Misc

Checking Out

I’ve decided to let my library card expire. On Sunday I turned in the last couple of books I’d checked out and cleared my hold list. My library system is actually quite good, so my decision is not based on any problems I’ve had concerning holding, checking out, or re-checking books. The problem is me. Libraries are wonderful for people with self control, for people who read 200 pages a day, or for people who don’t have a book blog that requires that they finish a book occasionally.

Certainly for the next three months as I participate in the TBR Double Dog Dare, I need no temptation. That “challenge” does allow taking out books that were on hold before January 1. The problem is that if a book from my hold list comes up, being the slow reader that I am, I’m more likely to set aside something I am already reading so I can read the library book (especially if it’s a “new” book with a two-week checkout period and no re-check available). And it also means that when I’ve finished the library book, I am more likely to ignore the book I was reading before and pick up something else. I’m moody that way.

This year, I would like to be a bit more disciplined about reading from my own books, so I’ve decided that for at least the first half of the year, I will stay away from the library. I think many of you can sympathize: when I’m reading reviews, if something sounds intriguing, it’s just a bit too easy to open up the library site and see if they have the book, and if they have it, to put it on hold. By letting my card expire, I cannot add anything to my hold list should I get a whim. (The Atlanta/Fulton County library system does not allow users to acquire or renew library cards online. For once I am actually thankful for backasswards thinking, because I can’t decide to renew from the cozy comfort of home.)

Going forward, if I really want to read a book that isn’t in my library, I’ll have to buy it (after the TBR Double Dare is over, of course). Not for one second shall I pretend that I don’t buy books and not read them. However, holidays aside, I generally can talk myself out of spending money, even for books. I cannot talk myself out of books that are FREE! And that’s how I end up with a bunch of DNFs and a pile of my own neglected books.

I hear all the time about people giving up buying books or quitting the book swapping sites (I had to do that, too, years ago), but no so much the library. Have you ever been tempted to turn in your library card?

Cleaning up the Lists

I had a tidy pile of Christmas money to spend this year, so I decided to take a long look at my wishlist and determine what to buy. Given that part of my commitment to the TBR Double Dog Dare challenge means no new books until April 1, I wanted to be sure that anything I might really want to read in the coming months was one of my purchases.

For reading, I keep two separate lists: my wishlist, which consists of books I do not own but would like to read, and my TBR (to-be-read, for those not familiar with bookish jargon), which consists of books I own but have yet to read. Both of these lists are long and slightly baffling. A lot of books are getting dusty on my shelves. Some were gifts. Some I failed to finish. On others, I’ve never even cracked the spine. This alone should serve as a warning.

While I know I’ll always have a running wishlist (it’s a good reference), I need to do a better job of cleaning it out from time to time. So that’s what I did this week. As I went through everything and decided what to purchase, I deleted items I have passed over again and again. And I admit, most of my purchases were from the top of my list, recent items I’ve added over the last year. It seems I’m more likely to read something if I can still remember whatever drove me to add it to the list in the first place.

The harder part for me is tackling the TBR: I know I won’t read all the books on my shelf, but once I own a book, I’m generally reluctant to part with it. I guess I believe there’s always a chance the mood will strike. Maybe it’s time to give up that belief.

2012 End of Year Survey

I participated in The Perpetual Page-Turner‘s end-of-year survey last year, so I thought I’d try it again this year. Even trying to pick favorites for this list was difficult!

1. Best Book You Read In 2012? (You can break it down by genre if you want)

Fiction: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. (I loved the story and I thought the writing was terrific. I gather there was some hype about the author, but I never followed any of it.)
Mystery: Stone’s Fall by Iain Banks and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. (Apples and oranges. That’s why I picked two!)
Memoir: Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Non-fiction: The People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo– and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up, Richard Lloyd Parry (also gets prize for Longest Title Ever)

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott. I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by her (Queenpin (review), Bury Me Deep (review), and Dare Me.)

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

I read Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith because my mother loves it. She sent it to me and kept asking if I had a chance to read it. I kept resisting because, to be honest, I hated the title. I expected cliched, sentimental Southern drivel. Instead I got a life story told by an interesting character with a strong voice.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn– I also push her other books, Dark Places and Sharp Objects, whenever I can.

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?

I didn’t start any series this year, but I did buy The Passage by Justin Cronin and intend to read it soon(ish). I have intentionally avoided series because I tend to read the first book and then fail to read the following books. For example, I’ve had Catching Fire on my Kindle for two years, and I still haven’t read it. But I will! Before the movie! I will!

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

Some new, some just new to me: Cheryl Strayed (Wild), Iain Banks (Stone’s Fall), Alexis Smith (Glaciers), Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding), Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk)

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

I didn’t really read any new genres, but I read more nonfiction this year than usual.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?

Stone’s Fall, Gone Girl, People Who Eat Darkness, and Wild. I read them all very quickly and they all gripped me for different reasons.

9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:

Next year? Probably none of them that soon! Too many new books to read, too many older ones to re-read already in line ahead of them. But I am sure I’ll read The Art of Fielding again.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?

People Who Eat Darkness. It looks sinister.

Richard Lloyd Parry People Who Eat Darkness

11. Most memorable character in 2012?

Ivy Rowe in Fair and Tender Ladies, and Billy Lynn in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. I cannot see a guy in uniform now without thinking of that book.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

The Art of Fielding and Fair and Tender Ladies

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

I hate to answer this way, but it depends on what is meant by “impact.” In terms of writing, Alice Munro (Dear Life: Stories; The View from Castle Rock), Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), and Tana French (Broken Harbor) always have an impact on me. In terms of subject matter, Methland by Nick Reding and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?

The View from Castle Rock was on my bookshelf for about four years. Alice Munro is one of my favorite writers, but it took me forever to get to that book. Also Stone’s Fall, which I got for Christmas in 2009.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012?

From The Art of Fielding: “Literature could turn you into an asshole; he’d learned that teaching grad-school seminars. It could teach you to treat real people the way you did characters, as instruments of your own intellectual pleasure, cadavers on which to practice your critical faculties.”

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012?

Glaciers by Alexis Smith and The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett. The longest was probably Stone’s Fall.

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

The Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashino. It’s so cleverly plotted and interesting. I also read parts of Wild, Methland, and People Who Eat Darkness out loud to my husband.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Haruki Murakami and his relationship with running, in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously

The View from Castle Rock and Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith (recommended by my mom) and Stone’s Fall by Iain Banks (recommended by countless book bloggers)

Book Blogging/Reading Life in 2012 (optional)

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2012?

Running off the Reeses. Not a book blog per se, but she does occasionally review books (a lot of history/biography) and I’ve added a fair number of titles to my wishlist based on some of her reviews. Also, she’s smart and funny and a fellow introvert, so I look forward to her posts.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2012?

I sadly didn’t review many of the books I read in 2012, but my favorite review is probably the one I wrote for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

3. Best discussion you had on your blog?

It was short, but the discussion around Running, Reading, and Blogging was a good one about setting one’s own goals and not competing against others.

4. Most thought-provoking review or discussion you read on somebody else’s blog?

Probably anything on Ana’s blog Things Mean a Lot. She puts so much into every post, and the comments and discussions are always interesting as a result.

5. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

I had some fun chatting with Megan Abbott and Gillian Flynn on Goodreads. I tried very hard not to be a major dork. I am not sure I succeeded.

6. Best moment of book blogging in 2012?

Anytime I actually post. It’s been difficult getting back into it and staying with it, but when I do post something and I get even one comment, it makes me feel like part of something bigger.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

I don’t know! The ones overall that tend to get the most hits are my reviews of The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan and The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell. Pretty sure all the visitors are students trolling for information, but I’ll take what I can get.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

My review of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

The Days of Yore, interviews with creative types about the time before they were famous.

10. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Yes! For the TBR Double Dare, I set out to read eight books from my TBR stack, and I did it!

Looking Ahead…

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2012 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2013?

I am too flighty in my reading choices to pick one book as a priority, but I will commit to reading Wolf Hall, finally, in 2013.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2013?

Benediction by Kent Haruf. (I already ordered it, and it doesn’t come out until March 2013.)

3. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2013?

To post on the blog on a more regular basis. I miss being part of the book blogging community.

If you participated in the survey, please feel free to leave your link in the comments!

Challenged

To start, I had this blog post mostly written and then I did some magic with the keyboard and the first draft disappeared. So it has been that kind of day/week/month/year. I am so ready to see 2012 out (Bye bye now. Please do hit yourself on the ass with the door on your way out.) and welcome 2013. (Actually, I cannot believe I just said that. Now I am sure to get struck by lightening or something on January 2.) This year has been, shall we say, challenging. But lately I feel like I need the kind of relief the turn of a clock or a calendar page can bring. I know so, so many people who feel this way because they’ve had a really tough year.

The harder things get, the harder I get on myself, and the more things seem to stand still. The thought struck me this afternoon that I am overwhelmed with “shoulds”: I should eat better, I should exercise more often, I should run longer/faster, I should read more, I should write every day, I should eat out less and cook more meals at home, I should stand up every ten minutes so that I won’t have a shortened life span, I should write a review of that book, I should call so-and-so, I should be more social, and on and on and on.

There is a big difference between “I should” and “I want to,” and somewhere over the last year, things I used to want to do have started to feel like “shoulds.” In this case, a smarter person would probably not add to her list of things to accomplish. But I am a pragmatic optimist. The best thing to do, sometimes, is to give yourself a stern talking to and own up to what you want.

Long-Awaited reads month buttonI haven’t been posting regularly, but one of the things that has made life the last month or so a bit more tolerable is this blog. Being a part of the book blogging community here and on Twitter serves as a reminder to stay in touch with something I love: books. It was in that spirit I decided to hook up with Ana and Iris and a bunch of other great bloggers for Long-Awaited Reads Month in January 2013. It was also in that spirit today that I signed up for The TBR Double Dog Dare hosted by C.B. at Ready When You Are, C.B. Last year I committed to read eight books from my TBR list by April 1, excluding book club books. Given my current reading pace, I’m planning to stick with eight books this year. If I get through more, then that’s just a bonus. (Full disclosure: Last year I also signed up for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012, and I failed miserably. I think almost every book I read this summer with a few exceptions was a new book. Yeah. I SHOULD have read my own books, but I WANTED to read new books. See how I made that work?)

Another thing I was thinking of was perhaps putting together a re-reading group or challenge, if anyone is interested. I have a lot of books that I should want to re-read, but never get the chance. I have no button, I have no page (I could easily put one together), and I don’t want to pressure anyone, obviously. But if, like me, you are hankering to re-read some old favorites and you haven’t been able to get to it, then this could be our chance. Any takers? Let me know in the comments if you’re interested. (I think I have about ten readers, so if you join and fail to complete the challenge, hardly anyone would know! That’s an upside! Going for the hard sell here!)

On Political Correctness and Literature

This is somewhat random, I realize, but I’ve been thinking a lot about political correctness in literature. I’m not talking about things like inclusiveness in regards to awards ceremonies, or authors calling each other out for being sexist in real life, and so on. I’m talking about when I see, for instance, a tweet from a reader calling John Updike misogynist. Or a book review where someone wishes that certain characters in books behaved more in line with certain principles: for example, young girls who must be strong and independent at all times, or characters who are accepting of homosexuality.

Don’t get me wrong, now: I am a great believer in equality, and I would love nothing more than to see things such as racism, homophobia, and sexism eradicated. However, I don’t necessarily want that from literature. To me, to be angry at someone such as John Updike for essentially being a product of his time, or for writing about the world as he experienced it–well, it makes no sense to me. It’s one thing to say his work doesn’t appeal to you; it’s another thing to start calling names. Writers are people, and people are flawed. Writers write about people, and people are flawed. Writers writer about the world as they see it, and the world is flawed.

At the base of the argument is whether or not one believes literature to be prescriptive–in other words, literature is responsible for telling us how to live. This is not something I believe, although I think it offers a lot of possibilities, a lot of different point of views. In literature, I can safely explore the values and actions of people I don’t like or agree with, and very possibly come away with more empathy than I could when, say, watching a political debate. Reading John Updike may help you to understand why your father, grandfather, uncle, or other older male figure in your life is the way he is–the same way reading Invisible Man gives us perspective on being black in America in the late 1940s. (And yes, I know, there are more white male writers who’ve been published, but again, I’m not talking about the numbers, I’m talking about a reaction to content.)

Or maybe I’m not talking about political correctness so much. Maybe what I’m really talking about is a weird lack of empathy, or believing that every book we read should align with the way we see the world. I recently read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (which I loved, by the way). On Goodreads, I saw a lot of complaints from reviewers that she  was whiny and shouldn’t have been grieving after four years and why didn’t she just get over her mother’s death already?

Um, what?

She wasn’t over it because she wasn’t. Because she was Cheryl Strayed, not Cheryl Kowalski or Cheryl Ramirez or Cheryl Smith. Because it was her experience, her world as she saw it, her grief. It’s all the picture of all her little synapses firing in her brain right there on the page. To say they should fire differently because they don’t follow someone else’s guidelines for grief is preposterous.

Some writers do write to try to eradicate the wrongs of the world, or to hold a mirror up to society and say, “See. You are really, really getting this wrong.” I commend those authors. But I don’t think that every writer should be required to present us with those things, and I most certainly don’t think that we should hold authors who are not “of our time” to our modern standards. Exclusivity is exclusivity. When we begin to push people outside the circle, we are doing the same thing we accuse the racists and the sexists and the homophobes of.

What you read is your choice. Unless you are assigned reading for a class, you have free will. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. But be careful of accusing authors and their work of somehow not living up to your standards. Simply accept that you are not the right audience for that book, and move on.

A Life Worth Living

“A couple of times a year I make myself a tape to play in the car, a tape of all the new songs I’ve loved over the previous few months, and every time I finish one I can’t believe that there’ll be another. Yet there always is, and I can’t wait for the next one; you need only a few hundred more things like that, and you’ve got a life worth living.”

–Nick Hornby, Songbook

Letting Go

I’ve been amazed the last few days at book bloggers’ reaction on Twitter to yet another article by a literary critic about how book blogs are the scourge of the literary world (or something like that). The article was in The Guardian, and I am not linking to it here. Why? Because to link to it gives it credibility. It says that I believe you should bother to read it. This argument gets dressed up in a new set of clothes and trotted out every couple of years, and even though we all seem to agree it’s a tired, pointless argument, people can’t seem to help but REACT and DEFEND. At the very least, they re-tweet the article and proclaim disdain. The problem is, the more the article gets re-tweeted and blogged about, the more hits it gets. The more hits it gets, the more likely Guardian editors will be to publish another article like this one again in six months or a year or two years. It drives people to the site, and that means revenue.

I would like to say to my fellow book bloggers: let it go. The next time someone writes an article about how terrible book blogs are for the literary world, or how they are not legitimate literary criticism, just ignore it. Go on and write your reviews. Talk about books in any way you like. The proof is in the pudding (originally “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”): people read book blogs because they enjoy them. They enjoy reading reviews of books written by “real” people (whatever that means), but more importantly, they enjoy the community. They enjoy having people to talk to about books. You will not have one less reader because some literary critic got his dander up one Sunday in a year.

That is all.

If David Mitchell Says It’s Okay…

If a book is so manky a dog that you’re going to regret reading it, you’ve only got yourself to blame if you do. I’m 42, I read maybe 25 books a year, with luck I’ll live another 40 years, which adds up to only 1000 books. I probably own more than a thousand unread books now. If, after 50 pages, a book isn’t doing anything for me, it’s time to say goodbye.

—David Mitchell. (source)

Reading as Conversation

When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it – which comes to the same thing – is by writing in it.

Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake – not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.

Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him. —Excerpt from How to Read a Book, by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren (source)