Posts Tagged ‘booknotes’
December 27, 2017 @ 4:43 pm | Filed under: Books
Year after year, this may be my favorite week for blogging. “Old Year Week,” as Mole calls it. I love tidying things up and making a fresh start. It’s a time, too, for reflection: what worked this year; what didn’t. I wasn’t able to be as consistent with daily posting as I’d hoped at the start of the year, but who could have predicted what this year would hold for me, for all of us. Methinks I can cut myself a little bit of slack. 😉
I worked on my sidebar booklog for a while yesterday—it was woefully behind—and discovered to my horror that I had written “Douglas Adams” as the author of Watership Down, which would have been a verrrry different kind of book. I’m going to hope it’s a case of nobody noticing, rather than that you were all too polite to point it out. 😉
Most years, this is the week that my fall Cybils reading frenzy is suddenly, breathlessly, over—finalists selected, blurbs written, book towers carted off to other parts of the house. That’s the case today for my Round 1 panelists, but this year I’m YA category chair only, not one of the YA readers. (I’m a Round 2 judge in Early Readers and Chapter Books, but that work doesn’t start until the New Year, and instead of reading 70-some YA novels in two months as in years past, I’ll only be reading the short lists of finalists. Big difference.)
Anyway, most years right around this date, I find myself suddenly at liberty to read (gasp) anything I want. It’s a tremendous feeling. This year I have a list of books begun earlier in the year, which I’d like to finish up but probably won’t. 2017 was for me a year of leaning on old friends—Hanff, Nesbit, Byatt, Montgomery, Tey, and (ahem) RICHARD Adams—and cozy mysteries during and after the months of my cancer treatment. And a steady course of Moomintrolls in our readaloud life. 🙂 No regrets whatsoever. But I do feel like stretching a bit and picking up something challenging or long-awaited. I also have a few last Arrow books to finish up: a delicious sort of work, that.
I’m not making new reading goals yet. I did make a little shelf for myself, in much the same way that I like to assemble enticing collections of readalouds and read-alones for my kids. It’s partly a real shelf (I’ve been in a hard-copy mood more and more often, lately) and partly virtual—a pile of tomes I’ve been carting around on my Kindle for ages.
A different stack entirely: old favorites I pulled out one day to discuss on a video for my Patreon, but never did. Hmm…now I want to reread The Firelings. And The Sherwood Ring. And The Gammage Cup, which isn’t even in the pile. Oh dear, is there no end to my book gluttony?
This post ran off in a different direction than I intended when I began. I’ll save the other train of thought for later. Until then, I hope Old Year Week brings you some peaceful down time in which to indulge your own bookish whims.
My morning view is changing. From the reading chair in my studio I look out upon my backyard neighbor’s roof, and my next-door neighbors’ trees. This photo was taken on October 25th or 26th. Two weeks later, the trees on the right and the ones behind that chimney are bare. The robins that hopped in and out of that big magnolia on the left all day long seem to have moved to warmer quarters. I was surprised by how long they stuck around!
I worked a lot this weekend, so this morning I feel like I could use…a weekend. 😉 Instead, we have a full day in store: an audiology appointment for S, and then some lesson time with Huck and Rilla, and then I have another issue of The Arrow to wrap up.
But I feel like the major task I want to accomplish today is deciding what book to read. My option paralysis has hit again, something awful. I’ve read about twenty beginnings since the last book I finished. It’s maddening. I think what I’m wanting at the moment is a book both absorbing and stirring, with humor and local dramas…like Guernsey Literary Society or Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Maybe I’ll just reread The Blue Castle for the four thousandth time while I make up my mind on something new.
September 16, 2017 @ 1:22 pm | Filed under: Books
As I head into the home stretch of radiation (only three treatments to go!!), I’m feeling pretty wiped. I’m like a phone that won’t hold a charge for long anymore. But I know the end is in sight and I’m trying to be good and take it easy. Still working, because I gotta. But the rest of the day is for rest and reading.
Earlier this week I was chatting with Naomi Bulger about our shared love of Helene Hanff. 84 Charing Cross Road is one of my favorite books of all time, and Hanff’s other books are way up there too. Of course the conversation made me want to reread everything, and that’s how I spent yesterday afternoon.
I’ve blogged a lot about why I love Helene Hanff’s books so much. The first one I encountered was her Letter from New York, which I read just before I moved to NYC. I carried it all over the city, seeking out the places Helene described. (Here’s a post all about it: How Radio Helped a Garden Grow.)
She really shaped my understanding and experience of Manhattan, and I was stunned to realize, many years later, that at that very time in the mid-90s, Helene was still living in the 72nd St apartment she moved to during 84 Charing Cross Road—just a block from Scott’s first NYC studio! I could have visited her!
I often wonder what happened to her personal book collection, and to the NY Public Library books she (according to her letters) filled with margin notes. Oh to stumble upon one of those!
“I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to ‘I hate to read new books, and I hollered ‘Comrade!’ to whoever owned it before me.”
—84 Charing Cross Road
“It’s against my principles to buy a book I haven’t read, it’s like buying a dress you haven’t tried on.”
—84 Charing Cross Road
Q (Quiller-Couch) was all by himself my college education. I went down to the public library one day when I was 17 looking for books on the art of writing, and found five books of lectures which Q had delivered to his students of writing at Cambridge.
“Just what I need!” I congratulated myself. I hurried home with the first volume and started reading and got to page 3 and hit a snag:
Q was lecturing to young men educated at Eton and Harrow. He therefore assumed that his students—including me—had read Paradise Lost as a matter of course and would understand his analysis of the “Invocation to Light” in book 9. So I said, “Wait here,” and went down to the library and got Paradise Lost and took it home and started reading it and got to page 3 when I hit a snag:
Milton assumed I’d read the Christian version of Isaiah and the New Testament and had learned all about Lucifer and the War in Heaven, and since I’d been reared in Judaism I hadn’t. So I said, “Wait here,” and borrowed a Christian Bible and read about Lucifer and so forth, and then went back to Milton and read Paradise Lost, and then finally got back to Q, page 3. On page 4 or 5, I discovered that the point of the sentence at the top of the page was in Latin and the long quotation at the bottom of the page was in Greek. So I advertised in the Saturday Review for somebody to teach me Latin and Greek, and went back to Q meanwhile, and discovered he assumed I not only knew all the plays of Shakespeare, and Boswell’s Johnson, but also the Second Book of Esdras, which is not in the Old Testament and is not in the New Testament, it’s in the Apocrypha, which is a set of books nobody had ever thought to tell me existed.
So what with one thing and another and an average of three “Wait here’s” a week, it took me eleven years to get through Q’s five books of lectures.
—The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street
“My problem is that while other people are reading fifty books I’m reading one book fifty times. I only stop when at the bottom of page 20, say, I realize I can recite pages 21 and 22 from memory. Then I put the book away for a few years.”
—The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street
“I tell you, life is extraordinary. A few years ago I couldn’t write anything or sell anything, I’d passed the age where you know all the returns are in, I’d had my chance and done my best and failed. And how was I to know the miracle waiting to happen round the corner in late middle age? 84, Charing Cross Road was no best seller, you understand; it didn’t make me rich or famous. It just got me hundreds of letters and phone calls from people I never knew existed; it got me wonderful reviews; it restored a self-confidence and self-esteem I’d lost somewhere along the way, God knows how many years ago. It brought me to England. It changed my life.”
—The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street
“Somewhere along the way I came upon a mews with a small sign on the entrance gate addressed to the passing world. The sign orders flatly:
COMMIT NO NUISANCE
The more you stare at that, the more territory it covers. From dirtying the streets to housebreaking to invading Viet Nam, that covers all the territory there is.”
—The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street
Books That Make Me Want to Write Letters (84 Charing Cross Road)
“Wait here.” (The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street)
How Radio Helped a Garden Grow (Letter from New York)
My 2014 booknotes on Underfoot in Show Business:
Am now bereft: it was the last (well, the first for her, but the last for me) of Helene’s memoirs. I wish she’d written five more. The tales in this one: so rich! That first summer she spends at the artist’s colony—sitting down at the desk in her quiet studio and seeing Thornton Wilder’s name written on the plaque listing all the previous occupants of this cabin. He’d stayed there in 1937; she realizes he’d written Our Town in this very spot. For a moment it throws her—I completely understood that wave of comparative despair—until she registers that in the long list of writers under Wilder, there’s no one she ever heard of. This makes her feel better, and then she’s able to work.
And the early story about how she gets to NYC in the first place—winning a fellowship for promising young playwrights. Late 30s, the second year of the award. In the first year, the two winners were given $1500 apiece and sent out to make their way in the world. In Helene’s year, the TheatreGuild decides to bring the three fellowship winners (Helene is the youngest, and the only female) to New York to attend a year-long seminar along with some other hopeful playwrights. The $1500 prize pays her expenses during this year of what sounded very similar to a modern MFA program, minus the university affiliation: classes with big-name producers, directors, and playwrights. Lee Strasberg! An unprecedented opportunity for these twelve young seminar attendees. And the fruit of this careful nurturing? Helene, chronicling the story decades later, rattles off the eventual career paths of the students: there’s a doctor, a short-story writer, a TV critic, a couple of English professors, a handful of screenwriters.
“The Theatre Guild, convinced that fledgling playwrights need training as well as money, exhausted itself training twelve of us—and not one of the twelve ever became a Broadway playwright.
“The two fellowship winners who, the previous year, had been given $1500 and sent wandering off on their own were Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.”
I laughed my head off when I read that.
June 2, 2017 @ 7:24 am | Filed under: Books
What happens when you read Station Eleven in bed before opening your laptop to Paris Agreement discussion: profound discombobulation. What are these fossil fuels you speak of? Here in Year Fifteen, electricity is a distant memory and the children have never seen a lit screen. Uh, like the one on which I’m reading this book, these posts. I’m addled. Somebody fix me a plate of wild boar.
He stood by the case and found himself moved by every object he saw there, by the human enterprise each object had required. Consider the snow globe. Consider the mind that invented those miniature storms, the factory worker who turned sheets of plastic into white flakes of snow, the hand that drew the plan for the miniature Severn City with its church steeple and city hall, the assembly-line worker who watched the globe glide past on a conveyer belt somewhere in China. Consider the white gloves on the hands of the woman who inserted the snow globes into boxes, to be packed into larger boxes, crates, shipping containers. Consider the card games played belowdecks in the evenings on the ship carrying the containers across the ocean, a hand stubbing out a cigarette in an overflowing ashtray, a haze of blue smoke in dim light, the cadences of a half dozen languages united by common profanities, the sailors’ dreams of land and women, these men for whom the ocean was a gray-line horizon to be traversed in ships the size of overturned skyscrapers. Consider the signature on the shipping manifest when the ship reached port, a signature unlike any other on earth, the coffee cup in the hand of the driver delivering boxes to the distribution center, the secret hopes of the UPS man carrying boxes of snow globes from there to the Severn City Airport. Clark shook the globe and held it up to the light. When he looked through it, the planes were warped and caught in whirling snow.
Related: How the United States Looked Before the EPA
January 26, 2017 @ 8:33 pm | Filed under: Books
1. Picture books
Today is the 26th and my Goodreads log says we’ve read 23 picture books so far this year. Sounds about right; we’ve missed a couple of days here and there but not more than two or three. I may have forgotten to log something.
Mrs. Biddlebox by Linda Smith, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Until I went to grab the cover from Amazon just now, I didn’t realize this was out of print. The author died not long after it was published—we had the same editor, who sent me a copy, knowing my kids would love it. They truly do. Mrs. Biddlebox turns a grim, gray day around by, well, eating it up, bad mood and all. I hope your library has a copy because it looks like it has become a collector’s item, judging by the resale price.
I Scream, Ice Cream: A Book of Wordles by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Serge Bloch. Lots of punny fun from the always delightful Rosenthal.
Diary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss.
Diary of a Worm.
Diary of a Spider. Everyone knows these; everyone loves these. My kids can’t listen to one without demanding all three.
The Lady with the Ship on Her Head by Deborah Nourse Lattimore. A longtime favorite of mine—my copy was signed (and delightfully doodled in) by the author when she did a booksigning at the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school, many moons ago. Madame Pompenstance can’t figure out what kind of fancy hairdo to concoct for the king’s contest. When she bends over to scoop a few sad shells off the beach to ornament her coiffure, a tiny three-masted ship rows right onto her head. She has no idea it’s there, even though the tiny crew drops anchor below her earlobes, forming cunning little earrings; she only knows that she has a fearful headache all day long. So funny, and the art is lavish and captivating. A big hit with my gang.
Frog Girl by Owen Paul Lewis. You had me at the bit where the frog lifts the skin of the lake and takes the girl to her underwater frog village.
World Rat Day by J. Patrick Lewis and Anna Raff. A poem collection of made-up holidays. Dragon Appreciation Day is Rilla’s favorite.
2. High-tide companions
We’re still reading The Secret Horses of Briar Hill at bedtime—only a few pages at a time, because Huck is a sleepy guy at the end of the day. We can’t move it to morning because then Stevie would miss out. So I’ve started a new midmorning read-aloud; I was wanting some historical fiction to tie in with our Age of Exploration studies. Beanie suggested one of her old favorites: A Murder for Her Majesty. I haven’t read this one in ages, and possibly never aloud. SO GOOD. We’re only on Chapter 2 so far: young Alice witnessed her father’s murder and went on the run. She’s been taken in by a group of choirboys at York Minster, and they’ve just decided she should cut her hair and hide in the choir. Suspense!
3. My own meanderings
You didn’t think I really meant that Dickens quote the other day, did you? I didn’t look it up to see who said it, but “Let us have no meandering” sounds like Betsey Trotwood. Me, I’m a meanderer. After I finished Ilsa (about which: seriously, more later—not tonight because they’re waiting on me to watch the rest of Fellowship), I found myself in a familiar dither over what of a hundred (a hundred hundred!) options to choose next. Sometimes it takes me weeks to choose. It’s annoying. Just settle down and PICK something! I fight with my brain sometimes. I’ve read the openings of at least five books. One is about King Edward VII and I do mean to finish it. Another is about bees (I know, shocker), and yet another falls into my favorite subgenre: books about books. I keep dipping back into it and will probably curl up with it this weekend for real. And then there’s a (digital) stack of YA novels whispering to me. Also: I did download Martin Chuzzlewit and have chuckled through two chapters so far. I’m arriving too early at Jamie’s May Dickens read-along but her description of this particular novel piqued my interest. Realistically, though, I’ll have to shelve it soon and turn my attention to Great Expectations, which I’m teaching in March.
Oh, and I forgot the three in-progress audiobooks. What is wrong with me? Code Name Verity (edge of my seat; I’ll be recommending to Beanie; and yes I’m very late in getting to this one, which knocked everyone’s socks off a few years ago); Landmarks (still); and A Short History of Nearly Everything.
A bonus post for today! But this one’s mostly for me: another little addition to our family collection of All About Weeds stories.
Strangely, I can’t find the first All About Weeds story in my archives. I’m sure I must have written about it here! But maybe not. Maybe it was pre-Bonny Glen, a tale posted to a homeschooling message board instead. I suppose it must have been, now I think about it: my Amazon history tells me I purchased the book on July 13, 2002. And it entered our lives as a library book some time before that. Which fact (its being a library book) provides the drama of the first anecdote, actually.
We’d moved to Virginia only a few months earlier (on New Year’s Day, 2002, as a matter of fact). When spring arrived, O glorious mid-Atlantic spring with its abundance of dogwood and redbud blossoms, I was in a mania to know every single plant growing in our yard. Among the books I checked out from the adorable train-depot-turned-library in our little town was a rather dusty tome about weeds. I did say every plant.
I flipped through the weed book but I found it rather dry, and besides, I was sidetracked by what would become a years-long obsession with Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards. (Chip, meet block.) All About Weeds sat neglected (so I thought) on a table for a day or two, and then I returned it to the library.
Soon after, Jane (age sevenish, I think? heavens, that was a long time ago) came to me, came to me all in a dither. Where, she begged most earnestly to know, WHERE was that fascinating weeds book?
When I told her I’d returned it to the library, she was crushed. It was the BEST BOOK EVER, I was informed (in tones conveying, yes, both capitals and italics). Full of the MOST INTERESTING information.
And as my shopping history testifies, so persuaded was I of the merits of this superior tome that I purchased a copy for keeps.
The best and perfect weed book makes a number of appearances on this blog, even if its origin story has been lost to the archives of some distant Yahoogroup. “Bonny Glen Firsts” (published in 2011) tells me it was in fact the second book I ever mentioned here:
Second book mentioned (though not by name): All About Weeds, a Jane favorite for years. Seriously.
(Ah, there you go. Not mentioned by name. I’ll have to dig up that post.)
I find it mentioned in a March, 2006 post called “The Tide Is Going Out“—an early exploration of my tidal homeschooling concept.
The other day a neighbor asked me if we take a spring break. I laughed and said, “Yes—the whole spring!”
We’ve had such a pleasant time the last couple of months, immersing ourselves in some good books and other forms of study. Now the outdoors is beckoning, and our daily rhythms are shifting. Spring is calling us, urging us out of the house. We are a bunch of Mary Lennoxes, unable to resist the rustlings and chirpings, the spikes of green, the gypsy winds.
I keep finding cups of water on the counter with tiny blossoms floating like fairy lily pads: the first bluets and starry white chickweed flowers. Chickweed, so Jane tells me, is an edible plant and quite tasty. (“Like sugar snap pea pods, Mom.”) She has begged me not to uproot the vast patch of it that has taken over a stretch of our backyard mulch bed, just uphill from the strawberries. Another weed, a purple-flowered plant the children call “cow parsley,” is popping up all over the lawn, much to their delight: they suck the nectar from the itty bitty orchid-like blossoms and proclaim it better than the honeysuckle they’ll seek out later in the summer.
Jane, who had been binging on math during the past three weeks, seems to have shifted her attentions to botany. I find myself tripping over her tattered copy of All About Weeds everywhere I go, and upstairs, the microscope is much in demand for the viewing of leaf cross sections. An experiment involving scarlet runner beans has become the centerpiece on the kitchen table.
So there we are, four years later, and Weeds is still in constant use. It seems wee 2002 Jane hadn’t been overstating her affections.
A month after that, April 2006: “Things to Do While Your Mother Is in the Hospital” (delivering your baby sister). This one—which is the post that sparked today’s story and this entire trip down memory lane—made me laugh pretty hard. (Not at poor Rose’s plight. At The Book’s role in her recovery.)
If you are seven…
…get stung under the chin by a wasp.
If you are ten…
…recall a passage from that scintillating classic, All About Weeds, describing the sting-soothing properties of yarrow, and concoct a poultice of newly emerging yarrow leaves with which to soothe your little sister’s wasp sting.
Well done, young Jane!
Which brings me to today. Huck’s birthday post keeps turning up melt-my-heart tidbits in the “related posts” widget at the bottom of the page. I was clicking along a little baby-picture rabbit trail when I happened upon the “things to do” post above. Rilla, who was aww-ing over my shoulder at her adorable baby brother’s toddler antics, was transfixed by this glimpse at what her big sisters were up to on the day she was born. She read the post breathlessly, pausing only to interject “Oh, I love that book!” at the bit about “that scintillating classic.”
The chip doesn’t fall far from, er, the older chip.
We found the book, you know, during last week’s grand shelf-cleaning. It has been returned to its permanent spot on Jane’s bookcase.
January 12, 2017 @ 6:24 am | Filed under: Books
Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack. Chronicle Books. This deceptively simple story is an absolute hoot. The only text in the whole book are variations on “Ah ha!” and “Ahh!” Ah ha! A little boy catches a frog. Ahh, the frog escapes from the jar. Ah ha! Right into the mouth of a predator. Ahh! He gets away again. And so on. For beginning readers, this is about as easy as it gets—you can read a whole book with just two sounds. For kids a bit older, like mine, it’s a fun exploration of inflection. How many shades of meaning can you infuse into those two simple syllables?
When Moon Fell Down by Linda Smith, illustrated by Kathryn Brown. HarperCollins. I’m sad to see this lovely book has gone out of print already. It’s been in regular circulation around here since my former Little House editor—also its editor—sent us a copy many, er, moons ago. Moon falls out of the sky one night, meets an amiable cow, and takes her along on an adventure around town. My favorite part is Moon’s discovery of a hidden side to things he has heretofore only seen from above—shop windows and horses’ knees, for example.
High tide read-alouds:
Story of the World Volume 3: Early Modern Times by Susan Wise Bauer. Rilla, Huck, and I are just beginning this tome this week. I’ll admit Chapter 1 left them a little befuddled. It’s presented in a framing sequence several layers deep: imagine you’re a traveler who’s been all over the known world having adventures; it’s 1600 and there are these two kings you’re going to learn about, but first let’s back up to 1500 to hear about a young man who wanted to be Emperor because of this other emperor several centuries earlier…whew! And at the end of the chapter, both my kids were disappointed because they’d wanted to hear more about that grizzled old two-toothed world traveler from the first paragraph, who never showed back up. Fortunately, I know the text will settle down soon and they’ll be hooked into the historical dramas. But I think they’d rather hear the tale of the seven-toed, two-toothed scurvy man who survived being bitten by a cobra and a water moccasin. (!)
Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin. Oldie but goodie. My favorite way to introduce my small people to classic references like the Sword of Damocles, King Alfred and the cakes, and the famous Laconic “IF.” (Those links will take you to the Main Lesson Project, where you can read the stories for free.)
The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems, edited by Donald Hall.
“Can I keep playing Legos while you read, Mom?”
“Can you play with them quietly enough that you’ll be able to hear?” ”
“Yes, but I need to rummage for some certain pieces first.”
“Okay, you rummage. I’ll pick out some poems. Ooh, Macavity!”
[Fifteen-year-old looks up from her geometry, bursts into song.]
My own queue:
I finished Cat’s Cradle. If you’ll forgive me for getting ultra-intellectual on you for a moment—that is one bananas book. 😉
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
I seem to be rereading two Nick Hornby essay collections at once—Housekeeping vs. The Dirt in print, and More Baths, Less Talking on Kindle. Also in this collection: The Polysyllabic Spree and Shakespeare Wrote for Money. Yes, I will almost certainly have to reread them all before this kick plays out.
One of my favorite aspects of these “Stuff I’m Reading” columns is that Hornby leads with lists of the books he bought that month, and the books he actually read.
“The seasoned reader, accustomed to the vicissitudes of a life spent accumulating books, can probably guess without checking that in any given month, the Books Bought and Books Read lists hardly overlap.”
“Surely we all occasionally buy books because of a daydream we’re having—a little fantasy about the people we might turn into one day, when our lives are different, quieter, more introspective, and when all the urgent reading, whatever that might be, has been done. We never arrive at that point, needless to say…”
And here he’s speaking to my rabbit-trailing, homeschooling heart:
“And so a lot of adult life—if your hunger and curiosity haven’t been squelched by your education—is learning to join up the dots that you didn’t even know were there.”
(All these quotes are from More Baths, which is more easily quotable simply because I have it on Kindle and can copy-paste from my “Your Highlights” page.)
Some enticing new titles landed on my Netgalley shelf this week, including a new-to-me reprint of a Madeleine L’Engle novel, Ilsa, which has been out of print for some sixty years and is being reissued by Open Road Media next month. More on that to come, surely. And I’ve received a copy of Maud, “a novel inspired by the life of L. M. Montgomery” by Melanie Fishbane, due out in April from Penguin. (Jen of Recreational Scholar expresses some ambivalent feelings about it in this post.)
January 9, 2017 @ 6:30 am | Filed under: Books
Leslie in VA absolutely made my week with this comment:
Many, many years ago. . . you gushed over “Fruitless Fall” and that book truly changed our life. I read it, my husband read it and our older kids read it. My husband (phobic of bees) wanted to get bees (still does). Fast forward to today and my oldest son, 21, now works on a queen bee farm in Hawaii. He was truly inspired by that book. Thank you for your part in him finding his path!
I told Scott, “I feel like I was just given a George Bailey moment without having to get to the desperate jump-off-a-bridge stage first!” Thanks, Leslie, really. And thanks to all of you who’ve let me know my book chatter has been meaningful to your family life at some point or other. It means a lot to me to know that, truly. 🙂
Leslie went on to ask,
Also, thoughts on goodreads? I think it is a valuable tool but decreased activity over the past year. Are people reading less, not using it, is there another site? I have been keeping track of our books for over 5 years (kids have different shelves) because I often draw a blank when asked for suggestions for a certain age. Wondering what you think of its usefulness?
Have you read Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter? Delicious!
Taking the last question first: I have not! It’s been recommended to me by a number of Bonny Glen readers over the years, and I think I even snagged it on Kindle at some point. Why haven’t I read it yet?? If anyone understands my reading tastes, it’s you folks. Perhaps I can make it a January treat.
As for Goodreads, I too enjoy it but my use comes in fits and starts. I’ve been somewhat more consistent at updating my books in the past few years…at least, until October hits. Then, if it’s a year I’m serving on a Cybils panel (and since I’m now chairing the YA Fiction panel, every year will be that sort of year), it all falls apart. I can’t keep up with the logging.
I’ve tried once or twice to log my kids’ reading that way, but it’s hopeless. Too darn many books. Beanie does log her reading at her own account, though.
I admit I seldom read Goodreads comments on books I’m interested in—not the general pool of comments, that is. I do enjoy reading the remarks left by my Goodreads friends and acquaintances. It’s always fun to enter a book and discover six of my GR pals gave it four stars.
Oh, but about those stars—I hardly ever give any! Sometimes I’ll award them, but only if it’s (in my opinion) a four- or five-star book—and I’m terribly inconsistent at that, having entered many excellent books without putting in any stars at all. It bothers me that a three-star rating (which is supposed to mean “I like it”) is considered by writers (and readers) to be a lackluster, low rating. I don’t want to deflate someone’s scores (and feelings) by seeming to give it a bad grade. And writers work too hard on books for me to go around slapping a depressing two stars on their efforts, even though I’m bound to feel ‘meh’ about some of the books I read. So—I mostly ignore the whole star machinery. A zero-star rating isn’t factored into the book’s score. And it certainly doesn’t mean I thought the book was worth zilch. Some of my lifelong favorite books show up as zeroes in my list, because I didn’t bother with the stars.
I keep thinking I could use Goodreads to log incoming review copies, but there too I get bogged down by the busywork of entering titles.
In the end, my sidebar booklogs are a more accurate reflection of my year’s reading. I wish I’d begun keeping them sooner than 2008!
How about the rest of you? Do you have a good(reads) system?
A tangent: as I write this, at 8:30 Sunday evening, I’m listening to Rose and Beanie play a piano-and-violin duet in the next room—a song from one of the Zelda games, I believe, quite lovely—and my heart’s about to burst with delight. They each started group piano classes around age eight. Rose ‘graduated’ from the music school last spring, at age eighteen. Beanie still attends, along with Rilla, who’s in her third year. And Huck is beginning this week.
Beanie has been taking violin lessons for about a year. The instrument she plays on was given to me by Scott, my senior year of college. He knew I’d always wanted to learn and found a second-hand three-quarter-size violin somewhere. I took lessons for a few months from an elderly fiddle player who taught me out of an old hymnal. I confess I didn’t get very far. I was self-conscious about practicing in earshot of my roommates. The violin got bumped around through several moves, suffering a broken bridge at some point. And the bow disintegrated. The summer before last, Rose spent six weeks in Colorado with my parents and was given the rather amazing opportunity of assisting their neighbor, a violin repairman, with the restoration of my old instrument. She brought it home to Beanie, who’d been pining to play strings for ages.
And here we are. They sound, to this mama’s ears, utterly magical. When they play, I don’t just hear melody—I hear history.
Our weekend picture book reading:
The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman. A pencil draws a host of characters, and then when they clamor for color, he draws a paintbrush to help out. But when he draws an eraser, things begin to go downhill…my kids love this book, from the mild chaos created by the Calvin-esque eraser to the beleaguered pencil’s clever solution. This book would pair nicely with Harold and the Purple Crayon—or that Looney Tunes where Daffy Duck is being tormented by the paintbrush that created him (wielded, of course, by Bugs Bunny).
A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton. I wrote about this gem in 2008: “This was one of the Cybils nominees, and when I read the library copy, I knew it was a keeper. Sweet, funny story about a rather curmudgeonly bear who, despite his best efforts, finds himself playing host to a persistent and amiable mouse. I showed it to Scott, who instantly pegged it as a perfect Rose book. Endearing art, charming story.”
Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier and Suzy Lee. From my 2013 booknotes: “A series of quirky creatures is reading a series of little books, each smaller than the next. Very clever way to play with the convention of the codex. All those adorable nested books are irresistible to my kids. And the art, oh the art: utterly to swoon for.”
How to Read a Story by Kate Messner and Mark Siegel. <– This last one, I’m informed, will be our Monday pick, if we can find it. It fits nicely with the meta-book themes of The Pencil and Open This Little Book, which is probably what made Huck think of it. Some of you will recall that I caught Huck on video reading this one out loud, back in 2015. (Those character voices—oh my heart!)
January 8, 2017 @ 12:26 am | Filed under: Books
Yesterday I picked up one of my cleaning-spree finds: Nick Hornby’s Housekeeping Vs. the Dirt. Just the thing to reset my brain after Cybils reading, I thought. Hornby’s what-I’m-reading essay collections were hugely important to my reading life several years back. He was writing monthly columns about his own reading life—not reviews, but meditations and meanderings, an ongoing conversation with the books he was immersed in each month. Those essays, originally published in Believer magazine and then bundled into several print collections, struck me as wittier, more deliberate versions of the kind of book-notes I’d been casually posting here on the blog for some time. I learned pretty early in my blogging career that I don’t enjoy writing formal book reviews (worrying, as I do, that I’ll wind up at dinner someday with the author of something I gave an unfavorable review to)—what I like is having conversations about books as I’m reading them. It’s during the reading that I’m burning to talk about what’s on the page. After I finish a book, I want to cocoon with it a bit, and finding words for it feels like work.
So as I said, I had more or less figured that out within a year of blogging, and I decided to think of what I was doing here as discussing rather than reviewing—sharing my enthusiasm, thinking out loud, capturing what thoughts the book put in my head while I was reading it.
When, in March 2009, I discovered that Nick Hornby was doing something similar (albeit in a more substantive, organized fashion) in his Believer essays, I felt my own thoughts come into focus. To chronicle one’s reading life—now there’s an activity that excites me. Ms. Mental Multivitamin, then as now one of my favorite bloggers (she posts these days at Nerdishly), had been doing exactly that at M-mv for longer than I’d been blogging (and probably since before Hornby’s essay series began).
(Thinking back, it’s likely I heard about the Hornby essays from Ms. M-mv in the first place.)
When I picked up Housekeeping Vs. the Dirt yesterday, my first reaction was to chuckle over the memory of what happened when I first posted a picture of it here in April, 2009. I presented the photo as evidence of Scott’s thoughtfulness—the book appeared on our bed not long after I’d mused aloud about wanting it—and a few commenters politely wondered if my husband might perhaps be going round the bend.
Q: “Was it a hint that the house was messy, was it exactly what you wanted, or was it a way of saying it’s ok honey, I love the house just the way it is?”
Huck would have been three months old at the time, and I imagine if a book about actual housekeeping had appeared, unsolicited, on our (unmade) bed as a sort of hint that it was time to tidy things up, said book might have hit a nearby wall…or head. 😉 But that would have required an entirely different kind of book, and an altogether different sort of husband.
And so whenever I come across Housekeeping Vs. the Dirt, I chuckle over the critical importance of context. Hornby’s title, of course, refers to two of the books he discusses in the volume.
And here we get to why I love to read the book-musings of other readers: because writers like Nick Hornby and Helene Hanff (O my beloved) don’t just write about the books; they write about relationship. The relationships they form with books. The ways their mental and emotional landscapes are altered by those books. There are personal connections and anecdotes; the books become a part of the reader’s history, shaping new narratives. All the books on my shelves have stories behind them, not just inside them. When I hold a volume, I’m remembering not only its contents, but where it came from and what was happening the first time I read it. Our old books, the ones we’ve hauled from house to house, state to state (uneconomically, sentimentally), contain multiple stories—their own, our family’s, and sometimes, if they came to us used, the stories of previous owners. Like Billy Collins, I’m entranced by the narratives we find in the margins:
…the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page
A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil —
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet —
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”
—excerpt from “Marginalia”
When I pick up Hornby’s Housekeeping, I find it holds a piece of the congenial, bookish blog community I’ve enjoyed for so many years; and a memory of the happy jolt I felt when Scott surprised me with it; and the reading jags I went on because of Hornby’s recommendations; and the pleasure of curling up with those books while my last infant slept on the (unmade) bed beside me, in a room that existed in a state somewhere between housekeeping and the dirt.
All these associations rushed upon me before I’d even opened the book to page one this afternoon. I hit the Preface (page 11, technically) and felt immediately compelled to open the laptop and click New Post.
“I began writing this column,” Hornby writes,
“in the summer of 2003. It seemed to me that what I had chosen to read in the preceding few weeks contained a narrative, of sorts—that one book led to another, and thus themes and patterns emerged, patterns that might be worth looking at. And of course, that was pretty much the last time my reading had any kind of logic or shape to it. Ever since then my choice of books has been haphazard, whimsical, and entirely shapeless.”
You see why I love him.
“It still seemed like a fun thing to do, though, writing about reading, as opposed to writing about individual books. At the beginning of my writing career I reviewed a lot of fiction, but I had to pretend, as reviewers do, that I had read the books outside of space, time, and self—in other words, I had to pretend that I hadn’t read them when I was tired and grumpy, or drunk, that I wasn’t envious of the author, that I had no agenda, no personal aesthetic or personal taste or personal problems, that I hadn’t read other reviews of the same book already, that I didn’t know who the author’s friends and enemies were, that I wasn’t trying to place a book with the same publisher, that I hadn’t been bought lunch by the book’s doe-eyed publicist….”
“But this column was going to be different. Yes, I would be paid for it, but I would be paid to write about what I would have done anyway, which was read the books I wanted to read. And if I felt that mood, morale, concentration levels, weather, or family history had affected my relationship with a book, I could and would say so.”
Which is exactly what brings me back to these essays, time and again. And to other chroniclers of the reading life. Give me your moods, your weather, your family history, your ‘tired or grumpy or drunk.’ Give me the reader as well as the book. In the end, that’s my favorite genre, whatever it’s called.