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the agony and ecstasy of a reading life
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1. F, a Novel

What is it with books and exquisite plotting lately? Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Jane Austen’s Emma (write up to come on that one!). I generally call myself a character novel person. Not that I don’t enjoy a good plot, I do! Most of the time though it seems that the best books are the ones centered on character with plot happening in order to provide the character with something to do. The meaning of the story lies in the character’s development. Books with meaningful characters and tight, meaningful plots that aren’t clunky or forced are hard to come by. At least in my experience.

But now to the list above I can add a fourth book, F by Daniel Kehlmann. Four books within two months. Unheard of!

F is about what happens when Arthur Friedland abandons his three sons to pursue a writing career. Arthur has a son, Martin, with his first wife whom he divorced. He has two sons, twins, Eric and Ivan, with his current wife. He has regular outings with his three sons and on this occasion he has taken them to see the Great Lindemann, a hypnotist. Arthur is certain he cannot be affected by hypnotism but when Lindemann calls him up on stage something happens. Was he really hypnotized or did Lindemann just manage to hit so close to the bone that Arthur could no longer remain in his mediocre life? Whatever the case, Arthur drops all three boys off at Martin’s house and disappears out of their lives. He doesn’t completely disappear, however, because he eventually becomes a best selling author.

Martin grows up and becomes a priest who doesn’t believe in God. Eric grows up to become a financial manager who begins an honest man but through a number of large investment errors ends up running a ponzi scheme in order to keep himself and his company afloat. Ivan sets out to be a painter but instead becomes a forger of paintings.

The story is told in sections. The first is the events with Lindemann. The second section belongs to Martin. This is followed by a section that is a portion of a book Arthur wrote about his family history which may or may not be fiction. The next section belongs to Eric and events in this chapter neatly coincide in places with Martin’s section while also moving forward in time. The fifth section is Ivan’s and it continues to move the story ahead while also fitting in with events that happened in Martin’s and Eric’s sections. The final section brings them all together again with the addition of a third generation, Marie, Eric’s daughter. This too, ties in with events that happened in earlier sections but also moves forward in time.

There is much in the book about work, choosing a path or having it chosen for you, determination and lack of it. Also, what happens when you aim for big things but discover you are only average?

What does it mean to be average — suddenly the question became a constant one. How do you live with that, why do you keep on going? What kind of people bet everything on a single card, dedicate their lives to the creative act, undertake the risk of the one big bet, and then fail year after year to produce anything of significance?

And what is work and all the things we do in life about anyway? Is it all just meant to fill up time until we die?

All the same, a day was a long time. So many days still until the holidays came around, so many more until Christmas, and so many years until you were grown up. Every one of them full of days and every day full of hours, and every hour a whole hour long. How could they all go by, how had old people ever managed to get old? What did you do with all that time?

Something only a child can ask.

The “F” of the title is never defined. It could mean all kinds of things: Friedland, family, faith, fate, forgery, fraud, father and probably a few others. The writing is fairly unadorned, there is no fancy styling here, just good, competent prose.

F has gotten a bit of buzz. While I was impressed with the plotting, I didn’t especially love the book. It might be because it has a rather bleak outlook on life. No one in the book is happy about anything. And when there are moments of happiness they tend to be fleeting or arise from escaping punishment. It all kind of feels pretty close to nihilistic. Of course the gray skies I have been living under for the past two weeks probably didn’t help matters. If the sun had come out once or twice I might have felt differently. I think it’s time to pull a more upbeat book from the reading pile!


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Daniel Kehlmann

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2. Seed Sharing and Gardening Books

One of the really awesome things some public libraries have started doing is creating a seed lending library. Patrons “borrow” seeds from the library to plant in their gardens and then in the fall they save seeds from what they grew and return them back to the library. Great idea, right? It promotes community sharing, healthy food and good exercise, what could be wrong with that? Back in June of this year the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture told the Mechanicsburg public library it could no longer distribute seeds. The seed-exchange program violated a law passed in 2004 that required anyone distributing seeds to conduct quality tests, adhere to labeling and storage rules, and to have a license.

This makes sense for companies that sell seeds for profit. But for a library seed sharing problem?

Now the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has gone after the Duluth public library for its seed sharing program. They cite the very same reasons as they did in PA. You don’t have to have license here but apparently anyone who sells, trades or exchanges seeds in Minnesota must follow state rules and proper labeling. One of those rules is having the seeds tested to make sure they will germinate. It costs $50 for each germination test. Typically, about 400 seeds have to be tested for a valid result but what do you do if you are looking at one to two dozen seeds? The Ag Department said they’d allow the library to have a gardener in Duluth test a smaller sample size.

This means the Duluth program is not going to be shut down, it just means they have lots of hoops to jump through every year to continue the program. And it’s a big program: 200 members borrowed 800 packets of seeds in the first year of the exchange.

Even more ridiculous is the law applies to everyone in the state. So should I give my neighbor some flower or bean seeds from my garden and I don’t first test them or label them I am breaking the law. Supposedly the law is meant to protect consumers and create a level playing field for seed companies which to me means make free seed sharing programs difficult so people will have to buy seeds from companies more often than not.

Don’t worry though, there are some laws worth breaking and this is one of them. If you ever come visit me and my garden and want some seeds from my calendula or coneflowers or zucchini, I’ll gladly provide them to you. Seed sharing is part of what gardening is all about and I am not going to let short-sighted laws that protect companies keep me from it.

On a bookish note, I have five days of work and then two glorious weeks of vacation. I have a little pile of gardening books that I have accumulated from the library that I plan on enjoying as part of that vacation:

  • Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan. This is a marvelous book that I am going to buy myself a copy of. It is filled with recipes for small batch canning. And by small batch I mean one or two small pint jars. The book is intended for gardeners and farmer’s market shoppers who want to preserve small amounts of in-season produce. In other words, you don’t need five pounds of strawberries to make jam, just a few cups. If you have a gardener on your holiday gift list or you are a gardener with a wishlist, this is one you will definitely want to take a look at.
  • Latin for Gardeners by Lorraine Harrison. Because a plant’s Latin name contains lots of information, this book is intended to help the Latin ignorant like myself to figure it out.
  • The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr. Herbs, herbs and more herbs. And what to do with them from culinary to medicinal to the purely ornamental. It’s a hefty A-Z book with more herbs than I have ever heard of, how to grow them and what to do with them. I get the feeling after just a quick browse that I am going to want to own a copy of this. Also, my herb spiral is going to be crammed full next summer and likely overflowing into the rest of the garden.
  • The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour. Rumor has it that I might be able to extend the growing season into January or longer using the right equipment and techniques. I had thought I’d like to try it in a couple of years. Bookman says, we should totally try it next winter. Guess who gets to be the one who figures out how to do it? Bookman says he’s just the muscle. So I have some learning to do. Most likely I will be buying myself a copy of this book too. Glancing through, it seems like it will be quite a bit of work getting it all set up so we’ll start small, make lots of mistakes and then expand after we (I) learn how it works in my own garden. Even though it is daunting, I must say the thought of having fresh lettuce from the garden in December is rather appealing. Have no fear, you’ll be hearing all about it!

I have been happily reading the giant seed catalog I bought. I limit myself to reading it for short periods of time. I am looking forward to utter indulgence during my vacation. I might have to check in to a rehab center afterwards. But it will be totally worth it.


Filed under: Books, gardening

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3. Please, No More Lists

Tis the season of booklists. I make it a general rule to avoid looking at the best of the year lists. My book piles are already too high to begin with and the lists tend to be so very same-y with books I have heard of already so there is no reason to even bother. This belief and bad attitude has served me well for years. While all of you have been frantically adding books to your piles and lists, I’ve been sitting back all smug-like and superior — suckers!

But if literature teaches us nothing else, it reveals time and again that even the mighty fall.

And I fell.

Hard.

It all began with NPR’s Best Books of 2014. I’ve read so many good books this year and am still waiting patiently in the library hold queue for a number of others that my curiosity got the best of me. Are my favorite books of the year on the list? Why yes, yes they are. Hooray! Oh, but what’s this book? How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson looks interesting. Oh, and The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. Euphoria by Lily King, haven’t heard much about that but Margaret Mead is a character. Have to check that out. Oh my gosh! Octavia Butler! A collection of previously unpublished stories, Unexpected Stories. Squee! And. And. And.

You get the picture.

Then I made the mistake of thinking it was only a minor slip even though I suddenly found about ten more books on my TBR list than were there previously. I was back in control with nothing to worry about so why not look at the New York Times 100 Notable Books? The list will be so conventional and uninteresting I won’t be tempted at all.

Yes, I am that daft and delusional.

I don’t even know how many more books I added to my TBR list. I lost track after five. This all happened over the weekend and I have since regained my balance and have resisted the lure of any further “best” lists I’ve come across.

But now, now just when I am recovered, fellow bloggers have gotten me messed up once again and I was completely unsuspecting. I don’t usually get overly excited about upcoming book releases but in one day I managed to fall swooning over a shelf-load of books that will be published in 2015. I don’t want to point any fingers (Ana! Jenny!) but you all need to cease and desist. Immediately. Just stop it.

In case anyone else is planning on doing an upcoming list, let me beg you to please, please, please change your mind. Keep it to yourself. Really. I don’t need any more of this nonsense. I am contrite. I have learned my lesson. Show some compassion to this fallen previously smug reader.

Don’t make me plot revenge. Cuz I will. Mean and ugly. I much prefer being kind and friendly. So I am pleading, please, don’t make me go there or we will all regret it.

Therefore, allow me to thank you in advance for your benevolence.


Filed under: Book Lists, Books, TBR

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4. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

I did not expect to be cry at the end of Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Nor did I expect to be so devastated by the ending. I was left with tears running down my face murmuring no, no, no. I wanted to have read the ending wrong so badly I turned back and read the final few pages again which only served to make me cry even more. Even now just thinking about it I am getting a bit teary.

I’m not sure how to write about this book it is so good. You have probably heard it is not an easy read. The style is challenging but it is beautiful. It has its own rhythms. And even though the sentences are often short and incomplete, it does not feel choppy at all and even is lyrical:

What’s. See it spin. Look around. What if. I could. I could make. A whole other world a whole civilization in this city that is not home? The heresy of it. But I can. And I can choose this. Shafts of sun. Life that is this. And I can. Laugh at it because the world goes on. And no one cares. And no one’s falling into hell. I can do. Puke the whole lot up.

The narrator of the story is the unnamed girl of the title. We begin when she hasn’t even been born yet. The language of the book here is marvelous and difficult and confusing and exactly conveys a sense of being in utero (at least as we can imagine it).

Most of the time the girl is addressing the you who is her brother, two years older than she is. Her brother, before she was born, had a brain tumor. The doctors removed it but his brain was damaged and they can’t promise that the tumor won’t someday return. She loves her brother dearly but the damage is such that he is never able to live on his own and work at anything besides stocking shelves. In spite of how much the narrator loves her brother he is equally as frustrating, especially when they reach their teens and go to a new school. The teenage world is a savage place and she struggles between wanting to protect her brother and throw him to the sharks.

Their father left when they were small and they are raised by a devoutly Catholic mother. Mammy is very protective of her son and has a tendency to take out her frustrations over his disability on her daughter. She frequently tells her daughter she is no good and nothing but trouble. Combine this with the girl’s uncle raping her in the kitchen when she was thirteen and it seems nearly inevitable that the girl tries hard to really be no good. While she does well in school she starts having sex with any boy who asks. Sex becomes a way to punish herself but it also serves as a substitute for the emotional pain she does not know how to deal with. Eventually she escapes home and goes off to college where she and her roommate regularly go out, drink too much and pick up men.

Just when it seems she might be starting to figure things out, her uncle shows up again and sends her spiraling out of control. When her brother’s tumor returns it is almost more than she can bear.

I have managed to make this book sound really depressing, haven’t I? It’s not depressing. It is raw and disturbing and uncomfortable. It is beautiful and heartbreaking. Now and then it is joyful. By turns I wanted to yell at the narrator, laugh, or wrap her in my arms and hold her tight. I cheered for her to find a way through her pain and dreaded that she never be able to.

You may have heard McBride wrote this book ten years ago when she was twenty-seven. It took nine years for her to find a publisher. I am glad a publisher finally decided to take a chance on Girl. It is an extraordinary book.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Eimear McBride

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5. Citizen

Earlier this year I read and very much enjoyed Claudia Rankine’s book Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Rankine is a poet whose poetry is written in prose. It has taken me a while to figure this out and I am not certain why. I am used to seeing a prose poem now and then in a poetry collection but an entire book of prose poetry? It puts me off balance. I think it probably does many people because I remember back in college a favorite professor scoffing at the idea that there could even be such a thing as a prose poem.

In the case of Rankine’s newest book of poetry, Citizen: An American Lyric, one is thrown off balance just looking at the cover: stark white with a black fabric thing of some kind. Looking closely the black fabric thing is the hood part of a hoodie. The hoodie became a national conversation piece when Trayvon Martin was shot and murdered by George Zimmerman in 2012. Once past the unsettling cover, comes the prose poetry illustrated with the occasional photograph or illustration.

The poems are about being black in a racist country. They are all written in second person which I can imagine inspires a community feeling for a black reader. For this white reader the “you” pulled me in and forced me to see the world from a different perspective. Sometimes it was uncomfortable. Most of the time I was sad, heartbroken even, and angry over the injustice:

The man at the cash register wants to know if you think your card will work. If this is his routine, he didn’t use it on the friend who went before you. As she picks up her bag, she looks to see what you will say. She says nothing. You want her to say something — both as witness and as friend. She is not you; her silence says so.

The racism in the poems is most often of the every day sort, the small things that happen all the time whether on purpose or through ignorance, the kinds of things that a person privileged with white skin never has to think about.

On the train the woman standing makes you understand there are no seats available. And, in fact, there is one. Is the woman getting off at the next stop? No, she would rather stand all the way to Union Station.

The space next to the man is the pause in a conversation you are suddenly rushing to fill. You step quickly over the woman’s fear, a fear she shares. You let her have it.

The man doesn’t acknowledge you as you sit down because the man knows more about the unoccupied seat than you do.

While most of the poems deal with the every day, there are others that take on more publicized racism. I very much liked the series of poems about Serena and Venus Williams, beautiful women (I love their muscles!) and amazing tennis players who have been the victims on racism both on and off the court. There is also a series of poems described as situation scripts for video in collaboration with Rankine’s husband John Lucas. You can see one of these videos, “Stop and Frisk” as well as a video or Rankine reading one of her other poems from Citizen in a PBS article about Rankine and her poetry. Several of the scripts are about the violent deaths of black men, but also about other things like Hurricane Katrina and last summer’s World Cup.

The poems are short and powerful. The writing lyrical and beautiful. This is a timely book. An important book. It is a book I think people of all colors should read, but especially those of us who are white. As a woman I know what it is like to be part of an oppressed group. As a white woman I have privilege that black women do not have. I vaguely know this but haven’t spent much time thinking about it. I haven’t had to, that’s what privilege gets me. But ever since reading Citizen I have been thinking about it. It’s an eye opening book that will be sticking with me for a long time to come.

Every day your mouth opens and receives the kiss the world offers, which seals you shut though you are feeling sick to your stomach about the beginning of the feeling that was born from understanding and now stumbles around in you — the go-along-to-get-along tongue pushing your tongue aside. Yes, and your mouth is full up and the feeling is still tottering —


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Poetry, Reviews Tagged: Claudia Rankine

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6. Writing with Style

I finished two books this weekend and began reading two new books. Reviews of the two I finished forthcoming this week. Today, one of the books I started reading, The Sense of Style: the thinking person’s guide to writing in the 21st century by Steven Pinker. Yet another style manual you say? I know, I know, I said the same. But it is Steven Pinker, cognitive scientist, linguist and author of The Language Instinct and other books. So I thought, let’s see what he has to say.

I’ve only read the introduction and even if the rest of the book ends up being a big stinkeroo (and it might because flipping through I see the dreaded sentence diagramming), I will like him for the intro. Why? Because he is a descriptivist. He praises the ever changingness of language, pooh-poohs the old straightjacket grammarians who tried to force English into nonsensical constructions based on Latin grammar, and he pokes gentle fun at the monumnet that is Strunk and White. What’s not to like about that?

He says wonderful things like:

Style manuals that are innocent of linguistics also are crippled in dealing with the aspect of writing that evokes the most emotions: correct and incorrect usage. Many style manuals treat traditional rules of usage the way fundamentalists treat the Ten Commandments: as damnation. But skeptics and freethinkers who probe the history of these rules have found that they belong to an oral tradition of folklore and myth.

The reason a good writer wants to know about grammar rules is so she knows when and how to break them to best effect.

To those who complain that the internet and Twitter and texting is ruining language, he thumbs his nose. Pinker quotes people going back as far as 1478 complaining about how the English language is going to the dogs; these young people today who can’t spell or use punctuation, blah, blah , blah. Century after century it is a recurring refrain. He even notes that according to the scholar Richard Lloyd-Jones, “some of the clay tablets deciphered from ancient Sumerian include complaints about the deteriorating writing skills of the young.” Oh that made me laugh!

Pinker on writing might just turn out to be fun. He’s off to a good start at any rate. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Filed under: Books, In Progress, Nonfiction Tagged: Steven Pinker

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7. Far From the Madding Crowd

I have been meaning to read Thomas Hardy for ages so when Danielle proposed we read Far From the Madding Crowd together it was easy to say yes. I was expecting a very depressing book because that’s my impression of Hardy, but I apparently managed to read his least depressing story. In fact, as I mentioned when I began the book, it was actually full of humor. The humor fades out to occasional as the book progresses and the farmhands are always the ones who provide it, which ends up coming across as mocking the uneducated worker at times.

The story is about Bathsheba, a young, pretty and clever woman whom Gabriel Oak declares vain upon first meeting her. Bathsheba ends up inheriting her uncle’s farm and instead of hiring someone to take care of it for her, decides to do it herself. It is a brave move on her part since women aren’t supposed to have a head for farming or business, but she holds her own and even does better than many. Unfortunately it is subtly hinted that part of her success comes from the use of her feminine charms to disarm the men and confuse them into paying her more for her grain.

Bathsheba’s strength is also further undermined by the steady Gabriel Oak who, unbeknownst to Bathsheba, performs many of the duties the hired overseer would do if Bathsheba had decided to have one. Oak begins the book as his own farmer, just starting out with his own sheep, an undertaking he has scrimped and saved for and invested everything in. All is going well until he decides to get a new dog to help his ageing dog herd the sheep. Only the new dog takes too well to his sheep herding training and manages to herd the entire flock of sheep off a cliff! I know I am not supposed to find this funny but it makes me laugh every time I think about it. Gabriel is ruined and ends up working as the shepherd for Bathsheba on her farm. Oh, and Oak loves Bathsheba and when he was still a farmer had asked if he could court her and she turned him down with “You’re a nice man and all but I’m not interested in marrying so can we just be friends?”

Bathsheba’s farming neighbor is Mr. Boldwood who is, as his name suggests both wooden and bold. First we get the wood. A prosperous farmer, he is the most eligible bachelor around but in spite of all the ladies trying to catch him he is just not interested. His inability to be swayed by flirtation provokes Bathsheba to send him a Valentine card as a joke. But the joke backfires as the wooden man suddenly is swept away by love and becomes bold to the point of harassment. Bathsheba does not love him though and when finally pressed, tells him so, even says she suspects she would never love him. She apologizes repeatedly for her bad joke but Boldwood refuses to leave the woman alone so certain is he that she will eventually love him back.

When the dashing Sergeant Troy meets Bathsheba one evening as she is walking around her farm checking on things before retiring for the night, he is immediately charmed. Troy catches his spur in Bathsheba’s dress which forces many minutes of inappropriate closeness while Troy bumblingly (on purpose) disentangles himself. Troy is actually in love with another woman with plans to marry her, but is so taken up with the challenge of making Bathsheba love him that he abandons poor Fanny Robin to an ultimately sad end. Bathsheba falls hard for Troy just like boldwood fell for her. Troy’s flirtation is relentless and he is all things charming and irresistible given that her other prospects were Oak and Boldwood. The pair marry which causes Boldwood to slip into a depression so deep he begins neglecting his farm and losing money.

Bathsheba starts losing money too because it turns out Troy is not what he represented himself to be and takes distinct pleasure in neglecting his new duties as head of farm and instead going to the racetrack to lose Bathsheba’s money. If this isn’t soapy enough for you, the suds increase when Troy runs away, goes skinny dipping in the ocean, gets caught in a ripetide and rescued just in time by some men in a boat at which point he decides to ship out with them. But someone from the neighborhood saw Troy being pulled out to sea and missed the rescue. Of course no body is found. Nonetheless, Boldwood is back on harassment duty and forces Bathsheba into to agreeing to marry him after seven years when Troy can be legally declared dead.

The years fly by but as the seven year date approaches and Boldwood is readying to swoop in for the win, well, you will just have to read the book yourself to find out. It’s very Days of Our Lives. But the book can’t end without Bathsheba being married because a woman on her own is not allowable.

Throughout the book Hardy makes comments and observations about marriage and relations between men and women. His culminating statement comes down to this:

This good-fellowship—camaraderie—usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death—that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.

Hardy rocked the stach wikimedia

Hardy rocked the stache
wikimedia

Far From the Madding Crowd was an early novel, published the same year Hardy married his first wife with whom he was passionately in love. The pair eventually became estranged and two years after her death in 1912, Hardy married his secretary who was 39 years his junior. So I’m not sure one would want to take any kind of relationship advice from him. I have to admit though, the man really knew how to rock a mustache.

Do pop over to A Work in Progress for Danielle’s thoughts about the book.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Thomas Hardy

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8. The Mighty Pen

Anybody catch Tim Parks’ New York Review of Books blog post, A Weapon for Readers? The weapon in question? A pen! For writing in your books. It is clear where Parks stands on marginalia. He advocates reading not with a pen nearby or on the table next to you or in your bag, but reading with a pen in your hand.

But how is this a weapon? Parks thinks we have too much respect for the written word and too little awareness of what words are doing. We are too passive, too accepting. We let novelists get away with too much. Reading with a pen in hand makes one more alert and a more active reader.

He has tested this on his students. None of them marked up their books. He told them they had to. Not only did they have to mark up the text, but they had to make three or four comments on every page, at least one critical and if it’s aggressive, even better. A question mark should be placed next to anything you find suspect, underline anything you appreciate, and freely write things like “splendid” or “bullshit” in the margins too.

“A pen is not a magic wand,” he admits, but he found that this experiment with his students helped them improve their reading. Of course writing in library books is not encouraged, that’s just rude. But your own books? I get the feeling Parks wants them to look well read by the time you get to the end — folded pages, writing all over the place, a cracked spine.

Parks is rather aggressive with his pen as weapon idea:

There is something predatory, cruel even, about a pen suspended over a text. Like a hawk over a field, it is on the lookout for something vulnerable. Then it is a pleasure to swoop and skewer the victim with the nib’s sharp point. The mere fact of holding the hand poised for action changes our attitude to the text.

It makes is seem like reading is an adversarial relationship between author, book, and reader. I don’t approach reading like that. For me reading is like dating. Sometimes I am looking for love. Sometimes I just want a one night stand. Sometimes we don’t even make it to first base and other times it is an out of the park home run. Now and then I just want to flirt. And then there are the deep and serious encounters when you plumb the depth of your being. I could go on, but you get the idea. Even with a pen in my hand it never transforms into a weapon. I’m just taking notes so I can gossip about all the details with my friends later.

I thought it kind of interesting that Parks’s post showed up so soon after the digital is killing marginalia article. I suppose this is now a subtopic of the print versus digital debate. I wonder how long it will drag on before it there is nothing left to say and everything becomes repetitive? Actually, I think it might already be on it’s last gasp. But like a mortally wounded character in a Shakespeare tragedy, it will likely have some very long speeches before the curtain falls on it.


Filed under: Books, Marginalia

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9. December Reading Plans

Wow, can you believe it is December already? And in just a little over two weeks I will be enjoying a two-week vacation. Awesome! So it’s a good thing I have lots of books to read. Take a look at the state of my reading table:

Need more books!

Need more books!

This little table sits next to my reading nest. I have no idea how all those books got there. Ok, well maybe I know how a few of them got there but I think other books have either snuck onto the pile of their own accord or the books that were already on the table are reproducing. Isn’t that an interesting thought? Imagine what the results would be if A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing hooked up with Guermantes Way. Actually, that is kind of scary to think about so let’s just talk about what I hope to read in December which includes not a few on the books piled on that table.

Why not begin with Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing? I am over halfway through it and liking it very much. I would have been done with it by now if I had been able to renew Narrow Road to the Deep North. I will be returning to it very shortly and expect I will soon be turning the last page.

Sadly, Guermantes Way slipped by the wayside, getting very little attention. It got some and I can honestly say I am enjoying it much more than when I first attempted it a number of years ago. But because I have been inundated with library holds, I could not give dear Proust very much attention. I hope December will allow me to rectify that.

Also falling by the wayside in November were Keats’ letters. I plan to get back to those too because I will be making a little study of Keats in 2015. And The Magicians by Lev Grossman has also suffered neglect due to all those library holds. It too is a library book but it is one I can renew which means its deadline is a bit farther out. Still, I don’t want to let it linger too long and I am about halfway through it so it shouldn’t take too much effort to finish up. Remind me I said that come January.

I had really been looking forward to reading Women in Clothes edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton. It’s an exploration of the things we ask ourselves while getting dressed each day. I expected there to be more analysis and social commentary, more discussion about appearance and body image and all that. There is some of that but it is mostly light and girlfriend-y and I am not sure I will keep going with it. I must admit to having a good laugh as one woman described her style as a “post-apocalyptic Audrey Hepburn My Little Pony sort of thing.” Since there is no photo that leaves one to imagine all sorts of possibilities.

I recently began reading Claudia Rankine’s newest book Citizen: An American Lyric. With all of the jaw dropping racist mess the Ferguson police and legal system have made of Michael Brown’s murder by a white police officer, Rankine’s is a timely book about the sorts of racism that take place on a daily basis in America. It is one of those wonderful cross-genre sorts of books that is easiest to put in the category of essays but these are no ordinary essays.

Also on the piles to read in December is a review copy of Dirty Chick, about a couple who leave their urban life to try farming without ever having had any experience. From the library to read under deadline is F by Daniel Kehlmann and The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’t Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker. Pinker is a linguist and cognitive scientist so I am not sure why he wrote what amounts to a style guide, but it has the potential to be interesting if for no other reason than it might have a different point of view than your standard writing manual.

I’m also in the mood for some good science fiction. I’ve been hearing so much about Ann Leckie’s Nebula and Hugo Award winning Ancillary Justice that I could no longer ignore it. The story is about Breq, an artificial intelligence that used to control a huge starship that is now stuck in a human body. She’s out for answers and revenge. Fun!

And just in case all that is not enough, I also have on hand another Euripides play, Iphigenia in Tauris, because, you know, it would be horrible to not have enough books to read. Don’t laugh, I have a two-week vacation remember? So much time to read. I can hardly wait!


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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10. The Narrow Road to the Deep North

I haven’t read a book as intense and unrelenting as Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North in a really long time. I began the book on Wednesday and finished it last night so I could return it to the library. I wouldn’t recommend such a concentrated reading especially while one is eating pumpkin pie and drinking hot coffee while the characters in the book are starving to death. It felt a bit wrong. The book, however, is most excellent.

I managed to get in the library hold queue early, before the Booker Prize because of Sue’s marvelous review at Whispering Gums.

The main focus of the book is Dorrigo Evans. Born into a working class family he manages through smarts and hard work to become a surgeon. But his life takes a turn when World War II breaks out. He becomes an army doctor and has the misfortune of being captured with hundreds of other men by the Japanese. He ends up being the ranking officer among the Australian POWs he is sent with to work on The Line. The Emperor has decided these POWs will be put to work as slaves to build the Thai-Burma Railway, something western engineers declared could not be done. The book moves fluidly back and forth between pre-war, war, and post-war times. And it doesn’t always stay focused on Dorrigo Evans. We get to know some of the other POWs as well as a couple of the Japanese officers who are working the men to death. And each character, no matter how short his part in the story, is fully created. We know his motivations, we know his tricks to keep alive.

The only characters in the book I found a bit flat were the women. Because this isn’t just a war story, it’s a love story too. Dorrigo falls in love with Ella, a pretty girl from a well off family. She has connections that will help him go far. But when he meets Amy in a bookshop he realizes what he feels for Ella isn’t really love at all. This bold girl in the bookshop with the red camellia in her hair rocks Dorrigo’s world and then she’s gone, a chance meeting and nothing more. Only Dorrigo soon finds out that Amy is married to his uncle. Dorrigo and Amy have an affair.

When Dorrigo returns from the war it is Ella he marries but he spends the rest of his life thinking of Amy and how Ella is not her. He also becomes a womanizer. We end up knowing more about Amy but not much at all about Ella. Why does she stay with Dorrigo? How can she put up with his affairs and with his unspoken accusations that she is not Amy? She is a bit like Penelope to Dorrigo’s Odysseus. Which is appropriate given how Dorrigo loves poetry and his guiding poem is Tennyson’s Ulysses.

Poetry is an important element in the book. Dorrigo is always reciting it, it is his method of getting by in the POW camp as well as a means of seducing women. But Dorrigo is not the only poetry lover in the book. Two of the Japanese officers bond over their love of haiku. But whereas poetry for Dorrigo is something that guides him and touches him and sustains him, Colonel Kota and Nakamura had a different experience of poetry:

They recited to each other more of their favorite haiku, and they were deeply moved not so much by the poetry as by their sensitivity to poetry; not so much by the genius of the poem as by their wisdom in understanding the poem; not in knowing the poem but in knowing the poem demonstrated the higher side of themselves and the Japanese spirit — that Japanese spirit that was soon to daily travel along their railway all the way to Burma, the Japanese spirit that from Burma would find its way to India, the Japanese spirit that would from there conquer the world.

At the beginning of each section of the book a haiku appears. And, Flanagan’s title is the same as the title of the great poet Basho’s travel book of prose and poetry.

Flanagan has an unsparing eye for detail whether it be a POW debating with himself about when he should eat his daily ration of one small rice ball to a moving scene when the daily pyre of cholera victims and their possessions was being burned:

As Dorrigo Evans bowed his head and stepped away from the flames, Jimmy Bigelow stepped forward, shook his bugle to dislodge whatever scorpions or centipedes might have taken shelter there, and raised it to his lips. His mouth was a mess, the palate having shed its skin in rags. His lips had swollen up as well, and his tongue — so swollen and so sore that rice tasted like hot grapeshot — sat in his mouth like some terrible plank of wood that would not properly do its work.

And the scene goes on in great detail so we know just how difficult and painful it is for Jimmy to play the bugle but he does it anyway. Every single day for the newly dead.

You’d think that with all that the book would be depressing. But it isn’t. I’m not quite sure why. I definitely felt drained by the end, a little sad, but not depressed. So if you are thinking the subject matter of the book will be too overwhelming for you to bear, don’t worry. It’s full of horrors but Flanagan manages with pacing and scene and time changes to keep the reader from sinking into despair.

An excellent book. A moving book. A book I will not soon forget.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Richard Flanagan

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11. Unspeakable Things

I got myself on the hold list for Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution because of what Ana wrote about it. And like Ana all I want to say over and over again is “my heart needed these words.” The thing is, I didn’t know I needed these words until I started reading the book. But within the first few sentences I was hooked:

This is not a fairy tale.

This is a story about how sex and money and power put fences around our fantasies. This is a story about how gender polices our dreams. Throughout human history, the most important political battles have been fought on the territory of the imagination, and what stories we allow ourselves to tell depend on what we can imagine.

Unspeakable Things is unapologetically feminist. It is angry and it is not sorry for being angry either because there is a lot to be angry about.

Broken up into five essays that examine gender from different angles, the book is personal — Penny writes of spending time in a mental institution when she was 17 and anorexic — but also broader, historical, systemic, economic. This patriarchal neoliberal capitalist system we live in has damaged us all but especially women and GLBT folks and really anyone who doesn’t fit into prescribed gender roles.

In the chapter “Fucked-Up Girls” Penny looks at the female body and the ways in which it policed and controlled, the damage such policing does to the psyche of girls and women. In “Lost Boys” we see how patriarchy damages boys and men, makes them promises that are never delivered, and how these failed promises intensifies and promotes hatred of women. “Anticlimax” is about sex, sexual desire, sexual objectification, rape and reproduction. “Cybersexism” is about the promise of the internet to be a place free from sexism and how that has failed spectacularly. If you have been following the horror that is Gamergate over the last few months you will understand just how very ugly it is online. The book concludes with “Love and Lies,” a chapter about the load of bull we’ve been served up about love and romance. I actually thought this final chapter was the weakest. Nonetheless, it was still good and hard hitting.

One of the things I really liked about this book was how Penny doesn’t tone down her language, doesn’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings, refuses to be a nice girl bland feminist who talks about problems but in such way that they can be dismissed as somehow happening somewhere else to someone else. She does acknowledge that all men aren’t rapists or woman haters but this does not let them off the hook:

What we don’t say is: of course not all men hate women. But culture hates women, and men who grow up in a sexist culture have a tendency to do and say sexist things, often without meaning to. We aren’t judging you for who you are, but that doesn’t mean we’re not asking you to change your behaviour. What you feel about women in your heart is of less immediate importance than how you treat them on a daily basis. You can be the gentlest, sweetest man in the world and still benefit from sexism, still hesitate to speak up when you see women hurt or discriminated against. That’s how oppression works.

What I loved about this book and why, like Ana, I want to say over and over, “my heart needed these words,” is because I feel like I have been recharged. I am reminded of how I felt in my early twenties when feminism found me in a college literature class and I was so very angry about how I had been lied to (girls can do anything!) and how I would challenge men on their sexist comments and behavior. And over the ensuing years that spark dwindled under the onslaught of every day sexism.

The spark was revived for a while when I worked for a feminist nonprofit that no longer exists. Recently, between Mala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize, things in my personal life, horrible news stories of domestic violence and rape, and gamergate, I’ve been feeling stirred up, grumpy, and sometimes just straight up pissed off. Unspeakable Things came along and relit the spark. It reminded me I am not alone in being pissed off; not alone in wanting to change the way things work. I’m finding my twenty-something courage again. It’s dulled by life and a thick crust of cynicism, but it’s in there.

In an Afterword Penny writes:

If we want to escape the straightjacket of gender under neoliberalism, we must stop trying so hard to hold ourselves and others up to impossible standards, standards we didn’t set ourselves. We have to resist the schooled inner voice telling us to be good girls, tough boys, perfect women, strong men. If we are to realize a greater collective humanity, we must learn to see one another as human beings first.

Unspeakable Things is a potentially incendiary book. It is dangerous. I highly recommend it.


Filed under: Books, Essays, Feminism, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Laurie Penny

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12. Station Eleven

Thanksgiving laziness came upon me early. No not laziness exactly because I have managed to finish two books I was in the middle of and get to the halfway mark of another book I had not even begun until Wednesday and that I need to finish by Sunday so I can return it to the library Monday. Plus there has been a couple inches of snow to shovel and the coldest Thanksgiving in 29 years to eat my way through. And Waldo and Dickens have been piling on top of me and oh, the mean looks they shoot at me should I dare to move! But enough excuses, let’s get to one of those books I finished reading.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel has been getting lots of buzz in the U.S. and in blogland. As a post-apocalypse novel it falls into the genre of science fiction which made it the first science fiction novel to make it to the shortlist of the National Book Awards. It didn’t win, but that’s ok.

To say that Station Eleven is a post-apocalypse novel will likely give you some immediate assumptions. While civilization as we know it has come to an end due to a global epidemic of a highly contagious and fast acting strain of swine flu that kills around 90% of the world’s population, this is no doom and gloom story. It is not The Road or Oryx and Crake or Mad Max. It is a more hopeful book than that and in some ways feels truer because of it, though it could only be wishful thinking on my part.

The focus of the book is on the Traveling Symphony, a group of musicians and actors who travel in a horse-drawn caravan along a fairly regular route on the coast of Lake Michigan in what used to be the state of Michigan. On the lead caravan is painted a quote from Star Trek Voyager: “Because survival is insufficient.” It is the Symphony’s motto and it keeps them going through the worst of times. Along with the music, the actors perform Shakespeare plays. Early on they had tried to perform other plays but everywhere they went people preferred Shakespeare so now that is all they do. The world, however, is not completely safe. The Symphony travels armed, with scouts fore and aft, and sets guards around their camp in the evenings.

The book begins in an undated present with the famous actor Arthur Leander playing Lear on stage in Toronto. In the second half of the play he collapses and dies on stage from a heart attack. There were three young girls in the play acting as hallucinatory visions of Lear’s daughters are children. One of those girls, Kirsten aged eight, had befriended Arthur. She survives the flu epidemic and ends up with the Symphony. Much of the post-flu story belongs to Kirsten, but other stories are woven in as well.

Pre-flu, the story belongs mostly to Arthur Leander, his acting career, his three wives, his best friend Clark. It is Arthur and the lives he touched that spin out the story both pre and post flu. The book moves back and forth in time between Arthur pre-epidemic and Kirsten twenty years after the epidemic as well as a couple other characters that flesh things out and add additional angles and dimensions. The transitions are beautifully fluid and nearly seamless. The plotting intricate and detailed. A story like this could so easily feel forced and fake as the author directs all the various elements to fit together no matter what, but there was hardly a clunker to be found.

I loved that the story makes some wonderful observations and asks some interesting questions. Since it is now twenty years after the epidemic there are an interesting mix of people, older adults who remember everything that has been lost, adults who were children at the time like Kirsten who have fading memories of electricity and cars and flying in airplanes but didn’t know quite enough of the world to feel that they had lost so very much. And now there are children who have been born in the aftermath, who know nothing of what the world was except from the stories the adults tell and from pictures in books. At one point someone questions whether they should even teach the children about what the world was like before. His young daughter is upset and angry upon learning that lifespans were so much longer before due to all the medical technology and medicines available and is devastated by the unfairness of it all.

There are terrifying moments of watching the world come to an end. Jeevan and his brother Frank are holed up in Frank’s Toronto apartment. Jeevan, getting a tip from a doctor friend at the hospital just as the flu hit Toronto, had time to buy shopping carts full of supplies and haul them to his brother’s high rise building and from the windows they watch the world fall apart:

On silent afternoons in his brother’s apartment, Jeevan found himself thinking about how human the city is, how human everything is. We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt. No one delivers fuel to the gas stations or the airports. Cars are stranded. Airplanes cannot fly. Trucks remain at their points of origin. Food never reaches the cities; grocery stores close. Businesses are locked and then looted. no one comes to work at the power plants or the substations, no on removes fallen trees from electrical lines. Jeevan was standing by the window when the lights went out.

The title of the book comes from the title of a comic book in the story, Station Eleven. Station Eleven is a space station designed as a planet. The station/planet has been badly damaged from a wormhole and the inhabitants of the station are fighting to survive and find a way to get back home. This comic plays an important role in the novel but it doesn’t become completely clear until the end.

As scary and realistic as the book’s premise is, this is not a depressing dystopian kind of book. Bad things happen in it but it ends on a hopeful note. If you are not a general fan of science fiction or post-apocalyptic novels this one is different enough that you just might enjoy it. And if you are a fan of this sort of book, well, it’s a real treat and a breath of fresh air in what is generally a genre composed of a pile-up of horrors.

For a bit of background on the book from the author, be sure to read her short interview with the National Book Foundation.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Emily St. John Mandel

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13. Marginalia in the Digital Age

Something every reader has an opinion about is marginalia. Do you dare mark up the printed page? And what about when you buy a previously owned book, must it look as though it was never read or do you love to buy books that have been well loved?

I came across an article at Fast Company today A Kindle Designer’s Touching Online Memorial to The Marginalia Scribbled in Books. The article talks about Eric Scmitt who helped design the graphic interface for the first Kindle. He is a collector of marginalia which seems like a fun thing to collect. To my horror, however, he doesn’t save the book entire, but slices out the marked up pages he wants to keep with an X-Acto knife. WTF? I’m still a bit faint and trying really hard to not hyperventilate over that bit. Maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t part of marginalia the whole book package you find it in? Doesn’t taking it out of the context of that particular book risk losing the charm and pleasure of it?

The “touching memorial” ends up being a website Schmitt started in order to share his marginalia finds. The Pages Project is an interesting idea and Schmitt invites page submissions. The design of the website is at first look kind of cool but not reader friendly in my opinion. In fact, I think some of the continuing faintness I feel is because of the website making me dizzy.

Schmitt does realize the irony in his helping create a device that is chipping away at the existence of the marginalia he loves. He does worry about how digital “marginalia” will be preserved because at this point there is no real way to save it without actively taking steps to do so. Who among us is going to take the time to do that? I know I won’t. That makes me a little sad because I love opening books I read a long time ago and marked up. I love rereading them and adding to the commentary or previous years. But with the ebooks I have read? Not going to happen unless I manage to preserve that same exact ebook and the notes file across ereaders as the years go by. And even if I manage such a thing, whose to say that in 20 years the files will still be readable because of changes in technology and formatting? It’d be like trying to retrieve a file you saved on a floppy disk in 1989. Good luck!

I am not the best or most active marginalia writer. I find some books easier to mark up than others. Some books require it. I marked up Ulysses like crazy when I read it and would not have been able to get through it otherwise. Other books invite me to make comments. Proust is one of those as well as Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen. Other books I fear would scream if I should ever touch a pencil to the page. For Some Reason Margaret Atwood falls here which is weird because I am sure she would encourage scribbling with abandon.

Marginalia isn’t dead yet. As long as there are print books there will be people who write in them. But it is certainly an activity that is becoming less common. If it ever does disappear, would you miss it?


Filed under: Books, Reading

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14. Seed Catalogs Already

It isn’t even really winter yet and I received my first 2015 seed catalog in the mail. I’m used to getting a flood of seed catalogs around the end of December so this one took me by surprise. I normally would set it aside as the first in a pile not to be looked at until January, but it came from Pinetree Garden Seeds, one of my preferred places to order from. And it looked so colorful and inviting, so fat and full or potential that I decided to just take a little peek.

Half an hour and twenty breathless pages later when I came up for air after falling into raptures over cosmic purple and atomic red carrots, I reluctantly put the catalog aside for fear of an overdose. And I do feel like I have been drugged because it has been a couple of days and I can’t stop thinking about those carrots or the catalog. Just one vegetable, I tell myself, what if I only look at all the different kinds of cauliflower and then put the catalog aside, surely I can do that? And next thing I know I am deep into all the varieties of eggplant with only a vague recollection of how I got there.

And then I get an email from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, my other main seed squeeze, telling me their 2015 catalog is now available, click here to request it now. But wait! There is a second catalog they have, The Whole Seed Catalog. This catalog is not free. This catalog is the free catalog on steroids MiracleGro super compost tea. At 352 pages it is nearly twice as big as the free catalog.

But why should I pay for a catalog? Why indeed. Don’t be ridiculous I tell myself, just request the free one. But. But But. Articles about the history of various seeds. Recipes. Growing methods and tips. And more. You know those cartoons where there is a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other and a fight ensues? Today the devil won and I bought the catalog.

I’m still a little stunned. The devil is grinning from ear-to-ear and the angel is grumbling about how it better be worth it and I’m jittery and wondering how long it will take to get here because the Pinetree Seeds catalog might not last long enough and what will I do if I can’t get another fix? Bookman just shakes his head and doesn’t want to be bothered with gardening stuff until spring when I tell him, these are peas, plant them there. I don’t think he realizes the danger of his hands off approach. This last spring he ended up digging me a small pond. The spring before that it was the herb spiral. It’s only the end of November so there is no telling what big garden project I will settle on by next spring.

I think it is going to be a long winter.


Filed under: gardening

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15. Add Another Book To the Pile

As if my reading life weren’t busy enough right now, I’ve just added three more books to the pile. It’s gotten so bad I should really quit blogging altogether until after the holidays and dedicate myself full-time to doing nothing but reading. As lovely as this sounds, I am sure my boss would not agree and after a week I would likely start to get a bit restless and long for something to break up the reading.

Even knowing that over a month of doing nothing but read would sour, I still can’t help but imagine that it would be wonderful. But what would be wonderful is all that time in which I could decide to read or not, when and for how long. Because isn’t that really what we dream of? Not so much doing nothing but read all day but the luxury of being able to make that choice. Like today. I was reading Emma at lunch and I was enjoying myself so much, I was comfortable and happy and wanted to keep reading. I had to return to work though. So what I want when I imagine a month of nothing but reading is to be able to say, I will stay here and keep reading Emma and I’ll go back to work when I feel like it. Instead of fitting reading around everything else, I want to be able to fit everything else around reading. If only.

But back to those three books I just added to my pile. Two are library books that I jumped into the hold queue for a month or more ago and I didn’t expect either of them until at least mid-December. But here they are. Women In Clothes is an “exploration of the questions we ask ourselves while getting getting dressed every day.” Edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton and Mary Mann, it includes photos and interviews and stories and essays long and short and who knows what other sorts of surprises await in the pages?

I have a love/hate relationship with clothes. I like clothes that are just a little different in some way, quirky. At least that’s how I like to imagine my “style” if I had a style. But because I hate shopping for clothes a large portion of my closet is filled with items I did not buy for myself but others bought for me as presents. I am pretty decent at sewing my own clothing but it is so much work and fabric is so expensive that it is just easier and more cost effective to buy a dress off the clearance rack at Target or accept whatever my mother gifts me with at Christmas. But there is a discount fabric store that recently opened near me and I am in the process of setting up my sewing machine and locating all my long unused supplies in order to make myself some fun skirts and dresses. All that explanation to justify why I would be interested in a book on women’s clothing and fashion, as if I need a reason. But I feel like I do because part of why I hate shopping for clothes is this feeling that it is frivolous (and yes I have seen the movie of The Devil Wears Prada and would absolutely love some of those outfits in my closet but I cringe over spending $50 for a pair of jeans so designer clothes are not going to happen).

Well, did I ever go far afield there. Now that you know all about my fashion sense, or lack there of, the other book from the library is F by Daniel Kehlmann. I’ve seen a few blog posts about this one that left me intrigued especially since what the “F” stands for is never actually explicitly revealed. It seems the reader is left to make her own decision about that. It is the story of a man named Arthur who abandons his family in the middle of the night and eventually becomes a famous author. Part of the novel is also what his abandonment does to his sons.

The third book just added to my pile is a review copy of a book being published in January called Dirty Chick by Antonia Murphy. It Murphy’s story of how she and her husband, both urban dwellers, decide to move to New Zealand and become farmers in order to provide a slower, safer place for their five-year-old son who was diagnosed with a developmental delay. Neither Murphy nor her husband knew a thing about farming but they figured it couldn’t possibly be all that hard. They find out otherwise, of course. I hope it will be something fun and light to read so I can forget about the cold and snow for awhile.

Now fingers crossed that I get a respite of at least a few weeks before any additional books I have hold requests on come round to me!


Filed under: Books, New Acquisitions

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16. In the Middle

The trouble with finishing so many books in October is that November has so far been a month of starting new books and being, it seems, forever in the middle but not quite at the end. What’s a person to do? No reviews to write at the moment. Shall I talk a little about what I am in the middle of and how I am enjoying it? Sure! Let’s!

I’ll begin with Jane Austen’s Emma. I am reading the book on my Kobo, a free download from Project Gutenberg. Six years ago I reread Pride and Prejudice for something like the fourth time. I’ve read all of Austen’s novels at least once but it had been such a long time that after the pleasure of P&P I decided I would reread one Austen a year until I made my way through all of them. Emma is the last. It has never been my favorite book, pretty much always ranked for me as number 5. I was kind of not looking forward to rereading it. Emma annoys me and so does Mr. Knightly. I expected I would be cringing. A lot.

But I haven’t. I’ve been enjoying the book. A good deal of that pleasure is because I just finished Being Wrong and Emma is such a perfect example of error, not only in Emma herself, but in many of the other characters too, that it has almost been funny. Also, I never remembered Mr. Woodhouse being such a hypochondriac along with a few others. They are not funny. They make me feel ever so sorry for Emma and the others who have to put up with them. I fear that I would not be so kind. I would crack so fast I’d be the scandal of the neighborhood for screaming obscenities at the top of my lungs and smashing Mr. Woodhouse’s evening bowl of gruel against the wall. I just got past the part where Mr. Elton had the nerve to propose to Emma. Horrors all around!

Emma is my daily commute and lunch break book. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is my before bed book. I’m about halfway and really liking it. The writing is solid, the characters believable, and the premise for the end of civilization all too real. In case you don’t know, there was a very contagious and deadly flu outbreak that killed about 90% of the world’s population. The book moves easily between pre-outbreak and twenty years later. Something that really caught me up last night as I was reading, one of the characters who was eight when the epidemic began walked into an old abandoned house looking for supplies and flipped the light switch, knowing nothing would happen but also hoping something would. Oh how we take electricity for granted! That moment in the book gave me chills.

My on the weekend and when I can fit them in books are many. I’m about a third of the way into A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. I am really loving this book! It is a book that demands full attention while reading it and because of the style cannot be read quickly. But I am glad. I want to pay attention. I don’t want to read fast. It is a book that is all kinds of disturbing.

Also disturbing but in a different way is Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny. Irreverent and unabashedly in-you-face feminist it has me alternately laughing, crying, and pissed off. I haven’t felt so charged up about feminism since my early twenties when I was young and idealistic and thought the wave was going wash patriarchy down the drain once and for all. Well that never happened and it suddenly amazes me how, even though I have never been afraid to call myself a feminist, I have, over the years, become almost resigned to the way things are. Penny is getting me all fired up and paying attention again which also means for the last week or so since I started this book I have been regularly getting pissed off about things I hear in the news and things I have heard male students say to female students in the library where I work. Getting angry about so many things is distressing but wow, does it ever feel good too.

In addition I am pecking away at Proust’s Guermantes Way and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Proust is amazing and I am hoping that soon I will find more time to dedicate to it. Grossman, not sure what to make of it yet. I don’t not like it but I’m not really liking it either. I’m sitting on the fence waiting for something to happen that will tip me over one way or the other.

And of course there are many books waiting in the wings from Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North to Women in Clothes and Margaret Atwood’s short stories and Murakami’s latest. I feel so rich!


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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17. Because

Because it is Monday. Because it was 7F (-14C) as I walked out my door to the bus stop this morning. Because my dentist told me I have to have two old silver fillings replaced and also need a crown. Because I got one more library book from my hold queue today and I am pretty sure I won’t be able to finish the three I already have that I can’t renew. Because Thanksgiving is next week and not this week and I thought it was this week and was so excited about only having to work three days and then getting a four-day holiday weekend and pumpkin pie. Because why not?

Because Margaret Atwood cracks me up: How to survive a zombie apocalypse according to Margaret Atwood.

Because libraries are awesome when you are a kid and continue to be awesome when you are grown up too: 7 things only kids who practically grew up in a library can understand

Because librarians are awesome too: What book should you read next? Putting librarians and algorithms to the test.

Because Emma looking like a Victorian lady is hilarious: Jane Austen fashion history.

Because pizza soup, mushroom sandwiches, and tomato soup cake: The dishes 16 writers would bring to a literary potluck.

Because just because.


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18. Me and My Kobo

Have you all been wondering how my Kobo and I have been getting along? It’s okay if you haven’t but I’m about to tell you anyway.

Kobo Touch is so much smaller than the two keyboard Kindles I managed to kill. As a consequence it is also lighter. I didn’t think it would matter that much but my bag feels weirdly light these days and when I leave for work in the morning it kind of freaks me out because I think I am forgetting something. I worried that not having a real keyboard would hinder me in taking any kind of notes, but you know what? I don’t really do much in the way of notetaking to begin with so it hasn’t been an issue. The highlighting, that’s where it is at.

Since it is a touch screen all I have to do is put my finger on the screen and slowly drag it across the passage I want to highlight. When I lift up my finger, Kobo asks me if I want to highlight the passage or write a note. I tap highlight and it highlights. I tap note and I get a text box and a touch keyboard. Easy. Because Kobo Touch is eink the dragging my finger to highlight is a bit slow. I also find highlighting with my finger to be imprecise. This is not Kobo’s fault, this is also the case with any other touch screen I’ve used including my iPad. I find I tend to have extra words at the end of my highlighted passages but that’s ok. I’ve not yet tried to access my highlighted passages so I don’t know how easy that will be, but so far so good.

Turning pages is pretty easy. The screen is divided into thirds. The left and right third of the screen is for turning pages. A finger swipe to the left to turn the page forward. A swipe to the right to turn the page back. I’m still getting the hang of just the right pressure and speed. Sometimes I swipe too fast and nothing happens. Sometimes, I don’t know how, I manage to turn several pages at a time. Turning more than one page at a time happened so often at first that I somehow convinced myself that the right side of the screen was for paging forward and the left side for paging back. It took me a week to figure out this wasn’t the case.

A tap on the middle third of the screen pulls up the main menu. The menu screen is a lot different that Kindle. Kindle just listed my books in my choice of a few different orders. If I wanted anything else, I had to press the menu button and then a popup menu would appear from which I could select search, settings, etc, etc. Kobo has all this stuff on one menu screen in tiny blocks of various sizes that I find hard to read and confusing. But since I don’t spend much time on this screen, it is just an annoyance I have to put up with when switching books.

It might be my imagination, but Kobo has more graduated font sizes and a wider selection of fonts than Kindle did. I like that. Because of the confusing menu it took me a bit to figure out how to change my font and its size, but it is all good now.

An awesomely awesome thing about Kobo is that is uses actual page numbers and has no percentage bar. I didn’t think the percentage bar on Kindle ever really bothered me until I got Kobo and had page numbers again. The page numbers make me so very happy. Sometimes it is the little things that matter most.

Last weekend I dragged Bookman out in the cold and snow to look for a cover for Kobo. Kobo is the same size as a Nook Touch so I figured I could go to Barnes and Noble and find something acceptable. Nope. All they had were covers for HD Nooks and Samsung Galaxy tablets. When we asked about Touch covers they were supremely unhelpful and didn’t appear to really care about whether or not I bought something from them. Fine. So we didn’t even stay to look at books even though we had a 20% off coupon. The irony, of course, is that I ended up buying a lovely, inexpensive cover from Amazon, the very place I was trying to avoid buying from to begin with.

Kobo's coy sweater

Kobo’s coy sweater

The cover has not yet arrived. It is being delivered by dog sled apparently. I had been wrapping Kobo in a tea towel to protect the screen. Want to feel like a big dork? Sit down on the metro train and pull a towel-wrapped ereader from your bag. Bookman took pity on me and Kobo and crocheted Kobo a sweater. I like the Kobo sweater so much I almost cancelled the fabric cover order. But it will be nice for Kobo to be able to change clothes now and then. Perhaps Kobo might end up with all sorts of fashionable outfits, something for any and every occasion!

Kobo and I are still getting to know each other, but so far we are getting along pretty well. One of these days we will try and borrow an ebook from the library and see how that goes. For now, I am reading Jane Austen’s Emma on Kobo and having a lovely time.


Filed under: Books, ebooks Tagged: Kobo

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19. Scott Pilgrim, Volume 1

After reading and enjoying Seconds, I decided to embark on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. What a zippy little book is Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. The book is in black and white and is the closest thing to a comic that I have read since I was a kid. Total fluffy, no brain required fun, which was perfect after House of Leaves.

Scott is 23 and pretty much mooching off his roommate, Wallace. Scott has loser written all over him. He is in a terrible band called Sex Bob-Omb. He is dating a seventeen-year-old high school girl named Knives Chau. And then he meets Ramona Flowers. She is so out of his league but for some reason she likes him back. But in order for Scott to truly win Ramona, he has to fight all of her seven evil ex-boyfriends. This first volume has him taking on ex-boyfriend number one.

Like I said, fluffy, comic-y fun. That’s pretty much all there is to say. Except, even though I have the drawings in front of me as I read, I can’t help but picture Michael Cera in my head, the actor who played Scott Pilgrim in the movie. I wonder if his face will still be there by the time I make it to the end of the series? I have nothing against Michael Cera, but I hope his face eventually dissolves.

It is election day here so now I am off to cast my vote.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews

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20. November Reading Full Steam Ahead

October was a fantastic reading month. Other than The Selected Letters of John Keats, which is a massive book that will be ongoing for awhile, I have no “leftovers.” Wow, does that ever feel good. And now here we are in November. I can hardly believe the year is winding down. It seems like it was February just last week. With the garden put to bed and an “arctic outbreak” heading into Minnesota with forecast temperatures at or below freezing starting this weekend and into next week (we are a cold place but this is about 15 degrees below the normal average for this time of year), I am heading into to prime reading season. I’ve already got the quilt out in my reading “nest” (as Bookman calls it) and the cats hover around me waiting for me to sit down so they can pile on top.

The month looks like it will be crammed with bookish goodness. A long time ago I had this idea that I would read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I made it through the first two volumes, loved them, began the third and got stuck not quite halfway through. Guermantes Way sat around with my bookmark in it for — dare I say? —two years — before I finally decided that if I were to ever pick the book up again I would have to start over. Well, the time has come and I have begun again on page one thanks to Arti and Dolce Belezza who are also reading it. If it weren’t for them, well, I’d still be promising myself to read it “some day.” We don’t have any set dates, but we hope to be through the first part of the book by the end of the month.

Another novel I will be starting soon, perhaps this weekend, is A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Whispering Gums is reading it this month for her book group so I thought I would read it too. Maybe I will make a surprise appearance at the book group. I’ve always wanted to go to Australia. At the very least I look forward to having someone to compare notes with.

Just received in the mail for review for Library Journal is a book called The Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell. I’ve not read all of Mitchell’s books and it appears that there is a chapter focusing on each one of them including his newest, The Bone Clocks. I suspect plots will be “spoiled” but I don’t think that really matters with Mitchell.

On the poetry front, I am reading An Invitation for Me to Think by Alexander Vvedensky. He was arrested in 1941 for “counterrevolutionary literary activities” and died of pleurisy on a prison train not long after. He was only 37. Just published in 2013, this is his first collection of poetry to appear in English. I have only read one longish poem so far. It’s good, but a thinker. I will have to read it a few more times. I get the feeling much of this book might be like that. An invitation to think indeed!

I am also in the midst of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. I am not sure what to think of this yet. It starts off at a college for magic and nothing much has really happened. On the go as well is Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. I am over halfway and enjoying the book very much.

I requested the next Scott Pilgrim book from the library, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And checking my library account I have a few holds that will shortly be making their way to me. Unspeakable Things: Sex Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny is about gender and power in the twenty-first century. This will be ready for me to pick up in the next day or two.

I am the next one in line for The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Thanks to a wonderful review at Whispering Gums, I got myself in the queue before it won the Booker Prize. I am also next in line for Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mande. This has been getting such good buzz in book blog world that I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Wow, that’s a lot of books for November. It’s a good thing I get a four-day weekend at the end of the month for Thanksgiving. I’m going to need it!


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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21. The Writer’s Garden

When the publisher offered to send me a copy of The Writer’s Garden: How gardens inspired our best-loved authors by Jackie Bennett, how could I possibly say no? When the large-format book arrived with a full-color glossy cover I thought, uh-oh, it’s just going to be all photos. So I was pleasantly surprised to open the book and discover good text too.

The gardens in the book belong to the likes of Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling and more. In all, twenty writers and nineteen gardens are represented and what glorious gardens they are. Some of the writers were themselves avid gardeners. George Bernard Shaw died at the age of ninety-four after falling while out in the garden pruning a tree. Of course, Beatrix Potter was a very hands-on gardener and sometimes it is hard to tell which parts of her stories were inspired by her garden and which features in her garden were reproduced from her stories. Thomas Hardy, who grew up farming, was also very hands-on as was Robert Burns who would work on his farm and garden all day composing poems in his head which he would then write down in the evenings.

There were plenty of writers who had beautiful gardens but hired other people to take care of them. Henry James knew absolutely nothing about gardening when he moved to Lamb House. While he eventually learned the names of flowers and trees, he left the actual work to someone else.

Walter Scott knew plenty about gardening, he designed his house and most of his extensive gardens, but other than lending a hand planting trees and doing a few other chores now and then, he left the actual work to his hired gardeners.

A common theme among many of these writers whose gardens were all at minimum an acre and often larger than that, is some sort of shed/hut/cottage/house located somewhere in the garden, usually amidst the trees, where they would go and escape the house to write. Roald Dahl had an actual Gypsy caravan that he bought and installed in his garden. For the few writers who did not have a writing hut, they all had studies, generally on the second floor of the house, that looked out over a part of the garden.

Some of the gardens were purely ornamental, but a good many included large kitchen gardens that helped feed the household. Most of the gardens also had orchards as well with apple, pear, cherry and plum trees. All of the writers had woods, either as part of the garden or, for the smaller estates, wooded common areas just over the fence that provided quiet, shady walks.

I found myself supremely jealous of all these gorgeous gardens. When I finished the book it seemed that writing and gardening went hand in hand that one could not possibly be a writer without garden acreage. No wonder I am not an author, I only have a small city lot and there is no chance of a writing hut. I might be able to build a small closet big enough for a chair but I would not be willing to give up even that small spot of soil. I do have a room with a window that looks out onto the garden but the cats get the window and me and my desk are left facing the wall. All of the gardens in The Writer’s Garden are in the UK so I also suffered from a bit of envy over what could be grown in some of the gardens that I could never grow in my own.

The book itself is beautiful. The pages are thick and glossy and the photos are all in color. For each writer there is a list of the books written while in residence at the particular house/garden and Bennett is kind enough to provide an update to the current state of the garden. Many of them are now owned by the National Trust but not all. At the end of the book is information on how to visit most of the gardens as well as a short list of further reading.

The holidays are fast approaching and this book would make a wonderful gift for the reader-gardener in your life. Or perhaps it might be one you yourself should put on your list for Santa. I’ll be keeping my copy handy to browse through in the winter months when my eyes need bright color and my spirit needs to imagine itself in a snug writing hut beneath the leafy green trees.


Filed under: Books, gardening, Nonfiction, Reviews

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22. Being Wrong

I’m not sure how much of a write-up I can give you of Kathryn Schulz’s marvelous book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error since, if you recall, I borrowed it as an ebook from my library and was reading it on my Kindle when it decided to no longer highlight things. And frankly, if you can’t use either the highlight or bookmark function for ebooks, you’re screwed when you finish and try to write about them. There is no going back skimming the pages for a memory refresh nor is there a collection of passages to pull interesting tidbits from. That my Kindle crapped out while I was reading Being Wrong makes me giggle though it also makes me growl because I loved this book and wish I could share all the fascinating stuff I learned with you. I did eventually manage to get Kindle to highlight again but by then it was far too late because I was almost at the end of the book. Oh well.

Not only is Being Wrong a fascinating book with tours into human behavior, memory, biology, psychology and culture, it is also quite literary. Schulz flings out the literary references with wild abandon — Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Don Quioxte and so many more. She makes these references in such a way that it is obvious she is a reader and familiar with the books and characters in a way that someone who only mines them for relevant quotes is not. Also, she’s really funny.

Who among us doesn’t like being right? Who among us isn’t usually certain that we are right and everyone else is wrong? Who hasn’t made up excuses or reasons when discovered being wrong? Schulz sets out to examine why we are so certain about things and why we hate being wrong. In the process she looks at some spectacular instances of being wrong — Alan Greenspan anyone? In another less public example she goes over the case of a woman who was raped, identified her assailant, was instrumental in the man’s conviction and found out eighteen years later that it was not him but another man who looked very similar who had raped several women before her and several more after. How do you get over being so wrong and causing someone else to spend eighteen years of his life in prison?

But it’s not just the big errors, it’s the small things too. Schulz talks about how she and her friends, none of them physicists, were sitting around one day discussing string theory as though they were all experts. They had a good laugh at themselves and invented an imaginary magazine called Modern Jackass. Thereafter they would chide each other when someone was insisting on their rightness on a topic they really knew nothing about saying things like, oh you should write that up and submit it to the science section of Modern Jackass. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way and we all hold forth like experts on things like the economy, medicine, the weather, life, the universe and everything. And if you are saying to yourself right now, I never do that, I am too humble and never make such assumptions. To you my friend I say, you are WRONG. No one is immune.

Schulz discusses the many reasons we like to be right and why we are so afraid to be wrong. At the same time she talks about how being wrong is necessary in order to make creative leaps in art and science and our general everyday understanding of who we are and what the heck this thing called life is all about. She wishes more than once that we could find a way to be nicer to ourselves and others about being wrong. After all, to err is human and all that.

One of the especially fascinating sections of the book is when Schulz discusses belief and what happens when a belief we have held that is integral in how we see ourselves and navigate in the world is suddenly wrong. She tells the story of one young woman who was raised as a fundamentalist Christian. She moved to New York, met a man who was an atheist who became her boyfriend, and then she found herself going from believing in God to not believing in God. When she and her boyfriend broke up a few years later she was left adrift when she realized that she wasn’t an atheist but neither could she believe in the fundamentalist Christian teachings she was raised in. Schulz talks about the uncomfortable place something like this brings us to, feelings of being unmoored and adrift, not knowing who we are now or who we want to be tomorrow. It’s really fascinating stuff!

While reading and since I have finished the book, I have been more aware of my own rightness about things and noticed how quickly I get defensive when challenged. Sometimes I am able to catch myself, to back off, to not insist that I am right but instead actually listen to the other person and really consider what they are saying. And let me say, it is a weird feeling when I manage to do this. Not a bad feeling, just unfamiliar, a sort of limbo of not knowing that is hard to stay in because darn it, I want to be right. But I think if we could all become more comfortable with this limbo state at least some of the time, it sure would make for some interesting possibilities.

So, in summary, good book. You should totally read it. You can’t go wrong.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews

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23. Bright Lights and a Give Away

The all important reading lamp

The all important reading lamp

Let’s talk about illumination. As in reading lights. When I was a kid my mom always accused me of reading in the dark and insisted I would ruin my eyes. I can’t read in the dark, but I did prefer to read in dim, indirect light to cut down on the glare bouncing off the white pages of my book. I just scoffed at my mom the way kids do. I am happy to report that reading in dim light did not ruin my eyes so my mom has never been able to say, “I told you so” on that topic anyway. I still enjoy reading in dim light, though I never think of it as dim at all. It frustrates Bookman who will come home from work to find me sitting next to the window reading as the sun rapidly sinks below the horizon. He declares that I am going to ruin my eyes reading in the dark. Well, he used to do that. These days he just sighs heavily as he takes up the burden of trying to save my eyes by turning on a light.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good reading light, oh I do, believe me. It does eventually get too dark for me to read comfortably and when that happens I turn on a light. I have, as yet, been unable to achieve any kind of see-in-the-dark superpower. I’ll keep trying though. I used to have a banker’s lamp for years that I adored and then the chain broke in such a way that it could not be repaired. I was heartbroken. For the last several years I just had a plain, utilitarian lamp that gets the job done. But a few weeks ago it began marching toward a slow death, the switch on it becoming increasingly difficult to turn. I was dreading the day it ceased to work and would send me into a frenzy searching for a new reading lamp. In spite of my continuing attempts to ruin my eyes by reading in the dark, I am very picky about my reading lamps and a satisfactory one is so very hard to find. Is this the case for you too or I am just weird?

I don’t know what I did to make the reading gods so very happy, but they smiled upon me. Last week I received a fortuitous email from the folks at OttLite wanting to know if I would be interested in reviewing a reading lamp. You crafters out there might be familiar with Ottlite already as their lighting for craftmaking has a fabulous reputation. My reading lamp was dying so I had nothing to lose and said, sure, send me a lamp.

I’ve been using it for a number of days now and I must say I am quite pleased. At first I thought, uh-oh a 15 watt compact

Golly that's bright!

Golly that’s bright!

fluorescent bulb? How is that going to be even close to bright enough? Was I ever pleasantly surprised when I turned the lamp on! Wow, it practically lights up my whole living room! Even better it has a flexible neck so I can shine the light exactly how I want it for hours of comfortable reading after the sun goes down, which is pretty early these days and getting even earlier. Soon I will begin to forget what the sun even looks like.

The lamp itself is small and takes up hardly any space. If you have a little reading table, nightstand, or even desk, this lamp will fit there and leave room to pile up books beside it. The lamp has a nice “tulip” shape, simple and pleasing. As I said, there is a flexible neck, but it not only bends, but the length can be adjusted too. You can even push the neck all

In case you like ambient light

For the ambient light lovers

the way down into the lamp and use it as a torchiere for diffused room lighting. I’ve not used it this way, when I have a lamp on I’m generally sitting under it reading or writing or knitting or doing something else I need light for, I’m not one of those ambient light people; it’s all or nothing for me.

I’m really happy with the light and very thankful to the OttLite folks for sending it to me and sparing me the frustrations of a lamp shopping frenzy. Bookman is grateful too. He tells me I have no excuse for reading in the dark. Silly Bookman, as soon as the days begin to grow longer many months from now, I will again be trying your patience and smiling at your sighs as you switch on the light to keep me from ruining my eyes.

Now here’s how nice the OttLite people are, not only did they give me a lamp, they will give one of you lucky readers a lamp too. Unfortunately, you have to have a U.S. address. If you are interested in a Tulip Desk Lamp of your very own, please leave a comment saying as much. I will draw a name on Saturday morning. Good luck!

Oh, I almost forgot! The lamp comes with a wonderful accessory if you have cats:
catbox

A little something for everybody at my house.


Filed under: Reading, Reviews Tagged: OttLite

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24. On Not Finishing Books

Did any of you catch the recent article at The Atlantic online Finish That Book!? The article’s author, Juliet Lapidos, argues that we should finish reading every book we start. To that I say no way lady. I spent half my life believing I had to finish every book I began reading and don’t even want to try to calculate how many hours of unhappiness slogging through a book I was not enjoying has caused me. I can, however, tell you that it did not make me a better person in any way in spite of Lapidos’ belief that it does.

Lapidos thinks that too many people give up on books too soon. She has had personal experience in which she has kept reading a book she did not like only to find that by the end of it she liked it very much. I dunno, to me this sounds like the bookish equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome. If you have spent a large chunk of time reading 700 pages of a book you did not like, of course by the time you are done with it you will be looking for a way to justify all that time and effort because you don’t want to admit that yeah, you should have given up on page 35 after all.

Lapidos gives a number of reasons why one should never give up on a book. They are:

  1. Pleasure. Because you never know when it might get good.
  2. Fortitude. Finishing a book you don’t like makes you stronger by building up your ability to “endure intellectual anguish.”
  3. Respect. The author worked really hard to write that book and it is only right to respect their efforts and see it through to the end no matter what.

The only time you should ever stop reading a book is if it is utter trash. But then you should avoid reading trash entirely anyway so really this is a non-issue. Right.

Lapidos takes a reading-as-broccoli approach. Books are not broccoli. Want to kill a love of reading in someone? Tell them to read a book because it is good for them.

I know a book might get good eventually. Or it might not. Sometimes I am not willing to find out. Sometimes there is just enough of something about a book that makes me willing to stick with it in spite of my misgivings. And sometimes I am glad I kept going and sometimes I am not.

I don’t think there is any merit to being able to endure intellectual anguish. What’s the point of making yourself miserable? Is there some special award that comes with cash and chocolate I don’t know about?

As for respect, sure writing a book is hard but that doesn’t mean a person deserves respect. An author needs to earn my respect, I don’t give it automatically just because they spent five lonely years writing a novel. That was their choice, though now and then I wonder if it perhaps may not have been a sign of insanity and a cry for help.

I know there are plenty of readers who slog their way to the end of a book because they feel guilty for giving up on it. I have felt that guilt too and can totally relate. But as I have gotten older and realized I have gained very little benefit from that guilt, I have managed to cut myself some slack and give up on books I am not enjoying. If Lapidos prefers to read until the bitter end that’s no skin off my teeth, she can do what she wants to with her books. She just shouldn’t be telling me what I should do with mine.


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25. And the Winner is…

I tried to get the cats to help me pick a name but when they saw there were no treats in the bowl I put down on the floor they turned up their noses and walked away so I had to take care of pulling out a name myself. I would have thought a bit more gratitude on the part of Waldo and Dickens would have been in order seeing as how they have such a great new box. But that’s cats for you.

So who won?

Jeane! who also blogs at Dogear Diary.

Congratulations Jeane!

Thanks everyone for your comments. I wish all of you could get a lamp but maybe Santa will bring one to your house this year with a big pile of books too. Because I know we have all been good, but even if we haven’t we still all deserve a good lamp and a pile of books!


Filed under: Miscellaneus Tagged: OttLite

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