Library book stack

February 5th, 2017

Library books

I went to the library yesterday to return one book, and ended up checking out four more – oops/yay! From top to bottom: 1) The Bone People by Keri Hulme – I already had this checked out, just took it out of my bag for the picture. This one’s another pre-New-Zealand-trip reading recommendation. I started it last night and it’s really satisfying so far, with lots of satisfyingly-rendered quirky inner monologue. 2) Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, because I’ve been meaning to read this for ages but haven’t yet. 3) Public Library by Ali Smith, because I generally love her playfulness/smarts/inventiveness. 4) The Chimes by Anna Smaill, because I’ve been vaguely meaning to check it out since this 2015 post by Teresa over at Shelf Love. 5) Crosstalk by Connie Willis, because I want to get lost in a story and in the past I’ve found her work really good for that.

2016 Wrap-Up

December 31st, 2016

I read 52 books in 2016, which is not as many as I read last year or the year before, but that’s OK. The break-down:

Picture books for kids/middle-grade books/YA: 15. Highlights included Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which was gripping and made me cry; several of Luke Pearson’s charming “Hilda” books, and Brian Selznick’s beautiful Wonderstruck. I also listened to my first-ever audiobook, which was How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, narrated by David Tennant. I continued pleasantly working my way through Lois Lowry’s “Anastasia” books with Anastasia Has the Answers and am looking forward to the next in the series.

Fiction (for grown-ups): 21. I unexpectedly loved Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth, a werewolf novel in verse. I had way more fun with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age than I thought I would. I loved Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor even though alien-arrival stories are not normally exciting to me. I quite enjoyed re-reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, especially because I was in England for part of it and it felt really apt. And I finished the year really strongly with the delicious writing of Danielle Dutton’s Margaret the First and the unputdownable Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple and The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas.

Non-fiction: 16, including autobiographical comics. Hyperbole and a Half was as amazing and funny as I expected it to be. I liked the essays in Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the City and Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things, differently. And I had lots of fun with Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, not just because of the interactive/text-messaging element, though that was pretty neat.

I did about half of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, and am undecided as to whether I want to try the 2017 one or not particularly: I like the idea of these challenges, but I also like reading without a plan.

Library Books

June 29th, 2016

Library books, Thai basil

It’s been a while since I had a proper stack of library books checked out. I went today to return a book/pick up a hold, but ended up browsing the new books section too, and this is the result. And this is with me showing restraint/not checking out a few of the books I was pondering.

From top to bottom:
Hildafolk by Luke Pearson: I read this post on the New Yorker’s website about this series of graphic novels for kids and was intrigued.

The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick: I heard about this book from a few people on Goodreads, and saw the author speak at McNally Jackson Books (which is very worth a visit if you are ever in NYC) back in October. This is a memoir that involves walking in NYC so clearly I am interested in it.

The Uncommercial Traveller by Charles Dickens: Rebecca Solnit mentioned this in Wanderlust, and the title stuck in my mind. Like the above, it’s at least partly about city-walking, so yeah.

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge: There was a free copy of this in the kitchen at work earlier this year, and I almost grabbed it but didn’t, and then regretted not having grabbed it after reading about it at Reading the End and elsewhere.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick: I first heard about this via the New Yorker ages ago, but was reminded of it when a dear friend recently read it/recommended it to me via Goodreads.

Do you have anything good checked out from the library right now?

Read Harder 2015, etc.

December 29th, 2015

I generally like my reading to be directed by my whims, so I didn’t fully commit to the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge. But I did think it looked interesting, so I decided that for 2015 I would track my reading against the challenge categories and see what I was (and wasn’t) reading on my own, perhaps with an eye to further diversifying my reading choices in the future. At this point in the year, I might read another book before the start of 2016, but given what I have checked out from the library at the moment, I doubt I’m going to be ticking any new boxes on this list. So, here goes.

Things I didn’t read in 2015:
– A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25
– A book that takes place in Asia
– A book by an author from Africa
– A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.)
– A sci-fi novel (the closest was probably Speak by Louisa Hall, but I’m not sure I’d count it).
– A romance novel
– An audiobook
– A collection of poetry
– A book published before 1850

Hm, so: left to my own devices, I’m not that great with geographical diversity or genre diversity, and I skew towards middle-aged (or older) contemporary authors. And I’ve actually never read an audiobook—I generally can’t even manage podcasts, honestly. I really strongly prefer reading things to hearing them.

Things I did read in 2015:
– A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65: I think I read five books that might fit this category, but the most obvious (because it’s explicitly about aging) is Pondlife by Al Alvarez.

– A collection of short stories: The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam.

– A book published by an indie press: I think I read twelve of them over the course of the year, but let’s say Ten Walks/Two Talks by Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch (Ugly Duckling Presse).

– A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ: I think I read six books that fit this category; the most recent (and probably my favorite!) was Dryland by Sara Jaffe.

– A book by a person whose gender is different from your own: I read 27 books by men this year. 10:04 by Ben Lerner was probably my favorite.

– A microhistory: I think three books I read could count for this, but let’s say Photobooth: A Biography by Meags Fitzgerald.

– A YA novel: I read six of them. My favorite this year was definitely Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

– A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2005).

– A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.): can I count Oreo by Fran Ross here, as a retelling of the Theseus myth? I think I can.

– A book that someone else has recommended to you: six that my boyfriend recommended, one that a friend recommended, and one that my mom recommended. Most recent was the recommendation from my mom, which was Shadow Castle by Marian Cockrell.

– A book that was originally published in another language: I read two: An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec, translated by Marc Lowenthal and Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog, translated by Martje Herzog and Alan Greenberg.

– A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind: I read six books that could fit this category, my favorite of which was El Deafo by Cece Bell.

– A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over): Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger.

– A book published this year: eighteen of them, most recently The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks.

– A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”): Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, and perhaps also The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer.

And yes, Book Riot has already put together the 2016 Read Harder Challenge, which I may approach in the same spirit as this year’s. (I also kind of feel like maybe I should carry over the 2015 challenge categories for the ones I didn’t do in 2015.) Meanwhile, though it’s not a challenge, I feel I should also mention that I’m signed up for James’s TBR Triple Dog Dare again for 2016, meaning that between January 1 and April 1, I’ll be trying to read exclusively books I already own. Surely some of the books I already own will tick some of the categories on Book Riot’s 2016 list!

Library Books!

May 16th, 2015

Library Books

Top to bottom:
Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Nightwalking by Matthew Beaumont
(Oh, and that’s Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle to the right, which I read recently.)

I have been on a bit of a library spree lately, as evidenced by my stack of checked-out books, shown above. I started Wittgenstein Jr today and am liking it so far – it’s the third book by Iyer that I’ve read, and it’s deadpan funny in the same way the others were. I read The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street in 2008 and really liked them (they’re kids’ books that remind me of Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet —sweet well-written realistic fiction about a family) but I haven’t yet read the next two books in the series, so I decided to get them all and have a Jeanne Birdsall reading spree. The New Yorker said Satin Island is an “experimental novel” that “takes the form of a brilliant series of numbered digressions on parachute accidents, Lévi-Strauss, hub airports, and many other things,” which sounds pretty great. I haven’t read anything by Miranda July or Daniel Handler and saw these two books on the New Books shelf today. And Nightwalking is nonfiction, subtitled “A Nocturnal History of London”: I like both walking and London, so am looking forward to it.

It’s April 1, which means the TBR Double Dog Dare is over, which means I’m allowing myself to put holds on library books again! (I haven’t yet, but I suspect I will do so pretty soon.)

Because I sort of padded my library hold list in late December (and also checked a whole bunch of library books out in December), my early-2015 reading was not entirely from my own shelves: the eight books I read in January were all library books, and so were three of the seven books I read in February. In March, though, I only read one library book, and it doesn’t really count because my boyfriend checked it out and we read it together. (It was a Calvin and Hobbes book). Thanks to the motivation of the TBR Double Dog Dare, I’ve read ten books from my own shelves so far this year, and am in the middle of another. Some of those books (like Conundrum, which I bought in 2004 for a college class on autobiographical writing that I didn’t actually end up taking, and Ten Walks/Two Talks, which I bought after seeing the authors read from it in 2005) were ones I’d bought a decade or more ago but somehow hadn’t read yet; others were more recent acquisitions (like Ibid, which I bought at Books for Amnesty in Cambridge last November).

I’ve missed the library and all its shiny new and new-to-me books, but it’s been pleasing to read books without the deadline of a due date, and to pick at whim from my own shelves. When I go to the library I often browse in the “New Books” area, which skews my reading towards what’s been published recently, whereas what I have on my shelves is a mix of old and new. And it’s been pleasing to free up some shelf space by giving away books I’ve finished, if I don’t think I’ll read them again. I’m almost tempted to carry on only reading books from my shelves for another month, but I doubt I’ll resist the lure of the library (which I literally walk by every weekday on my way to and from the subway) for that long*. I do, though, want to try to find a balance between library books and books I own, and not neglect the books I own quite as much as I have in the past.

* Edited to add: OK, yeah: after posting this entry, I … went to the library and checked out three books. See, my boyfriend and I recently finished watching the entirety of the Veronica Mars TV show, after which we watched the movie, and I remembered that I wanted to see if the library had the two Veronica Mars mysteries by Rob Thomas. So I checked online and found that the first one was on the shelf at my local branch. And then I couldn’t help looking at the New Books shelves, where I found the second Veronica Mars book. And also I picked up The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam, because it was there and I liked the two other books by her that I’ve read.

2014, in Reading and Otherwise

December 31st, 2014

So the big thing about 2014, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned here, is that my boyfriend and I bought an apartment. It was a fairly stressful endeavor, involving going to a whole bunch of open houses, making several offers that didn’t go anywhere, and then, just as we had decided that we were ready to take a break from looking, finding out that our offer on a sweet little one-bedroom apartment had been accepted. Then there was some mortgage-related stress, and a lot of waiting, and a whole afternoon of hanging out in a lawyer’s office/waiting for the guy from the bank to show up/signing stacks of papers. And then, in July, we moved, from one corner of our neighborhood to the diagonally opposite corner. Yay!

The other thing about 2014 is that I spent quite a lot of time at various rock gyms, mostly in Brooklyn but elsewhere as well. This was true in 2013, too, but moreso in 2014. (I started climbing in November 2012, got really into it in September 2013, and have been really into it ever since.) In 2014, I took my climbing shoes with me on work trips to England, weekend trips to Pennsylvania to visit my boyfriend’s family, and a vacation to Montreal with the other person I’m dating. In 2014, I climbed 130 times and got belay-certified and took a class in bouldering technique and talked about climbing to anyone who would listen.

Meanwhile, books. In 2014 I read 64 books, including quite a few kids’ books and YA books. Numbers-wise:
Kids’/YA books: 17
Fiction (for grown-ups): 31
Non-fiction: 11
Poetry: 5

Works in translation: 7

Favorites: Tamara Shopsin’s Mumbai New York Scranton, which is full of great details and which I found emotionally engaging and well-written and charmingly illustrated. An Enlarged Heart by Cynthia Zarin, for the language and style and New-York-ness of it. Basically all of Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci books. And oh, Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis, which I found really smart and really fun.

Books I expected to like more than I actually did: Tristano by Nanni Balestrini, which I thought would be exciting because of its experimentation with form, but was pretty much just a slog. City of Djinns by William Dalrymple, which I wanted to have more personal bits and lyrical/descriptive bits.

In general: I read a bunch more kids’ books and YA this year than last year, including a whole bunch of Diana Wynne Jones books (some were re-reads, some were not, and my boyfriend read all of them too, which was super-fun) and two of Lois Lowry’s Anastasia books (I want to read them all but my hold on the next one seems to be stuck). I read some authors I’d been reading about/meaning to read for what felt like ages (Rainbow Rowell and Jo Walton and Teju Cole). Looking back, I feel like a read a lot of plot-driven books/comfort-reads this year, and I’m OK with that.

Plans for 2015: I’m doing the TBR Double Dog Dare, with exceptions for any library books I’ve checked out or put on hold before 11:59 pm on December 31. Also, I said this last year, but: more poetry? And maybe 2015 will be the year I finish reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time?

What I Read in 2013

January 2nd, 2014

I thought I’d write a wrap-up post before 2013 ended, but then I spent a chunk of the evening of December 31 curled up on the couch finishing reading Scarlett Thomas’s The End of Mr. Y, so I didn’t. (And then we went to see/hear the steam whistles at Pratt, and then we walked from Church Ave to Brighton Beach, and then we didn’t get home until 6 am.)

Anyhow: I read 38 books in 2013 (including a few picture books and several kids’ books).

The breakdown:
Picture books: 3
Other kids’/YA books: 5
Fiction (for grown-ups): 24
Non-fiction: 4
Poetry: 2

Works in translation: 6

Favorites: Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff – definitely the best YA book I read in 2013 (not that I read that many!), mostly because of the really engaging narrator. Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple – I do love epistolary or semi-epistolary novels, and this one was both funny and sweet. The End of Mr. Y and Our Tragic Universe, both by Scarlett Thomas – smart and fun and concerned with story/language/meaning in interesting ways. Artful by Ali Smith – smart and satisfying mix of fiction and lit crit.

Books I expected to like more than I actually did:The No Variations by Luis Chitarroni, which I found pretty overwhelmingly obscure. The Reverberator by Henry James, which I wanted to have more long descriptive sentences. The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann and Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C. Morais, both of which I wanted to be less plot-driven than they were.

In general: In 2013 I read more collections of short stories and fewer collections of poetry than usual, which was neither a good thing or a bad thing, just a different thing. As usual, I read more novels than anything else. I finally got around to reading multiple books by Scarlett Thomas, whose work I’ve been curious about since an acquaintance mentioned PopCo years ago. As usual, I somehow managed to read more library books than books from my own shelves.

Plans for 2014: I don’t have any specific reading plans this year. More poetry? And maybe this will be the year I finish reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time?

What I Read in 2012

January 1st, 2013

Happy 2013! I hope yours is off to a good start: mine definitely is. Today has included, among other things: very good coffee, ice skating on newly-sharpened skates at a not-too-crowded rink, and a handstand on the beach. My day has not yet included any curling up with a book, but that’s coming next: I started The Casual Vacancy the other day and am enjoying it so far, and am planning to sit on the couch with it and some rooibos chai shortly. But first: what I read and liked in 2012.

I read 54 books in 2012—though that does include some picture books, which don’t exactly count, but I’m counting them anyhow.

The breakdown:
Picture books: 2
Other kids’/YA books: 9
Fiction (for grown-ups): 29
Non-fiction: 11
Poetry: 3

Works in translation: 7

Favorites: There but for the by Ali Smith. So smart and engaged and human. Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies, which I couldn’t shut up about for months because of how good it was: self-aware and introspective and interesting. NW by Zadie Smith, for its stylistic play and cleverness but also for how it’s as much about a corner of a city as it is about the people who inhabit it. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, because it’s a play off A Wrinkle in Time. Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere by André Aciman, for the way Aciman explores place and memory and nostalgia and being in the world as a certain kind of person.

2013 plans: the plan for 2013, reading-wise, is basically to have no plans, other than the 2013 edition of the TBR Double Dog Dare, which means I’ll be reading off my bookshelves between now and April 1. I’m looking forward to it.

I recently signed up for the 2013 edition of the TBR Double Dog Dare over at Ready When You Are, C.B.: I did this last year, and really liked it. It’s a simple and brilliant idea: starting on January 1, 2013 and going to April Fool’s Day, I’ll be reading only books I already own (or have already checked out/requested from the library, or have already borrowed from friends). It’s now halfway through December (when did that happen?) and I’m not planning on placing more holds at the library this year, so we’ll see how far I get during the rest of this month on what I’ve already checked out, as well as what comes in that I’ve already requested. (Right now I have holds on three books: The Wizard of Washington Square by Jane Yolen, which I fear may actually be lost because I’ve been waiting so long for a copy that’s supposedly checked in, The Casual Vacancy, and Black Swan Green. I currently only have three books checked out but not yet read, all of which are pretty short: The Duel by Heinrich von Kleist, The Thing about Thugs and Vicky Swanky Is A Beauty. I almost checked out a few more today, but realized I didn’t have my library card with me: drat, but hm, maybe that’s a good thing.)

Meanwhile, I’ve recently acquired rather a lot of new books, at least for me. When I’m at home, I don’t buy books that much: I live in a place with a good library system, and many books are ones I’m happy to get from the library. But when I’m traveling, I find it harder to resist: I like going to used bookstores, and used bookstores elsewhere have a way of feeling more exciting than used bookstores closer to home. Plus I feel like I’m traveling and already spending money, so might as well spend a bit more—or something like that. So right: here’s the stack of books I bought between November 4th and December 4th:

Books purchased: November/December 2012

In the order I purchased them, which doesn’t match the picture above:

I was in England in November for work, and went to London one Sunday for some good coffee + solo walking explorations. I stopped into the Oxfam bookshop on Highgate Hill on my way to Hampstead Heath, ostensibly just to see if they had postcards. I did buy postcards there, but also got Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey by James Attlee (because I’m a sucker for smart/literary travel writing, and because I read and really liked Attlee’s Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight back in November 2011) and Street Haunting by Virginia Woolf, which is a slim (55 pages) collection of six essays and stories: Street Haunting: A London Adventure, Kew Gardens, A Mark on the Wall, Solid Objects, Lappin and Lapinova, and The Death of the Moth (because, well, Virginia Woolf). A few days after that, in a WHSmith at Heathrow, I picked up The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, because it won the Orange Prize and I’d been curious about it and thought I might start it on the plane (though I didn’t).

Then I went to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, and spent a Saturday in Philadelphia mostly museum-ing. After a visit to The Barnes I suggested a visit to Book Corner, just across the street, where all books are $1, $2, or $3. The first book that caught my eye there was The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston: I hadn’t heard of it, but it’s apparently a classic of nature writing, which is a genre I want to explore more. I also got The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips, which I’m excited about because it’s a (partly) epistolary novel, and False Papers by André Aciman, since I enjoyed Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere so much when I read it in July.

On the last day of November, I flew to San Francisco for a long weekend: a dear friend from New Zealand was there, and so I went to see her, and so did another friend who lives in Vermont plus another friend who lives in Chicago. It was a great weekend, and not just because San Francisco has a lot of good bookshops, a few of which I visited. At Forest Books, I got a first edition of Incidents by Roland Barthes, which includes journal excerpts + three essays; I don’t think I’ve ever read Barthes and this seems like an approachable starting place. At Dog-Eared Books, I got Dime Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic (I quite like Cornell, and like Simic, too), The Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet (which the back cover describes as working within “the framework of the classic detective story” but also as “a story of fact and fantasy, hypothesis and reality, memory and imagination”), and King of A Hundred Horsemen by Marie Étienne, which is a dual-language (French/English) book of poems. Finally, on my last night in the city, I went shopping at Aardvark Books, where I got two books I’ve been curious about for a while, which both have pleasing covers: Oranges by John McPhee and Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau. Exciting, right?

Oranges/Exercises in Style