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1. Reading in March

February is the worst month of the year in my opinion. It’s the last solid month of winter in which all the fun things about cold and snow suddenly become terrible. It’s the month every year during which winter overstays its welcome. Good thing February is short! Now March, March is a month of wild weather swings that can bring us t-shirt wearing weather one day and a blizzard the next. But the thing about March is, no matter snow, ice, sleet, or cold, there is an end of winter in sight.

In mid-February I came to a realization about my reading this time of year. Starting around the end of January when the cold begins to wear me out, my reading begins to go all wonky. Any classic or serious book, any heavy nonfiction is impossible for me to focus on. This pretty much happens to me every year but I have just now bothered to recognize it instead of fighting it. So I gave myself permission to not bother with a couple books I have on the go and totally indulge in what made me feel good. Mostly that has been gardening books and science fiction and fantasy.

Even though I had been enjoying it, I decided to give up on Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style. When I kept picking up everything but that book it became clear that I lost interest. I feel bad about that because it is a good book, but I just need to move on to something else right now. Maybe I will pick it up again another time.

I didn’t read more than a few pages in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, and I didn’t read one page of Proust.

What I have been immensely enjoying is Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword. I am about twenty pages from the end and oh, do I love this book! I also started reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. When I finish it, which will be a little while, I will be all caught up and waiting with the rest of the world for Martin to finally finish the next book. I fear when that book comes out Bookman and I might have to arm wrestle to determine who gets to read it first. Or we will each have to by our own copy.

I am reading a number of books for review in other places. It makes things a bit complicated for writing about those books here since I am reading and writing for someone else. It’s fun, but I have to figure out some kind of balance so I don’t get overwhelmed. One of the books I am reading is for Library Journal and is called The Great Detective: the amazing rise and immortal life of Sherlock Holmes by Zach Dundas. It is off to a marvelous, nearly perfect start which has me so very excited about it. I hope it manages to sustain that excitement. Don’t worry, I will let you know, I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that.

Just as in February I spent time reading about chickens, I will be reading more about chickens this month too. I’ve also got a couple gardening books to peruse. One of them is about biodynamic gardening, Culture and Horticulture by Wolf-Dieter Storl. I am only marginally familiar with biodynamic gardening so the book should be interesting. Part of this gardening practice is to plant according to the lunar calendar. I do not believe in astrology, but I am curious to learn more because it also emphasizes an integrated practice of soil fertility, plant growth and animal care to create a sustainable system. Stay tuned.

Technically I can now also start placing library hold requests again. I am pretty surprised I managed to make it two months without putting any new books on hold. I still have six or seven outstanding hold requests though and haven’t even begun to make a dent in the books I own that are sitting on my reading table. So I have decided to not go crazy and request books. I’m going to try very hard and limit myself to no more than five outstanding library hold requests at a time. That means until two or three of my current requests make their way to me, I will not be placing any new ones. Seems like a good idea, right? We’ll see if I can stick to it.

I hope March turns out to be a happy reading month for everyone!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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2. February Reading

Review a book or talk about books in progress and the state of my reading plans for February? Well, since we are almost a week into the month, let’s talk about the latter. The book review can wait.

So for the last couple days I’ve been moaning quietly to myself about how January was a terrible month for reading, that I read hardly any of the books I planned to. Then I looked at my January plan and realized the month was significantly better than I thought. I finished four of the seven books I was in the middle of. Not bad, right?

The carryovers:

  • The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. Even though I like this book it keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the in progress pile. I mean, nothing against Pinker, but when it’s between him and Roxanne Gay, or him and Ann Leckie, or him and Patrick Rothfuss, Pinker loses every time. Right now he is losing out to Mallory Ortberg. I do want to finish the book, I really do.
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate Change by Naomi Klein. I got halfway through this very good, hefty book before I had to return it to the library because my three weeks were up and there is a long line for it. I checked the university library system where I work and there were a couple copies there checked out but with no holds and both due soon. So I put in a hold request. Now, a mysterious disaster has struck.

    When I arrived at work Monday morning I discovered that the book was supposedly on the hold shelf at my library. Hooray! I went to retrieve it and it was not there. Hmm. The computer says the hold arrived on Saturday so I questioned my Saturday colleagues and none of knew what I was talking about, there had been no book courier delivery on Saturday. So I emailed the circulation person at the library from which the book was sent. She checked her shelves. The book was not there. We thought perhaps a student worker had goofed and the book might still be in transit through the courier. Monday and Tuesday came and went and it still did not arrive. Today I sent out a system-wide email to all the library circulation departments asking if the book might have ended up on their hold shelves. Nope. So the book is AWOL.

    Here’s the bad part, if the hold expires before the book makes its way to me, I lose my chance to have it and have to place a new hold. While there were no holds when I put one in a month ago there are now four hold requests for two books one of which is now AWOL. University checkout periods are much longer than at the public library. My fingers are crossed the book arrives before the hold expires and I have to get at the back of the line.

  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. If I hadn’t made it to part two of the book when I did, I was going to stop reading. The first part is so raw and horribly violent it was making me sick to my stomach reading it. People on my metro train were probably wondering what was wrong with that scowling person reading her Kobo. Was her breakfast not agreeing with her? Did she have a bad day at work? Even though I am past the first part, the book still presents a problem: I don’t like it. Intellectually, I can see why it is considered an important book. Emotionally it is all kinds of messed up. But I keep reading because intellectual me says my discomfort is probably a good thing. Thank goodness the book is short and I only have about 100 pages left.

Then there are the two ongoing project books: John Keats’ Complete Poems and Proust’s Guermantes Way (which is suffering from the same problem Pinker is).

Got all that?

Now for new books in February. I am laughing my way through Texts from Jane Eyre at the moment. I like to read it before bed. I have frequent outbursts of laughter and sometimes I interrupt Bookman’s reading to read to him. This book will probably be done by the end of the weekend. The next one that gets picked up will be Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness.

I just got notice today that waiting for me to pick up from the public library is On Immunity: An Innoculation by Eula Bliss. I’ve been waiting my turn since November and now my turn comes in the midst of an ever growing measles outbreak that began at Disneyland in California a couple weeks ago. I am safe from measles, I have been vaccinated against them twice. Once as a child and then again when I was 18 and heading off to college. At that time you had to provide proof of vaccination in order to attend and exceptions were rarely granted. For whatever reason my childhood health records did not show I had been vaccinated. The university needed proof in writing, not my mom’s solemn promise, and so I had to get vaccinated again. Ow. There’s a reason they give all these shots to kids, it’s so you don’t remember how much they hurt! The book will no doubt be even more interesting now given how relevant it is proving to be at the moment.

Finally, I have a new book to read and review for Library Journal. It is one that makes me very happy. It’s called First Ladies of Gardening: Pioneers, Designers and Dreamers by Heidi Howcroft. It is filled with gorgeous color photos of beautiful English gardens and teeny tiny print about the gardens and the women who created them. I began reading today and is it ever wonderful.

Well that should do it for February plans. Since it is still winter here I have lots of hours of reading under a quilt with the cats to look forward to.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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3. Vacation in Progress

Ah, vacation.

It actually began at 4:00 on Friday last week but it hasn’t felt like vacation until today. That’s because somehow I’ve been pretty busy. There was regular grocery shopping and Solstice ingredient shopping. There was cooking. There was the dentist. Other things I can’t seem to remember but that sucked up time. Oh and the library. To pick up books I did not expect to be getting until next year. Which means my vacation reading plans have been all messed up because these books can’t be renewed. Story of my life!

The books? How to Be Both by Ali Smith and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. These are okay things to have mess up my reading plans. I began reading Smith today and am really liking the book a lot. I have not read Smith before, have always meant to, but you know how it goes. Now, of course, I find myself wondering why I didn’t read her sooner! The good part is she has lots of books I haven’t read.

Vacation reading also includes Dirty Chick, which is proving to be hilarious, Proust, which is not hilarious, and finishing The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Oh there are plenty of other books on hand but these are the ones I will be focusing on.

I am also wallowing in the pleasures of seed catalogs. Man, do I need some acreage!

Also on this vacation time, I am playing catch up with my book database. I have been pretty good all year at keeping my Books Read page updated but not so much my personal database that allows me to track books at a glance across the years. I spent a couple hours today entering books and I am only up through July. Halfway, right? It appears I have had a personal record breaking reading year. But more on that later.

Other events this vacation will include: a trip to a bookstore or two and a viewing of the final Hobbit movie. The movies have been pretty good, but I am so glad this is the last one. There is absolutely no reason they had to take this mediocre book and turn it into three movies. Oh wait, there is a reason: money. And I couldn’t help but give them some of mine. Sigh.

It will be light posting through the New Year. I’ll pop by with books I finish and an end-of-year roundup, but blogland gets quiet this time of year anyway and I’d like to take a mini-vacation from my computer. So in case I don’t manage to get round in the next day or two, I hope all of you celebrating Christmas out there have a wonderful day filled with love and good food and lots of new books!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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4. Welcome 2015

Day two of 2015. How’s it going so far? Good I hope! I’ve been visiting blogs and reading yearend wrap ups and New Year plans and it is all so very exciting. January 1st is an artificial new year date imposed by our calendars because when you think about it, ever day can be said to be the first day of a new year which means every day provides the opportunity for a fresh start. Just something to keep in mind when the excitement from making fresh goals begins to wane. I have all sorts of plans for 2015. The ones you will want to know about are my reading plans.

I like my 2014 plan so well I am going to do it again this year:

Read good books.

Part of reading good books is a project my friend Cath and I are doing for the year. We both love poetry and keep up an enriching correspondence around it. This year we decided to each focus on two poets in depth and make a study of them. The two poets I chose for my study are John Keats and Elizabeth Bishop. Keats will start off the year. I’ve got his letters and complete poetry making their way to me through the mail from online bookshops. I’d like to read a biography of Keats too. Can anyone make a recommendation of a good one? The second half of the year will go to Bishop. I have her complete poems and I’ll be reading One Art, a book of her letters. I know she wrote some prose too but I don’t know that I will get to that. Perhaps I will be able to dip in, but it’s her poetry I am most interested in. I’d like to read a biography of her too. Can anyone make a good recommendation on that?

Besides Bishop and Keats I will continue working my way through Euripides’s plays. If I am remembering and counting correctly, I have six of his plays left. A couple of the remaining ones are of disputed authorship but I’m not sure that matters so very much since the number of complete Greek tragedies is so few to begin with. I doubt I will get to all six of them this year, but you never know.

That’s the broad outline for 2015.

January’s reading is going to be a pile-on of all sorts of things and I am exhausted just thinking about it. Currently I am in the midst of:

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I am almost done with this. Have about 130 pages left.
  • The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. I am enjoying this very much.
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay. A wide-ranging book of essays not completely what I expected but extremely enjoyable nonetheless. I read about her competitive Scrabble playing a few days ago and I am still giggling about it. Gay has a most excellent sense of humor.
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. I’ve not gotten far but so far this is really good. It is an approach to climate change that is not about the environment so much as it is about the economic structures and wealth distribution we have created that are at the root of the problem.
  • Guermantes Way by Proust. Oh Proust, Proust, Proust. This is my second attempt at this book and each time I pick it up I am reminded why I didn’t make it through the first time. Our Marcel is such a whiny social-climbing wanker that he makes me want to slap him. Hard. A lot. Plus he is a stalker and uses people. And while Proust is a beautiful writer, sometimes his descriptions that start off lovely go on far too long and I find myself yelling at him to hurry up and move on. Nonetheless, I am determined to finish the book. It just might be a long and painful process.
  • Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Bookman has been raving about this one to me for forever so I finally started it last month. It’s getting a slow read since it is my work/commute book and I have been on vacation for almost two weeks. I will be returning to it when I return to work on Monday.
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I’ve heard so many good things about this book and the sequel just came out so why not? I am really liking it so far even though I am less than fifty pages in. What I like best is that there is not much in the way of gender distinction, the language and culture in the world of the book doesn’t have it and so the story has everyone being called “she” no matter their biology. It’s kind of nice to read a book and have “she” be the default for a change.

There will also be some Virginia Woolf making her way into my reading pile in January. And I am going to start reading A Clockwork Orange along with Danielle. In addition, I have, gulp, four books to pick up at the library. Two of them are graphic novels, one is a gardening book and one is a nature book. We’ll see how or if I manage to actually fit them in.

Now, given all that reading and my quickly dwindling days of vacation, I had better hop to it!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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5. I Resisted!

I have to give myself a little public pat on the back because I did something today that was really hard and once I tell you about it you will completely understand.

All but five of my library hold requests out of something like eighteen have come home to roost in the last three weeks. Most of these books are not renewable because there are others who also want a turn at them. My little reading table is buried beneath books and it is so bad I am having a hard time pulling books out of the piles to read without knocking several over onto the floor. Also, there is hardly any room for a glass of water or cup of coffee or tea. It is out of control. But with the two books that are currently at the library waiting for and one more for which my turn will come quicker than I want it to, the remaining hold requests all have me at number 40 or higher.

So I determined the other day to not make any further book requests from the library for two months. That will give me a chance to get through all my current library books and, I hope, a few of the books on my reading table that I own that I really want to read but have been buried under all the library books. I made this determination before around Thanksgiving in November but didn’t tell anyone because the next I placed hold requests for two books!

Today, however, today I resisted! I had my mouse hovering over the “request” button at my library but I remembered my book table and my determination to not place any holds for two months. The devil and the angel on my shoulders had quite the brawl and this time the angel won. Personally, I think the angel has been doing some serious lifting since Santa left her some weights for Christmas. Or maybe it was the strength of moral superiority guiding her and giving her the power to finally overcome. Then again, she’s had so much practice she may have finally perfected the art of guilt and shame and made the devil feel so bad she didn’t stand a chance. Whatever the case, instead of clicking “request” I clicked “add to list” and added it my library list.

If the angel manages to keep the devil down for two months then I will allow myself to request a few books off the list. I don’t want to get ahead of myself though. I resisted today. Will I resist the next temptation? Very likely I will find out tomorrow. Until then, I get a pat on the back and a victory dance. Yay me!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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6. Playing with Gender

I’m in the middle of reading Ann Leckie’s fantastic book Ancillary Justice. One of the things I like about it so much is that it plays with our gender expectations. The story takes place in a fictional universe in which the Radch regularly annex planets to their empire. The language spoken by the Radch has no gender, it does not recognize male or female anything. This presents a conundrum for Leckie since English requires gender designations. How do you translate? Leckie has decided to make the default pronoun “she” serve for everyone.

The story is told from the point of view of Breq who used to be a starship. She knows many different languages but she is Radch and as such always has trouble figuring out gender when speaking a language that requires it.

What is super-duper fascinating is to read everything through the “she” pronoun. I picture all the characters as women and there is nothing in any of the characters’ actions that give away what their biology might be. Nor does anyone get described as curvy or beautiful or brawny or any of the other myriad ways gender and biology get marked. Everyone is just people who happen to be referred to as “she” when a pronoun is required. But, as I said, I keep picturing all the characters as women because that is what “she” asks me to do in English.

So you might be able to imagine then how disconcerted I was while reading last night to discover an important character is actually a biological male. He was only referred to as “he” once in a conversation Breq was having with someone in a gendered language and then it is right back to “she” again. My brain went all wobbly trying to replace a she with a he but it didn’t last long. The further I got away from “he” and the more “she’s” that got piled on in referring to this character, my mind reverted right back to picturing a woman.

The cool thing is there is no reason why all the characters couldn’t actually be women. In the context of this world, there is no question about whether a woman can lead an army or captain a starship or beat the crap out of someone or rule the empire or do anything else. Gender is not recognized and when there are no gender boxes to fill it is amazing what kinds of other things can be focused on instead.

Reading a book in which “she” stands in for the universal gender points out how fallacious English is to insist that “he” can be used as a universal pronoun meaning men and women. It can’t and it doesn’t and I never believed that it did. Whenever I’m reading and come across a “universal he” I am always brought up short. I have to stop and take the time to mentally insert myself into the equation because “he” is not me. I wonder, any men reading this, when you come across “universal he” do you think, oh that means men and women? When you see “he” standing in for everyone do you picture everyone as being male? And if you are a male who has read Ancillary Justice, what was your experience reading a book where everyone is “she”?

I can’t begin to say what a pleasure it is to read a book like Ancillary Justice. It’s no surprise Leckie won the Nebula and the Hugo for it. I can’t wait to find out how it ends and I am greatly looking forward to reading the second book, Ancillary Sword.

Filed under: Books, In Progress, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Ann Leckie

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7. September Reading Plans

Here we are well into September already and I haven’t even stopped to take a breath and think about reading plans. It seems like I have just been grabbing whatever I feel like or whatever is due next at the library. It’s not a bad thing but it tends to distract me from books that are not of the moment that I really do want to read like Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. It has been on my shelf for — we won’t say how long — and back in July I got all excited about it and was finally, finally, going to read it. It is still sitting on my reading table and has several library books piled on top of it. Maybe I should request a copy from the library and then I might actually read it! Now that is an idea with possibilities.

Only trouble is, I can borrow from the public library and the academic library at the university where I work. The public library comes with the standard 3-week checkout and three renewals as long as no one else wants the book for a potential borrowing time of twelve weeks. Because I am a staff person at the university, I can borrow a book for as long as four months with a renewal taking it to eight months. Such a long time tends to let me set these books aside. This means I am still meandering my way through the poems of But What by Judith Herzberg, the fascinating world of moss in Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and I’ve had Medea all summer and still not even picked it up. Clearly I am highly motivated by deadlines when it comes to reading, or rather, library due dates.

I did finish Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? and Willa Cather’s short story collection The Troll Garden. I have not written about these two books yet, posts on them coming soon.

For September, it looks like two books will be arriving for me at the public library, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall and Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks, a book I requested on a whim after Ian mentioned how good it was in a comment about The Miracle of Mindfulness.

In the mail for reviewing for Library JournalI have on its way to me a book of essays called Icon which has a variety of writers considering various public figures from Linda Lovelace and Aretha Franklin to bell hooks and Andrea Dworkin. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Also on its way to me for review from the publisher is Hilary Mantel’s book of short stories The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. How could I refuse that offer?

Then, of course, I am in the midst of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd and She by H. Rider Haggard. I began reading Danielewski’s House of Leaves for the RIP Challenge yesterday.

And if that is not enough, I also have from the university library, so you know this one will be lingering for a while, The Selected Letters of John Keats. I can’t say why I all of a sudden wanted to read Keats’s letters but I did and do. I’ve not made it all the way through the long introduction yet, but it is serving to make me even more excited about the letters.

Gosh, all those books. And they are only the ones I currently know about. Who knows what might manage to slip in at the last second?

And now, I’d like to ask for a moment of silence for my dead Kindle. Yes, Kindle is truly gone. It is a hardware problem that cannot be fixed and I am so far out of warranty that I am out of luck. I am not yet out of luck when it comes to ereaders though. Earlier this year Bookman’s Kindle 1 appeared to die. It wasn’t charging and was acting all kinds of strange so he got himself a new basic Kindle, small, and light without a keyboard. After Bookman’s new Kindle arrived the old one revived and still works. So I am reading on the Kindle 1 now. I am not sure how long for this world it will actually be because while the battery does charge, it lasts barely a week before it needs to be recharged. And this is with the wifi turned off. While my Kindle 2 is dead, my decision about whether to buy a new ereader has been postponed until Bookman’s Kindle 1 ceases to limp along which could be tomorrow or next year; it’s hard to know for sure with these things.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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8. Books Just Ruin Everything

Books have a way of wrecking a person’s life. Well, okay, not wrecking, that’s far too strong. Ruin maybe. Well, no not ruin either. Let me try again. Books have a tendency to keep a person from being settled in her opinion of things. The opposite could be true too, books could serve to always confirm a person’s opinions and beliefs. I guess it all depends on what sorts of books a person reads. For me, the first one tends to hold sway.

Most recently my opinion of Andrea Dworkin has been ripped to shreds. I am reading a book of essays called Icon edited by Amy Scholder to review for Library Journal and I just finished an essay in it by Johanna Fateman on Andrea Dworkin. I can’t say that I have ever read Dworkin. I have read bits and pieces, passages, quotes, never an entire book of hers. By the time I came along to college and took a women’s literature class, Dworkin had already pretty much been written off by feminists because of her anti-porn and, purported, anti-sex, stance. I wasn’t especially concerned with porn, but when you are twenty, the thought of being anti-sex, even if you weren’t having any, was preposterous. So I wrote off Dworkin too as a kooky feminist who had gone way too far. I was all, feminism yay! But I just didn’t see the reason it had to go to such extremes.

But this Fateman essay is forcing me to re-evaluate my opinion of Dworkin. To be sure she did go way out there, but she had reasons. And now, from the perspective of 20+ years, I can also understand that sometimes one needs to go to extremes in order to get any sort of attention on an issue that people don’t think is a problem or refuse to believe is anything to be concerned with.

And did you know Dworkin wrote novels? A couple of memoirs? And some supposedly excellent literary criticism? I certainly had no idea. And now this (not) stupid essay has made me want to go and dig some of those things up, especially the criticism, to discover for myself just what made her so known and influential before everyone turned on her.

If I hadn’t agreed to review this book for Library Journal, and if there hadn’t been an essay in it about Dworkin then I could still be going on my merry way with not a thought about the woman. But now, blast it all, I am not going to be able to let it go. I will have to investigate further. Darn books, why can’t you just let me be ignorant? I don’t have time for this. Books have to go an ruin everything.

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Andrea Dworkin

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9. A Little Laugh

Because even a book on climate change needs a little humor:

Not surprisingly, the Kochs [siblings David and Charles, inheritors of the second largest privately owned company in the US, Tea Party supporters, and opposed to action on climate change] are the number-one hate figures of the progressive left and environmentalists alike, and the grinning brothers are often portrayed in activist literature as the twin heads of the “Kochtopus,” surrounded by the spreading tentacles of their gas, oil, and chemical interests. This is the latest in a long cartoon history of rampaging corporate cephalopods, which have included railroad monopolies, ice monopolies, Tammany Hall crooks, [and] Standard Oil.

Heh, rampaging corporate cephalopods. Makes me laugh every time I read it.

I have a few writing and reading commitments I must attend to this week so posts might be skimpy. If only there were enough time in the day to fit everything in! I’ll try, but, well, we’ll see.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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10. October Reading Plans

I was going to write about the ridiculousness that is Rider Haggard’s She this evening but I am just not in the right frame of mind. Earlier in the week the weather forecast was predicting moderate but still warmer than usual fall weather. And dry. Now it has turned cold and has been raining off and on since yesterday and there are threats of snow flurries on the weekend! The forecasters are all backpedalling and declaring that we should all know by now how unpredictable Minnesota weather is this time of year so don’t blame them. Yeah, right.

The good thing about the sudden change in weather is that it makes me want to snuggle up and read which is good because it seems like I didn’t do all that much reading in September. Or Rather, I did, but just not as much as I planned. Story of my life.

Part of the trouble that is not really trouble at all, is that two books I finished in September I have not written about here because they were for review elsewhere; a book of essays called Icon for Library Journal and a book called Mind Change the review of which you will soon be able to read at Shiny New Books.

I have lots of carry over books this month. I am still reading Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I am determined to finish it this month, it has been lingering far too long. I am almost done with Don’t Even Think About It, a book about climate change. It is pretty interesting in terms of human psychology and behavior and kind of sad too.

I continue with House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski and continue to be creeped out by it. It’s one of those evil house-type stories, at least so far, in which the home that is supposed be comfort, love, and safety for the happy family, does a turn about and causes all sorts of problems even when it is not actively doing anything.

I’m about halfway through Mantel’s short stories, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. I know the titular story is getting lots of criticism and so is Mantel, but I have been avoiding reading about it because I don’t want to be biased when I finally get to the story. The ones I have read so far have all pretty much been really good.

Other than finishing the introduction to the Selected Letters of John Keats, I haven’t read any further in the book. I hope I can manage to get in deep with it this month.

October will be a good month for reading, I just know it. Next weekend is the Twin Cities Book Festival and the following Saturday is Dewey’s Read-a-thon. Bookman usually works on Saturdays but he managed to get the day off to attend the book festival with me. He wants to do the readathon too, but can only manage it around his work day. We’ve decided to donate ten cents for every page we read to First Book. One of the things I plan to read during that day is Euripides’ Medea, finally!

There are a number of library holds in my queue that have been outstanding for quite some time that are now all getting close to being my turn all at once. Isn’t that the way of it? So other than keeping on with what I am already in the midst of and reading Medea, I am not going to plan on any other books because they will just get tossed over in favor of the library books with reading due date deadlines. It all feels hectic, but that’s okay, it is still quite fun. If it weren’t fun, then there is not point in it, right? Reading should never be a punishment.

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11. 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!

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12. 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!

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13. 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!

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14. 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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15. Improving My Good Book Average

At last, I have made it through the Slough of Despond and have landed myself in a couple books that really caught my interest. Okay, Slough of Despond is a bit extreme. The set aside Prose book and the disappointing Cantor book were more like a slightly squishy ground that got my shoes muddy. But the ground has firmed up and I am happily striding along first enjoying Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and now embarking on The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner. I just started it a couple days ago and have been reading a little every night which means I’m at page 45. But it has been a good 45 pages! I like the style and the story is going somewhere even if I don’t know where that somewhere is.

Have you read the book? So far there are two narratives. It begins with WWI in 1917. A man named Valera is cutting a motorcycle headlamp off the bike of his dead friend who had just slammed into a tree in the woods because he was going too fast and lost control. The headlamp was salvageable, the bike, not so much. The pair are in the cycle battalion and had fallen a bit behind their squadron. Up comes a German soldier and Valera beans him in the head with the motorcycle lamp.

And then we get a chapter in 1975 and we meet Reno, a young woman and artist riding her Valera motorcycle to the Salt Flats in Nevada to participate in time trials there and at the same time create what she hopes will be some interesting Land Art. It is an exhilarating chapter, first as she speeds down the highway and then later as she speeds across the salt flats at 148 miles and hour. On a motorcycle. But before we know exactly what happens we are back to Valera in 1917 who then flashes us back to his childhood in Alexandria, Egypt and a bit later to 1912 Rome where he is about to finish his university degree and where he rides his first motorcycle.

Kushner is thus far showing herself to be skilled at pacing and character development, letting Reno and Valera reveal who they are through their actions and thoughts. No paragraphs long info-dumps telling the reader about them or having some other character tell us. Nope, it is character development as it should be, a gradual getting-to-know-you.

I have no idea what the book is about. I have read good things about it without managing to retain any sort of plot summary and I have avoided reading the synopsis on the dust jacket. All I know is that I am a happy camper at the moment. Amazing what a couple good book can do for a person.

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16. Is Shakespeare Unequaled?

You know, when it has been a span of time since I have read or seen a Shakespeare play I begin to wonder why he is considered the pinnacle of English literature. I mean surely there have been other writers who are his equal? And I think and think and no names pop into my head, but I still believe there should be at least one writer, but who? Eventually I get distracted and am left with only a vague sense of I’m not sure what — disbelief perhaps — that there is no one else? Or is it unease? Because really, in 400 years for there never to have been a writer in English as good, as inventive, as influential seems impossible and rather sad for literature as though we’ve been in a state of slow decline ever since. And while I am sure there are plenty of people who would say English literature has gone downhill from Shakespeare, I am not among them. I hope I never find myself in old age, sitting in a rocking chair with my teeth in a glass on the table next to me telling some young whipper-snapper that literature just ain’t what it used to be, and when I was your age blah blah blah. Please, if this happens to me, someone hit my over the head with The Luminaries or other equally large tome.

Where was I? Oh yes, I forget, after being away from Shakespeare for awhile, how marvelous he is. I began reading King Lear the other day and have been reminded — My God! This man is brilliant! In the first two scenes he effortlessly sets everything in motion, Cordelia, her sisters, Lear, Edmund. Yes, yes, France takes Cordelia for his wife even without a dowry — so romantic! — but you know, even if you have never read/seen the play before, you know that things are going to go wrong, that Lear has thrown away everything he holds most dear and there will be no happy ending. And it is delicious, this knowing, this dread, this watching and not being able to look away, and always hoping that maybe something will happen and disaster will be narrowly averted.

It’s good stuff.

Is there any other English writer the equal of Shakespeare? I don’t know. Does it really matter?

Filed under: Books, In Progress, Plays, Shakespeare

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17. May Reading Plans

Happy May Day! My French American coworker tells me they give flowers, lily of the valley to be exact. When I was a kid we’d leave baskets or bouquets of flowers on the porch, ring the doorbell and run away. The flowers were generally made of paper, a craft project at school, or they were dandelions picked from yards on the way home from school. And my mom, bless her, would always be surprised, “who cold have given me flowers?” And her daughters, arriving home suspiciously close to when the flowers were left on the porch, were surprised too, “Mom got flowers from a secret admirer!” Of course we couldn’t keep our secret long but my mom managed to continue the charade and act surprised and delighted that the wilting dandelions or oddly shaped construction paper flowers were the most delightful surprise she had ever had. Those were the days.

May is a good month in Minneapolis. It is the month when gardening begins in earnest and there is a rush to get seeds planted. There is also much time spent worrying over the weather. Our average last frost day is May 15th but with climate change the last frost date moves around leaving me wondering whether it is safe to plant out the tomatoes on May 9th or do I wait another week and pretend like I don’t hear the root-bound cries of desperation emanating from them. The time in the garden takes time away from reading but I don’t regret it at all.

The gardening intrusion began a bit in April so I didn’t read as much as I had planned. Knowing May will be busier do you think I can lay off piling on the books? Of course not!

I do plan on concentrating on Pere Goriot by Balzac. I’ve been dragging this one along since February. I don’t know why it is taking me so long to read it. It isn’t a bad book. But then it isn’t a book that sweeps one up either. I’m on page 193 of 303, so a little over halfway. Even though it took me three months to get that far, surely I can finish by the end of May?

King Lear I began reading late in the month, around Shakespeare’s birthday actually. Bookman and I will be going to see the National Theatre Live broadcast at a local movie theater on June 1st and I plan to have finished reading the play by then.

For some reason I went on a library book request spree mid April. Only one of the books was actually immediately available, Teaming With Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels. It is the book on soil health that was recommended at the gardening class I took. I haven’t managed to open the cover yet, but I plan on getting started on it in May. Of course several books I didn’t think I’d get for some time have already arrived or are on their way or will be sometime during the month. No renewals. Yikes!

My turn just came up for The Luminaries as an ebook. I have it downloaded and on my Kindle and as long as I remember to not turn on my wifi, it will stay on my Kindle for as long as it takes me to read it. Thank goodness I don’t have to rush through that one! Also as an ebook from the library is the most recent book by Nicholas Basbanes On Paper, which is a history of paper. On its way to me from the library as I type is The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. I don’t even remember how I found out about this one. It is a dystopian novel about the dangers of technology and the power of the printed word. I will spare you the list of other books that might arrive for me from the library later in the month because if I detail them I might begin to panic.

But before I can get to those library books I have two that I am in the midst of that I can’t renew and have to finish first. I am still enjoying The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. It’s a good story set in the 1975 art world. The other book is nonfiction, Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding by Lynn Darling. Darling is middle-aged, widowed, and her daughter has just left home for college. She leaves New York, buys herself a quirky house in the woods of Vermont near Woodstock hoping to figure out who she wants to become now that she is alone. It’s pretty good so far.

Whew. Clearly my time management skills when it comes to reading this month will be strained. But hey, there are worse things in the world than to be buried under a pile of books!

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18. Had to Have It

At the end of April I came across an essay by Rebecca Solnit that made me so very excited. Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable made me say wow! And then I saw it was going to be in a soon to be published new book by Solnit so I immediately ordered the book because I had to have this essay!

The book has arrived. I have not reread the essay or begun reading the book yet. I am buried beneath no-renewal wait-listed library books at the moment and I have been given another Library Journal review assignment. But the book is on my reading table and at the earliest opportunity I am looking forward to diving in. I especially want to reread the Woolf essay with a pencil in hand. It sparked all sorts of thoughts when I read it online and I hope it does so again when I read it on paper.

I am very close to being done with Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers which is good since it is due Friday. And I have begun reading The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. I’m enjoying it very much so far. It is Graedon’s first book and the narrative is charging along. I will be curious to see if she can keep up the pace.

So I know you’ll understand when I say, gonna go read now.

Hope all of you are in the midst of a good book or two or three!

Filed under: In Progress, New Acquisitions

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19. Long Weekend Ahead

I just spent all day in a faculty and staff retreat at work and even if it was one of the better ones we’ve had it is still tiring which means my brain is not firing on all cylinders at the moment. Really all I can think about is that tomorrow is Friday and then I get a three-day holiday weekend and then I get lost in thought about how I will spend those three lovely work-free days. There will definitely be time spent reading. So then I have to think about what I might read. Thinking about reading is all part of the pleasure of the reading experience, isn’t it?

One thing I definitely have to read is my latest Library Journal review assignment. I was hoping to catch a break for a month or two but nope. When I applied to do reviews I had to indicate what categories of books I wanted to review and among my choices was literary biography. In my mind it was a very narrow category that included writers like Henry James and Elizabeth Bishop. Turns out literary biography is a big category that pretty much means biographies about writers, which is totally fine just not what I expected.

My assignment is an authorized biography of the crime writer Anne Perry. I don’t read much in the genre of crime or mysteries and I have never read an Anne Perry novel, though I have seen the movie Heavenly Creatures about when she and her childhood friend committed murder. I was worried I wouldn’t like the book and was psyching myself up for it — it doesn’t matter if I like Perry the writer, what matters is the book and whether or not it is well-written and something a library might want to consider buying. I started reading the book the other day and, while I haven’t gotten very far in it, I can say that it gets off to great start that made me want to keep reading. So Anne Perry fans, you just might have an interesting biography to look forward to when it is published in July.

I will also be reading King Lear. I’ve started it but haven’t gotten far. I’d like to read as much of it over the weekend as I can because next weekend on June 1st, Bookman and I will be going to see the National Theatre Live broadcast of it at a local movie theater. I’ve read the play before but I have never seen it acted so I am looking forward to that. When I see a Shakespeare play I do like to have read the play beforehand so it is fresh in my mind and I don’t have to spend time sorting out who is who and what is going on but instead just sink into the performance.

I’m also in the middle of The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. It’s a strange book, kind of surreal sometimes and other times realistic but I am thus far enjoying it. I have it from the library with no renewals because there is a waiting list so it has high priority on the reading pile. But if I get the chance, I’d like to start reading the new Rebecca Solnit book, Men Explain Things to Me.

It is only a three-day weekend though and there will also be time spent gardening. I should probably give Waldo and Dickens some attention too. And my husband. Bookman would probably like it if I said more to him than what’s for lunch and dig me a hole for the pond there. It’s a cut into my reading time but some sacrifices are worth making.

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20. June Reading

Did Jen break the internet?

There seems to be only select sites working at the moment from both my cable connection and my wireless iPad connection. Of course WordPress is one I can’t get to but the Apple website loads up quick as can be. Hmm, perhaps there is a conspiracy afoot? I’m going to ignore the internet for now and hope that by the time I am done writing this in TextEdit on my Mac, things will be hunky-dory again. (Since you see this posted, things are working again, sort of. Thanks Moss and Roy!)

Let’s talk about reading plans for June!

May reading went pretty well. I have King Lear carrying over but will be finished with him by the weekend. I am also just over halfway through The Luminaries. Goodness, is this a long book! I am enjoying it, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I wish it weren’t so wordy. For those of you who have read it, I am past the first long part where the men at the Crown are telling various parts of their stories and am just hours away from the seance. Except the time it is taking to get there seems like it is moving in real time and not book time.

Oh, yes, I am also still reading Teaming With Microbes. It is a very science-y book and sometimes my eyes glaze over just a bit but other times it is fascinating. I learned last night that bacteria make soil alkaline and fungi make soil acidic. So how do I get fungi to thrive in my blueberry beds? I haven’t learned that yet but I hope I will. I will be very disappointed if the book doesn’t go there.

Besides these carry-overs, I have just started Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf. It focuses on George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and how their passion for gardening and agriculture shaped America from its very beginning. I am reading this along with Danielle who actually got to hear Wulf speak not long ago. I am supremely jealous about that.

I also started reading Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. It is a collection of essays. I have thus far read the titular essay and found it both funny and sad. Though Solnit did not invent the word, nor does she particularly like it, the term “mansplaining” came into existence because of this essay which was first published on the internet.

I had planned on reading Euripides’ play Medea sometime over the summer, but after seeing the preview for the upcoming National Theatre production of it, I decided I had to read it now. So from the library I borrowed a more recent translation by Michael Collier Georgia Machemer. It looks like it has a good introduction and lots of notes. I’m really looking forward to it!

I will be getting a book of poetry in the mail soon, a review copy, that sounded too good to resist. The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight in collaboration with artist Terrence Tasker, was created in the 1970s. I’m not certain that it has ever been published before. I love it when artwork and poetry are combined plus, it is inspired by the Sophocles play. I’m excited to read this.

Another poetry book I have on hand is But What by Dutch poet Judith Herzberg. Recommended by my friend Cath, I am excited to read this one too.

No doubt with all my various hold requests at the library at least one or more have to read now because I can’t renew it books will arrive for me and throw all my carefully laid plans by the wayside. But at least, as I look back over my plan, I see I am excited by and looking forward to reading and/or already enjoying every book I mention. That makes me happy.

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21. Dangerous

I am merrily reading The Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf and let me just say that approaching history through gardening is absolutely delightful! I always thought George Washington was a pretty righteous dude, but knowing he shivered in his tent during the revolution and distracted himself by thinking of his garden at Mount Vernon and writing letters to his estate manager telling him what to plant and where, well that just endears him to me all the more.

Picturing Jefferson and Adams going on a whirlwind tour of English gardens over the course of a week while waiting for the British parliament to decide whether or not they would sign a trade treaty (they declined) is a hoot.

And learning that delegates at the Constitutional Convention enjoyed talking gardening during breaks and over meals and, when they had reached an impasse, took a day’s break to go visit Bartram’s garden, well that just tickles me. Imagine all these important men hopping into their carriages to go make an impromptu visit to William Bartram.

Who is William Bartram you ask? He was a famous naturalist, plantsman and gardener and son of John Bartram a man equally famous for the same thing. Except William hobnobbed with Jefferson and Washington and Adams and the like, and received requests from England and Europe for American plants and seeds. He also published a number of books about his travels and produced some gorgeous botanic and ornithological drawings and paintings.

And while it is all so very interesting reading about America’s founders and their passion for plants, I have suddenly found myself fascinated by William Bartram, a man I had never heard of before. And so today I had a little bit of a flurry requesting books from the library about and by Bartram. I don’t know why Bartram has wiggled my imagination and interest, but he has.

And this, my friends, is the danger of reading. You read happily along and then, wham! You are struck by a sudden need to know more about someone or something in your book. And the reading pile grows ever taller.

So consider yourselves forewarned, you’ll be hearing more about William Bartram in the coming weeks. And if you have ever been to Bartram’s garden, feel free to tell me how wonderful it is so I can envy you and curse your good fortune.

Filed under: Books, History, In Progress Tagged: Andrea Wulf, William Bartram

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22. July Reading

It was not the garden I disappeared into last night, Bookman and I had an evening out! We saw Move Live on Tour, a ballroom and contemporary dance performance/concert starring brother and sister Derek and Julianne Hough. It was sold out and even though we bought tickets the afternoon they went on sale, our seats were in the middle of the very last row, so high up we were looking down on the stage. It was still lots of fun though and the dancing was amazing. But you aren’t hear to read about that so let’s talk books!

Can you believe it is July already? We are over halfway through the year. It feels like I have read hardly anything but I know that is not true. In spite of all the time spent in the garden in June, reading went fairly well. I am about to begin chapter seven of Founding Gardeners. I am enjoying the book very much and it is hard to not rush right through it. It is such a fascinating way to look at history, I never imagined how much a person’s theory about gardening and agriculture could affect one’s politics but there is is at the very beginning of the United States. Actually, when I think about it I am surprised that I am surprised because my gardening practices and political views are indeed linked. I, however, am not founding a country so haven’t spent much time thinking about the broader picture like Washington and Jefferson did.

I didn’t get far in But What by Judith Herzberg in June. Reading Antigone Poems through a couple times put a damper on reading other poetry. But Herzberg will get attention in July for sure.

I had also planned on reading Euripides’ play Medea in June but that didn’t happen either. I got sidetracked by a few books I’d been waiting for in the library hold queue coming in and demanding my attention. July might not be any less crowded with must read library books, but I will certainly try to keep Medea in view.

One of those have to read books is My Struggle: Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard. It gets off to a great start and then gets a bit boggy in the middle before it begins to pick up again. Just at that point I had to return it to the library because I was out of time! The book is much longer than I expected. But I immediately requested another copy and with luck I should have it again next week after only a two week break.

Another of the have to read library books that arrived last week is The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. It is an essay collection that actually made it onto the bestseller lists for a few weeks. It is also published by Graywolf Press, a local independent publisher. It is a series of essays that explore the concept of empathy. I have read the first one and, wow, was it ever good. I have high expectations for the rest of the book.

About a week and a half ago I also started reading Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. This is only the second Mieville book I have read and I am enjoying it quite a lot, which means I will have to gradually work my way through reading all of his books. One of the things I really enjoy is that he just starts telling the story without a huge world-building info-dump. You are suddenly in this very alien world with all sorts of real alien beings and you just have to go with it and trust the author won’t let you down. And he doesn’t let you down. Eventually all begins to make sense and the more sense it makes the weirder it is which is interesting and exciting as the story veers into unforeseen directions.

I am expecting another have to read library book in the next few days, Gathering Moss: a Natural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I read and loved her book Braiding Sweetgrass earlier this year. I have been waiting patiently for Gathering Moss since April. Who would have thought a book about moss would be so popular? But there you go.

And if I can manage it, I hope to get to a book from my own shelves that I have meant to read for ages: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. I was inspired to finally pick it up after Whispering Gums wrote a wonderful blog post on Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, a book I have read a very long time ago. I almost tossed over Stegner for Woolf, but Woolf will wait patiently until August.

So there is July. And no doubt there will be a few unplanned books that make their way in but that is all part of the fun.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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23. Coming Home to Roost

The other day when I was talking about my July reading plans didn’t I say there would likely be a few surprises? Well those surprises arrived today at the library. Oh, you know, the usual routine: you place a hold request on a book a month, two months, three months ago. You are number 87 in line, number 50, number 48. And your turn comes up for every single one of them at the same time. The chickens came home to roost today.

I am already frantically reading two books I can’t renew, The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison and The Gardener of Versailles by Alain Baraton. Now add to that Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Attracting Native Pollinators by the Xerxes Society, 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri, and In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen.

I am well into The Empathy Exams and liking it very much. I am also a good way into The Gardener of Versailles, a fun book about gardening and the history of Versailles from the current gardener-in-chief who has been employed there for over 30 years. But because I have to finish these two books first, I will be delayed in starting the other books.

The other books, Gathering Moss is about moss. Attracting Native Pollinators is about what its title says and is much longer and in-depth than the filled with photos and lists gardening book I expected. 3 Sections is the poetry book that most recently won the Pulitzer Prize. I read the first poem and I think I am really going to like it. And In Paradise is Peter Matthiessen’s final book, a novel that takes place in 1996 at a weeklong retreat at a concentration camp where the 100 participants meditate on the train platform and offer prayer and witness at the crematoria.

I have my reading cut out for me!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I had better go get started.

Filed under: In Progress, Library

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24. August Reading

I didn’t plan to skip posting yesterday but after I got through all my email and myriad other tasks that I have been neglecting and could no longer put aside, I found myself out of time for blogging. Sure I could have skipped my nightly workout but when you work at a job where your day is spent mostly sitting, skipping a workout is not a good idea for both mental and physical health reasons. This evening I was going to tell you about a really good poetry book I just read but my commute home was rather sapping due to the Twins baseball game going in to extra innings and all of them trying to get home while all of us who worked all day were also trying to get home. Playing at sardines does not make for a happy metro ride home. But enough of all that, I’m going for easy tonight and what could be easier than talking about what I’d like to read in August?

Actually, it isn’t easy at all. I managed to read quite a bit in July including a book on growing your own mushrooms to review for Library Journal. I have a bunch of recently finished books to write about, but I didn’t really get to all that I had planned read. I didn’t once pick up the Judith Herzog book of poetry. Nor did I get to Medea or Angle of Repose.

After a three-week hiatus from My Struggle, Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard because I had to return it to the library, no renewals, I managed to get a copy from the university library. I picked up where I left off a few nights ago and I dunno. The book started off great but the more I read, the more I began to lose interest. Then I had to take a break from it and now that I have it again I am finding it hard to care. I am well over halfway through the book, almost two-thirds of the way, and I have lost whatever point there might have been to the book. I have ceased to really care about Karl Ove and his struggles that aren’t really struggles at all but more like part of the middle class human experience. I know Knausgaard is being talked about as a kind of modern day Proust, but at least Proust turned his life into something interesting and he wrote a lot better too. So I am having a dilemma. I am so far committed to this book do I just give up on it? Or, if I stick with it until the end will it manage to redeem itself?

Gathering Moss came in for me at the library and I started reading that and will continue. My goodness moss is fascinating! I have some patches of moss growing in the shade under the apple trees in my front yard and this book makes me want to buy a magnifying glass and go out and peer at the them. My neighbors probably already think I am crazy so seeing me kneeling in the dirt with my face near the ground would likely only provoke a raised eyebrow.

My turn has also come up for Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. I haven’t had the chance to start it yet. Perhaps I should give My Struggle the heave ho and dive into this instead?

Meanwhile, Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? is waiting for me to pick up at the library and The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert and Mindfulness in the Garden: Zen Tools for Digging in the Dirt by Zachiah Murray are both in transit to my library and will be ready for me to pick up in a day or two. So the more I think about it, the closer I am getting to returning My Struggle. Actually, I think I will unless one of you who have read it tell me I should stick with it because the funeral of Karl Ove’s dad and everything that comes after is that amazing. If no one tells me that, then back to the library it goes and Knausgaard gets a check in the overhyped book category.

Currently on my Kindle, which has been very well behaved since I zapped it back to its original factory settings, I am reading Willa Cather’s book of short stories The Troll Garden published in 1905. I believe this is her first book of published fiction. I am enjoying it though if I hadn’t already read a number of Cather novels and fallen in love with her, I don’t think this book would make me want to read more. Not that it is bad, it is just very early and undeveloped.

With all those books on my plate and very likely a few that are not even on my radar at the moment, I won’t be surprised if come September I have a long list of books I didn’t manage to get to. But then who knows? Perhaps I will have a wild reading frenzy. It could happen.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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25. Hardy Har Har

Almost two weeks ago now I started reading Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. I’ve not ever read Hardy before. I know! I have seen a movie version of Tess a very long time ago, does that count? Anyway, whenever I’ve mentioned Hardy on this blog over the years I’ve gotten two reactions:

  1. He’s sooo good, you have to read him!
  2. He’s really depressing so be prepared

The so good and the really depressing even come from the same people, implying that depressing does not mean a bad book. So when I began Far from the Madding Crowd I was expecting a really good book that is also a downer. Maybe it’s me, or maybe this is Hardy’s only non-depressing book, but I’ve been laughing while reading it. Laughing a lot. This I did not expect and was confused at first, worried perhaps I was misreading or something. But no, Hardy is funny. How can this not make you laugh?

Oak sighed a deep honest sigh—none the less so in that, being like the sigh of a pine plantation, it was rather noticeable as a disturbance of the atmosphere.

Or this:

‘Come, Mark Clark—come. Ther’s plenty more in the barrel,’ said Jan. ‘Ay—that I will, ’tis my only doctor,’ replied Mr. Clark, who, twenty years younger than Jan Coggan, revolved in the same orbit. He secreted mirth on all occasions for special discharge at popular parties.

Or that one man in the neighborhood is known only as “Susan Tall’s husband” because he has no distinguishing characteristics of his own. I find myself giggling every time Susan Tall’s husband shows up, which isn’t often enough if you ask me, but I suppose you have to play lightly with that joke or it will wear itself out too quickly.

It’s not like Hardy’s humor slaps you in the face, it is pretty subtle most of the time. It doesn’t make me laugh out loud but it does make me grin. I’m far enough along to know there is trouble ahead for Bathsheba, but I’m not sure that it will be enough to turn everything depressing. Am I safe to put my hanky away or should I keep it in reserve?

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Thomas Hardy

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