Thursday, July 31, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Endings

This week's BTT topic:
What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line?

Yes, I did see this one coming. And at first I had a few qualms about listing some of my favorites, since they might function as "spoilers" for anyone who hasn't read the books. So for this post I'm just going to assume that everyone has read the same books I have. There – consider yourself warned.

OK, same as last week – I don't think I've ever liked or disliked a book simply because of its last line. In fact, since I left school, I don't generally finish books I don't like – so if I've gotten to the last line, chances are I've enjoyed the book at least enough to get all the way through it.

Well, the lit crit world has produced many volumes about beginnings and endings and their various aspects and functions and differences, yada yada yada. But for now, I'll just say that endings are very different from beginnings – a single final sentence isn't usually going to bring an entire story rushing back to the reader. At least, not this reader. So while I may find the endings of some books particularly memorable, it most likely won't be just the last sentence I'll remember.

With a few notable exceptions, of course.

I've deliberately left out Shakespeare and all other "drama" because I felt that would be a little like cheating. After all, the final lines are almost always the most memorable parts of plays. Anyway, here goes – starting with what I think are probably my two favorite endings in all of literature:

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away –
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
[The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll]

. . . and so there ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it, and ain't a-going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before. [The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain]
I think Barbara Pym does endings better than just about any modern writer. Here are a couple of examples:

She remembered that her mother had said something about wanting to let the cottage to a former student, who was writing a novel and recovering from an unhappy love affair. But this was not going to happen, for Emma was going to stay in the village herself. She could write a novel and even, as she was beginning to realize, embark on a love affair which need not necessarily be an unhappy one. [A Few Green Leaves, Barbara Pym]

And then another picture came into my mind. Julian Malory, standing by the electric fire, wearing his speckled mackintosh, holding a couple of ping-pong bats and quoting a not very appropriate bit of Keats. He might need to be protected from the women who were going to live in his house. So, what with my duty there and the work I was going to do for Everard, it seemed as if I might be going to have what Helena called 'a full life' after all. [Excellent Women, Barbara Pym]
And then these endings, in no particular order:

"I'll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day." [Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell - Well, I had to include that one, didn't I?]

The cannons of his adversary were thundering in the tattered morning when the Majesty of England drew himself up to meet the future with a peaceful heart. EXPLICIT LIBER REGIS QUONDAM REGISQUE FUTURI. The Beginning. [The Once and Future King, T.H. White]

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. [The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald]

"The division seems rather unfair," I remarked. "You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray, what remains for you?"
"For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine bottle." And he stretched his long white hand up for it.
[The Sign of the Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle]

He was laughing under his breath, like a cruel wolf, as he leaned over to light his last cigarette. Books play that kind of trick, he thought. And everyone gets the devil he deserves. [The Club Dumas, Arturo Pérez-Reverte; translated from the Spanish by Sonia Soto]

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." [A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens - Another must have.]

Then they packed up their bags and shrugged on their coats and uttered their thanks and were gone. [The Hills at Home, Nancy Clark]

Hill House itself, not sane, stood against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone. [The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson]

Reader, I married him. [Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë. This isn't the last line of the book, but it should be. It's the opening sentence of the final chapter.]

. . . and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. [Ulysses, James Joyce]

I'm sure if I thought about it a little more, I could come up with others. Maybe I will. But for now, I'll just let Molly have the final say.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Cataloging Sources

Wow, Marie at Boston Bibliophile just keeps coming up with more and more LT stuff I had no idea existed. This week's topic for the Tuesday Thingers group is a case in point:

What cataloging sources do you use most? Any particular reason? Any idiosyncratic choices, or foreign sources, or sources you like better than others? Are you able to find most things through LT's almost 700 sources?

I've never really checked to see what sources I use most. Be right back.

OK. Well, not surprisingly, it looks like I've used decidedly more often than any other source – 769 of my books were cataloged using that source. After that, 556 were manual entries (we have an awful lot of older books that we've put in manually), 110 were entered using the Library of Congress as source, and only ten used British sources (seven were British Library, and three were Oxford University).

I'm a little surprised that there weren't more British source entries – a lot of my husband's scholarly texts are Oxford University Press books. But I guess they're not so obscure that they couldn't be found using Amazon or LC info. And since I've got so many manual entries, I guess I have had a little trouble finding everything using LT's sources. But, even though I know it's perverse, I kind of like putting in all the information myself, so that's never really bothered me.

This topic reminds me of one other thing I'm interested in – which spelling do you prefer? Catalog? Catalogue? I think I tend to use the British version more often (except for this post!), since that's what I was taught as a child. But I know we Americans are supposed to use the "shortened" variety of the word, without the -ue ending. Any thoughts?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Beginnings

This week's BTT topic:

Here's another idea about memorable first lines from books.

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?
You know, after fifty-some years of reading, it's very hard to remember all those first lines, folks.

I can't say that I recall ever liking or disliking a book just because of its first line, or that I remember any book specifically because of its first line. And at the moment, I can't think of any books I've disliked but remember simply because of the first line.

I always think the most successful opening lines (or first few lines, anyway) of a book convey something of the tenor of the entire book, or at least delineate the main character in an arresting and appropriate fashion. That's a tall order, and even some of the greatest works of literature don't achieve it.

From the ones that do, these are some of my favorites:

You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," but that ain't no matter. (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain)

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. (Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1984, George Orwell)

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug." (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott)

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice "without pictures or conversation?" (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

The new curate seemed quite a nice young man, but what a pity it was that his combinations showed, tucked carelessly into his socks, when he sat down. (Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara Pym)

He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters. (Orlando, Virginia Woolf)

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger)

Evelyn was an insomniac so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that. (Pontoon, Garrison Keillor)

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. (Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne)
Hmmmmm. Obviously, I could go on like this all day. But that's enough firsts for now.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My First Nomination!

Meghan at Medieval Bookworm has nominated my blog for its first award. Thanks very much, Meghan! How exciting!

Now I don't know who started this award, but according to Meghan the rules are these:

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3. Nominate at least seven other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on your blog.
5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.

Well, I'm not sure all the following will want to "play," but here goes:

Leesy Knits – Her blog isn't strictly literary, but it has lovely knitted stuff as well. And with six kids, the fact that she makes time to knit and read at all deserves some kind of award!

Books Please - Margaret seems to have very similar tastes to mine. And even when I disagree, her reviews are always literate and such a pleasure to read.

Just a Reading Fool - He says he hates memes, so he might feel the same way about these tag-award thingies. But I've been enjoying (and marveling at) his attempt to keep multiple blogs going and still manage to have interesting stuff on all of them.

late b(l)oomer - Sherry's isn't a book blog – she's an artist who also frequently posts about family history, poetry, travel, and many other aspects of her life. She has one of the most interesting and attractive blogs I've found.

Smiling Sally - Sal's blog includes book reviews as well as snippets from her everyday adventures and posts about her faith. And it's just always such an uplifting read!

Boyett-Brinkley – Again, not entirely a book blog, although it's partly that. And from time to time she features nice photos of San Antonio, my hometown. And besides, she's my cousin – and after 50-odd years of putting up with me, she needs all the awards she can get. Oops, did I say 50 years? And yet, we're both still only 39!

Tuesday Thingers: Recommendations

This week we have another interesting topic from Boston Bibliophile for the Tuesday Thingers group:

Do you use LT's recommendations feature? Have you found any good books by using it? Do you use the anti-recommendations, or the "special sauce" recommendations? How do you find out about books you want to read?

OK, once again, the short answer to the first question would be, "No, I don't." And until today, I'd never even looked at the anti-recommendations. Is that the "unsuggester"? And I'm not sure what the "special sauce" recommendations are, or how to get to them, so I guess that means I haven't used that feature either.

But even though I've never used it and don't really understand how it works, when I looked at the "unsuggester" this morning, the first title it "unsuggested" was Shopaholic Ties the Knot, by Sophie Kinsella. And since it's probably a safe bet that that's one of the last books I'd ever read, I guess maybe the unsuggester works pretty well.

As for finding out about books I might want to read, that's never really been a problem for me. I want to read everything! No seriously, I do usually have the opposite problem – finding too many books that sound really interesting.

I stay pretty tuned in to the book publishing world, so I get recommendations from all over. I read several "professional" reviews – primarily the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, and the Times Literary Supplement. I also get suggestions now and then from the New Yorker, although they seem to be much more political than literary these days. And I've used the recommendations at, as well as their "Listmania" feature – I love making lists and reading lists made by other people.

Of course, I also love browsing bookstores and libraries. Libraries are an especially good place to find new titles and discover new authors. And there are a few discussion groups I follow on Yahoo, mainly for whodunits. Oh, and I also check Shelf Awareness every few days for recently issued titles and other book news.

But I think lately I've started relying mostly on reviews I find on the various book blogs I read. I'm finding more and more these days that my fellow bloggers do a much better job of telling me what I want to know about a book than the "professionals" of the reviewing world. I suppose that's why so many of the pros are so negative about the blogging phenomenon. They may think they see the writing on the wall – and they may be right.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Sunday Salon: Sunday Reading (I Read Dead People)

No, I'm really not seeing ghosts or anything (I think that's just my new progressive-lens bifocals playing tricks on me). If you're interested in genealogy, you know that a lot of very useful information can be gleaned from obituaries. And since family history has been one of my hobbies for quite a while now, the obits are frequent reading matter for me. However, I find if I read them on a regular basis, it gets just a teeny bit depressing. So once a month or so, I catch up by scanning the obituary sections in several online newspapers. And today was obits day. Fortunately, I didn't find any friends or family listed.

But I did find out that a San Antonio TX legend, sportswriter Dan Cook, died July 3. He'd been a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News for over half a century, and was famous as the "originator" of the phrase "the opera ain't over till the fat lady sings." And although it wasn't really original with him (apparently, it was actually a variation on an old Southern saying), he did help popularize it. So I guess we do have ol' Dan to thank or blame for that.

Just one more dead people note, and then I promise I'll stop all this morbidity (morbid-ness?). One of the books I read this week was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows [see my review]. It was an Early Reviewer book from LibraryThing, and I almost didn't request it because it had such a strange title. But I ended up really loving the book and was all set to start hoping for a sequel – the characters were just so fascinating. But after a little checking around on the internet, I discovered that the book's author, Mary Ann Shaffer, died last February. Her niece, Annie Barrows, is listed as co-author of the book, but I don't know how much she had to do with the actual writing. So I guess we probably won't be seeing any more of the quirky and endearing Guernsey Islanders in the future. Very sad.

Also finished this week, The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman. Haven't done a review of it yet, but I hope to get one up in a day or two. For now, I'll just say I liked the book a lot more than I expected to. The story jumps back and forth between modern day England and sixteenth-century Constantinople, and tells the tale of a young English woman who is shipwrecked and ends up as a slave in the Sultan's harem. Yes, I agree – the first words that popped into my head when I read the synopsis were "Harlequin Romance." But it really was much better than that. And no, the Sultan didn't look anything like Fabio.

Today, in addition to the obits, I've been reading So Long at the Fair, by Christina Schwarz. It was another free ARC – this one from Doubleday – but I believe the regular edition already went on sale earlier this month. The back of the book says it "explores the lure of new attraction and the pull of long-established love and the lengths people will go to in satisfying their deepest desires." Hmmmm. Well, I've only read about 50 pages, but so far it seems like a pretty standard marriage-on-the-rocks tale, and it's not really grabbing me. But I'll give it another 50 pages or so before making up my mind about abandoning it for the "lure of a new attraction."

Oh, yeah – I guess I should also confess I've been wasting way too much time today, playing with Unconscious Mutterings. It's a new meme I found a few weeks ago – well, it's new to me but obviously it's been around a while because they're on week number 286! You can see my attempts at answers on my other blog, or try it yourself by checking out LunaNina's website. But it's habit forming, so be careful.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Published by The Dial Press, 2008, 274 pages

This review refers to an uncorrected advance proof of the novel

When I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program, I had a few misgivings about starting it. For one thing, it has such a cutesy title. And it's an epistolary novel which made me dubious right away. Novels written in the form of letters are some of the hardest to pull off successfully – I know because I've tried it myself, with absolutely ghastly results.

But I needn't have worried. This is a wonderful little book. Some other reviewers have called it "perfect." I'm not sure I'd go that far – but if it's not perfect, it's a very near miss.

With just a few exceptions, the letters that tell the story are written by or to Miss Juliet Ashton, a young writer living in London, right after World War II. It's 1946 and England is struggling with the dreadful aftermath of the war – rationing is still in effect and the horror of the war is still fresh in everyone's memories.

Juliet is floundering a bit, looking for a subject for her next book and not having much luck. And then one day she receives a letter from one Dawsey Adams, a farmer living on the Channel Island of Guernsey. He has acquired a book that once belonged to Juliet – her name and address were written inside the front cover. The book is the Selected Essays of Elia, by Charles Lamb, and Mr. Adams has fallen in love with the book and its author. He asks Juliet if she could send him the name and address of a bookstore in London where he can order more of Lamb's books by mail. He also makes brief mention of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which he says came into being because of a roast pig the Islanders were trying to keep secret from the German soldiers who occupied the island during the war.

Her curiosity piqued, Juliet writes back to Dawsey Adams and their correspondence begins. Gradually, other members of the Island literary group join in and Juliet gets to know them all through their tales of the books and authors they've discovered. She learns about their daily lives in Guernsey, and also hears about the hardships and trauma they experienced during the war which brought the German army to their island. Juliet and the Islanders become more and more caught up in each other's lives, until they eventually invite her to visit them, and she quickly accepts the invitation. And her visit has a powerful, life-changing effect on both Juliet and her new friends.

This is one of those rare books that will have you laughing and crying at the same time. It's witty and warm and moving, with a few surprise twists thrown in along the way – a love story, and a celebration of literature and books and the people who read and write them. And it even has a description of the Potato Peel Pie of the title!

Oh, and Oscar Wilde makes an appearance, as well.

I read an uncorrected proof of the book. The regular edition is due to go on sale July 29, and this is definitely one I'll be buying.

Booking Through Thursday: Vacation Spots

This week's BTT topic:

Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday?
Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip?
What/Where are they?

Do I buy books while on vacation/holiday? Probably not as much as I used to. I think that's just a result of mostly vacationing where the bookstores are not so plentiful. But there's also the fact that our library has gotten so huge we've had to put half of it in storage – that could have something to do with it. I'm a lot more selective these days about the books I bring home.

Still, if there's a bookstore in my general vicinity, I can be relied upon to browse. So yes, sometimes I do buy books while on a trip. Generally, while I'm browsing and buying, the hubby is standing by, hands in pockets, reciting his current mantra about looming retirement and having to pack and move all those books. Which can really put a damper on one's browsing enjoyment.

Favorite stores? There really aren't any I can think of that I only visit while I'm traveling. I suppose the Strand Bookstore in NYC would be one – but, truthfully, even though I love it, we really hardly ever go there when we're in New York. And one of my all-time favorite bookstores is Blackwell's in Oxford, but it's been something like 20 years since I set foot in that one (although I visit their online store occasionally).

Most of my favorite independents have closed down in recent years (bummer). So I do most of my book shopping at the big chains and online. But I'm always keeping an eye out for interesting places (especially used-book stores), close to home or wherever I happen to be. After all, a bookworm on vacation is still a bookworm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Book-Swapping

Today's topic for the Tuesday Thingers group:

Book-swapping. Do you do it? What site(s) do you use? How did you find out about them? What do you think of them? Do you use LT's book-swapping column feature for information on what to swap? Do you participate in any of the LT communities that discuss bookswapping, like the Bookmooch group for example? (Thanks to Marie of Boston Bibliophile.)
Well, the short and honest answer is no, I don't do it. Although I think it's a very good idea. I believe I'm signed up at both the BookMooch and Book Crossings sites, but haven't done anything about it. Don't remember how I found out about them. (Actually, I originally signed up with BookMooch just to find out more about their BM Journalers group.) And once again, until today I didn't even know LT had groups that discuss this topic.

Didn't there used to be something called the "read and release" program where you were encouraged to leave your unwanted books "in the wild"? That is, just leave them in public places where others could find them. Maybe that was just in the DC area. Anyway, our condo building has its own version of that – people frequently leave books or magazines they're finished with on a table in the lobby, for others to claim if they're interested. Not exactly a "swap," but a good way of spreading the reading around.

See, the thing is – I have a lot of trouble letting go of books. Even books I've no intention of ever reading again. And to be really honest (isn't this the Tuesday therapy group?), I even dread lending books unless I can be absolutely sure of getting them back. But that's a terrible character flaw that I'm trying very hard to overcome. And I do find the idea of swapping very appealing. So I have every intention of becoming an active book-swapper in the very near future. No, really. I do. Really.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Random Photo Monday: More Snaps from Shenandoah

New photos for Random Photo Monday are up on my other blog (Joysweb), right here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Doomsday

This week's BTT topic was spurred by a real tale of destruction. Over the July 4th weekend, the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Martha's Vineyard was badly damaged by fire. I never visited the store, but I've heard a lot about it over the years and I can understand the grief felt by the owners and loyal customers.

So, the topic:

One of my favorite bookstores burned down last weekend, and while I only got to visit there while I was on vacation, it made me stop and think.

What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable?

Whether it’s a local book shop, your town library, or an internet shop … what would you do if, suddenly, they were out of business? Devastatingly, and with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? What would you do? If it was a local business you would try to help out the owners? Would you just calmly start buying from some other store? Visit the library in the next town instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit?

Well, this may be a little off-topic, but these questions put me in mind of one of my favorite – no, make that my absolute all-time favorite bookstore, Brock's Books in San Antonio, Texas. It was the most wonderful place, located on Commerce Street in downtown San Antonio and run by Mr. Brock (I don't think I ever knew his first name – Alan?) in the most haphazard manner you can imagine.

The store was a large warehouse-type space filled to overflowing with used and rare books. Three stories, I believe – the street level and a basement, and I think there was at least one "upstairs" level. And when I say overflowing, I mean it – books were everywhere. On shelves that reached nearly to the ceiling and were placed so close together you had to sort of squeeze between them. Books were piled in precarious stacks on the floors and counters throughout the building – collapses and avalanches were a frequent danger. Books spilled out onto the sidewalk on tables of bargain books and "specials" and even freebies.

Mr. Brock generally didn't price his books. Well, he was too busy chatting (and arguing – he could be prickly) with the customers for that. You picked out what you wanted to buy, and took it up front and he'd name you a price. Usually an unbelievably low price. But the price could be different on different days. Or for different customers. It was his store and he ran it his way. But if he liked the look of you, you could pick up some real bargains. And there was no way of knowing what you might find – every visit was a treasure hunt.

It could be a scary place at times. The basement was vast and badly lighted. You never knew what might be lurking around the next corner. And in the winter, the place was heated by gas space heaters that always seemed to threaten imminent disaster. I guess the fire that led to this BTT topic shows that my fears had merit.

Unfortunately, Brock's closed back in the late 1980s – a victim, I suppose, of urban development like so many of the old downtown businesses. I believe a multi-level parking garage occupies the space today. Its closing came long after I had moved away from San Antonio, so I didn't experience a sudden wrench – more of a nostalgic feeling of loss and regret.

Nowadays, I buy mostly new books. There's a decided lack of good used-book stores in our area. So if I'm looking for anything other than current titles, I usually look online. And for the new stuff, I suppose I tend to shop at Borders, mainly because there are several stores nearby. And I plead guilty to using Amazon, too – I almost always check their prices before I buy anything anywhere. If someone were to open a really good independent book store close by, I think I'd probably shop there. But the real estate around here is some of the highest priced in the country, so that's not likely to happen soon.

And although I love using and hanging out in libraries, I've never really become a loyal patron of our local public library. Its collections are not the best, and it's just far enough away to make getting there something of a hassle.

But yes (to get back to the original question), I'd be devastated if my favorite bookstore closed down, for whatever reason. (I'm even mourning in advance for the Border's stores that may be shutting down in the near future, as they re-tool their empire.) And I thank whatever gods may be for the fact that I have free access to the books I want to read – so far, no one's building any bonfires or jailing book-sellers in this country. So I'm sure that eventually I'd find another place to call my own. Reading life goes on.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Not Another Challenge: July Book Blowout

OK, I just got through saying I was going to cut back on challenges, right? But this one really doesn't feel like a challenge. Basically, all you have to do is read as many books as you can during the month of July. Well, I'll be doing that anyway!

All right, it's a challenge. What can I say? But it has such a great button!

The July Book Blowout is being hosted by Mrs. S. at Blue Archipelago. And as I said, the rules are really pretty simple – just read as much as you can, between July 1 and 31. Then by August 7 do a blog post about all the books you've read. You don't even need to do reviews – just a final list. How easy is that? Well, you can sign up and read the full guidelines by visiting the challenge announcement page (here). You have until July 14 to get on board.

I'm going to resist the urge to make a long list of possible titles. Don't want to pin myself down too much. But I've already read three books that will count in the challenge, and I think I should be able to read at least three more. So I guess six books is my goal. I know that's not a huge number, but for anyone who reads as slow as I do, it's pretty impressive. I think it qualifies as a blowout!

What an Animal! Reading Challenge

I really shouldn't do this. I promised myself I'd cut back a bit on challenge sign-ups. But I did finished the Once Upon a Time II Challenge last month, so that's one out of the way. And this new one I've found is so inviting, I just can't pass it up (and who could resist that button?).

Kristi at Passion for the Page is hosting the What an Animal! Reading Challenge, running from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009. In that time period, challenge participants are to read at least six books that fulfill any of these requirements:

an animal in the title of the book; an animal on the cover of the book; an animal that plays a major role in the book; a main character that is or turns into an animal (define that however you like).

Well, since I've already set myself a personal challenge to finish all of Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy series, this challenge seems like a natural. If you've read any of the books, you know that Mrs. Murphy is a cat who helps her owner solve mysteries – or vice versa, in Mrs. Murphy's opinion.

This one is going to be too easy! So even though I'm a little late getting started, I'm signing up.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Vacation Time

This week's Tuesday Thingers topic is about vacation plans and reading. Good questions. But how did it get to be the 8th of July all of a sudden? The summer is zipping right along, isn't it?

But I digress (as usual). The questions:

Since we're past the Fourth of July and the summer season has officially started, what are your plans for the summer? Vacations, trips? Trips that involve reading? Reading plans? If you're going somewhere, do you do any reading to prepare? Do you read local literature as part of your trip? Have you thought about using the LT Local feature to help plan your book-buying? (by Marie at Boston Bibliophile)
We don't really have any terribly interesting vacation plans this summer, I'm afraid. And one of our trips is over now – we spent a few days in Shenandoah National Park, over the July 4th holiday weekend. No camping out (I'm not much of a camper – well, actually I'm not any of a camper) – stayed in one of the cabins. Did a lot of hiking and critter-watching. But we had quite a lot of rain, so there was lots of time to just sit and read, too. My favorite kind of vacation! I guess you could say I'm not a thrill seeker.

The only other trip we have planned doesn't happen until the end of August – we'll be heading back to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for our annual week at the beach. We're nothing if not habitual. I won't be doing any reading to prepare for the trip, but of course I'll be taking along a few beach reads (haven't decided what they'll be yet). If we were heading for someplace I'd never visited before, I probably would do some preparatory reading. And if we spend a bit of time somewhere, I might read local literature about or from the place – but probably not if it's just a short visit.

I have to admit I haven't even looked at LT Local – didn't really even know it was there. But now that it's been pointed out to me, I'll have to give it a look.

Here's a shot from our trip to Shenandoah, taken from the deck of our cabin in the clouds.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Random Photo Monday: Bear With Me

This week's Random Photo Monday offering is up now, on my other blog (Joysweb). I'd love it if you'd stop by and take a look. So would Kayla and the bears!

Reading List for 2008: Mid-Year Update

Now that the July 4th holiday is behind us, it really does feel like the year is half over. Which means it's a good time to look back at my reading for this year, and take stock.

So far in 2008, I've read thirty books. I know that doesn't sound like a lot to all the Wonder Readers out there who go through that many in a week (god, how I admire and envy you guys). But that's several more books than I read in all of 2007, so it represents a great improvement for me. If I can keep going at this rate, I should definitely be able to read sixty books by the end of the year. And if I step it up a bit, I could even do a little better than sixty.

Anyway, here's the list to date:

2010: Odyssey Two. Arthur C. Clarke
Betsy-Tacy. Maud Hart Lovelace [Review]
Chatterton. Peter Ackroyd [Review]
Civil To Strangers. Barbara Pym [Review]
Crewel World. Monica Ferris [Review]
Deadly Nightshade. Cynthia Riggs [Review]
Emma. Jane Austen [Review]
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. E.L. Konigsburg [Review]
Granny's Wonderful Chair. Frances Browne (re-read) [Review]
Greenwitch. Susan Cooper [Review]
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. J.K. Rowling [Review]
Love in the Time of Cholera. Gabriel Garcia Marquez [Review]
Miss Rumphius. Barbara Cooney [Review]
Mrs. Malory and Death By Water. Hazel Holt [Review]
Mrs. Malory and Delay of Execution. Hazel Holt
Mrs. Malory and the Silent Killer. Hazel Holt
My Fantoms. Theophile Gautier [Review]
Over Sea, Under Stone. Susan Cooper [Review]
Practical Magic. Alice Hoffman [Review]
The Bookman's Wake. John Dunning
The Concord Quartet. Samuel A. Schreiner, Jr. [Review]
The Dark Is Rising. Susan Cooper [Review]
The Fires. Allen Cheuse
The Flanders Panel. Arturo Perez-Reverte [Review]
The Grand Complication. Allen Kurzweil [Review]
The Grey King. Susan Cooper [Review]
The House Behind the Cedars. Charles W. Chestnutt
The Lace Reader. Brunonia Barry [Review]
Twig. Elizabeth Orton Jones [Review]
Wish You Were Here. Rita Mae Brown

The list includes quite a few children's and young adult titles, mainly because of a couple of challenges I've been involved in. Also, it's rather heavy with mysteries because – well, just because I love a mystery (so there!).

I also seem to be reading the same authors over and over. There again, reading challenges have something to do with that. But challenges aside, it's not uncommon for me to read multiple titles by a single author – when I find something I like, I stick with it.

Even so, I have made some very pleasant discoveries this year. Alice Hoffman is a writer I want to read more of in the future. And Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising books have been a really exciting find for me – I'm looking forward to reading the last novel in the sequence now. It's interesting that I tried reading the series years ago, and they didn't really grab me. But they certainly have this time, so maybe I just wasn't ready for them when I was younger. (I guess, as Bob Dylan says, "I was so much older then / I'm younger than that now"!)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Sunday Salon: A Week of Reading

Not a big day for reading around here – it's been hard to concentrate on the printed page today, with Federer and Nadal burning up the court on the tube. Just the Sunday book review supplements – that's all I've managed so far. Thank goodness for rain delays.

But I did get some reading done earlier in the week. Finished a couple of books that I've had going for about a month now, but somehow never wrapped up till now. One was Wish You Were Here, by Rita Mae Brown (the first of her Mrs. Murphy mysteries). And the other was 2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke. For some reason the last hundred pages or so of 2010 took me weeks to read. Not a reflection on the book because I really enjoyed it – just my strange reading habits. I'll be posting reviews of those two later this week. Also need to review a couple more whodunits I've read recently.

The other book I read this week was The Fires, by Alan Cheuse – two short novellas together in one volume. It was a free book from the Santa Fe Writers Project – they called it an ARC, but I think the book has actually been out for a while. Well, even so – don't you just love getting free books?

The books I've got going right now are Summer Reading by Hilma Wolitzer, and The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman. The Wolitzer book is one that I had on my summer reading list last year and just never managed to get to. I'm only a few chapters into it, and so far it's got a suspiciously chick-lit feel to it. Not that I have anything against the genre – I just wasn't expecting this particular book to go that way. I'm sort of hoping for a little more substance as I read on.

I'm only a couple of chapters into The Aviary Gate, as well – so it's hard to make many judgments yet. But any book that starts out with ancient parchments and Blackwell's bookstore can't be all bad. Besides, it was another free book – and don't you just love getting free books?

To participate in The Sunday Salon, visit the TSS website here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Holidays

This week's BTT topic:
It's a holiday weekend here in the U.S., so let’s keep today's question simple–What are you reading? Anything special? Any particularly juicy summer reading?

Great. Simple is good – we're getting ready to leave any minute now, for a few days in the mountains. And knowing M's penchant for spending as much time as possible "on the trail," I assume I won't have all that much time for reading while we're there. Instead of books, my backpack will most likely contain massive amounts of bottled water, Band-Aids, Aspercreme, and Tylenol.

But there will be long evenings in the cabin or lodge. And I hardly ever leave home without at least one book. This time I'm taking two. One's a whodunit, Wish You Were Here, by Rita Mae Brown (one of the Mrs. Murphy mysteries). And the other is Summer Reading, by Hilma Wolitzer, which I intended to read last summer, but somehow never got around to.

As for the rest of the summer, I've got quite an impressive pile of books to choose from – including several ARCs that I feel obligated to read as quickly as possible, and a few more books for a couple of challenges I've signed up for. So I definitely have enough to keep me busy. Now if I can just avoid sliding down the mountainside or being eaten by a bear, I'm all set.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Popularity, Part the Third

Marie at The Boston Bibliophile has come up with another interesting topic for this week's Tuesday Thingers exercise:

Here is the Top 100 Most Popular Books on LibraryThing. Bold what you own, italicize what you've read. Star what you liked. Star multiple times what you loved!

Well, here's my list. I've taken the liberty of removing specific editions from the books I own/have read – in most case, I have different editions. Also, I haven't starred anything – I always find rating systems very frustrating. It would probably be easier for me to rate the books I didn't like.

If I'm counting correctly, it looks like I own 62 of the titles, and of those 62 I've read 48. I don't seem to have read any that I don't also own, so I guess that means I haven't been using the public library for a while (shame on me!). Also, in a few cases, I can't swear I've read every word (Works of Shakespeare, Elements of Style), or every book (Narnia series); but I've read more of them than I haven't read, so I'm counting them as "read" (just a teeny bit of cheating is OK, right?).

I should note that not all of the books I've marked as "owned" are in my LT catalogue – I'm still in the process of getting everything listed (how long, Oh Lord?), and a lot of our books are in storage right now.

Related post: My Top Ten List of 59 Favorite Books

1. Harry Potter and the sorcerer's stone by J.K. Rowling (32,484)
2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) by J.K. Rowling (29,939)
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) by J.K. Rowling (28,728)
4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2) by J.K. Rowling (27,926)
5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3) by J.K. Rowling (27,643)
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) by J.K. Rowling (27,641)
7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (23,266)
8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (21,325)
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling (20,485)
10. 1984 by George Orwell (19,735)
11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (19,583)
12. The catcher in the rye by J.D. Salinger (19,082)
13. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (17,586)
14. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (16,210)
15. The lord of the rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (15,483)
16. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (14,566)
17. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (14,449)
18. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (13,946)
19. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (13,272)
20. Animal Farm by George Orwell (13,091)
21. Angels & demons by Dan Brown (13,089)
22. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (13,005)
23. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (12,777)
24. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (12,634)
25. The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, Part 1) by J.R.R. Tolkien (12,276)
26. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (12,147)
27. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (11,976)
28. The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, Part 2) by J.R.R. Tolkien (11,512)
29. The Odyssey by Homer (11,483)
30. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (11,392)
31. Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut (11,360)
32. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (11,257)
33. The return of the king : being the third part of The lord of the rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (11,082)
34. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (10,979)
35. American Gods: A Novel by Neil Gaiman (10,823)
36. The chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (10,603)
37. The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams (10,537)
38. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (10,435)
39. The lovely bones : a novel by Alice Sebold (10,125)
40. Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1) by Orson Scott Card (10,092)
41. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1) by Philip Pullman (9,827)
42. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman (9,745)
43. Dune by Frank Herbert (9,671)
44. Emma by Jane Austen (9,610)
45. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (9,598)
46. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (9,593)
47. Anna Karenina (Oprah's Book Club) by Leo Tolstoy (9,433)
48. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (9,413)
49. Middlesex: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides (9,343)
50. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (9,336)
51. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (9,274)
52. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (9,246)
53. The Iliad by Homer (9,153)
54. The Stranger by Albert Camus (9,084)
55. Sense and Sensibility (Penguin Classics) by Jane Austen (9,080)
56. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (9,027)
57. The Handmaid's Tale: A Novel by Margaret Atwood (8,960)
58. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (8,904)
59. Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt (8,813)
60. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery - (8,764)
61. The lion, the witch and the wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (8,421)
62. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (8,417)
63. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (8,368)
64. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (8,255)
65. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (8,214)
66. The Name of the Rose: including Postscript to the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (8,191)
67. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (8,169)
68. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (8,129)
69. The complete works by William Shakespeare (8,096)
70. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (7,843)
71. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (7,834)
72. The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (Perennial Classics) by Barbara Kingsolver (7,829)
73. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (7,808)
74. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (7,807)
75. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (7,793)
76. The Alchemist (Plus) by Paulo Coelho (7,710)
77. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (7,648)
78. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (7,598)
79. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk (7,569)
80. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (7,557)
81. The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2) by Philip Pullman (7,534)
82. Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan (7,530)
83. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (7,512)
84. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (7,436)
85. Dracula by Bram Stoker (7,238)
86. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (7,153)
87. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (7,055)
88. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (7,052)
89. The amber spyglass by Philip Pullman (7,043)
90. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (6,933)
91. The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel by Milan Kundera (6,901)
92. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (6,899)
93. Neuromancer by William Gibson (6,890)
94. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (6,868)
95. Persuasion by Jane Austen (6,862)
96. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (6,841)
97. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (6,794)
98. Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (6,715)
99. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (6,708)
100. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (6,697)