dead on Mars. Mars is really far away from Earth, which makes communication and rescue kind of a challenge. Also, there is no food or air or water on Mars, which makes survival kind of a challenge.

But Mark is smart. Mark is resourceful. And he is sarcastic and a smartass. Smart and resourceful will definitely help his chances of survival. Sarcasm and being a smartass may not increase his chances of survival, but they sure make him a fun character to read, even as he is trying desperately to figure out how not to die.

Mark starts chronicling on Sol 6, the (Mars) day he realizes that he's been left alone on a desolate planet, with no one else knowing that he's alive. He does have some supplies and shelter, though none of it was designed for long term living on Mars.

Will Mark Watney survive? Or will he be the first human to die on Mars, perhaps the highlight of the "Mark Watney" Wikipedia page? This book kept me turning pages and even laughing.

I recently wrote a blog post about a Book Rating Scale*. I rarely use numerical ratings for books, but here I am.

Here is the description for a rating of 10 on this scale...

10: Excellent, at the top of its category. This book has impacted me deeply, challenged me profoundly, or has simply been a pure delight to read.

Did The Martian impact me deeply? Hmm, probably not. Did it challenge me profoundly? Um, no. But it was absolutely a delight to read.

So The Martian gets a 10 from me.

*See for a detailed description of the Book Rating Scale.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Rating Scale

Several years ago I came across this Book Rating Scale on

I know that I tend to avoid numerical ratings. I don't care for reducing what I think about a book to a number. Books are so much more than a number rating to me. In addition, I find that I can give a book (or a movie) one rating one day, and a slightly different rating on another day. It's so subjective!

Even though I don't always like numerical ratings, I know that I, too, rely on them when I do see books online at various sites.

I am a member of,, and, all of which ask for numerical ratings of books chronicled on their sites. Goodreads only offers a 5 point scale. Librarything has a 5 point scale, but it offers the ability to give 1/2 points, which is kind of the same thing as a 10 point scale, isn't it? While this isn't an official book rating scale, it's what I've used when I think about rating books on their site. I like that it offers a ten point spread as well as how it describes each level of liking. Or not liking.

So here it is...

Book Rating Scale

(This was the preamble text when I found the scale...)
Note: I took this from katintheboots who took this from booklady331, who took it from Weebaby, who took it from Gizmopuddy, who took it from Sugarkane (now florafloraflora) and Scism. Katintheboots altered it slightly as the ratings are also related to the opinion of the piece as a writer and editor.

10: Excellent, at the top of its category. This book has impacted me deeply, challenged me profoundly, or has simply been a pure delight to read.
9: Great book - just a nitpick stands between it and a 10.
8: Good, solid book that I would recommend to others.
7: Good book, but it didn't grab me in a big way.
6: Decent, but not my type of book.
5: There was nothing remarkable about this book.
4: Maybe somebody else would like this. I didn't enjoy this due to the writing style, editing, or lack thereof.
3: Barely worth reading. The line between taking it and leaving it is very thin.
2: Has major problems. I don't recommend it.
1: It's hard to imagine anyone liking this book.

I know that numerical ratings can be helpful, even if they can also be reductive. There are just too many books movies, songs, artists, MEDIA out there to be able to search concisely without them. Who knows, I might even experiment with using numerical ratings here on this blog!

How do you rate books you read?

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Books On My Radar

It seems as though I always have books on my radar. Usually they show up on my radar after I've seen them on a list, or read about them on a blog, or talked to people about what they are reading (by the way, what are you reading and loving? I'd love to hear!). Ideally I like to see the book in person before ultimately deciding to read a particular book. A book can be more or less inviting in person, even if someone else raves about it.

There is also the right book for right now. I know that when I am dealing with a lot in my life (like a new job, for instance, which I have been dealing with lately. Learning curve, learning new routines, new co-workers, new duties and responsibilities), I find that I am less able to focus, so books that require a little more effort may not work well for me when I feel scattered or stressed.

There are of course books we have here at home that are TBR (To Be Read), but that stack may contain titles that are different than the books that are on my radar.

Here are some I'm interested in right now...

Bark: Stories by Lorrie Moore
Lorrie Moore is a luscious and luminous writer. I'm not a huge fan of short stories, at least I rarely find myself reading them, but short stories in the pen of Lorrie Moore are wonderful. BARK is her first collection of stories since 2010.

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham
There are authors whose works are eagerly anticipated, no matter what the subject matter because I enjoy their writing so much. Michael Cunningham falls into this category. THE SNOW QUEEN comes out in May. Looking forward to it!

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Emma Donoghue is another author in that category. I loved ROOM. She actually has many more books that I would like to explore as well.


A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
This has been on my radar for a while. I have seen it, picked it up, put it down again, but it keeps popping back up. Have any of you (reading this blog) read it? What did you think?

The Ruins (Vintage) by Scott Smith
Recommended by John Green (who wrote The Fault in Our Stars, which I loved), this looks like a great thriller. I love me a good thriller.

Death Comes for the Archbishop (Vintage Classics) by Willa Cather
Also recommended by John Green, about religion in America. I am interested.

Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston
My partner just received this as an ERC (Early Reviewer Copy) from It looks a little dark and intriguing. I read the two page prologue and someone is dead (are we going to focus on the people who saw the dead body? or the discover who died? I do not know.) Some books that come as ERCs are more interesting after they arrive and we can see it in person, and others are less so. This one is definitely more interesting.


Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawk
This guy travels around Ireland with a refrigerator. I'm not sure why he takes a fridge as a traveling companion, but I'm sure it makes for an interesting trip!

Andrew's Brain by E.L. Doctorow
There are a few friends who, when they recommend books, I tend to take notice, as we seem to share similar taste in books. This book was recommended by one of those friends. It looks pretty interesting.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
That same friend recommended this one. This has been on my radar for awhile. I may need to just get this one already.

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
He is a brilliant author. I, THE DIVINE is one of my favorite books, and this is another of his I'd like to read.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Oprah's most recent recommendation, my partner just read this and enjoyed it.

Enormous Room (02 Edition) by e.e. cummings
This is cummings's first book, not as popular as much of his other works, but he wrote this based on his experience as a prisoner of war in World War I.

And then I went to Costco and picked up a book (that I didn't buy, I mean I literally picked it up and looked at it and put it down again)...The Silent Wife that seems similar to Gone Girl, in that the story is told alternately from the wife's and husband's point of view and something is terribly wrong in their marriage, but even so, it didn't grab me in the first couple of pages. At least not on that day. It is still on my radar.

I DID, however, pick up (as in pick up and buy) a copy of Carol Cassella's new book, Gemini. I just recently read her first book, Oxygen, about an anesthesiologist in Seattle who loses a young patient on the operating table. She is blamed, but is she negligent? It's a bit of a medical mystery, well done and intriguing. Gemini is about an ER doctor who deals with a Jane Doe patient. That's pretty much all I know, and the first few pages started out well.


What books are on your radar? Leave a comment here on the blog or on the blog's facebook page, NOT The New York Times Book Review! Thanks for stopping by!

Clicking on the book cover will take you to Amazon's web page for each book. Clicking on the highlighted book title will take you to Powell's page for each book. Shopping through these links helps support the blog. Thank you, and happy reading!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Satisfying This Reading Hunger

Ten months ago I left employment at a bookstore, and started working at a high-end grocery store. I'm still selling stuff, though it's food now instead of books.

One thing I love about going to work is that if I'm hungry, there are a lot of options to fill whatever I might be hungry for at that particular moment. Maybe I want something warm and filling, like chili or soup. Or maybe I want a salad, light and flavorful. I can always find something delicious and satisfying.

When I worked at a bookstore and was hungry for a book to read, it was the same way. The bookstore had a smorgasbord of reading material, and pick and choose I did, sometimes choosing heavier meat and potatoes reading, other times choosing lighter fare, easier to digest when life was stressful.

Two months ago I transferred to a new location for a promotion. New job title, new position, new routines, new co-workers. There has been a learning curve with the new position, and it is still feeling like an awful lot of new. Which, while good, is still challenging and tiring.

When I experience stress, my reading habits change. I'm less able to focus and have less energy to ingest books that are heftier in length or content. At the bookstore, I could browse through many titles until I found just the right one to satisfy my craving, no matter how much stress or energy I had.

Shortly after I got this new position I started reading, eagerly started reading, Donna Tartt's THE LITTLE FRIEND, after devouring and loving her other two novels, THE GOLDFINCH and THE SECRET HISTORY. At over 200 pages in it was feeling like a bit of a slog.

So I put THE LITTLE FRIEND aside. I picked up Rabih Alameddine's AN UNNECESSARY WOMAN* and even found myself putting that down and not able to focus on it very well.

It's harder to find reading fare that digests well at any given time, now that I'm not in the vicinity of thousands of books every day. There have been books on my radar (look for an upcoming blog post about that!), but I haven't been able to see them, touch them, read a first page, in other words, to be able to taste their different flavors and decide if they will satisfy my specific reading hunger.

I have heard about one book, though. This book has been recommended to me by two separate friends. That makes me take notice. They told me a little bit about it, which also got my interest.

In Andy Weir's The Martian, Mark Watney is an astronaut on a mission to Mars. Unfortunately he is left for dead on Mars after his crew mates are able to escape the planet after severe winds cut their mission short. Though not dead, Mark, as he says on the first page, is fucked.

I read the first 20 pages or so as a sample on the computer. I kept thinking about it over the next several days. It seemed as though it would be a delicious way to satisfy this girl's book hunger.


I have been reading it, albeit in smaller bites than I sometimes like (another indicator of my stress level). And I have been enjoying it. It may not be meat and potatoes reading, but it isn't just a book snack, either. (And yes, Mark is pretty much fucked. He is trying to survive until the next Mars mission crew arrives, in four years. Surviving will definitely be a challenge.)

Books are a refuge for me. Reading a good book feels like protection and solace, an anchor during tough times, as well as brain food and a delight when I'm not so stressed. I'm glad to have found some good brain food!

*What a wonderful author! You can see my blog post about him here:

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Passing Books Along...

I now work at a new location after applying for and receiving a promotion. I've been there just over a month. There is currently a fund-raising drive going on. One of the things we're doing to raise funds for this most worthy cause is a used book drive. We've all been asked to bring in books.

I knew I could help with that.

I tasked myself with the job of going through our bookshelves and getting rid of books we don't need to keep (and of course having my partner go through them as well, making sure I don't get rid of any of her favorites!)

I used to keep all the books. But I've moved across the country several times, shlepping boxes and boxes of books hither and yon, oftentimes not even unpacking all of them. It got to be too hard. Books are heavy. It was a waste of time and energy to keep all of them. It was hard at first to let books go, but it's gotten easier. It makes it even easier when I think someone else will be able to enjoy and appreciate them.

One way we get rid of books is to pass them onto friends we think might enjoy them. That's fun, having a great book and giving or sending it to someone specific, pretty sure that they will appreciate it.

Another way is that we pass books along is through Bookcrossing. My partner and I have been members of Bookcrossing since before we met (we actually met through Bookcrossing!). Bookcrossing is a website where one can register books with a unique ID #, and then "release" them, so other people can "catch" them, read them and release them again. (You can check it out here: My page there is under can see the books I'm currently reading on my profile.)

The thing is, even with bookcrossing and passing books along to others, they do build up. The shelves felt full. We hadn't really gone through the bookshelves thoroughly since we've moved here, almost 6 years ago. Because even though we pass some books along, books are also coming INto our lives!

It's been said that seeing books on a shelf can be like seeing old friends. And in a way this is true for me. What's also true for me is that many of the books I've kept are reflections of certain times in my life. Books that were touchstones for me at pivotal points. The key word there being were. As I went through the books, I remembered (usually fondly) those times, remembered reading those books, remembered what I was thinking and what was going on in my life.

Jean Shinoda Bolen's books, GODDESSES IN EVERYWOMAN and GODS IN EVERYMAN, brought up the period in my life when I was doing the Myers-Briggs assessment (and anything else I could get my hands on), trying to decipher myself and my relationships. And there was Harriet Lerner's THE DANCE OF ANGER, which I read when I was struggling through an angry period in my life. Also THE ARTIST'S WAY and other excellent books on writing - Natalie Goldberg's WRITING DOWN THE BONES, Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD, Stephen King's ON WRITING, which I read when I was trying to unleash and validate my creativity. A few of these I kept, most of these I let go.

And then there was Bill Bryson's SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING. I love his books anyway, but this one I happened to get right before my mother had a stroke. My brother and I traded off reading it when we were tag-teaming stints in the hospital. I also kept Marilynn Robinson's HOUSEKEEPING, a book I devoured much too quickly when I was in high school, and want to read again, more slowly, to savor and enjoy. I kept TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney, another book from high school, recommended by a good friend, though I did pass along two of his books of short stories. Also excellent, but it was time to let them go. Another keeper is Bryson's A WALK IN THE WOODS. Two long-time friends recommended it to me when I was feeling particularly book starved when living in a literary desert - a rural area where there was just one painfully small used bookstore in the entire county.

Sorting through the books was good. A few months ago I went through journals I'd kept for years. Most of which I decided not to keep. Yes, in them were many thoughts and feelings (so many feelings! teenage angst!), but most of them were not all that insightful to my older and hopefully wiser self. They were important for me to write, not important for me to keep. Sorting through books and getting rid of even some of the ones that were pivotal was much the same process for me. I didn't have to keep every reminder of every phase I've gone through.

Having the bookshelves lighter makes me feel lighter too. The used book sale will also be fun, as I may be able to see who selects books I donated!

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