What I Just Finished Reading

The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander
It's been almost 30 years since I first read this and it's only got better with age as I notice things I did not pick up on then. Alexander is one of the best, and everyone should read the Prydain Chronicles.

Preacher – All Hell's A-Coming – Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon
This volume also entertains, after nearly 20 years. That said, Preacher's is an at times uncomfortable brand of humor—you laugh at Ennis' panache while feeling guilty that you're laughing in the first place, and I lose some steam on the final issue, because I don't find anything objectionable about eating horsemeat.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet – Charlie Holmberg
I hate to say it, but this book failed to live up to its potential. Characters and plot elements I thought were going to be expanded in delicious ways went in entirely different directions (or no direction at all) and while the plot is ambitious the book meanders for far too long before it even hints at what that plot is, so readers are likely to begin drawing their own conclusions and not end up with anything like the book they thought they were reading. That said, it's by no means a bad book, and compared to many current fantasy offerings it does not stick to established tropes.


What I Am Currently Reading

The Infidel Stain – MJ Carter
Still truckin'.

China – Kathy Flower
Truckin.'

Clariel – Garth Nix
In this week's chapters, we have intimations that all was not right in the past, and continues to go poorly in the present. Clariel is beginning to cotton on to the fact that all is not as it seems in the capital.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik
I'm beginning to remember why I burned out a bit during the arc set in the capital city. It's very well written, but such an abrupt change from the preceeding narrative that it disrupts the meditative flow of the read.


What I'm Reading Next
Black and DiTerlizzi's Lucinda's Secret, Alexander's The Black Cauldron, and either Turner's A Conspiracy of Kings or Gaiman's Norse Gods.

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What I Just Finished Reading

The Seeing Stone – Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi
This book is much better as a full volume than divided into two as Goblins Attack and Troll Trouble, mainly because the fey we meet in the second half are far more engaging than anything we encounter in the first.

The Hacking of the American Mind – Robert Lustig
Lustig is genuinely dedicated to improving health outcomes, but his argument suffers for his devolving everything down to sugar intake. I agree with him that global sugar consumption is far too high and that dopamine reward systems are at the root of this problem. But I'd argue that how corporations use psychology to drive people's behavior, marketing to inflame their insecurities, and data analytics to customize approaches to drive individuals to consume more is a problem that extends far beyond sugar, and that any volume called “The Hacking of the American Mind” needs to delve into these issues to merit the title.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry
The best novels make it hard to pick up another book when you've finished reading because you just want this story with these characters to continue. The Essex Serpent is very well written and I enjoyed the ride, but it failed to grab hold of me the way the best novels do. I think some of this is to do with the fact that Perry devoted less of the narrative to the characters who intrigued me most. But the ending was satisfying indeed, and I adore how Perry avoided the pat and predictable outcome every. Single. Time. I'll be reading more by her.

India – Becky Stephens
This book was a good, albeit superficial introduction to the country, although it did try at times to put too much of a good spin on its major social ills.


What I Am Currently Reading

The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander
When I read this as a kid, Gurgi and Eilonwy drove me nuts. They both still do, but all these decades later I have such affection for them it makes for an easier read.

The Infidel Stain – MJ Carter
Still truckin.' I still find it hard to believe Avery's opinions on the social order could have remained so retrograde after all his time in India and Afghanistan, but this somehow irritates me less this time through.

Preacher: All Hell's A-Coming – Garth Ennis
Herr Starr is such a glorious villain. And jesus christ, I'd forgotten how horrible Cassidy is, and how groundbreaking it was for Ennis to portray this stuff way back in '98 and '99.

The Tarot: History, Mystery, and Lore – Cynthia Giles
Hands down, still one of the best volumes on the cards out there. Why it isn't at the top of recent lists on the subject perplexes.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet – Charlie Holmberg
With an additional fifth of the book under my belt, I'm less certain I've figured out the big reveal. The writing continues to sparkle, and Holmberg continues to write some of the freshest riffs on YA fantasy out there.

The Souls of China – Ian Johnson
Still truckin'.

Clariel – Garth Nix
Finally, rainstorms, and I could read more of this book. This week's chapters featured a ripping battle with a Free Magic spirit, and for personal reasons, Nix's portrayal of Clariel's affectionate but clueless and spineless father hurt. Also, it looks like everyone has an angle, and it is glorious.

Captive Prince vol.2 - CS Pacat
For reasons.

What I'm Reading Next
I'm about 1/7 of the way through my read-these-first shortlist, and will continue to pick volumes off in the coming week. Black and DiTerlizzi's Lucinda's Secret is currently at the top of the list.

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What I Just Finished Reading

10% Happier – Dan Harris
My opinion hasn't been changed by a second read-through: this is an excellent book that does a damn good job of introducing Buddhist concepts without resorting to anodyne BS.

Tarot 101 – Kim Huggens
This book is ultimately good as a reference for learning what sorts of systems and symbolism might be incorporated into any given deck; I was frustrated by how superficial most of the descriptions for any given element were. Perhaps I'm being unfair given that the book is titled Tarot 101, but I also feel there are other authors (e.g., Giles, Kaplan) that do a better job of actually providing basic introductions to said elements, versus saying “these elements exist” and never moving beyond that statement.


What I Am Currently Reading

The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander
God. God. Alexander isn't using big words, or complex sentences, or pages of descriptive text. So how is this book so good? Whenever I reread him (or Katherine Paterson or Scott O'Dell or Jean Craighead George) I realise how much utter shit is out there, and how high my tolerance for it as grown.

The Seeing Stone – Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi
Early days for this one, but I'm enjoying the artwork.

The Infidel Stain – MJ Carter
Only read a few chapters this week.

Preacher – All Hell's A-Coming – Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon
Some of the humor is quite dated; I doubt as many people today would find “men had gay sex!” or “feminists exist!” to be guffaw-inducing punchlines as did in the late nineties. But the serious plot elements that pivot on gender roles are touching and pretty damn transgressive given how old this series is.

The Souls of China – Ian Johnson
Still truckin'.

The Hacking of the American Mind – Robert Lustig
Lustig is an entertaining writer, which is good, because he has a hobbyhorse—sugar—that he is flogging to death. That said, the science he uses to back up his concerns seems sound, and he does a better job than most pop science authors of explaining complicated phenomena in layman's terms. That said, I find myself wishing I'd retained more of all that stuff I learned in undergrad, because it would help me to evaluate his claims. I sense the thesis is going to be that corporations have used sugar (and possibly electronics) to addict people to consumerism-driven quick hits of pleasure at the expense of deeper, yet less exciting contentment, but I haven't made it far enough into the volume yet to be sure.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry
I'm still enjoying the book, but several major plot developments are being telegraphed from miles away, and I have the sneaking suspicion that the climax is going to be little more than “here is what happened to this group of characters over the course of a year.” Which isn't to say it's a bad or unentertaining book by any means, just that I though it would be something more, or else. I'm not exactly sure how to put it into words.

India – Becky Stephen
A quick easy read, but there's quite a lot of putting lipstick on pigs when it comes to issues of caste and treatment of women.


What I'm Reading Next
Because ongoing reading has gotten a bit out of hand, I have instituted a “complete this first” list that includes the seven “reading now” books above, plus Black and DiTerlizzi's Lucinda's Secret, Naomi Novik's Uprooted, and Alexander's The Black Cauldron. I also have The Strangler Vine and Midnight Riot going on audiobook, because why not?

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What I Just Finished Reading

Japan and Korea – Frank Carpenter
The last chapters of this volume are simultaneously some of the most interesting and most horrible to read. Carpenter first traveled to Korea in the late 19th century and met some of the final Joseon kings while they were still on the throne. His descriptions of the yangban's treatment of the peasantry, and men's treatment of women, and the overall state of human development put lie to the notion that things were just hunky dory for everyone before the Japanese occupation. That said, Koreans rank even below the Japanese on Carpenter's sliding scale of racism, and some of the statements he makes are breathtakingly abhorrent. (Buddhist nuns, he tells us, “made me think of the idiots I have seen in some of our state asylums.”) There's a snarling viciousness to modern day racists, for whom trolling is as integral a part of their identity as are their odious beliefs. But Carpenter is all benevolence. After all, he just thinks he's stating objective facts.

Transmetropolitan: Tales of Human Waste – Warren Ellis et al.
This series entertained me when I first read it 20 years ago; it's probably best I had no idea back then that Ellis was actually foretelling the future. Should you wish to know precisely how frighteningly prescient he was, you don't even need to read Transmetropolitan proper. (Although you should.) Just get your hands on a copy of this book.

Thor: Siege Aftermath – Kieron Gillen et al.
In addition to the Siege epilogue issues, this volume has been padded out with three golden-age Thor comics that, to me at least, always feel like more of an obligation read than anything. Luckily, Gillen's contributions focus on the Dìsir, whom I unapologetically love. I want them to have their own title.


What I Am Currently Reading

The Infidel Stain – MJ Carter
Does Carter even realise she's writing shmoop? Because these novels contain so many schmoop tropes from the dawn of online fandom it's unreal, and I think that is why I like them as much as I do.

The Fool's Pilgrimage – Stephan A. Hoeller
To the library patron who stole the accompanying CD and marked up all of the diagrams in thick, blue pen: I hope you get what's coming to you.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet – Charlie Holmberg
I have been enjoying this one, even though it was surprisingly dark for Holmberg. But then, 19 percent of the way in I realised what was going on (I am pretty sure) and o. m. G.

Tarot 101 – Kim Huggens
I've got about 80 pages left to go, which is appropriate, because this book has turned out to be 80 percent filler, 20 percent content.

The Souls of China – Ian Johnson
Still truckin'.

Tarot Beyond the Basics – Anthony Louis
I got this book under the impression that it was an explication of the Golden Dawn interpretations for people who don't want to wade through Crowley or Regardie (which sometimes I just don't). But lo and behold, here's Louis saying in the prologue that he's going to ignore the Golden Dawn stuff in favor of astrology. Oh, well. At least it looks like he's going to discuss some sort of systematic interpretation versus the “intuitive” Tarot nonsense that seems to be the thing these days.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry
I'm really enjoying this one, which strikes just the right tone of Victorian-weird for me, although it's set a little bit later in the era than I favor. That said, while Michaels or Pulley can make me forget where I am, thus far with The Essex Serpent I'm always conscious that I'm reading a novel.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
Still truckin'.


What I'm Reading Next
The scene: I've walked to the library because I'm bored. I'm idly scanning eye-level spines in the fiction section. The name Susann Cokal jumps out at me. “That's an odd spelling and an unusual last name,” I think. “Just like the odd spelling and unusual last name of the Susann Cokal who wrote Mirabilis...

Wait...

Is this the Susann Cokal who wrote Mirabilis!?"

It is.

I now have the book.


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What I Just Finished Reading

Goblins Attack – Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi
I very much enjoyed the first Spiderwick Chronicles volume, in which Black was at her creepy best describing the fey, but this one feels like that fanfic an author bangs out in 20 minutes and posts to AO3.

Arkham Asylum – Grant Morrison & Dave McKean
The 10th anniversary edition concludes with Morrison's annotated script, which made me like the comic proper less and neatly illustrates the gamble inherent in publishing scripts. By all means, write an ambitious story full of symbolism, recurrent motifs, and psychological and occult references, but if you need nearly 70 pages of single-spaced text to explain all of these elements because readers can't pick up on them from the story itself, you haven't done your job. (To say nothing of the fact that there's nothing particularly subtle or nuanced about Morrison's use of these elements.) The annotations also remove any question as to whether Morrison sees the rape and murder of women as anything other than an amanuensis for his male (read, real) characters' internal development. The answer, in case you were wondering, is no.

Dave McKean's art is gorgeous, though.

Deathless – Catheryne Valente
Overall, I enjoyed this, although it was a little uneven. The quasi-fairytale form works well with two characters but once you throw in a third you really need to switch to a more realistic style of narration or stick to the short story format, because it's hard to sympathise with characters whose motivations never extend beyond 'because this is what they do in their preordained fairytale roles.' That said, the language is still gorgeous and the interweaving of folktale and Russian history quite well done indeed.

A Curious Mind – Brian Grazer
Overall, this was a decent read that avoided becoming an egotistical vanity project. It's not phenomenal—there's a fair amount of bloat and Grazer frequently contorts himself arguing that every trait on earth ultimately boils down to curiousity by another name. The book could have done without the 20-odd pages listing every single person Grazer's interviewed over the last decades, but since we're on the subject: I counted and Grazer's interviewed 77 women to 480-odd men, so I'm curious to know if Grazer's that much less curious about women.


What I Am Currently Reading

Japan and Korea – Frank Carpenter
Man, this book. Carpenter visited so many of the places (and few of them are tourist hot spots) where nearly a century later I lived, or sheltered from typhoons, or took long walks in the middle of the night. Sometimes I identify the streets from the pictures, or the temple from the description of the neighborhood, and it just makes me want to go back.

The Infidel Stain – MJ Carter
Boy I did not care for this one the first time I read it. It just was not plausible to me that Avery could maintain such naivety and unquestioning acceptance of society and its mores after the events of The Strangler Vine and five years in Afghanistan. I still think it's implausible, but post-Devil's Feast I'm much calmer about it, because I am more than happy to follow that glorious character development across multiple volumes.

Tarot 101 – Kim Huggens
There's quite a bit of padding, and some blunders (as when it becomes painfully clear that Huggens has not read some of the books she lists in her "recommended reading" sections). But she compensates with an interesting schema for grouping the major arcana and some really insightful observations on the meanings of specific cards.

The Souls of China – Ian Johnson
Still truckin'.

Clariel – Garth Nix
I'm only reading this one during rainstorms, which means its slow going in this droughty summer, but this is the best Old Kingdom book since Sabriel, and it deserves to be read with the proper atmosphere.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry
Still in early days with this one. Perry tends toward wordiness, but every few pages I'll come across a sentence that is just stunningly beautiful in its construction. I get the sense she's somewhat self-consciously setting up a pair of not traditionally likeable main characters, but we shall see how things progress from here.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
Still truckin'.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew – Daniel Pool
Pool alternates between long, listlessly written chapters on topics that could could have been interesting (e.g. card games) and engaging descriptions of the minutiae governing everything from arranging to visit acquaintances or how the various rooms of a house were utilized during social occasions. There's just enough information here tht I haven't encountered in other volumes on the period to keep me reading, but it's by no means the best offering on the topic.

What I'm Reading Next
As ever, I really should finish some of the dozen or so books I've got going now before I add any new ones to the list.

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What I Just Finished Reading

The Windfall – Diksa Basu
I very much enjoyed this book. It resembles Austen in its gentle parodying of social mores and its characters' concern for status and material wealth, but also Shakespeare in the way the characters' desires and motivations are at cross-purposes to one another, with everyone misunderstanding everyone else's intentions, often to amusing consequences. In the end, Basu opted to keep things realistic, so there's no neat resolution to the novel's many plotlines, such as one would find at the end of an actual Shakespearean comedy. (And I'm not sure such a conclusion would have served the book better.) This one is fun and definitely deserving of a read.


What I Am Currently Reading

Buddhist Economics – Clair Brown
I'm supposed to have this finished for a book club on Saturday, and I just cracked it open. Heh-heh.

A Curious Mind – Brian Grazer & Charles Fishman
Brian Glazer has produced tons of well-known movies, although I had no idea who he was before I started reading this book. Basically, the guy seeks out talented and interesting people to have short conversations with, which he credits with sparking many of the ideas for his films. It's an interesting concept, and Glazer's narrative is largely free of ego, but it does suffer somewhat for his attempt to redefine everything (courage, civility, grit, you name it) as curiousity.

Tarot 101 – Kim Huggens
There's plenty of “look at the card and let your intuition tell you what it means” wishy-washiness here, but Huggens' grouping of the Major Arcana by archetype versus numerical order is refreshing. I'll be interested to see how she handles the Minors.

The Souls of China – Ian Johnson
Still truckin'.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
Still truckin'.

Deathless – Catheryne Valente
I lost steam on this one during part 3, but happily it picked up in the final chapter and now we are back in business. I've said this every week, but Valente's language is beautiful and sounds exactly like a fairy tale should. This week's chapters in particular have contained some gorgeously stark imagery.


What I'm Reading Next

The Essex Serpent, and I am very excited about it.


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What I Just Finished Reading

What Your Financial Advisor Isn't Telling You – Liz Davidson
I'm still searching for the book that will convince me retirement plans amount to anything more than state-sponsored gambling. That said, the gambling Davidson peddles is far less injurious than most financial advisors', and she includes a truly fascinating section on the psychology of habits that I wish had gone on for far longer.

Fortunately, the Milk – Neil Gaiman
When reading Gaiman's ouerve, I often find myself asking a) Could I have written this, and b) If so, would Harper Collins have published it in a handsome hardcover edition? At least 80 percent of the time, the answers are yes and no, at which point I get cranky.

This book made me cranky.

The Wasting of Borneo – Alex Shoumatof
Shoumatof's conservation message would be more convincing if he weren't also a priveleged ecotourist whose globe-trotting contributes to the very environmental destruction he decries. He's also cringe-inducingly oblivious in other areas, such as his rendering his Malaysian guides' speech in “me talk good” pigdin English and his reaction upon meeting a highlander in traditional garb (“the most authentic-looking Penan we've met”--I guess the ones in Western clothing were imposters?), or his risible contention that sexual violence was unknown on Borneo prior to contact with multinationals. It's a shame, because the opening chapters on Shoumatof's youth in the woods and fields of New England were lyrical.


What I Am Currently Reading

The Windfall – Diksa Basu
I'm still very much enjoying the foibles of the main characters as they try to navigate status and class in Delhi and the Indian expat community in the US.

The Infidel Stain – MJ Carter
I enjoyed the opening chapters the first time I read this and am enjoying them again now. What remains to be seen is if my opinion of the rest of it improves on the second read-through.

10% Happier – Dan Harris
Still loving this one, and will probably purchase next time the ebook goes on sale.

Tarot 101 – Kim Huggens
After a nigh-fifteen-year absence, I dipped my toe back into the online Tarot community and promptly went o.O. I signed out this book in an attempt to find out where some of these trends are coming from.

The Souls of China – Ian Johnson
Still truckin'.

Arkham Asylum – Grant Morrison & Dave McKean
For: McKean's artwork is stunning, Morrison understands that creepiness resides in what you don't show, was written in 1989.

Against: Oh look, women being tortured to death so's the menfolk can have something to do.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
Still truckin'.

Deathless – Catheryne Valente
Still truckin', although with a POV shift to a new character this week.


What I'm Reading Next

Gah, I don't know. I exceeded my owned-but-unread ceiling this week, triggering a mandatory massive unloading of volumes into neighborhood Little Lending Libraries from which I am still smarting.


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What I Just Finished Reading

The Devil's Feast – MJ Carter
Just as good the second time around. When is the next volume out, again?


What I Am Currently Reading

The Windfall – Diksha Basu
This is an utterly delightful and entertaining novel. Basu has an Austen-like eye for teasing out the absurdities and humor in the way her characters' desires and insecurities put them at cross-purposes to each other, and I love that there's no villain per se, just a variety of human beings being fallibly human.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
Still truckin.'

The Souls of China – Ian Johnson
Johnson is an excellent writer.

Deathless – Catheryne Valente
Thus far, this book is also a gem. Valente has the formula for writing a fairytale in novel form down cold. It's otherworldly and compelling and frequently creepy, and it does all of these things so subtly and so well. If she keeps this up, Deathless is going to rank among the top five novels I've read thus far this year.


What I'm Reading Next
Grogginess has slowed me down, so I'll probably just continue working on the volumes I've got in progress now.

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What I Just Finished Reading

Pleasure Bound – Deborah Lutz
A great read from start to finish. Lutz's prose is clear and her take on her subjects sympathetic and incisive. This one is definitely going on the reread shelf.

Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire
This book had great promise but fails to deliver. Reasons why behind the cut )


What I Am Currently Reading

The Windfall – Diksha Basu
Being a novel about a nouveau riche Delhi family. So far we have been introduced to the affable but bumbling father, the long-suffering mother, the son with a secret American girlfriend, and the neighborhood widow who wants to live out her missed youth.

The Devil's Feast – MJ Carter
Still truckin'.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
Still truckin'.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew – Daniel Pool
There is a lot of interesting information in this volume but Pool is not a particularly lucid writer, which makes it difficult to absorb. Now that much of what he covers can also be found in Wikipedia, I'm not sure how much utility there is to be had in slogging through his presentation of it here.

The Wasting of Borneo – Alex Shoumatoff
Shoumatoff has finally made it to Malaysia. For my part, I am still truckin'.

Deathless – Catheryne Valente
I am really liking this one. Writing a novel in fairytale prose is no easy feat, but thus far Valente is doing an excellent job of it.


What I'm Reading Next
Unfinished volumes from Wednesdays past, most likely.

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What I Just Finished Reading

Two months' of back issues of four magazines, and the WaPo and WSJ. Subscriptions are destroying my ability to novel.


What I Am Currently Reading

The Devil's Feast – MJ Carter
Still rereading, and enjoying catching more little character nuances I didn't fully note the first time around.

Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire
Woah, this got very dark in a way I'd not seen coming, but I like it when novels surprise like that.

Clariel – Garth Nix
We're really starting to get some intimations that all in the capital is not as rosy as it may first appear. I am very much intrigued.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
I wish my ARC copy contained the color plates. And yes, still truckin'.

The Wasting of Borneo – Alex Shoumatoff
Shoumatoff is a passionate and engaging writer, but his naivete can grate. To wit: “The Dalai Lama didn't remember me when I went to see him again several years after a two-hour private audience with him” but the second time Shoumatoff visits the elephant Bubbles at a commercial exotic animal reserve, the elephant “immediately zooms in on me...wraps her trunk around me and pulls me to her breast and raises her right foot for me to rest on. [Her handler] tells me later he's only seen her do this three times...” To Shoumatoff's mind, this is confirmation of his unique understanding of human-animal bonds that have been forsaken by the majority of humanity. Whereas this skeptical reader thinks it more to do with the fact that Bubbles is a captive, trained animal with 27 years of cinema and circus shows behind her, whose handlers saw a mark and a golden opportunity to generate good PR for their $250-a-head show at their “unusual and controversial operation, which, it has to be said, is not held in high regard by the animal-rights community.”


What I'm Reading Next
Thick As Thieves. Thick As Thieves. Thick As Thieves. Thick As Thieves. And that's how I'll be spending my long weekend.

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Summerlong – Peter Beagle
This was indeed not my cup of tea. I connected with none of the characters, the majority of the narrative is a wish fulfilment fantasy, and the big reveals (and what happens subsequently) were visible from a mile away. The volume concludes with an About the Author so pompous that readers may be forgiven for wondering why, in a world graced with Beagle's genius, anyone still bothers with Shakespeare.


What I Am Currently Reading

Japan and Korea – Frank Carpenter
In which we move on to traditional crafts; it's neat that what Carter wrote about 90 years ago still goes on in Kyoto today.

The Devil's Feast – MJ Carter
I'm a third of the way through the book and narratively, now the real fun is beginning. Carter has a tendency to deliver history lecture as chunks of dialogue, but it's far more natural here than in The Infidel Stain. But when she does show, she does it so very well.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet – Charlie Holmberg
I'm still very much enjoying this novel. It's a darker, more adult narrative than any of Holmberg's previous books, and I'm interested to see how she develops certain elements, such as ethnicity and religion, that she introduced in the early chapters.

Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire
This novel--about the denizens of a school for children who have been expelled from fantasy realms and are desperate to get back--has a classic Holly Black vibe. The social commentary is laid on a bit thick in places, but I'm fine with that because it's good commentary.

Clariel – Garth Nix
In which we learn some intriguing things about our protagonist, and encounter a Charter Mage who is going to teach her more.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik
I've reached what I think of as the second part of this novel, where the cast of characters and setting both undergo a major shift. I remember liking the first part better; we'll see if that still holds true during this reading.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
Still truckin'.

Ugly Koreans, Ugly Americans – Min Byoung-chul
Still truckin'.


What I'm Reading Next
I will keep on truckin' through the above.

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What I Just Finished Reading

The WaPo, the WSJ, and a bunch of monthly magazines.


What I Am Currently Reading

Summerlong – Peter Beagle
I bought this on the strength of a vaguely remembered WaPo review. Seventy-odd pages in the writing is solid, but I'm not sure the set-up (man in his late fifties and lover 15 years his junior are awestruck by mysterious woman in her early 20s and invite her into their home) is going to be my cup of tea.

The Devil's Feast – MJ Carter
Taking this second read at a much slower pace and still very much enjoying it.

Japan and Korea – Frank Carpenter
Carpenter's dismissal of women as anything beyond pretty objects continues unabated, his comments on Japanese cuisine are groan-worthy, and his chapters on Nagoya and Kyoto left me crushingly nostalgic for both cities.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet – Charlie Holmberg
Holmberg's writing gets better with each novel and it's a joy to watch.

Ugly Koreans, Ugly Americans – Min Byoung-chul
This week's passages on the idiosyncrasies of some Korean drivers were cathartic.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik
Hands down my favorite Snape fanfic.

The Perfect Dictatorship – Stein Ringen
Ringen's observations are worthwhile, but I have trouble focusing on them given his clunky writing.


What I'm Reading Next
Whatever strikes my fancy from the backlog of in progress reads I've got going on right now.

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What I Just Finished Reading

Placeholder – Placeholder
For reasons.


What I Am Currently Reading

The Original Dream – Nukila Amal
The Buddhist references are definitely intentional. I'm ¾ of the way through and it's been a bit of a mixed bag: some chapters are scintillating and some are a trek to get through. Amal has her narrator explicitly say as much, so I think this is the author demonstrating a point. Individuals and elements from opening chapters have also reappeared in ways that provide context to their initial, unexplained introductions. I'm interested to see how it all wraps up.

Journey into Mystery vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen et al.
Still amazingly good. I've really come to like the disir and am rooting for them to prevail over a certain character, and the issue with Volstagg and his children is an absolute gem.

Ugly Koreans, Ugly Americans – Min Byoung-chul
Still an interesting read, although some of the generalizations are (as is the nature of all generalizations) questionable: do “all” Koreans enjoy singing karaoke, or do the one's who don't just feel socially obligated to do so? And I've shared beverages with plenty of American friends who'd be surprised to learn that they don't consider such behavior a sign of friendship and in fact, never do it at all.

Clariel – Garth Nix
I put off reading Clariel for years. I like Sabriel so much that while I've read its sequels, I will never reread them and have tried to forget as much about them as I can, not because they were bad, but so that Sabriel can go back to being a self-contained story in my mind. As far as this prequel goes: I wish I had not waited—Clariel is amazing so far. Fantasy novels are an odd beast: for them to work for me, they really need to have the right mix of language, worldbuilding, magical systems, ambiance, and other elements, and oh, does this novel get all these elements just right.

Rebel Buddha – Dzogchen Ponlop
Yesterday, I realised I'm supposed to have this read for a book club on Saturday. Oops. There's a lot of good stuff in here so far, but Ponlop has a tendency to rephrase a single point two or three times in a paragraph. It's all very well written, but because I grasp Ponlop's points the first time around, I'd rather just move on to the next.

The Perfect Dictatorship – Stein Ringen
I think I managed about three pages this week. Still very interesting, but I just don't have the time to dig in.


What I'm Reading Next
As above.

これで以上です。
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What I Just Finished Reading

Moranifesto – Caitlin Moran
Moran is at her best writing about politics, social issues, and feminisim, and luckily there's far more of that here than in Moranology (which I've read and of which I remember precisely nothing). There are some fluff pop culture pieces here, but they're in the minority; the rest is Moran's incisive and blistering commentary, and it's a pleasure to read.


What I Am Currently Reading

The Original Dream – Nukila Amal
Some more very dreamscape-y sequences about the gulfs that open up between parents and their adult children. It's good stuff, but needs to be digested in small doses.

The Devil's Feast – MJ Carter
I held off for a few weeks, but predictably, I am rereading because it was so. Damn. Good.

What Your Financial Advisor Isn't Telling You – Liz Davidson
People watch reality TV to hate on the cast and I read financial advice books to hate on the authors for their dissembling. To wit: if the example you give in chapter 1 for why people need to invest in retirement accounts is the same example you give in chapter 3 on how to identify bogus criminal advisors, what does that say about the merits of the retirement system writ large?

Journey into Mystery vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen et al.
Gillen knows how to write exposition that doesn't read like exposition and, along with the excellent roster of artists here, how to convey frightening violence effectively. Farction and Kirkman could learn a thing or two from this book.

Ugly Koreans, Ugly Americans – Min Byoung-chul
Contentwise, there's nothing unfamiliar to me here, but it's a nice way to crosswalk how various social concepts are expressed in English versus Korean.

The Perfect Dictatorship – Stein Ringen
Interesting so far, but Ringen has a tendency to rephrase the same idea over and over and over within a single paragraph.

Hindi Script – Rupert Snell
Dear gods, this appears to be happening.


What I'm Reading Next
Will likely just keep chipping away at this pile or the unfinished volumes from weeks prior.

これで以上です。
Tags:
What I Just Finished Reading

The Devil's Feast – M.J. Carter
So. Damn. GOOD.

Seriously, this is the best thing she's written. Expect an entire entry devoted to this book in the coming days.


What I Am Currently Reading

Japan and Korea – Frank Carpenter
It's insane how much Japan has changed in 90 years, and how Westernized it's become. Incidentally, standards of acceptability for educated Western authors discussing other cultures have also changed massively, and thank goodness. For instance, in the six chapters I read this week Carpenter makes much of the West's superiority to Japan, particularly in the realm of gender equality. And yet he regularly pens things like: Not in all Japan were there enough maidens with shapely legs. Perhaps it is the habit of squatting on the floor that gives the Japanese women such ugly legs. At any rate, a rainy day in Tokyo is full of disillusions for the foreign admirer of the ladies of the “Sunrise Kingdom,” for as they go long the streets with their kimonos lifted out of the wet, they expose about the most unlovely limbs imaginable.

As far as Carpenter's concerned, a woman's worth is determined by how pleasant she is for men to look at. And if she's also an accomplished artist or the founder of a multi-billion dollar corporation, well, that's an oddity worth remarking on in passing, but more importantly, Is she pretty? There's no men's “rights” movement hostility here; Carpenter assumes as a matter of course that the interests and opinions that matter are those of men, and writes to them exclusively. It's a nice reminder that for as bad as things still are, they really have improved.

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie
This is the worldbuilding that I desire.

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
I rabidly despise the chaotic evil alignment. Locke Lamora is a chaotic evil character, and therein lies my problem with this book. At this point, I doubt there's going to be any soul-searching; Lamora is the hero because Lynch says he is, and the same vicious behavior is good when Locke does it and worthy of drawn-out death when another character does it because Lynch says it is. For all he's constructed a massive fantasy RPG setting, Lynch is stunningly imperceptive when it comes to human interaction. I hope fanfic is its saving grace.

The Wasting of Borneo – Alex Shoumatoff
I've had to put this book down several times already, and I'm only 18 pages in. Shoumatoff is a talented chronicler of humankind's degradation of the environment. It's necessary but difficult reading.

Indonesian: A Comprehensive Grammar – James Sneddon, K. Alexander Adelaar, Dwi Djenar
I've started hopping around a bit to cover some of the things I find myself regularly needing to use, to include: pun, the passive-two construction, embedded questions, and dependent clauses with yang.


What I'm Reading Next
Caitin Moran's Moranifesto is $1.99 on Amazon today, so probably that, along with half-a-dozen or so library books I need to return soon.

これで以上です。
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What I Just Finished Reading

The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter
Because The Devil's Feast was officially released in the US today. Where is my package, Amazon?

Also, GUYS, THERE IS A BLAKE & AVERY TAG IN NIGHT ON FIC MOUNTAIN.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones – Paul Reps & Nyogen Senzaki
I'm glad I read this, but it is a bit dated and I don't know that I'll ever return to it again.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo – Amy Schumer
I deeply enjoy Schumer's comedy and social commentary; she's right up there with Caitlin Moran. It takes a few pages for Schumer to translate her style into this medium, but once she gets going, it's amazingly good.

Until the second half of the book, where she states the following: “Definitely end it with [a] guy if he and his mother have one of those dynamics where you can tell the mom always kind of thought she would end up with her own son.” Not bad advice, except it becomes increasingly clear that Schumer always kind of thought she would end up with her own father, in ways that frequently undercut her pointed cultural observations. It's a blind spot big enough to sink the Titanic in, and an unfortunate drag on an otherwise excellent book.


What I Am Currently Reading

The Original Dream – Nukila Amal
The stream-of-consciousness narrative continues in the second chapter, which centers on a disorienting but well-written dream sequence. More intriguing yet, it morphs halfway through into a deconstruction of the “Original Face” koan. I'm intrigued to see if this is intentional on Amal's part, or if she's figured it out on her own.

Japan and Korea – Frank Carpenter
In which we discuss how policemen are woefully underpaid but compensated in respect, Imperial succession politics (which are no closer to being solved today), the “soshi” gangs-for-hire (precursors to today's yakuza), and are treated to this jaw-dropping insight: “The way in which the Japanese have sat for generations has had a great deal to do with making them such a short-legged people.”

Trump's America – Scott Dikkers
Subtitled Buy This Book and Mexico Will Pay for It, it is, like the object of its satire, best digested in small doses.

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
WE HAVE WOMAN IN REFRIGERATOR SIGN! Three whole female characters have appeared in the first 44 percent of the novel; one of them is now dead so that the male characters can Feel Things about it and be Motivated.

In larger developments, our titular character is currently being menaced by the Gray King—a thief with more resources and superior bastardry than Locke. I get the sense Lynch wants me to hate this guy, but I'm rooting for him hardcore. After all, if Locke's willingness to lie, cheat, and fuck people over is what I'm supposed to like about him (and “Lamora” is an anagram of “amoral,” so come on), why would I not like the “villain” who's beating Locke at his own game?

I hope this is setting up some major soul-searching, but: “I wonder, I really wonder. Is this what other people feel like when we're through with them?” Lamora asks after he finds himself in the Gray King's sights, only to be told by his best friend, “I thought we'd agreed long ago that they get what they deserve, Locke.” Which makes me fearful that it isn't, and that Lynch just wants me to ignore the hypocrisy behind the curtain. But we shall see.

The Iron Flute – Nyogen Senzaki
Steve Hagen's introduction is the single most cogent presentation of Zen I have ever encountered. It alone justifies the cover price.

The Light and Shadow Tarot – Brian Williams & Michael Goepferd
Kinda crapped out on this one this week; have made it partway through the aces.


What I'm Reading Next
The Devil's Feast, Bezos willing. Otherwise, my goal is to get through my heaping pile of Wired back issues.


これで以上です。
Tags:
What I Just Finished Reading

Nothing this week either, unless you count a ton of newspapers and magazines.

What I Am Currently Reading

Japan and Korea – Frank Carpenter
We've moved on to the government, which is particularly interesting because it's a contemporary account and I'm used to reading postwar histories.

The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter
Finished except for the historical afterword (which in Carter's novels is nigh indistinguishable from her dialogue).

10% Happier – Dan Harris
This is the second time I've read this book and it holds up quite well indeed. Harris' narrative is honest and funny, and along with Batchelor, his explanation of the mechanics of meditation is as good as any you'll find in a secular volume.

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
It's hard to enjoy a fantasy set in the Islamic State, which this novel essentially is, with its public hangings, drownings, exsanguinations, and torture-as-public-entertainment. Then we have the well-respected religious leaders who are actually frauds fleecing their gullible congregations for all they're worth (realistic, yes, but I want fantasy from my fantasy reading). Then we have the titular Locke Lamora and his gang of Gentleman Bastards, who rob the rich so they can...pile the money up in their hidey-hole because they have precisely zero use for it. And this makes them different from the obnoxiously privileged elites they're robbing, how? It's as if Lynch expects me to cheer for these characters merely because they are the main characters...but so far they're just as odious as everyone else they've encountered. I hope some character development is in store in the latter two-thirds of the book.

Don't Be A Jerk – Brad Warner
Warner is currently giving his take on the Bendowa and where it fits in Dogen's overall corpus. I'm still very much enjoying this one.

The Light and Shadow Tarot – Brian Williams & Michael Goepferd
Working through the twos and aces this week.

What I'm Reading Next
If my delivery isn't delayed (and I hope, hope, hope it's not) Carter's The Devil's Feast.

これで以上です。
Tags:
What I Just Finished Reading

The Legacy of Lhasa – Anna Hestler
While this volume is certainly visually attractive, its discussion of Tibetan iconography never rose above the superficial, and thus disappoint.

Followed by Frost – Charlie Holmberg
Yes. This is what I want from a fantasy novel. I was concerned in the early chapters that Holmberg was setting up an all-too-typical plot that's a particular squick of mine, but I needn't have worried. What she wrote instead is a little gem of a story, with likeable characters and a narrative arc that foregoes attempts to be a sweeping epic in favor of telling a less grandiose story very well. That the novel incorporates multiple narrative kinks of mine—exile, found families, language acquisition, sign language, reconciliation—is just the icing on the cake.

Inda – Sherwood Smith
This one just never clicked with me. It's the fantasy novel equivalent of a hoarder's house: so crammed with needless things you can't move. Smith introduces so many characters she can't focus on any of them, with the result that she has to tell, tell, tell readers about their personalities and motivations. The end result is that they're less like people than paper dolls Smith can dress up in whatever clothing she requires to move to plot forward. I didn't really care what happened to any of them. It's too bad; this could have been a compelling novel if she'd reined in its focus.


What I Am Currently Reading

The Original Dream – Nukila Amal
There's some nice imagery in the first two chapters, although I hope the entire novel is not written in their stream-of-consciousness vein.

Japan and Korea – Frank Carpenter
Thus far, the author has discussed the changes he's witnessed over 30 years in Tokyo. It's good stuff.

The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter
Yes, again. I am counting down the days until the third novel's US release.

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
This novel has an intriguing premise: orphaned master thieves operating in an alternate reality Venice. It's the tone that's not working for me: Lynch tries for a sardonic worldliness that largely falls flat, and he can't make up his mind whether to write the narration and dialogue in quasi-archaic constructions or Deadpool-style wisecracks.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
In this week's chapters, we begin to follow the Communists' rise.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones – Paul Reps & Nyogen Senzaki
I've wrapped up the first volume in this anthology and moved on to its translation of the Mumonkan. It's definitely a dated translation, but still surprisingly readable.

Don't Be A Jerk – Brad Warner
Don't Be A Jerk is Warner's rescension of Eihei Dogen's Shobogenzo into modern, informal English. I'm still in the early chapters, but thus far it's avoided all the obvious pitfalls such an endeavor could fall into.

The Light and Shadow Tarot – Brian Williams & Michael Goepferd
On to the two's this week. Reading the volume this slowly has made me realise how much less attention Williams pays to these middle sets in the Minor Arcana.

How Computers Work – Ron White & Tim Downs
I'm still in the early, text-heavy chapters but already enjoying this very much.

세상에 없는 아이– 김미승 (Sesang-e Eomnun Ai – Kim Misung)
It is an engaging read, but like much Korean writing, lord is it dark.


What I'm Reading Next
I'll either continue to wrap up these volumes or return to some of the books that dropped off the pile this week.

これで以上です。
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And after a short hiatus, I am back.

What I Just Finished Reading

Nothing. Eheheh.


What I Am Currently Reading


Journey Into Mystery: The Complete Collection vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen et al.
I'm one third of the way through the issues collected in this volume and still very much enjoying the ride.

The Light and Shadow Tarot – Brian Williams & Michael Goepferd
Read the fours and threes this week.

Followed By Frost – Charlie Holmberg
I very much enjoyed The Paper Magician, and have been waiting for this volume to go on sale to see if Holmberg's follow on effort was as delightfully imaginative as the earlier novel. One chapter in, the gender politics are retrograde (read: horrific) but the worldbuilding has promise.

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
Our hero has reached adulthood and is planning out some heists of his own. The adjective onslaught continues unabated.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
This week's chapters covered the end of the Qing dynasty and the lead-up to World War I. Pomfret's clear and engaging prose continues to shine. In fact, it's such a pleasure to read it's easy to overlook how much of a Sinophile he is. To wit: these chapters are a litany of countries—Japan, Britain, the US—jockeying for influence and hegemony. But Pomfret's narrative begs the question: influence and hegemony over whom, to say nothing of how the conditions were created that enabled this state of affairs. Indeed, the Chinese are consistently absent from this narrative; it's as if the foreign powers whose machinations Pomfret discusses were acting in a vacuum.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones – Paul Reps & Nyogen Senzaki
While Zen Flesh, Zen Bones may have qualified as scholarship in the mid-20th century, it would not do so today. Reps and Senzaki present their material without explication, either modern or traditional. It is the book's strength, and also its weakness.

Inda – Sherwood Smith
I had hoped part two would agree with me more than the first, but Smith continues her streak of misdirected answering. I want to know what Inda thought of life on the high seas. What challenges did he face? How did he adapt? What adventures did he have? Alas, Smith foregoes all of this to skip forward several years in time and have various characters narrate plot developments to one another, instead of actually showing them.

세상에 없는 아이 - 김미승 (Sesang-e Eomnun Ai - Kim Misung)
A husband brings his starving, pregnant wife a gift of whale meat he's received from a palace official. She subsequently gives birth to a massively strong girl with an ugly face like a whale's. The girl is currently being bullied by her father and the townspeople, and is about to have a doubtlessly life-altering meeting with a yangban.

천수・금강경–무비스님 (Thousand Hands & Diamond Sutras – Mubi-seunim )
Still working my way through the modern Korean translation of the Sutra.

Martin & John 1 – 박희정 (Martin & John vol. 1 – Pak Hui-jeong)
Still reading through the second story of Martin and John, in which one of the titular characters is deceased, and the other is reminiscing about him with the woman he married before he died.


What I'm Reading Next
I should probably wrap some of these volumes up before adding any new ones to the list.


これで以上です。
Tags:
What I Just Finished Reading

Loki: Agent of Asgard vol. 2 – Al Ewing, Lee Garbett & Jorge Coelho
This volume suffers from typical Marvel Tie-In disease. If you haven't read the issues in other Marvel lines published concurrently with those collected in this volume, you aren't going to understand what's going on. That said, the story was still cohesive and engaging, and Coehlo and Garbett's art complements Ewing's narrative nicely. There are moments of surprising humor and drama. This is one of the better Marvel runs.

Loki: Agent of Asgard vol. 3 – Al Ewing & Lee Garbett
I entered this series hoping to be entertained, but holy crap, what Ewing has written here is freaking transcendent. Dear god, this is the first time I've ever had to put down a Marvel book to catch my breath. Unbelievably good. Unbelievably damn good.

Sandman: Overture – Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III
This was very well done, and may even have replaced World's End as my favorite run in the Sandman series.


What I Am Currently Reading

Journey Into Mystery: The Complete Collection vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen et al.
Because Ewing's conclusion was so freaking good I had to backtrack to everything post-Siege. Alas, this collection is no longer available and used copies cost 1.5 to two times more than the volume's cover price when it was still in print. But wait! Hadn't I seen a copy of this on the shelves of my local comic book store not two weeks ago? I had, and you better believe I marched myself down there directly after work to buy it before anyone else realised what was what.

Three issues in, I'm very much enjoying this run. Unlike many of Gillen's titles, the story doesn't feel rushed. If anything, I feel it's fleshing out some of the superficial elements in Siege. I'm digging the mythological tone, and Doug Braithwaite's art and Ulises Arreola's colors perfectly complement the narrative.

Young Avengers vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Started and then put on hold after I got my hands on Journey into Mystery. The story does feel a bit hurried and the Gillen-McKelvie combo makes it feel like a Wicked + Divine cameo is always just around the corner, but Gillen's Loki and Wiccan are spot on, and there are some delightfully funny moments.

The Legacy of Lhasa – Anna Hestler
This is certainly a visually attractive little book, which one would expect of a volume from a series on Asian furniture (which I did not realise this was when I acquired it). Having said that, it's a disappointing volume. Tibetan art is richly symbolic, but Hestler either isn't sufficiently familiar with its iconography to explain it, or for whatever reason chose not to. We're thus left with a book that's long on “mystic Tibet” tropes but lacking in educational value.

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
Still bursting at the seams with adjectives. Maybe I should try reading this one earlier in the day.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom – John Pomfret
A very well written survey of US-China relations from the 18th century to the present. I'm currently in the lead-up to World War I and thus far have found nothing to disappoint.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones – Paul Reps & Nyogen Senzaki
This Tuttle volume collects two volumes of koan, an exegesis of Kakuan's 10 Bulls paintings, and a translation of a Sanskrit text the authors claim influenced Zen. The Zen volumes were published in the mid- to late-1930s, and the Sanskrit translation in 1955; thus far, they're about what you'd expect from Western writing on the subject from that period.

Inda – Sherwood Smith
I wrapped up part 1 of the novel this week; what happens to Inda next has pretty much been telegraphed regularly through the first half of the narrative.

The Light and Shadow Tarot – Brian Williams & Michael Goepferd
Spent time with the fives this week.

プラネテス 2 – 幸村 誠 (Planetes vol. 2 – Yukimura Makoto )
In which volume one's terrorists make their reappearance, with some interesting twists.

천수・금강경–무비스님 (Thousand Hands & Diamond Sutras – Mubi-seunim )
In contrast to Japanese sutras where the Japanese glosses the original Chinese, here the hanzi gloss the hangul, which is kind of fun for me. I've started with the modern Korean translation of the Diamond Sutra and plan to work my way backward through the Chinese and then on to the Thousand Eyes and Hands Dharani.

Martin & John 1 – 박희정 (Martin & John vol. 1 – Pak Hui-jeong)
This was the first manhwa I tried reading, way back in the day (when the title was still rendered Martin and Jhon!). I learned a lot of coarse language from this book. It's also an interesting contrast to Earthian, which is definitely a relic of its time, while Martin and John does not feel like something first published in 1988.


What I'm Reading Next
I have so many in-progress volumes this week I doubt I'll start anything else until I wrap up more of the above.

これで以上です。
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