Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reading Challenges: Taking Stock and Making Plans

Well, November is almost outta here, and December probably isn't going to be a stellar month for me, in the time-to-read department. So I think it's time to do a little reviewing of where I am, regarding the various reading challenges I've still got running this year, and where I might be going next year.

Current Challenges

The three main challenges I'm still working on are the Young Readers Challenge, hosted by Becky's Book Reviews, the Suspense & Thriller Challenge hosted by J. Kaye's Books, and the Man-Booker Challenge hosted by The Hidden Side of a Leaf. I've got a couple of other "perpetual" challenges going, but I won't worry about those right now.

The Young Readers Challenge suggested we read at least twelve books for readers under the age of twelve. So far, I've read eight books, although (as with all of the challenges) I haven't managed to get reviews of all of them up yet (but I'm working on that). I suppose it's possible I might get one or two more read by the end of the year. We'll see.

For the Man-Booker Challenge, I've read two of the six books I planned to read, and I should finish up a third later today. So that leaves three more books to read in December. I intend to try very hard to complete this challenge – three books shouldn't be an unattainable goal for one month, even if it is an unusually busy one. But I may end up substituting different titles, since I'm not sure I can lay my hands on my copies of a couple of the books on my original list (that's the trouble with having so many books in storage).

Technically, the Suspense & Thriller Challenge runs all the way through 2009, so it's not really wrapping up in December. But I was supposed to read six books from six different categories by the end of 2008, and at present I've only read four. Again, two more books in the next month wouldn't really seem undoable, even added to the three from the Man-Booker Challenge. That is, if December was a normal month. I'm going to try to finish this one, too – but I'm not making myself any promises.

And that's the way it stands at the moment – for my 2008 reading challenges, I still need to read at least five books, or as many as nine. Can I do it? Well, realistically – probably not. But my main goal in joining all these challenges was to force myself to keep reading, and they've been very successful in doing that. So I don't intend to get my knickers in a twist if I don't quite make it to the finish line.

Looking Ahead

I believe I said something, a couple of months back, about cutting down on the number of challenges I'd be joining in 2009. And I still intend to exercise a bit of caution in choosing, rather than signing up for each and every one that looks appealing (that way lies madness). I also want to try to whittle down my TBR pile, so I'm keeping that in mind as I do my considering – I'll be looking for challenges that allow me to read books I already intended to read next year. But I'm convinced that reading challenges (and book blogging in general, of course) have really helped me recapture my interest in reading; so I don't intend to go completely challenge-free.

In fact, I've already signed up for two new challenges for 2009: the Lost In Translation Challenge, and the Read Your Own Books Challenge. Both of those fill my requirement of letting me read books I'd already planned to read. And the Lost In Translation Challenge also fits in with another of my plans for 2009 – reading more non-U.S. authors.

In addition to those new ones, I'm currently signed up for several challenges that started this year and will be continuing into 2009. I've already mentioned the Suspense & Thriller Challenge. The others are the Book Awards II Challenge which finishes up in June, the What an Animal! Challenge which also ends in June, and the 42 (Sci-Fi) Challenge which runs throughout 2009.

Although that's probably quite enough challenges to keep me busy reading all year, a number of other new challenges have caught my eye. And I've got those divided up into challenges I'm actually planning to sign up for when their sign-up date gets here (only one of those, so far), those that I'm seriously considering, and those that look interesting but not absolutely unavoidable. Here's the list, with some links to the individual challenge pages:

Book Awards II Challenge (signed up)
Lost In Translation (signed up)
Read Your Own Books (signed up)
Suspense & Thriller (signed up)
What an Animal! Challenge (signed up)
42 Challenge (signed up)

Orbis Terrarum Challenge (planning to sign up)

Themed Reading Challenge (thinking about signing up)
What's In a Name 2 Challenge (thinking about signing up)
2009 TBR Lite Challenge (thinking about signing up)

Art History Reading Challenge (looks interesting)
Romance Reading Challenge (looks interesting)
Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge (looks interesting)

Hmmmm. That's really a lot of challenges, isn't it? Well, it's not my fault that so many book bloggers out there keep coming up with such tempting ideas, now is it?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays
is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. This is the first time I've participated in TTs, but I've been following it for a while now.

The rules are these:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

My teaser sentences come from Hotel Du Lac, by Anita Brookner:

She resigned herself to standing around for the requisite amount of time (Penelope did not like one to sit down) when the resonant sentence floated into her consciousness. Tracing it to its source, she saw a tall, lean, foxy man helping himself to a handful of peanuts; she saw, from his back, that he was restless, impatient, and burning to get away. [p. 59]

I do enjoy Brookner's novels. But sometimes by the end of them, all that angst and gloom makes me feel "restless, impatient, and burning to get away," myself!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Blog Widgets

This week, Marie at Boston Bibliophile has this question for the Tuesday Thingers group:
Today's question- Blog Widgets. Do you use them? Do you have them on your blog? Do you know what I'm talking about?:-) A blog widget is that list of books "From my LibraryThing" and such, that you'll sometimes see on someone's sidebar. If you use it, do all of your books show up or do you have it set to only show certain books? Do you have a search widget, which would allow your blog readers to search your library? Have you ever made a photomosaic of your book covers? You can find widgets and photomosaic information on the "Tools" tab in LibraryThing.
I guess I should start by confessing that I suffer from severe techno retardation. Just the terms "search widget" and "photomosaic" are enough to make me start pacing the floor, and sputtering gibberish. And, in addition, I really don't like a lot of clutter on my blog.

So, no I don't have many widgets (actually, I usually refer to them as "thingies"). Not here on my main blog, anyway.

The only LibraryThing widget I've got in my sidebar is just a link to my LT profile page. I used to have an Early Reviewers widget, too, but I took that off because Blogger said my page might load faster if I stripped off as much html as possible. Or something like that (see what I mean about my techno problem?).

All my other thingies widgets are Blogger widgets – a blog archive, and lists of my other blogs, and favorite links and such. And I've put up the little "followers" widget. I figure if there's someone out there nice enough to follow my blog, I should at least give them a mention.

I'm not totally opposed to widgets – in fact, I wouldn't mind putting a photomosaic of some of my book covers up. But that would involve spending the time to figure out how to do it. And I'd probably just end up getting frustrated and pacing the floor, and sputtering gibberish again.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lost In Translation Reading Challenge

And here's another one I just couldn't pass up. The Lost in Translation Challenge is being hosted by Frances of Nonsuch Book, and runs all year, from January 1 to December 31, 2009. You can read all about it on the challenge announcement page, but the basic idea is just to read six books in translation over the course of the challenge.

I've got quite a few translated books on my TBR list already, so I thought this challenge might fit nicely with the Read Your Own Books Challenge I've also signed up for. No list of books is required, but since I'm a confirmed list-maker, here's my prelim:

Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem
If on a winter's night a traveler, by Italo Calvino
Something by Arturo Perez-Reverte (probably The Nautical Chart)
Something by Haruki Murakami (probably After Dark or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle)
Something by Milan Kundera (probably Ignorance)
Something by Jose Saramago (probably The Double)

The Sunday Salon: Gloom for a Sunny Day

I'm very late getting to the Salon this evening, so I'll try to keep this post short. Most of my reading today has been from Anita Brookner's Hotel Du Lac. I'm enjoying it, but I'm very glad I've had a nice sunny day for reading – because the book is not really designed to perk up one's spirits. These are the first few lines:
From the window all that could be seen was a receding area of grey. It was to be supposed that beyond the grey garden, which seemed to sprout nothing but the stiffish leaves of some unfamiliar plant, lay the vast grey lake, spreading like an anaesthetic towards the invisible further shore . . . .
And the book continues on in that same vein – at least as far as I've read. Of course, that's classic Brookner, and I love her novels. But they can be gloomy in the extreme. Take this bit, a little further along:
Her walk along the lake shore reminded her of nothing so much as those silent walks one takes in dreams, and in which unreason and inevitability go hand in hand. As in dreams she felt both despair and a sort of doomed curiosity, as if she must pursue this path until its purpose were revealed to her. The cast of her mind on this evening, and the aspect of the path itself, seemed to promise an unfavourable outcome: shock, betrayal, or at the very least a train missed, an important occasion in rags, an appearance in the dock on an unknown charge. . . . [p. 21]
Fortunately, I'm also reading Rest in Pieces, by Rita Mae Brown (and Sneaky Pie Brown, of course) – one of her Mrs. Murphy mysteries. So when the Brookner becomes just too too depressing, I can get back to watching Mrs. Murphy (who is a pet cat, in case you're not familiar with the series) digging up scattered body parts in the surprisingly bloody little hamlet of Crozet, Virginia. Lots more laughs in that one. No, really, there are.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Read Your Own Books (What a Concept!)

I almost forgot about this. This week I signed up for my first new challenge of the new year, and it's not even December yet. Now what was that I was saying about cutting back on challenges in 2009?

Oh, well. This one just seemed too good to pass up. It's the Read Your Own Books (RYOB) Challenge, and it's being hosted by MizB (of Should Be Reading). No lists to make. No minimum or maximum number of books to read. The basic rules are these:

  • set a goal for how many of your OWN books you’d like to read in 2009
  • read from your own collection between January 1st and December 31st, 2009
How neat is that? You can sign up by visiting the challenge announcement page here, and leaving a comment.

My TBR list has several hundred books on it by now, but I'm going to be conservative and say I'll try to read a dozen of them – that's just one book a month. After all, I want to save some reading time for all those new books I'll inevitably be acquiring during the year, don't I?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Honesty

This week’s BTT topic:
Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?
Interesting topic this week. Well, first of all – I think if you’re doing book reviews (or reviews of any kind of product) and putting them out there in cyberspace for the public to read, you really should be honest. So if you think a book is not worth reading, you should say that. You owe that to the people taking time to read your writing.

On the other hand, I don’t think you have to be nasty or derisive or so brutally blunt that you hurt feelings or inspire wrath. It’s perfectly possible to say that you didn’t particularly like a book without unnecessary sarcasm or ranting. Most writers (not all, I realize – but most) are willing to hear a little criticism of their work as long as it’s of the “constructive” variety, and as long as they think the critic has taken the work seriously and is really expressing a honest opinion.

Of course, I haven’t had that much experience of author reactions to my blog reviews. I’ve only heard from one author about the review I did of his work, and that was a very nice, courteous little note thanking me for my “candid” review (I had written that overall I liked the book, but there were a few things that bothered me and I said so). I’ve heard tales of authors attacking book reviewers (in print – not physically – so far, anyway) who write negative reviews, but fortunately haven’t had to deal with that myself yet. And I’m not sure what sort of “disclaimer” you could use to keep a really disgruntled author from striking back. I suppose if it happened to me, I’d just ignore it unless it got really ugly.

Personally, I rarely finish a book that I really hate. If I’m having to force myself to read a book by the halfway point, it usually gets abandoned. That’s one of the reasons I’ve cut way back on requesting or accepting ARCs. I love getting those free books, but basically I just want to read for pleasure. And that means I’m pretty selective in the titles I choose. And I suppose it also means I’m not likely to be posting any totally negative reviews. But don’t you think life is just too short to waste a lot of time reading books you don’t like? After all, there are an awful lot of really good books out there, calling my name.

But I’m going to be very interested to read what others have to say about this topic. Have you ever tangled with an author over a review you’ve written? And how did you handle it? And are you willing to name names? And if you're an author, how do you handle the frustration of reading those negative reviews? As I said - a really interesting topic.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James

Published by Penguin Books, 1984; 360+ pages

I read this book back in October, for the R.I.P. III Challenge and the Ghostly Challenge, so you can see I’m very late in getting a review up. For some reason, my reviewing activity has dwindled to a standstill lately – there are at least four books I read this past summer that I have yet to blog about. Not that the world is out there waiting on the edge of its seat or anything. But if I don’t put something on paper soon (well, virtual paper anyway), I’ll forget all about what I’ve read! So I should get a move on, right?

Montague Rhodes James was born in Kent, England in 1862 and died in 1936. An antiquarian and medievalist, James was an undergraduate at King’s College, Cambridge, and went on to become a don and finally a provost at that same college. His many scholarly writings were well-known and respected in his day, but today he’s best remembered for his ghost stories. His first collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, appeared in 1904; and several others followed until the first all-inclusive edition was issued in 1931.

James said he wrote the stories intending to “put the reader into the position of saying to himself: ‘If I'm not careful, something of this kind may happen to me!’ ” And in that, I believe he was successful. These are all classic ghost tales – formulaic, to be sure (the settings and characters and basic plots can seem a bit repetitive when you read them all together like this), but still disturbing enough to make you squirm a bit in your comfy chair.

James also claimed not to have any use for “amiable” spirits. His ghosts are malevolent and vindictive and frightening. They are frequently amorphous, monstrous creations – seemingly conjured from ashes or leaves or dust, with few human characteristics about them. They have more in common with Lovecraft’s “nameless horrors” than they do with the ethereal or attractive spirits in some folk tales or modern gothic romances.

This Penguin edition combines all four volumes of M.R. James’s ghost stories. Of all the thirty-one stories, I knew I had read at least one before I started this book – “Casting the Runes.” It was one of the stories included in a book called The Haunted Looking-Glass, a collection of spooky stories chosen and illustrated by Edward Gorey.

Gorey’s book was one of my childhood favorites, and “Casting the Runes” was one of the scariest stories in it – so naturally I loved it. After I got started on this volume, I realized I’d read several more of the stories over the years. In fact, some of my favorite ghost tales are included here – I’d just forgotten they were written by M.R. James. And I was pleased to find that even after all these years “Casting the Runes” remains deliciously creepy, and was once again one of the stories I enjoyed most. It contains a passage that, once read, haunted the bedtimes of my youth for many months afterward:
. . . the electric light was off. The obvious course was to find a match, and also to consult his watch: he might as well know how many hours of discomfort awaited him. So he put his hand into the well-known nook under the pillow: only, it did not get so far. What he touched was, according to his account, a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being. I do not think it is any use to guess what he said or did; but he was in a spare room with the door locked and his ear to it before he was clearly conscious again. And there he spent the rest of a most miserable night, looking every moment for some fumbling at the door: but nothing came.
Just a minute – let me turn on a few more lights.

Other favorites from the collection:

“Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book” – A tourist in an English cathedral town buys a manuscript put together centuries ago by one Canon Albéric de Mauléon, who apparently cut up volumes from the cathedral’s library to fashion his book. The buyer soon discovers that the long-dead Canon Albéric may still be trying to keep an eye on the manuscript he created, and on its new owner.

“The Mezzotint” – Has a similar storyline to “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book,” and actually refers to that tale. In this one, a museum curator acquires a rather nondescript picture of a manor house, which soon proves itself to have some very unique features. Well, as they say, every picture tells a story – and the story this picture tells is a very disturbing one indeed.

“The Haunted Doll’s House” – I guess this would naturally appeal to me, since I’m a doll collector. But I don’t have any doll houses; and after reading this story, I’m really kind of glad of that. In it, a collector of antiques buys an elaborate doll’s house that comes complete with furnishings and miniature occupants. And a rather ghastly tale of its own to tell.

“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” – An academic enjoying a vacation at the seaside finds an ancient bronze whistle, and makes the mistake of blowing into it to hear the sound it makes. (He must not read many ghost stories!) Soon he’s being followed by mysterious shapes and plagued by unpredictable breezes. This story has one of my favorite lines from all the ghost stories I’ve read (you should know that our protagonist is staying alone in a room with two beds):
. . . the reader will hardly, perhaps, imagine how dreadful it was to him to see a figure suddenly sit up in what he had known was an empty bed.
Makes me shiver as I type.

I’ve already mentioned the Edward Gorey collection that introduced me to M.R. James. James’s work really cries out to be illustrated, and Edward Gorey was indeed the perfect choice for the job. This Penguin edition is good in that it contains all the stories; but it could definitely use some pictures. There’s a British edition of M.R James’s work, edited by Michael Cox and illustrated by Rosalind Caldecott, that I’d love to have (insert hint to hubby here). Maybe it’s just a hankering to recapture childhood pleasures, but I really think spooky stories go better with spooky pictures, don’t you?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Popular This Month

This week, the Boston Bibliophile has this question for LibraryThing’s Tuesday Thingers group:

Popular this month on LT: Do you look at this list? Do you get ideas on what to read from it?
Have you read any of the books on the list right now? Feel free to link to any reviews you've done as well.

And the list:

  1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  2. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
  3. Nation by Terry Pratchett
  4. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
  5. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
  6. American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld
  7. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
  8. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel by David Wroblewski
  9. Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland
  10. Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) by Stephenie Meyer

I’ve only read two of these (and reviewed them). I got Mary Ann Shaffer’s “Guernsey” book through LT’s Early Reviewer program. The ARC of American Wife came through an ad I found in the Shelf Awareness online newsletter.

But to answer the first couple of questions: No, I don’t look at it. In fact, I had that feature turned off, so I guess I’d have to say I’ve never gotten any ideas from it. I’m not sure why I decided to take it off my LT home page – just figured I didn’t need it, I suppose. But I do think it’s interesting to see what’s popular with my fellow LT-ers (even if I don't share their enthusiasm), so I might leave it turned on after this.

Of all the books that I haven’t read on the list, I really don’t see any (with the possible exception of Dewey) that really jump out and grab my interest. But then, I was a little skeptical of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society at first, too – and ended up loving it. It was truly a pleasant surprise.

Actually, I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve gotten through the Early Reviewer program, even though a couple of them have seemed a little outside my comfort zone at first glance. And I love pleasant surprises like that. Don’t you?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Booking Through Thursday:Why Buy?

This week’s BTT topic:
I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?

Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?

If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?

Oh, my goodness – what a question! I suppose right here is where I insert the history of my life-long love affair with the written word, and pursuit of the book as object of desire.

OK, don’t worry – I’m not really going to do that.

Why do I buy books? I buy them in order to read them, of course. But I buy them in order to have them, too. I think it’s the repressed librarian in me – I just love the idea of books on shelves. My shelves. The promise and implied possibility that all those volumes represent. I guess that’s also at least part of the reason I have so much trouble getting rid of books.

Why don’t I borrow from the library? Well, at different points in my life I have been more of a library patron than I am now. I love libraries and I love borrowing books from libraries. Unfortunately, our local public library isn’t one of the best I’ve ever encountered. And at the moment I don’t have access to a university library. And since I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to buy books (for now, anyway – although that was not always the case), I’ve gotten used to indulging my book passion in bookstores instead.

And I guess that passion is just something that grew up with me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t own books, beginning with the cloth and board books I had as a tot. And I’m really hoping there will never come a time when I don’t own books. That’s a possibility that’s just too scary to entertain.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Random Notes on Wednesday

Noticed this on the Shelf Awareness website:

Tonight on the Charlie Rose Show: John Updike whose new book is The Widows of Eastwick (Knopf, $24.95, 9780307269607/0307269604). The show also offers a tribute to the late Michael Crichton.

********** has a bunch of new weekly contests starting this holiday season:

From November 7th through January 5th we will spotlight a different title or collection of titles, and readers will have the chance to win one of five holiday baskets filled with winter-themed items as well as two copies of the featured book(s). Why two? One is to keep, of course, and one is for someone on your holiday gift list. We will also include festive wrapping paper to make the gift-giving hassle-free.
This week’s giveaway is featuring The Spy Who Came for Christmas by David Morrell; next week it’s Rita Mae Brown’s Santa Clawed.


Also in today’s issue of Shelf Awareness, there’s an offer for an advance reading copy (while supplies last) of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution by Denis Dutton. It’s due out in December, from Bloomsbury Press (“. . . overturns a century of art theory and criticism and revolutionizes our understanding of the arts”).


Mark your calendar (if you live in the Washington, DC area): On December 4th, 7PM at Politics & Prose Bookstore (5015 Connecticut Avenue NW), Toni Morrison will be the evening's guest author, discussing or reading from her new novel, A Mercy. From the Politics & Prose website: This is a ticketed event. Tickets are $12, or receive 2 free tickets with the purchase of a book ($23.95). Call P&P at 202-364-1919 for ticket and book purchase.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Stuff

This week, Boston Bibliophile’s question for the Tuesday Thingers is about LibraryThing stuff:

LT Things - t-shirts, bags, cue cats - are you into the "stuff"? Do you use a cuecat to enter your books, or do you enter them manually? What do you think of the stuff?

I wouldn’t say I’m really into the LibraryThing stuff. I think this was the first time I’ve ever looked at the “shop” and all its items for sale. Don’t think I’m likely to buy T-shirts or stickers or magnets, but the tote bag and coffee mug might be something I’d be interested in. Probably not the Classic Thong, though. Even if it is made in the USA.

I did buy a Cue-cat, back when I first started getting serious about listing all our books. And it was really helpful for cataloguing the newer books that have barcodes. Lately I’ve been listing mostly older books, so I haven’t used the “cat” in a while. But I still think it was a good purchase, and yes, it is very cute. Right now, though, it’s sitting in a drawer by my computer where I can’t even see it.

Another thing I hadn’t known about before today – LT has printable bookmarks! I had a little trouble getting them to download in pdf form, so I had to open them in Word to see them. But that worked fine. And it was very exciting, since I'm a real bookmark junkie. Well, that passes for excitement around here anyway. Think maybe I need to get out more?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Sunday Salon: Hello Again

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve joined in the Salon. Sundays have become really busy days for me, these last couple of months. Haven’t had as much time to read as I’d like. Well, I guess it’s not that I haven’t had the time – it’s just that I’ve been spending almost every waking moment playing with my Flickr account. I finally decided it was time to start doing something with all those hundreds of photographs stored on my hard drive – organizing and sharing and making sure we’ve got off-site back-ups of everything. So I’ve been uploading and editing like a fiend all this week, and still have lots of work to do. It’s been fun, but a monster of a time-eater.

The most time I actually spent reading during the last week was the three hours while I was standing in line at the polls on Tuesday. Well, two hours and fifty-seven minutes. Managed to get through about a third of Rest In Pieces, another Mrs. Murphy mystery by Rita Mae Brown. I would have done a little better than that, but I was surrounded by a pretty friendly group, so a great deal of the time was also spent exchanging views and gossip. And wondering why the heck it was taking so long for the line to move (unexpectedly heavy voter turn-out), and hoping the rain would hold off until we got inside the building (it did).

The end of October brought with it the end of two of the challenges I was involved in – the R.I.P. III Challenge and the Ghostly Challenge both ended October 31. And although I still haven’t managed to get all the book reviews written, I did write a wrap-up post. The books I read were Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey, The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs [see review], and the Penguin Complete Ghost Stories by M.R. James. I enjoyed them all, although “Eva” turned out to be a very strange sort of ghost tale. At any rate, I’ll be posting reviews of that one and of the book of James’s stories later this week.

At the moment, I’m reading Descartes’ Bones by Russell Shorto and Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner. I received the ARC of the Shorto book last month – it’s been a while since I read any nonfiction and I’m enjoying it quite a lot. The Brookner is one of the books I’m reading for the Man-Booker Challenge, which ends next month. I’ve got three other books to read for that one, which means I really need to get busy.

So right now I’m going to have to wrap this up, tear myself away from all those photographs, and get back to my reading. Oh, and also try to resist that new little needlepoint kit I bought at Mount Vernon today. Seems I’ve started getting interested in doing some needlework again, after twenty years or so. Don’t know why that should be happening – the urge has lain dormant all these many years. I wonder if there’s any way to do needlework and read at the same time. Aside from resorting to audiobooks, that is. Probably not, but if you’ve figured out a system for that, please let me know.

Oh, and if you're headed for Mount Vernon to take a look at George Washington's home, the restaurant there, the Mount Vernon Inn, is a great place for lunch. Try the turkey pie.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Presents!

This week’s BTT topic: What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present? Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book itself? The “gift aura?”

First of all, Happy Birthday, Deb. And many more. Hope you get lots of good books as gifts!

Wow, this week’s BTT turned out to be a real walk down the well-known memory lane for me. I really hadn’t intended to spend so much time on it. But once I started thinking about the question and looking at old books, I just got completely carried away.

Dontcha love it when that happens?

At first I was tempted just to say I don’t get books as gifts, and let it go at that. Which would have been mostly true – my friends and family really aren’t givers-of-books. Not into that. They might give me a gift card from a bookstore. And that’s fine – they’re perfectly lovely folks and have many other wonderful traits and endearing habits. But that means I mostly buy my own books. And it also means I had to go back pretty far into the distant past (think Early Pleistocene) to come up with books I received as gifts.

The first one that came to mind is my copy (well, one of my copies) of J.D. Salinger’s Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour An Introduction. It was given to me by my husband-to-be on my 18th birthday, and it has a really nice little personal inscription in the back (“. . . on the first day of your eighteenth year. . .” – nowadays, M is usually quick to point out that it was actually the first day of my nineteenth year, but that doesn’t make it any less sweet). We were both devout Salinger enthusiasts at the time, and I think M fancied himself a sort of working-class, slightly older version of Holden Caulfield. Fortunately, he grew out of that rather quickly. (I always saw him as more of a George Harrison type, myself.) I think that’s the only book gift I’ve received as an adult that really made a deep impression on me. Loved the stories, loved the gift, loved the gift-giver. Loved being eighteen.

After that, I had to reach pretty far back into my childhood to come up with gift books that were anywhere near as memorable. But I recall receiving as Christmas presents three storybooks that I always loved and all of which I still have. In fact, I may have gotten them all at the same time – the publication dates are pretty close together. And they’re all dated within just a few years of my birth date, so I must have been really little when I received them. They’re all those oversized, beautifully illustrated storybooks they used to do for kids back in the late 1940s and early 50s.

One of them is The Bumper Book by Watty Piper with illustrations by Eulalie, which I think is still being published today, or being published again. Seems to me I’ve seen some recent editions listed on eBay. It’s a gorgeous book with lots of classic children’s tales and verses – “Wynken, Blynken and Nod,” “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat,” and many others. All with amazing illustrations by the wonderful Eulalie.

There’s also Johnny Gruelle’s Golden Book, written and illustrated by Johnny Gruelle (oddly enough). Gruelle was the originator of the Raggedy Ann books, and this book includes sections on “Raggedy Ann’s Alphabet” and “Raggedy Andy’s Numbers.”

And the third title in the group is The Everyday Story Book, illustrated by Signe Ivarson (who I’m assuming also wrote the stories, although the book doesn’t make that clear). The pictures in this one are just too cute to be believed – they look a lot like all those books of pink-and-perky paper dolls from the 1950s. And in fact, when I opened my copy this morning, I found a pile of homemade paper dolls I’d done by tracing the illustrations. How cute, if I do say so myself, is that?

See what I mean about walking down memory lane?

But my absolute favorite gift book I ever received is a book called 365 Bedtime Stories, which I got for Christmas when I was about nine years old. It’s a jumbo-sized storybook by the Whitman Company, written by Nan Gilbert and illustrated by Jill Elgin. It has a one-page story for every day of the year, and the stories are all about the children and families who live on What-a-Jolly Street. The end papers are a map of What-a-Jolly Street, with all the houses illustrated, along with the school at the end of the street. I loved What-a-Jolly Street. And I loved all the people who lived on What-a-Jolly Street. I used to read a story every night at bedtime (by this time, I was tucking myself in), and I was very careful not to read ahead. Obviously, I was already a book nerd by the age of nine.

Over the years, I managed to lose my original copy of 365 Bedtime Stories. But when eBay came along, I was able to track a copy down (well, two, actually). A really over-priced copy, of course. But now it’s back in my library and I can revisit What-a-Jolly Street anytime the real world gets just a little too real.

Gosh, what a shameless display of nostalgia-wallowing this has been! And I didn’t even talk about the little white leather Bible I received from (I think) one of my grandmothers when I was about six or seven (probably the Protestant grandmother – I think the Catholic one already knew I was a hopeless heathen by then). I’ve still got it, though it’s very fragile now, and the zipper is coming loose. I grew up to be not really very religious, but I still cherish that gift.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Work Multiples

This week, the Boston Bibliophile has managed to come up with another great question for the Tuesday Thingers group:

Work multiples. Do you own multiple copies of any books? Which ones? Why? Can you share your list?

Well, in answer to the first question – yes, I have multiple copies of many books. I will not bore everyone with the full list. Quite a few of them are in storage (almost my entire Huckleberry Finn collection, for instance), and I haven’t been able to list them in my LibraryThing catalogue yet.

Also, the list that I come up with when I look at the “Work Multiples” category under “Statistics” doesn’t really reflect my actual LT catalogue. For instance, it shows that I have eleven copies of various editions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. But when I do a search for those titles in my Library, I come up with fifteen different editions. And I notice several other instances where the Statistics page doesn’t really mesh with my actual collection.


We have multiple copies of the works of Shakespeare (you would expect that of English majors, I guess) and the Bible. And Dante. And several American authors because we had individual editions of their works and then acquired the Library of America collections and just haven’t managed to rid ourselves of the earlier copies yet.

I really do try not to keep multiple copies of a book unless it’s one I really love. So I was a bit surprised to see how many duplicate titles I actually have (24). Some of them (the Barbara Pyms, the Anthony Powells, the Muriel Sparks) I can understand. But how the heck did we end up with two copies of The Madwoman in the Attic by Gilbert and Gubar, or Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, especially that copy in German?

And surely nobody really needs two copies of Three Tragedies by Federico Garcia Lorca. Or even one copy, come to think of it. I mean life is depressing enough on its own, right? (Sorry – but that’s what waiting in line three hours to vote can do.)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A Ghostly Challenge and R.I.P. III Challenge Completed

I know I’m a little late with this wrap-up post – I’ve spent much of October on the road, and haven’t been able to do much blogging or reading on a regular basis. And I still have to write up my reviews of two of the books, but at least I’ve done the reading. So I feel like I’ve completed the challenges, even if only technically.

Both challenges ended with the month of October, and were similar in make-up – and at first I thought I’d probably read the same books for both of them. As it turned out, one of the books I read for the Ghostly Challenge (Eva Moves the Furniture), while it involved ghosts, wasn’t terribly spooky. So I ended up with slightly different results.

For the R.I.P. III Challenge, I read The House With a Clock in Its Walls, by John Bellairs [see review], and The Penguin Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James [review to come]. And for the Ghostly Challenge, my books were Eva Moves the Furniture [review to come], and (again) the Penguin M.R. James collection.

I want to say thanks to Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting the R.I.P. III Challenge (and I’m already looking forward to number IV), and to Callista at SMS Book Reviews for hosting A Ghostly Challenge (can we hope for another edition next year?). I really wish I’d had more time to devote to both challenges, because I love reading scary stories. I’ve certainly enjoyed looking at all the reviews by other challenge participants. And I’ve gotten some great ideas about other books I want to investigate. Not that I really need to be adding titles to that already overwhelming TBR pile!