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1. What to Make of It?

I’m seventy-five pages into my review copy of Francine Prose’s new book Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 and I’m just not sure what to make of it. It is one of those novels told in multiple voices with sometimes very distant perspectives to the main course of the plot. Most of the telling happens through documents — letters, chapters from a biography, newspaper stories, chapters from a memoir of some kind — but sometimes there is a chapter of regular narrative storytelling. This sort of approach I generally have no issues with, I often like the variety of perspective such a style has to offer. But this time I am struggling with it.

My struggles aren’t because I am having trouble following along or keeping things straight. My struggle comes from how contrived and same-y it feels. Prose can’t seem to find different voices for the different perspectives so they all come across as too much alike. And the letters, ugh! The letters are being written by only one character to his parents, a young man from Hungary who has gone to Paris to try and make his name as a photographer. This is 1924 and the guy is writing stuff to his parents that I wouldn’t write to mine in 2014! Plus the style in which he writes is not a correspondence style, or rather, each letter begins that way but as soon as he starts telling his parents what he has been up to it turns into a regular prose narrative with dialogue conversations that end with a plea for money and a sign off from the loving son. In addition, there are so many different narratives it is getting a bit cacophonous.

And now I find myself wondering if I should even keep reading. The story isn’t bad but it hasn’t grabbed me either. It is all just so-so. I am on the fence over whether I should give it another twenty pages or if I should call it quits because so-so isn’t good enough at the moment and King Lear is taunting me because I know I will love it since it is a reread that I loved the first time around. It is easy to give up on bad books or good books I am definitely not getting along with, but giving up on so-so books is harder because there is still the hope that maybe it will get better in ten more pages. But that can end up being a trap when after ten pages it still isn’t getting better but maybe in ten more. See me talking myself into making this book a DNF? The fence is starting to wobble.


Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Francine Prose

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2. It’s Not a Slump, Just a Breather

Since I finished Wendy Lesser’s book and returned it to the library and The Critic in the Modern World and submitted my review, I have been relieved and happy to be out from under the pressure of deadlines. Now, I can read whatever I want to! Except I haven’t been reading.

That’s not exactly true. I have been reading, only it’s not been throw-myself-into-a-book reading. It has been reading on my public transit commute and during my lunch break at work and for 15-20 minutes in bed before turning out the light. I have been reading only George R.R. Martin’s Feast for Crows (my commute and lunch book) and Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great (one or two essays before bed). I am enjoying both of them very much, don’t get me wrong, but when I think, oh I will start that Francine Prose book, I can’t bring myself to do it. I pick it up, I look at it, and then put it back down. Maybe tomorrow, I tell myself.

I worried a little yesterday and today that I have fallen into a reading slump. I’ve not had one of those in a very long time. But it doesn’t have the feel of a slump. It is more like a breather. A few days to catch my breath before launching into a new book or two. And with just that little change of framing, I feel so much better. Silly as it sounds, the thought of a slump was kind of making me a little stressed. But this being a breather and not a slump, well, that’s no big deal. The weekend is coming and there will be lots of time to spend reading lots of different books.

There was a slight moment of panic when I got home from work and checked my email to see I had one from Library Journal informing me I had a new review assignment. I just turned in a review and figured it would be quite some time before my turn came around to do another review. And of course, it is another short due date: April 24th. And I have not received the book in the mail yet (it’s on the way the email assures me). But this book will be a piece of cake. It’s a gardening book! An entire book on seed saving. That should be pretty good. I hope.

And after writing about my breather I actually feel like doing some reading. Off I go while the mood is still upon me.


Filed under: In Progress

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3. Guilty

I’m a little over 80% of the way through David Copperfield. I give you a percentage because I am reading it on my Kindle and I have no idea what this looks like in terms of the print book. I am enjoying the book very much but I have come to a place where I feel guilty.

You see earlier in the book David met and fell in love with Dora. Dora is an affectionate airhead and so completely the wrong woman for David. But youth and love and youth in love don’t always make the best choices. And so David marries her in spite me repeatedly telling him not to. It is so frustrating when characters do not obey one’s wishes! And of course the marriage is a disaster, though David doesn’t realize it at first while in the clutches of newlywed bliss. But as time goes on and Dora refuses to act anything other than a child, he regrets his choice. He loves her still, but he wishes he had someone with sense with whom he could actually talk about things.

While David continues to love Dora in spite of all, she is nails on a chalkboard to me and I just want to slap her. Hard. I, of course, know exactly who David should marry. And so I have been reading and hoping that maybe something will happen to Dora. I thought she could die in childbirth and that would be just fine.

Then we are told she has a baby, but the baby was sickly and dies very soon after birth. Dora, however, never quite recovers and she begins a slow decline. I almost cheered. Dora’s going to die and David can marry the right person, hooray! And then I felt really, really guilty. As Dora goes downhill she makes me feel worse and worse for wishing her dead. For in her decline she remains cheerful, sunny, and affectionate which shows she has some strength of character in there after all. In my wish for her demise I am no better than the wicked Uriah Heep!

If Dora’s death turns out to be an affecting scene that brings tears to my eyes I am not sure if that will mean I can be forgiven for wishing her ill or that I am being punished for it by being made to cry in public (this being my commute book I am always in public while reading it). Perhaps I should start carrying a handkerchief I can throw over my face like they do in the book. No one will know what I am doing under that handkerchief! I might even frighten enough people that the transit police will show up to talk to me. Wouldn’t that be exciting? They’d haul me off for a psych eval if I tell them I am upset over my book. Would serve me right I guess for wishing Dora dead.


Filed under: Books, Charles Dickens, In Progress

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4. March Reading

Happy March! Was February a really long month for you? It was for me. And March continues on just like February. It was -4F (-20C) while I waited for the bus this morning. We have now managed to gain the rank of ninth coldest winter on record in the Twin Cities. We have more snow than average and we have had 50 days so far where temperatures have fallen below zero (-18C). So in celebration of this lovely weather, here is some Minnesota poetry for you:

It’s winter in Minnesota
And gentle breezes blow
Seventy miles an hour
At thirty-five below.

Oh, how I love Minnesota
When the snow’s up to your butt
You take a breath of winter
And your nose gets frozen shut.

Yes, the weather here is wonderful
So I guess I’ll hang around
I could never leave Minnesota
I’m frozen to the ground.

At least with the weather so cold February was a good month for reading. I am almost done with David Copperfield. Will be done by the end of the week I suspect. Then my next fat book is A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin, the third book in the Game of Thrones series.

I am still reading Vital Signs: Psychological Responses to Ecological Crisis. I am close to being done though, just four more essays. It’s a really good and thought provoking book.

Old Goriot by Balzac is still on the go too. The book does not allow one to read it very quickly, which is fine especially since I am enjoying it. I am up to the part where Rastignac has just found out that Goriot is not spending all his money on keeping mistresses but from paying his daughters’ debts. The cruelty of everyone in the boardinghouse toward Goriot is astonishing, I feel so sorry for the poor man.

I did finish reading Memories of the Unknown by Rutger Kopland. It is a wonderful poetry collection I will write about tomorrow.

What’s ahead for March then aside from finishing those books I have already mentioned? I began reading Landscape with Rowers, a small poetry anthology/selection of Dutch poets put together by J.M. Coetzee.

Because of Grad I started reading The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. It’s a beautiful nature journal and artist’s notebook that helps me mentally escape winter for just a little while.

I also have from the library Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine, a multi-genre work I am excited about reading. And sometime during the month my turn will come up at the library for Wendy Lesser’s new book Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books. Really looking forward to it!

That should keep me busy in March. And with luck, the month will end much warmer than it has begun and perhaps actually start to feel like spring.


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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5. Happy Spring!

Happy first day of spring! And to those of you south of the equator, happy first day of autumn!

While February crept along, March is flying by. My reading has gotten a bit discombobulated. Over a year ago I applied to review books for a library publication and didn’t hear anything from them. Then early last week I got an email to tell me a book was on the way and I have to have it read and reviewed by April 1st! The book didn’t arrive until the end of the week. And while it is not a big fat novel, it is a just over 200 page book of essays about the history of the modern critic. The author and I aren’t getting along from the get go which doesn’t make the reading easy. Good thing I have a deadline or I would take forever to finish this book.

Of course this book came at the same time my turn for Wendy Lesser’s new book came up. And of course I am enjoying Why I Read so much more than my assigned book that I will be having to do some assigned reading cramming over the coming weekend.

Waiting in the wings after these is a review copy of the new Francine Prose book, Lovers and the Chameleon Club. Prose will be in town in early May doing a reading at the public library so I figured this was one review copy I could agree to reading.

I must say though that I am surprised I made it this far into the year before my multitude of books in progress have made me feel a bit overwhelmed. My month-to-month planning is working pretty good. Once I get my assigned review book done I will feel much better again. I am grateful that it is only a short review of 200 words I have to write — piece of cake! I hope.

Now I want to leave you with a good laugh in case you missed the story. A man in Bristol discovered he’d been scammed by a man who sold him a PS3 console online which never was delivered. To get back at the scammer, he copied the complete works of Shakespeare and pasted them into one giant text message. You know how long text messages get broken up? Well, the scammer will be getting about 29,305 texts. It’s brilliant!


Filed under: In Progress

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6. April Reading Plans

Happy April! March roared by, didn’t it? We had our first April shower this morning. Of course it came down in the form of snow but we didn’t get much and it has melted away already. We still have snow on the ground though. It takes a long time to melt that which has accumulated since November of last year. But it is going fast.

Love is also in the air. On my way home from work my bus stopped for a light and I looked out the window to see five boy robins and one girl robin in a tree. All but one boy seemed more interested in trying to chase the others away than getting the girl. The one robin focused on the girl did not make a good impression because as soon as he landed on her branch she flew away. You could see all five disappointed robin heads looking wistfully at her tail feathers disappearing through the trees.

Also in the air is poetry. Happy National Poetry Month! I have mixed feelings about poetry month. I love it because poetry. I hate it because poetry should be read and celebrated all year, not just in April. I’m going to celebrate the month by kidnapping Patrick Stewart from the Poetry and the Creative Mind Gala in New York on the 24th. I’ll be taking him to an undisclosed location also known as my basement where I will keep him prisoner and make him read poetry to me until his voice gives out or I get arrested whichever comes first.

Reading plans for April do involve poetry though. I started reading Landscape with Rowers last month. The book is a slim collection of Dutch poets put together by J.M. Coetzee. It has six poets and each poet is represented by one long multi-part poem. I am reading the book along with my friend Cath who lives in the Netherlands and I am very glad to be sharing it with her. She is an insightful reader who helped me make sense of Gerrit Achterberg’s “Ballad of the Gasfitter.” We will likely finish this book before the end of the month. I am not sure what poetry collection I will take up after that. Perhaps I will finally get to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

I started reading A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin about the middle of last month and I am about halfway through. After the previous book in the series which was momentous event after momentous event, this one seems rather tame. But at the same time I am enjoying it immensely because many of the women in the series are making their own bids for power.

I am also still in the midst of Old Goriot by Balzac. I didn’t give it much time in March. I am blaming the unexpected review assignment I was given. All I can say is, I am enjoying it. I am reading it along with Danielle and bless her, she has been as distracted from it lately as I have so I don’t feel so very guilty.

New books I will be starting during the month include Francine Prose’s newest Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. This is a review copy. Prose will be coming to Minneapolis in early May so I figured I’d read her book before I see her.

I also hope to read Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine. It is a mixed genre book of poetry, essay, and I think, memoir published in 2004 by the Twin Cities’ own Graywolf Press.

And finally, because I am so very greedy when it comes to just one more book to read, Bookman and I are going to read King Lear together. It will be a reread for me and a first time for him. And if I still have Patrick Stewart in my basement he will be forced to read some of Lear’s awesome speeches. After we finish reading the play we plan on watching a movie of it so if you have a favorite film version let me know!

That’s enough reading for April. I will be lucky if I get through half of it but I’m willing to give it a try.


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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7. All in a Day’s Reading

I am so glad the Olympics are over since they will no longer be a distraction from reading and blogging. Well almost done being a distraction since I have the closing ceremony on as I am typing this.

I did manage to get some good reading in yesterday though. Here’s a little conversation Bookman, who had to work yesterday, and I had at dinner:

B: So what did you do today?

Me: I biked over to the library and picked up a couple books that I had on hold.

B: What are they?

Me: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava and World Enough by Maureen McLane, the author of the My Poets book that I am enjoying so much. She’s a poet too so I thought I’d see what kind of poet she is.

B: Yeah? And you didn’t like it?

Me: Oh no, I read the first poem and loved it so I had to read a couple more. And then I started reading Naked Singularity too. It’s really good so far, I’m on about page 30. Oh, and then I started reading The Clarice Lispector book I already had from the library, The Hour of the Star. It’s really good too but it’s the kind of writing that is really dense and beautiful and has to be read slowly and not too much at one time. I read about ten pages.

B: How many books did you read today?

Me: Just those three. Oh wait, no, I also read a couple chapters of My Poets.

B: Is that all you read? (I was oblivious to the sarcasm dripping off that ‘all’)

Me: I also read an article too called “Happyism” about how a branch of economics thinks it can somehow quantify happiness but their methods are faulty.

B: *heavy sarcasm* No, you don’t have a problem

Me: Blank stare

B: ROFL

And then the conversation pretty much degraded into juvenile “No I don’ts” and “yes you dos.”

Want to know the really funny part though? Before I went to sleep last night I had spent time reading two more books, The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan. All in a day’s reading.

No, I don’t have a problem.


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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8. Book Nattering

I did not intend to take an unannounced break but I was able to fly out to California for my grandma’s funeral. The services were exactly right and though we were all sad, I feel like it was also a celebration of her life. Thank you all once again for the numerous kind thoughts and comments. You are all so very wonderful.

Since it wasn’t a vacation, airplane reading was a bit weird. I wanted to read but nothing really appealed so I ended up reading a London Review of Books on the way out and another on the way home. Which means, for the moment, I am caught up on my LRBs.

Monday was a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and I had the day home from work. I watched President Obama’s inauguration with special anticipation for the poem by Richard Blanco. I liked it! It is a very American poem I think. Some chatter around the interwebs has noted echoes of Walt Whitman. Yes, I can hear those too, the celebration of the common, the everyday and the urgency that pervades the poem and propels it forward. I like how Blanco uses the light, sky, ground and moon to gather together all the individual pieces into one country. There is a definite feeling of e pluribus unum, out of many one, which is what the United States at its best is all about. What do you think of the poem?

I had hoped to be able to read more yesterday but I caught a cold while I was away and felt generally blah. I was able to focus for an hour or so and start reading Doctor Glas. So far I am liking this little book very much. It is written as a diary, a device that when well done I am always a sucker for. Oh, and how could I forget, I also read the introduction to Ben Yagoda’s How to Not Write Bad. He made some good jokes, but he always does. He says that there are plenty of books out there to tell you how to write well but not many that tell you how to not write bad(ly). He’s been teaching and grading for years and the book is going to focus on the mistakes he finds people make most often. It is intended for students but he also has non-students in mind he says, like bloggers and people who just want to improve their writing. I look forward to delving into the nitty-gritty shortly.

Last week I finished the third part of Margaret Atwood’s serial e-novel Positron. I liked parts one and two quite a bit but part three felt short and rushed. I suppose that is one of the dangers of serial novels.

In progress on my Kindle at the moment is The Wind in the Willows. I was in the mood for something easy and comforting. Except I never read the book when I was a kid. I had a picture book of a Frog and Toad story but I never read Wind in the Willows. Reading it for the first time as an adult, I am enjoying it, but there are also some weird things about it. Like the animals seem to keep changing size. First they are small like a water rat or mole would be but then they are riding in a coach with Toad being pulled by a horse. Wha??? And I find it rather disturbing that they eat bacon for breakfast and lobster is a dinner option. It is not magical like it would be for a child, but it is fun nonetheless.

Also in progress is Wolf Hall. I am enjoying it very much. I am reading it with Litlove and she is waiting patiently for me to finish since she has run along merrily to the end already. I’m about two-thirds of the way through.

Maybe Wolf Hall would be going along faster if I didn’t have so many other books on the go? Because in addition to all those above, I am also reading Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds, Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon (excellent book!), How We Became Posthuman by N. Katherine Hayles, and Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser. At the same time I am reading all of those, I am looking forward to when I can slip in Testing the Current by William McPherson and The Canon by Natalie Angier.

Yesterday I spent the book gift card that was burning a hole in my pocket on The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco and The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns. I have no intention of jumping into either of them when they arrive. I must get my in progress books under control. But I am looking forward to reading both of them. I just don’t know when that will be!

I could go nattering on all night but Waldo is giving me the look that says I have been at my computer too long already and I had better stop now before he takes matters into his own paws. So off I go to make a cup of tea to soothe my sore throat and I should probably read something too.


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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9. Notes on the Weekend

Just as I am over my no good horrible very bad cold, Bookman has decided it looked like such fun he’d give it a try. Only he has discovered it is no fun at all. Whereas it took me a week to progress from feeling mildly under the weather to feeling bad and two days after that to make it to horrible, he is wasting no time. He began at bad for one day and then moved right to horrible the next. While I am sorry he is ill and has a dreadfully sore throat and no voice, I must admit it is refreshing to be able to babble on and not be interrupted. It’s marvelous to be able to babble at all. Bookman is quite the yakker and it is often difficult for me to get a word in. But now, now he can do nothing but listen. Granted, he is zonked out on cold medicine so I might as well be talking to a wall, but since the wall looks remarkably like Bookman, I can delight in being The Voice in the House.

It is also a good thing Bookman hasn’t been very hungry. While this girl can make a production in the kitchen for Solstice, when it comes to every day cooking, she is a fish out of water. Canned soup is a blessing. So is cereal. In two moments of lucidity Bookman did manage to make waffles for breakfast today and pizza for lunch, but I think it was because he was desperate for something besides cereal and soup.

Between his naps this weekend he managed to read Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel. Through gesturing, he assures me it is funny and he laughed a lot even if it wasn’t out loud because his throat hurt too much. He decided to read the book because he needed something light and because he found out it is coming out as movie in November of this year. He has now passed the book over to me and indicated I had to read it as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, I am in the middle of too many other books to start that one at the moment. One of the downsides of having as many books on the go at once as I do is sometimes I find myself in the middle of all of them and nowhere near the end of any of them. While I don’t read in order to check books off a list or tot up the numbers, there is a certain satisfaction in finishing a book. When I find myself stuck in the middle of everything I am reading I get a bit of the doldrums. There is no excitement of starting something new and no pleasure in completion. This doesn’t happen very often, thank goodness, but when it does it is a bit of a downer even when I am enjoying what I am in the middle of. The book I am closest to finishing is The Canon by Natalie Angier and I still have about 150 or so pages until the end. I am liking it very much but hope to have it done by the end of the week or sooner.

Other things I read this weekend include the novel Testing the Current by William McPherson which is all kinds of good but slow reading. And I read some of How We Became Posthuman by N. Katherine Hayles. That book too requires slow and careful reading because it’s a thinking sort of book. I also read some good essays and reviews in both the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. On these both I am woefully behind the rate of their arrival. I was all caught up at the beginning of the year but have now slipped so I am two issues behind the current one for them both. I’m feeling like I need a nice long vacation just to catch up on my reading! I have to remember to buy a lottery ticket once it gets up to an obscene jackpot amount. If you recall, one of goals for 2013 is to win the lottery so I can quit my job and read all the time. I am aiming to achieve this in early April for the best birthday present ever. Don’t scoff. It could happen.

Ok, I have to cut the rambling short this evening. I need to go make myself a lunch for tomorrow because I can’t count on Bookman being able to make it for me in the morning. Then I have to set the coffee pot timer and generally get all my ducks in a row so I can get out the door on time sans assistance. After that I should be able to read for a bit before going to sleep.


Filed under: Books, In Progress, Rambling

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10. September Reading

Ah, September. Back to school, shorter days and longer nights, migrating geese and monarch butterflies, the stuttering transition to autumn. I am ready for cool, crisp days and chilly nights, chilly nights where I can sit beneath the glow of a lamp with a book while sipping a cup of hot chocolate. I will no longer feel guilty about drinking hot chocolate because it is scientifically proven to be good for me. So bring on the cold weather!

When those chilly nights do arrive, what might I be reading? At the rate I’m going it will still be Crisis of the European Mind. It’s not a bad book, it really isn’t. Though I’ve been talking about it for so long you all are probably beginning to suspect I am not telling the truth. I had hoped to finish it by now and I have made progress. I’m almost two-thirds of the way through. The book just resists being read fast. But I am sure September will be the last month I tell you I am still reading it. Of course I said that last month too, but this time I really mean it!

I will still be reading the Collected Poems of Edward Thomas as well. I have made progress here too. But it is fat for a poetry book (collected poems means every single poem the guy wrote and he wrote a lot!) and while the poems aren’t especially difficult, they are poems that ask you to be in the moment, to hear the wind in the trees and feel the sun on your face, and smell the fresh mown meadow. You cannot rush something like that.

Those two books are my only carry overs from last month so in spite of everything I am feeling pretty good about my reading. Which means I have been suffering major temptations to request a bunch of books from the library and start them all in addition to several already on my shelves. But so far I have mostly resisted and I must say it pains me a little.

Two books I have brought home from the library are Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child and Trojan Women and Other Plays by Euripides. I have two copies of the Hoban, one with the original drawings by Hoban’s wife and one with more recent illustrations. I thought it would be fun to compare. And since this is a children’s book, I don’t expect it to take so very long to read once I start it. And Euripides, well, I realized with guilt the other day that I have not read a single play this year and my plan to have most all of Euripides read by the end of the year was not going to happen unless I actually had a few plays on hand demanding to be read. So there it is.

Then, of course, there is the RIP Challenge to keep in mind. I am about two-thirds of the way through Northanger Abbey and am having so much fun. The book is hilarious. Austen was a comic genius. I’ve been having so much fun reading it Bookman has even started it and has also been enjoying it very much. Also for RIP, I just began The Infernals by John Connolly. I was laughing in delight in less than two complete sentences.

I’ve been in the mood to read essays but haven’t had a chance to squeeze in a book yet. I have the Julian Barnes essays I bought the other day and I have come very close to requesting other books of essays from the library. But I realized I have Auden’s essays that I started so very long ago and haven’t picked up since I don’t know when, so I expect I will be doing that sometime this month.

Then there is Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam that will be landing in my mailbox tomorrow from Barnes and Noble. I am very much looking forward to it and reviews have so far been pretty positive, at least from what I have glanced at because I haven’t read one in full not wanting to know too much about the book be fore I dive in. I’ve read and enjoyed the first two and that’s all I need to know.

There we go, September’s reading card, all filled up.


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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11. October Reading

In light of my recent list-making musings and the myriad ways TBR lists fail, I am going to attempt an experiment! Get out your bunsen burner, sytlish safety goggles and lead apron and stand back! No, never mind, explosions are not likely to happen and if they do they will be small so maybe just stand back a little.

You know once a month or so I like to post about what I am reading and what I hope to read in the next few weeks? You know it’s always a lot of books. And you know I am usually in the middle of reading them all at once. You are probably now thinking that my experiment is going to be to read one book at a time. *shudder* No, I said I was going to do an experiment not attempt the impossible. The experiment part is in prioritizing, limiting my choices, and making a commitment.

So here goes.

  • The Selected Poems of Edward Thomas. Ha! I am still reading this one. Whatever possessed me to think I could whip through a book of poetry? No, poetry is never, ever to be rushed. So, no more guilt about this long lingering book. I am reading it, just a few poems at a time. I will continue reading it but commit to ten poems a week. My bookmark is currently at poem number 49 and there are 144 poems in the book which means there are 95 poems left for me to read. At ten a week that’s nine weeks which puts me at finishing up the first week of December. Doable!
  • Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. I am about 80% of the way through the book and reading it regularly since it is my commute and lunchtime reading during the week. It is quite marvelous and I am enjoying it immensely. I am currently amused by how one is supposed to be able to tell a person’s character by his or her countenance. A beautiful face equals a good character and vice versa. Except our heroine Emily has found evidence that this is not always the case but she manages to ignore the evidence nonetheless.

    The other thing that is occupying my thoughts as I read the book at the moment is what happened to her beloved little dog? After her father died and she had to move to her aunt’s house she took her father’s favorite dog with her. He shows up a few times but has now disappeared entirely. I am surprised the dog lasted as long as it did really as it never seemed to be fed or taken outside to do its doggie business somewhere other than the carpet. Poor pup.

Anyway, this book will be finished probably by the end of next week.

  • I finished reading The Other by Thomas Tryon over the weekend. So good! A full post on that tomorrow. I had begun reading my next NYRB subscription book from July a week or so ago but it has been pushed aside temporarily for the NYRB October selection: The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf. It’s a classic horror story and I just have to read it this month because of the RIP Challenge and because it is such a perfect time of year for it. The book is slim and I am certain I will have no trouble finishing it by the end of the month.
  • Now comes the hard part: prioritizing and making realistic choices for books I have not yet begun reading.

    • Enquiry Into the Sublime and Beautiful by Edmund Burke. I would like to read this to go along with Mysteries of Udolpho and all of its sublime this and sublime that. It may end up being more of a skim, if one can skim Burke. Dipping in might be a better way to put it.
    • The reading list for the Plagues, Witches, and War historical fiction mooc class I am taking (starts in 2 weeks!) is up and there is lots of reading. I do not plan on reading all the novels but even just reading the assigned excerpts will take much of my time. Then there is the supplemental reading, the articles and essays that go along with the main course. I do want to read all of that. For eight weeks then the reading for this class will be my main focus.
    • Should I have time amidst all that — you never know, it could happen! — I will embark on reading Hecuba by Euripides. I am not expecting to have time, but just in case.

    There is the reading plan for October into early November. I am unsure whether I will be able to stick to it or not. Time will tell. If it is a success I will try again in November. If it fails, I’ll just pretend like it never happened. Plan, what plan? The one I posted about? Oh that! That wasn’t a plan, that was just — I don’t know what it was exactly but I’m sure it wasn’t a plan. See what I am up against? I am already attempting sabotage!


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    12. Happy Halloween!

    Ah, my first day back to work after my mini-vacation. Am I allowed to be really glad tomorrow is Friday? In honor of Halloween I “dressed up” with cat ears. One of my coworkers told me I should get some brown ones (the ones I wore today were black) and I could wear them everyday. She said my curly hair hides the headband so the ears just stick up and look like they belong. So apparently I rock the cat ears. Who knew.

    I read Hecuba yesterday by Euripides. What an awesome play! Don’t have the brain power to write about it tonight though but soon!

    I had to give up on one of the books for my historical fiction MOOC. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane was going just fine. I wasn’t enamored but it was enjoyable and then there was such a big mistake in it. The mistake? The main character, Connie, at the request of her mother out west, drives to a small town an hour away from Boston to clear out and try to sell the abandoned for twenty years house of her grandmother. Connie takes a friend with her and her friend asks if she knew her grandmother very well. Connie says she has no real memories of her, that her mother said the grandmother visited frequently when she was a child but she died before Connie was old enough to get to know her. Then not ten pages later Connie is recalling a Christmas when her grandmother came to visit and brought her a handmade sweater with one arm longer than the other. Say what? I thought she didn’t have any memories of her grandmother? I am so annoyed by this that I can’t continue with the book. So I am going to move on to Fever by Mary Beth Keane and hopefully have better luck.

    In honor of the day, enjoy some photos of literary pumpkins. And if you, like me, prefer your pumpkins carved, here are a few more.


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    13. November Reading Plan

    Happy November! Did October just fly by? Why is it spring arrives so slowly and fall careens in, teeters for a moment on the precipice, and then plunges right into winter? Winter hasn’t arrived just yet but my local weather forecaster reminded me the other day that we average 9 inches (23 cm) of snow in November. We did have a little snow a week and a half ago but it melted as soon as it hit the ground so I just pretended it was really thick rain.

    Autumn’s arrival in early October and the end of gardening did help my reading speed along. Once the snow becomes something more than thick rain, imagine all the reading I will be doing! My October reading plan was a great success. I read everything I planned to and even read Hecuba, my reserve book in case I finished all the others. This also allowed me to get back to my NYRB subscription books and read the July book, In Love by Alfred Hayes, which I just finished this afternoon. Woot! Look at me go!

    Now, planning for November, here is what’s in store:

    • The Selected Poems of Edward Thomas. Last month the plan was to read ten poems a week and finish up the book the first week of December. I am right on track. I have also read some really lovely poems. I am looking forward to sharing this book in more detail with you.
    • My MOOCs are still going. I am in deep right now with T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Including this week there are seven more weeks to go, I think. So that will continue for November. Also continuing for the month is my historical fiction class. I am in the middle of Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks and at the beginning of Fever by Mary Beth Keane. Both of these books will be finished this month.
    • Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather is also in the cards this month. I will be reading it along with Danielle. I suspect I will be starting in on it sometime next week.
    • I also plan on reading The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. The book is a gift from my friend Cath. It is the story of Elzeard Bouffier who moves to southeastern France with his sheep and dog and plants one hundred acorns a day. I am really looking forward to reading this one.
    • Since I get a four-day holiday at the end of November for Thanksgiving and won’t be traveling over the river and through the woods to anyone’s house nor will anyone be traveling to mine, I will have some extra time to indulge in reading and have high hopes of being able to partake of MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. I am very much looking forward to this and finding out how the story begun in Oryx and Crake ends.
    • And, should I have another blockbuster reading month, I will plunge into The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart. This is my August NYRB subscription book. It is, according to the back of the book, “an intoxicating tale of love and wonder, mothers and daughters, spiritual values and the grim legacy of slavery on the French Antillean Island of Guadeluope.” Sounds good, doesn’t it?

    So there is the November plan. With that my mind has skipped over December entirely and has already begun thinking about next year. I know! But I can’t help myself!


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    14. December Reading Plans

    Where did December come from? What happened to May? July? September? Did I do a Rip Van Winkle? The year can’t be almost done already!

    So far setting monthly reading priorities has gone pretty well. I thought when I sat down to write this that November had gone terribly but looking back there is only one book I didn’t read, The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart. My excuse? A library book I had on hold came my way. That’s valid, right?

    I am usually up to date with writing about books I have finished but there are two books from November I haven’t written about yet: Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse and MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. The Atwood was fantastic. The Hesse, I am still trying to puzzle it out. I think I should have read it while under the influence of mind-altering drugs and it would have made more sense. Write ups about each of the books are forthcoming.

    Books for December. I am having trouble putting together my priorities. I have the week of Christmas and the week of New Year’s off from work, that’s two full weeks, and I am inclined to cram it full with books. But I know I have a tendency to cram it too full so I back off and then worry that I haven’t planned enough. What the heck. Let’s cram!

    So while others binge on food this month, I’ll binge on books. Here’s the meal plan:

    • Bicycles: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni. She will be giving a reading at the public library on December 12th and I am planning to go. While I know who she is a search through my reading history revealed I have never read her. I began the book the other day and what a delight! I look forward to hearing her speak.
    • Burning the Midnight Oil edited by Phil Cousineau. The publisher offered this to me and I couldn’t refuse. It’s a little anthology of prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction about the night. The book is being published on the winter solstice. It is one of those perfect dipping books that has so far been very enjoyable.
    • Vital Signs, this is a book of essays on psychological responses to ecological crisis. I am not planning on rushing my way through this and finishing by the end of the month. I am taking my time and plan on finishing in January so this one is a more long-term book.
    • Singing School by Robert Pinsky. This is a book about poetry. I am next up in the hold queue at the library and it looks like my turn will come around the 17th.
    • To the Letter by Simon Garfield is another book I am waiting for at the library. The library just purchased it and as soon as they have it cataloged a copy will be mine.
    • The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke. This is the book that came in from the library that kept me from reading The Bridge of Beyond last month. It is a chunkster but so far so good. It is a science fiction novel that involves time travel and climate change. Bookman decided to read it too. One book, two readers. Watch us juggle and negotiate!
    • Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett. I started this on my Kindle a week or so ago and am enjoying it very much. A nice antidote to the Hesse.
    • The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore. Another book of comedy, this time Christmas comedy. Bookman read it last year and laughed all the way through and then foisted it on me. Seems like a good time to read it.

    And if I manage all of that, there will also be The Bridge of Beyond and Trojan Women to dive into. Also on the back burner is Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot and a biography about him by Peter Ackroyd.

    It’s a good thing reading binges are calorie-free!


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    15. Anatomy of a job: part 4

    Here's the last piece in this project, which is a smaller reply card where potential invitees are given the opportunity to donate to the theatre. This is the outside (unfolded):


    And the inside:


    Not terribly interesting visually, except maybe the cover. Still, I just love doing this sort of Photoshoppy collage sort of... stuff. Whatever you call it.



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    16. March Reading Notes

    It was 80 degrees F (26 C) here over the weekend. The first time in recorded Minneapolis weather history that we have reached 80 in March. My tulips are up, my forsythia is starting to bloom, and my spring perennials are starting to appear too. Crazy! The library where I work has not turned off the heat in the building yet and when I arrived at 7:30 this morning it was 80 degrees inside the library with no air moving around. Stifling. I live in Minnesota. I am not a hothouse flower. I wilted. Of course just near the time for me to leave for the day, the building started to cool off a bit. Tomorrow I will go to work dressed for summer and it will end up being freezing cold.

    But you aren’t here to read my complaints about building temperatures and weird weather. You are here for book talk. As usual I am in the middle of all kinds of books. I recently finished Summer by Edith Wharton and The Metamorphosis by Kafka. Both were excellent and I will post about them in the next couple of days. I read them both on my Kindle and now I am reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I decided to go with that one as my Dickens selection for my year’s reading goals when I found out from Bookman that it is his second favorite Dickens book. Since I haven’t read it before I figured I should give it a go. My, how Dickens loves the repetition of words and phrases in this book! It is a rhetorical device that must have a name but I don’t know it. You know the book starts with “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” and goes on in the “it was” pairing for a page or so. Well Dickens does this for other things too, descriptions mostly. It gets to be a bit much after awhile. When the technique gets used so often it loses its power in my opinion. I am still in the first third of the book so hopefully Mr. Dickens will chill out and find some other expressive methods to use soon.

    Saturday from the library I picked up The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. I’ve been patiently waiting my turn. It is a slim book and I am enjoying it very much. I also brought home Q’s Legacy by Helen Hanff. For this I blame Danielle who has mentioned it several times so that she finally broke down my resistance.

    I am slowly making my way in the review copy I have of Lionel Shriver’s The New Republic. It’s good, but I am finding it a bit slow and difficult to get into. I am getting a little tired of the chip-on-his-shoulder narrator and not much of anything happening when I am just shy of the halfway mark.

    I’ve been so busy trying to keep up with all the library books that can’t seem to properly space themselves out, that I haven’t gotten the chance to read another Borges story or anymore essays from Auden’s The Dyer’s Hand. I did read another Nabokov literature lecture over the weekend, the one of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It was good but not quite as satisfying as the other lectures I have read so far. I guess even Nabokov can have an off day, and really, his off day is what most normal people would consider a banner day.

    I have yet to start the Willa Cather novella, My Mortal Enemy for the Slaves discussion on March 3st. It is short so I’m pretty sure I can read in over this coming weekend. I did borrow the Library of America copy though which also has essays and other things by Cather in it thinking I could read in addition to and add some interesting insights to the discussion, but I will be surprised if this ends up happening.

    I still have Stephanie Staal’s Reading Women on my pile but if I don’t get to it soon it will have to go back to the library. Also on my pile is a book

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    17. Sometimes you get it wrong

    I spent a good amount of time lately working on a mural for one of my favorite clients. I was excited about it, not just because it's a fun kind of project to begin with, but I was also interested in further testing this new style I've been playing with. I wanted to see if I could get similar (or better) results by doing it in a vector format in Illustrator, so I even spent time just figuring out how to make a custom brush that did what I wanted.

    (As a side note, I hate referring to it as a "new style" because, to me, it sounds like I'm abandoning my old style, which I have no plans of doing. It's just fun to try new things...)

    I had planned on adding a simple label to the bottle, but didn't get that far.



    Unfortunately, I fell prey to one of the most common errors known to all illustrasigners / designastrators: I put my own creative interests ahead of what the client wants, or even what's best for the client.

    Needless to say, they said, "Er.... no. Try again."


    The white area is where a window would have gone.

    Still, even though I didn't finish, I liked what I came up with. I'm not sure I'll stay in Illustrator, though—I'm just so comfortable nowadays in Photoshop. On the other hand, many times, we need to force ourselves to do what's uncomfortable to grow. Growth isn't always easy or pretty or convenient.

    At any rate, I've started on a different look, and—fortunately—I like where that's going as well (that isn't necessarily always the case!). And who knows, I might get a chance to go down this road another time, for another client.

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    18. April Reading

    It’s the middle of April already, can you believe it? We also had snow this morning. Oh, nothing that stuck, but it was snow much to my horror. I just hope it didn’t hurt the blossoms on my apple tree or clematis. And it was 75F (24C) here yesterday. Crazy weather!

    On the book front there is lots going on as usual. Nabokov, Auden and Borges have sort of fallen by the wayside. I’m still reading them, just not actively. You know how that goes. Right? Please say that you do so I don’t feel like a dork.

    I just finished reading Lionel Shriver’s newest, The New Republic. I wasn’t wowed by it but it wasn’t bad either. More on that forthcoming.

    Because of Danielle (don’t you love it when you can blame others for your book choices?), I borrowed Helen Hanff’s Q’s Legacy from the library a couple weeks ago. It is a marvelous little book I could gulp down in one go but I’ve been drawing it out. It will soon be over though whether I want it to be or not. The Q of the title is Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch Hanff, not being able to afford college, went looking for books that would teach her how to write and landed with Q. His book On the Art of Writing is available at Project Gutenberg (as are many or his other books). It is a series of lectures he gave when he taught at Oxford. I read his introductory lecture over the weekend and oh, it is delightful in that old educated British “pip pip old chap!” way. But it isn’t stuffy, oh no, Q has a marvelous sense of humor; not the laugh out loud kind, that would be too much, but the kind that makes you smile and shake your head with amusement, droll perhaps. I look forward to reading more of the lectures and will be sure to let you know if they continue to be entertaining.

    Picked up On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks from the library on Saturday and started reading that this weekend too. I just read its opening chapter and so far Spacks and I are getting on great together. Hers is not a light and breezy book though. Spacks is an academic, and while the book is for a general audience, she writes like and academic except without all the jargon. This is not a bad thing, only, if you want something cozy, she is not your gal. I find her style engaging and the questions she proposes to explore interesting. Among those questions are: what kind of security does rereading offer and how can it provide security at all? What possibility of surprise is there in rereading? What is the role of memory? Given that books change when we reread them, or rather, that we change, what does this say about the limits of interpretation? What does rereading tell us about reading?

    I am hoping the book lives up to the promising start.

    A little over a week ago I got an email from the library saying that my turn to download Murakami’s 1Q84 had arrived. I must have placed the hold request so long ago I have no recollection of even making it. I downloaded the book and started reading it after I finished Tale of Two Cities early last week. Even reading it a little bit every day I am only at the 10% mark. Am I right that this is kind of fat book in print? Because the way library lending works on the Kindle I’ll be able to keep reading the book even after the due date passes as long as I don’t turn on the wifi. I know right now I will be going past the due date and have been drilling it into my head every time I pick up my Kindle, “don’t turn on the wifi,” so when it matters I won’t forget. I hope.

    Anyway, it’s a good book. I am enjoying it thus far. There are two storylines going on told between alternating chapters. One is about a woman hit man or maybe assassin is better since she is not a man. The other is about a man who is a math teacher by day and an aspiring writer by night. So far there has been no Murakami we

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    19. Resolved

    You may never guess it due to my calm, cool and always in control exterior, but behind the scenes I’m scrambling around trying to keep all the plates spinning, like this:

    Only without a fancy costume and a whole troop of people but just as many plates. Ok, not plates but books, book spinning, a whole new art! I’m considering quitting my day job and joining up with the circus. My act is sure to be a hit. Please stop by when the big top comes to your town, I’d love to meet you.

    What has brought me to this mildly distressing plate book spinning juncture is two things: not buying books and reading at whim.

    My TBR pile is so large, I’ve been really careful since last winter about not buying books. There have only been a couple of book splurges and while my TBR pile has grown, it has grown in such an incrementally small way that it hasn’t really been all that noticeable.

    But, there is a dark side.

    Instead of running out and buying new books, I am running to the library instead. The trouble with this is that the books I request from the library are usually new ones that have holds on them or are in the process of being purchased so I have to wait. And then I forget about them while I continue adding more book requests. Then I borrow other books “while I’m waiting.” And before I know it, I have a big list of outstanding requests and watch in horror as my turn starts to come around for them not one at a time, but in waves. And of course I am in the middle of all the other books I had borrowed while I was waiting. I keep telling myself I need to stop placing hold requests, but when I see I am hold number 250, I think, “well, I won’t get that one for at least three or four months or more and by then I’ll be done with all these other books.” That may be so, and if I only did that with one or two books I’d be ok. Do you see how this works and how I get myself into trouble?

    All this time I am reading at whim, a supposedly good thing according to Alan Jacobs. And it would be, I am sure it would be, if I weren’t ignoring the TBR pile of books I bought on a whim over the years.

    As much as I enjoy reading at whim, I also think there is value in having a reading plan like that one in my sidebar I made for 2012. The plan serves as a reminder that there are books and authors I’d like to read. I would read them on a whim if I didn’t always have so many other books on the go from my library hold list. While I have read a couple of the books on my 2012 list, I have not been very good at following it. If only there was a long hold list for Virginia Woolf or Nabokov, then I’d manage to read them! I am particularly disappointed I have yet to read more than one book for the science writing by women project I was so excited about. I’m still excited about it, but, but, but….

    Obviously whim buying has turned into whim borrowing. And oddly, when I never feel compelled to read books I buy right away, I always feel that I have to read books I borrow even though I could turn them back in and borrow them again another time. I think it’s the due dates. To my brain due dates mean now or never. Yeah, I know I’m weird. I will fit right in with my new circus buddies!

    A resolution seems to be in order. I need to restore some sanity. I will not put any more books on hold at the library no matter how many months from now I think it will be before my turn comes up. I will choose books from my own TBR piles. I am not completely banning library borrowing and I don’t expect to choose books only from my TBR piles. I just need to slow down on the requests I make on a whim. Maybe instead of saying no more library holds, I should say, think before I borrow. That will be my

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    20. May Reading Notes

    We are gearing up for the big plant sale Bookman and I attend every year so my thoughts are a bit scattered since I’m having trouble thinking about anything other than plants. And German. Thinking about German too. More on that later.

    There are book things going on, lots of reading! I just got a notice from the library of more books ready for me to pick up. One of the books is for the Slaves read this month, the Yacoubian Building by Ala Aswani. The book is about the various inhabitants of a downtown Cairo apartment building, a varied and interesting collection of people by the sound of it. The book is only 255 pages long and all are welcome to join in the Slaves reading and discussion which takes place on May 31st.

    The other book waiting for me at the library is one I got in line for last October, A History of the World in 100 Objects. The book is the print result of a BBC show and it really sounds fascinating. There is a long list of hold requests still after me so I will have to read fast.

    Just arriving in the mail today is a review copy of a novel by Alberto Manguel, All Men Are Liars. There are supposedly lots of literary references. The story explores where the truth might be found in a world ruled by lies. Intriguing, yes?

    Meanwhile, I am reading Ninepins by Rosy Thornton. I’m enjoying it quite a lot and am not surprised by that since I have yet to read one of Thornton’s books that I didn’t like.

    Also still reading On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks. I have two chapters left and will get to those this weekend. Have I said lately how much I like this book?

    I’m currently 60% of the way through Murakami’s 1Q84 on my Kindle. I’m enjoying this book too. The story is really different and imaginative. Murakami makes loads of literary references, which is lots of fun. Plus he’s just a really good writer. So much has happened in the story already I can’t begin to guess what else might happen in the remaining 40% of the book but I am so hooked into it I can’t wait to find out.

    I have all kinds of other books on the go, half started, thinking about being started, but if I went into detail on those we’d be here all night and believe me, I need my beauty sleep.

    And, oh, the German, I almost forgot. I am now on Duolingo and relearning German. I took German in high school for two years and another two years in college but with no one to practice it on and no reason to keep it up it has slipped into the twilight memory area of my brain. I’ve been wanting to work on it again and now I can.

    Duolingo is a language learning site, currently in beta with a long wait for an invite to join. I get basic lessons and then an opportunity to put what I learn into practice by translating stuff from the internet. I get points and progress through levels and it is all very much like a game, so much so I “played” so long over the weekend my brain started going all fuzzy and crazy and I couldn’t keep all the vocabulary and tenses straight so I had to stop. But I practice a little on it everyday. At the moment the languages offered are Spanish, English, and German with the promise of many more. There is also a social aspect to the site with forums and the ability to follow other learners, ask questions and rate each other’s translations. Sylvia at Classical Bookworm is also doing Duolingo and she has more details and screenshots at the link. Check it out!


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    21. New Toy Alert

    Where did my holiday weekend go? I didn’t plan on being completely silent during the three days but I was having such a lovely time I couldn’t bring myself to sit down in front of my computer longer than it took to check my email once or twice and practice German at Duolingo.

    As a result of not being online much, I had lots of time for reading, writing letters, writing in my diary, and just plain loafing. And Bookman and I took a great fun bike ride yesterday along some bike trails we had never been on before down by the Mississippi River.

    I spent most of my reading time on The Yacoubian Building by Ala Al Aswani. I finished it Sunday. You’ll be hearing all about it on Thursday when the Slaves of Golconda discussion on it begins. In addition to that, I began reading Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. Whoa, did she ever have a difficult childhood. I am liking the book quite a lot. It feels so weird to say that about a person’s unhappy childhood, but there it is. I also started reading a review copy of a new novel by Alberto Manguel called All Men Are Liars. It is about the life of a recently deceased exiled Argentinian author told by the people who knew him to the author’s biographer. Manguel makes himself a character in the story and is narrating at the moment, but he does it well and I am delightfully surprised. I’ve only ever read Manguel’s nonfiction, and thus far, it appears he can write a pretty good novel too.

    Really what I wanted to tell you about was an awesome new toy that can also be useful for anyone doing research. It’s called Bookworm. It is the result of a collaboration between Harvard Cultural Observatory, Open Library, and Open Science Data Cloud. It lets users graphically explore trends across a huge digital library. It is kind of like Google’s ngram only it lets you do some more refined compare and contrast searches and, even better, when you hover over an area of a timeline, you can view a list of books that it is pulling the information from. Even better, a great many of the books are public domain and you can click and read them. So, for instance, you can do a search for suffrage and compare works by men and women and between countries like the US and UK. You can add all kinds of variables and make some interesting general or specific observations.

    Go play, have fun, and if you make some interesting comparisons and want to share, feel free to post the link in the comments.


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    22. Poetry is Not a Luxury

    I just finished Murakami’s 1Q84 on the bus home from the train station this afternoon. I need to let it digest a little before writing about it, but let me just say, wow! Loved it!

    Because my head is swimming with Murakami and because I am also trying to think about The Yacoubian Building for tomorrow’s post, I will provide you a passage from Jeanette Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. Just to be clear, Winterson has nothing to do with those two books, she just has some awesome things to say about books in her memoir and I want to share one of them with you. So here goes:

    So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is.

    It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.

    And this reminds me of an essay by the poet Audre Lorde called Poetry is Not a Luxury. In the essay she says:

    I speak here of poetry as the revelation or distillation of experience, not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean — in order to cover their desperate wish for imagination without insight.

    For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.

    Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

    Amen.


    Filed under: Books, Essays, In Progress, Poetry Add a Comment
    23. June Reading Notes

    I was very sad to learn this morning of the death of Ray Bradbury. Even President Obama issued a statement on his death. And he got an obit on public radio too. The first Bradbury I read was Something Wicked This Way Comes. I had never found carousels scary until that book. And then in my early teens I read Fahrenheit 451 and was moved to tears. I’ve also read the wonderful Dandelion Wine and numerous short stories. Bradbury has also been an outspoken advocate of libraries. He will be missed.

    I had no plans to read any Bradbury in June, but I might have to take one of his books of stories off my shelf and read one or two of them and then will likely find myself reading the whole book! Should that happen it will not be a bad thing, I can assure you.

    Books I am planning on reading this month are many and I will be surprised if I actually manage all of them, but you never know!

    Just finished, with a write-up forthcoming, Alberto Manguel’s new novel, All Men Are Liars. I am currently reading Persuasion by Jane Austen. It is my third reading of the book but since the last time I read it was 20 years ago it isn’t exactly fresh in my mind. As a result I am having lots of, “oh yeah! I remember that now” moments. I’m reading the book on my kindle and am about 65% of the way through. Captain Benwick and Louisa Musgrove just got engaged to give those of you who have read it an idea of where I am. It is such a delightful book and I do love Anne Elliot. I think of all of Austen’s heroines, she and I could really be friends.

    I’ve also begun reading Marilynne Robinson’s book When I Was a Child I Read Books. It is not breezy reading but it is very good. There is a request queue for it at the public library so I don’t get to renew it and I fear that I will not be able to finish it in time. I thought to check the university library where I work and it is available there and I have requested it be sent over to me at the law library. Since I am university staff I get longer borrowing privileges than students do and the book will be mine for nearly the entire summer. I think I will finish before then. It is nice to know, however, that I will not have to try and rush through the book. Even if I could manage it, it would do the essays a disservice and I would miss a lot.

    While I was requesting books at the university library I couldn’t stop at just one! To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction by Joanna Russ had come to my attention recently. Russ is a wonderful SF writer but I have difficulty finding her books. I saw this book of essays mentioned somewhere, the Tor website maybe, and it caught my curiosity. The essays in this book are about science fiction but also other topics like Willa Cather, Mary Shelley, modern gothic, and women’s writing in general.

    While I am in the essay mood, I also requested The Made-Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay by Carl H. Klaus. This was suggested by reader Cath in a comment not long ago. It is about the construction of self in the essay and looks fascinating.

    My ancient Greek reading had flagged but Danielle’s recent foray into mythology has me pumped back up again. I’m making my way through Euripides and requested a volume that has Electra, The Phoenician Women and The Bacchae in it translated by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. I also got An Orestia with Anne Carson as translator. I has Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and Sophocles’ Elektra both of which I have already read, and Euripides’ Orestes. Don’t know if I will ge

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    24. July Reading Notes – Halfway Through 2012

    Oh rainy June, where did you go? I liked you much better than tropical July. Yesterday was a record-breaking one in terms of weather. The temperature reached 100F (38C) and the humidity was tropical making it feel more like 115 (46C). Our Independence Day celebrations did not involve much. We didn’t go outside until around 8:30 in the evening to water the vegetable garden and even then it was still 90 (32C). We spent our day indoors and celebrated by partaking of Bookman’s homemade vegan hot dogs. I told him I wanted ice cream too and he delivered. He made vegan Neapolitan ice cream (strawberry, chocolate, vanilla) using strawberries from our own garden for the strawberry layer. If the weather stays tropical we’ll be able to grow our own coconuts (we use coconut milk for the ice cream) and chocolate too.

    A large part of the day was spent reading. I read a whole book! Granted it was a short book but I haven’t read a book in a day in ages. The book in question was The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I will be writing about that soon. I have a couple other recent finishes I have to post about too, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte and Orestes by Euripides in a fantastic Anne Carson translation.

    The year is halfway over and I am heading towards reading a record breaking number of books. I usually average 54 books a year and this year I am on track to read over 60. I believe the most books I have ever read in a year is 62. Not having library school cutting into my time and reading short books really pumps up the numbers. But at the end of the day, reading is not about numbers it is about the pleasure that reading has given me. So far, it’s been great with only one abandoned book. Not bad.

    My eyes were bigger than my stomach as the saying goes, and I had hoped to read far more than I managed in June. But no matter. I’ve got lots of books in progress so July doesn’t have a big line-up of hope-to-reads, more like a big pile of hope-to-finish. When I do finish books I hope to get to some of the books I planned to read in previous months and didn’t manage. And who, knows, maybe this will be the month I finally start that science books by women project I made a whole long list for. Natalie Angier’s The Canon is still sitting on the shelf above my desk scolding me for my neglect. I’ll get to it, I’ll get to, but you see I have these other books I need to read too.

    Ah that previous paragraph has lots of hope in it. Is it just me or do readers tend to be an optimistic bunch?

    One book I have not yet begun that I will read in July is A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarok. I will be receiving it in the mail shortly from Barnes & Noble since the store I went to didn’t have it in stock and I didn’t want to drive to another one across town in the heat. Better to have my good and wonderful postal carrier deliver it to my doorstep. Ragnarok is the next Slaves group discussion book. The conversation begins on July 31st and all are welcome to join.

    I will be going to visit my family in San Diego for several days on the 19th. Bookman will be staying home and holding down the fort. I will be in need of airplane reading. I just began reading George R.R. Martin’s Clash of Kings last week (off to an awesome start btw) and it is such a chunky book if I am still reading it come the 19th it will go with me. There will also be my Kindle filled with other books because one can never be sure what one will want to read while traveling and visiting family.

    My turn just came up for Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine. I read the introduction last night. It has possi

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    25. Evil Book Gnome Infestation

    Just when I think I have got my book juggling act under control I suddenly find more books being slipped into the mix. Who is doing this? It can’t be me, can it? I’m sure it isn’t. I am sure there are evil book gnomes at my house, I can hear their gleeful evil laughter as they scurry back into the shadows after leaving yet another good book for me to read. As for the library books that keep arriving for me, I think the evil book gnomes have hacked into my library’s computer system and are manipulating the hold request queue so the books I thought I wouldn’t get for months suddenly all start coming to me at the same time. Stupid evil book gnomes.

    Nonetheless, the growing pile is composed of books I am really excited to read. One book I actually bought, pre-ordered two months ago. That book is The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It has many of the same characters in it as Shadow of the Wind and supposedly includes threads from that book as well as Angel’s Game. It is only 278 pages so relatively short. I also received a copy from the publisher that will become a blog giveaway soon.

    I thought China Mieville’s YA book Railsea would be the first book of his I ended up reading. I also thought I wouldn’t get my turn for it until September at the earliest. After finishing Clash of Kings I decided I wanted to read Mieville now and began The City and the City. So far it is delightfully strange. And of course I just received notice from the library that my turn for Railsea is now and not in September. It has people in line for it behind me so I can’t dilly-dally.

    A book that I just got from the library that I am especially excited to read is My Poets by Maureen McLane. It is being called a book of “experimental criticism” and is part criticism part personal memoir – a hybrid sort of book – about McLanes’s life and poets that have been important to her for various reasons. It sounds so delicious and I have high expectations. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

    Arriving in the mail is a biography of Clarice Lispector, Why This World by Benjamin Moser. I’ve been wanting to read Lispector for ages and know nothing about her. I assumed she was American but then caught on that she wasn’t. So I thought maybe she was French and wrote books like those of Maguerite Duras. But it turns out she is Brazilian and wrote in Portuguese. Oxford University Press is the publisher of the biography and they also sent some excerpts of her novels. However, I requested The Hour of the Star from the library, a novella, so I can have more than a sample.

    Of course these books are in addition to all the books I am already in the middle of. Looking at my outstanding library requests it also appears it will shortly be my turn for A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava. Yikes! I am going to need another vacation with several long plane rides in order to get through all these. How are your own book piles doing? Do you also seem to have an infestation of evil book gnomes?


    Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Carlos Ruiz Zafon, China Mieville, Clarics Lispector, Maureen McLane Add a Comment

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