Monday, October 16, 2006
I may come back here later, but for now, one blog is all I can handle...
Friday, September 15, 2006
Here in Missouri they have a program called Read MOre, where they pick a book and try to get as many people in the state to read it as possible. Poking around on the official website, I see that this is the fifth year that they have done this. I have a vague memory of the general idea last year, but I could never have come up with the book they read on my own (Betsy Brown, by Ntozake Shange). This year the book was Messages from My Father, by Calvin Trillin.
I didn't really figure this thing out even this year until all of the activities were complete, which is too bad. I like Calvin Trillin. I will probably still read the book, but I missed out on the author visit in June, the book discussion groups, the film series, the seminar on reasearching your family stories and other activities. There is a writing activity still active on the website, although, oddly, it says the deadline has been extended, but not what the new deadline is.
I do have another chance coming up on October 7 to make up for missing this one. It's called The Big Read, and it's even within walking distance of my house! Unfortunately my children will be at their dad's house on that day, but I still think it will be worth my time. There are going to be several different authors there, some local to St. Louis, and some not. I printed out a schedule today, and I think I may search out some of the books that will be featured. Sebastion Junger, who wrote A Death in Belmont about his family's connection to the Boston Strangler, will be there. I think I will have to read that book. They also have an event with three memoir writers, including J. R. Moehringer, who wrote The Tender Bar. I have been thinking about reading that one anyway.
What kind of public reading programs are there in other parts of the country?
Now, I am a book geek, so I keep track of the books that I read. Actually, I just started at the end of last year, but I have a cool spreadsheet that tells me that I have read 62 books so far this year. Some of them are long (there are seven books over 500 pages, the longest was 897). Some of them were difficult (Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi and Ungrateful Daughters by Maureen Waller, for example). At least one was long and difficult (The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova at 642 pages). So I know that it is possible to read a lot of books in one year, even with some weighty books in there.
But I am not the President of the United States. And I don't work out for two hours every day. And I wasn't functionally illiterate just last year.
This is a man who talks about how he has his aides read his daily news summaries to him. Who believes he is suddenly a voracious reader? In order to read 62 books so far this year, I had to work at it. I had to ignore my messy house and make difficult decisions about whether I should go to bed or stay up and read just a bit more. I had to read at every possibly opportunity. This was not difficult for me, because I love to do it. But for someone who doesn't really like to read, it just isn't credible.
But my big question about this whole thing is, who is his intended audience with this stunt? He wasn't pulling the "Aw shucks, I'm just a regular guy, not an elitist" routine for fun. He was clearly playing to a large section of voters. So it seems like suddenly claiming to read 60 book in a year might not go over well with them. And people who really do read a lot just don't believe him. They know how much time reading takes, and how hard it is to fit in a busy life. I would hope that most people have less busy lives than the president of the United States, although with this president it is hard to tell.
What do you think--what is the point of this claim? Do you believe he has read 60 books so far this year?
Friday, September 01, 2006
Just as I was nearing the end of this masterpiece, the power went out for about 30 seconds. It wasn’t storming, but it was windy, so I guess some wires were temporarily blown out of full connection or something. We barely had enough time to register what was happening before the power came back on. The dvd that the kids were watching resumed right where it had left off. My virtuoso piece of writing, however, was gone. This discouraged me so much that I haven’t been back since, except for the brief post of pictures.
I have kept up my reading and my list, though, so I decided today that it was time to stop being silly and start again. Of course, I am composing this in Word and saving often, but at least I am writing it. It seems appropriate anyway--getting back to work after a summer vacation. My daughter went back to school last week, and now I am getting back into the routine, too.
So, I am sure anyone who has read this blog before (all, what? 5 or 6 of you?) is dying to know where my count for the year stands. I am at 61 books for the year. Not bad for the first 8 months of the year, but my pace has definitely fallen off what it was at the beginning of the year, when I was averaging two per week. I knew I would not maintain that for the whole year, though, and I am not even sure that I would want to, at least from the standpoint of having a life in the real world. On the other hand, there are so many books out there to read that it seems like I should hurry up and get to them all.
A quick look at some of the statistics of my reading:
• Science Fiction is my top genre now, with 20 books, or just under 33%.
• General Fiction, a bit of a catch-all category, is in close second, with 19 books, or just over 31%.
• Non-Fiction as a whole sits at 14 books, or nearly 23%.
Overall, my list is fairly diverse, which is good. I have not updated the Books-To-Be-Read list lately, so the 47 books on there do not reflect all the books I have waiting. I joined the Science Fiction Book Club, so I got a bunch of books in the mail from them, and the only ones that made it on the list were the ones I have finished, and those aren’t the only books I have bought and not documented. My list of Books-To-Buy sits at 39, but I am sure that could use some updating, too.
I am thinking of trying to put my spreadsheet out on the new Google spreadsheet. I have a problem with wanting to update my list both at home and at work, and keeping those in synch is tough. If I had it out on the web, that would help a lot. Plus, I could put a link here, because I am sure this would be just as fascinating to everyone else as it is to me. Kind of like a train wreck.
Anyway, that is where I stand, reading-wise. I have also recently joined the community center so that I can work out more, signed up to volunteer more at my daughter’s school, and gotten tremendously busy at work. More on all that later, though.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Monday, May 08, 2006
The Barbara Delinsky book, I loved, as usual. While it addressed issues of abuse and abandonment, both from parents and spouses, it was overall a pretty light and easy read. It had a romance, and the central mystery (the main character was adopted as an infant, and she is looking for her birth parents) was intriguing. While not strictly in the romance genre, it is definitely a book written for women to enjoy, and I certainly did enjoy it. So, I decided to turn to my stack of ignored books and try them out.
First, I picked up Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber by Adele Lang. Eh. Why would I want to read a book about a shallow, mean, vacant sociopath? Especially one who manages to turn her terrible character flaws into a newspaper column, and, according to the cover, a movie? I am sure there is a deeper point to all this, but 50 pages into the book, I still wasn’t really sure I wanted to continue, which I take as a sign to stop. Actually, that wasn’t the kicker—the kicker was that when I put it down and came back later, I had no real desire to pick it up again. I’ve read books that I wasn’t sure I liked (see Life Before Man below, but also Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, which turned out to be one of the best books I had read in a while), but I kept coming back to them. While I was reading, I would view them as books I was giving a try, and I wasn’t sure if I would continue, but every time I had time to read again, I would pick them up. With this one, I put it down, went to do something else and found myself coming back not to it, but to the bookshelves to see what else I could find.
Every Inch of Her, by Peter Sheridan was next. It was all right. I brought it to work with me and read it on the train. I had a hard time feeling sorry for the protagonist, though, a woman who leaves her 5 children at home with her abusive husband and tries to join a convent. Still, I didn’t find myself putting it down to look out the train window instead, so I thought I might finish it. Only, when I got out of work, I had no desire to read further. Fortunately, reading wasn’t on the menu that night anyway—it was my friend Ellen’s last day at work, and we went out to happy hour and beyond to say goodbye to her.
When I was ready to read again, I decided I had had enough of the stack of ignored books. I went to the bookstore again (It was Mandy’s fault! She knows I have no will power when it comes to the bookstore!), and bought books that I really want to read. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote (great book, wow, very impressive). Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (I am only 40 pages into this book, and already deeply attached to the main character—and no, I haven’t seen the movie). Lake News, by Barbara Delinsky. Don't Eat This Book, by Morgan Spurlock. I have other books on my shelf that I do want to read, but I think I am going to get rid of that stack that I never seem to want to get to. Life is too short for mediocre books.
Also, my list of books-to-be-read will become much shorter. And then I won’t have to feel so guilty the next time Mandy suggests a visit to the bookstore….
I am too tired to go find the links for the books I mention in this post, but I don't want to leave it for later, so I am putting it out there in the hopes that I will get back to it later to finish the links. And, if not, Google is your friend (or amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com or any other book website).
Monday, May 01, 2006
I should have known it would be like this. My wise and wonderful friend, Tiny Coconut, when summarizing the books she listened to on tape last year, mentioned that she was sobbing at the end of the book--an ending that completely blindsided her. I have been wondering what that was the whole time I was reading this book, and I got near the end tonight while eating dinner out. My kids are at their dad's, and it seems less lonely to eat out when they are gone, so I thought I would risk it, although I knew I would get pretty close to the end within an hour or so of reading. Just over an hour after I got to the restaurant, I had to put the book down, because I was starting to cry. I quickly paid the check and left, because while I didn't want to make a scene in the restaurant, I wanted to find out what happened.
Oh my God, it got worse when I got home. I bawled. I had to put the book down and just sob, because I couldn't see the pages. I soaked through tissues--three of them. After I was able to pick up the book and read the last few pages, I cried some more. Then I stared off into space, dazed. Heck, I am starting to tear up again now. I may cry myself to sleep tonight.
Sure, this book has its problems (the characterization of the mother was a bit off, for one), but it was well worth the time. The questions that Picoult raises are good ones, and she doesn't try to make them easy; life is not like that, esecially when dealing with complicated questions like childhood cancer and donations of body parts. The ending may have been a bit manipulative, but it was very well done. I can't believe I didn't see that ending coming.
Monday, April 24, 2006
So, what am I reading now? Reading Lolita in Tehran. Gee, it's a good thing I went to something lighter, huh? Oh wait, except this one is not only dense and difficult, it's true. Don't get me wrong, this is a fascinating book, but we are talking about a serious scholar who is discussing 20th century fiction while placing it in the context of revolutionary Iran, and commenting intelligently and passionately on both topics. Azar Nafisi is a brave woman, and this is most obvious when she discusses the great fear and helplessness that she felt during her time teaching in Tehran. This is a very scary book, but also a hopeful one--showing how people can still grab for beauty and truth in even the most oppressive environments. I am glad that I picked this up from my shelf, where it has been waiting for me for a few months now.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
I did combine these two goals in a manner of speaking the other night--I walked to the bookstore with a friend. I have been doing a lot better about buying books lately; I have read nine books and most of a tenth since the last time I bought books. And, I only bought 5 books this time, so I am still ahead. However, I still have 54 books on my list of books-to-be-read, and I am sure there are still books on my shelf that are not on the list that I have not read. It's almost enough to make me want to become a hermit and spend all my time reading to catch up. Next time Mandy asks me to go to the bookstore, I am going to say no!
My current book is The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, and it is taking me forever. I have been reading this book for about 2 weeks; my normal pace is 2 books per week! Part of the problem is that it is a very long book (642 pages), and I am kind of in a reading lull at the moment. Also, it is about Dracula, which is not my favorite subject. And a LOT happens in this book. It is going back and forth to about three different (relatively modern) time periods, plus all the stuff they are learning about in the 15th century. I hope to finish this today.
Before this, I read The Russia House, by John Le Carre. What a great book! My friend Michael said that he was surprised that I was reading a spy thriller, and I told him that while I do like spy thrillers in general, I think it is a mistake to think of John Le Carre as just a writer of spy thrillers. He is a great author who happens to write spy thrillers. His prose is almost lyrical and just a joy to read. The story is good, too, but you can't help but notice that his writing skills are definitely a cut above the general run of successful authors--which is already a pretty high level.
Monday, April 03, 2006
My last post contained a lot of generalities about what I am reading; this one will contain observations about specific books. I've read 22 books since the last one I mentioned by name (Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood), and it is just about bedtime, so I won't get to them all, but I can at least make a start.
- I am not liking the Martha Grimes books as much as I used to. They seem to be getting a bit sloppy now that she has written a gazillion of them or so (well, okay, 19). The last one, The Winds of Change is about pedophilia and a kidnapped child, but unlike The Lamorna Wink, which dealt with similar issues, I found myself more annoyed with the flimsy plot than moved by it. Maybe I didn't read it closely enough, but when it got to the end and Inspector Jury explained how he figured it out ("It was the cross on the tree that led me in the right direction."--I'm paraphrasing, but that's about it), I just thought, but HOW did that tell you what you wanted to know? Plus, I am having trouble believing in the main character's gorgeous good looks these days. Doing the math, he has to be over 60, yet he has women falling at his feet everywhere he goes, and he talks of settling down and having children when he finds the right woman (despite a history with women that is nothing short of disastrous--off the top of my head, two women he gets involved with die soon after, and one is accused of murder). He seems a bit old to be so hopeful at this point. And he is getting rather broody, which gets annoying. And on top of all that, Ms. Grimes has developed a nasty habit of starting the next book at the end of the one you are reading, or leaving a cliff hanger, presumably to make you rush out and by the next one, which seems a bit manipulative to me. Still, I like the characters, especially the supporting cast, so I will probably buy the latest and read it--but not until it comes out in paperback.
- In a slightly strange development, I read Albert Camus' The Stranger, which I had been meaning to read for years, ever since The Cure came out with the song Killing an Arab. When I say I have been meaning to read it all this time (some 20 years or so--my God, how did I get old enough to type that?), what I really mean is, I thought about every once in a while without making any real effort to do so. But earlier this year someone had a fundraiser at work where a bunch of people donate old books for a sale, and I came across it and decided to buy it. Actually, it may have been last year, now that I think about it, and it just sat on the far corner of the desk on the side of my cubicle at work, until one day in February when I finished my book and didn't have a backup, so I decided to go ahead and read The Stranger. It was a good book, very odd and compelling, but the really strange part is that about a week later, I picked up The Year's Best Science Fiction Twenty Second Annual Collection. There was a story in there that dealt with an alternate world with Camus as a major character. The story was largely drawn from The Stranger, and if I hadn't read it, it wouldn't have made much sense at all. What a weird coincidence.
- Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner is a really cool book. In my new fantasy life of what I would do if I didn't need that pesky job of mine, I would move to Chicago, and try to get a PhD in economics with Steven Levitt as my faculty sponsor (is that the right term?). Fascinating stuff, including the economics of drug gangs (Chapter title: Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?), whether parenting matters (answer: not much, if you are measuring by test scores, but quite a lot if you are measuring other success factors, like the likelihood to attend college, get a well-paying job and avoid teen marriage), and information on cheating in the teaching profession and sumo wrestling (and, incidentally, in life in general). Obviously, this guy has a different way of looking at the world than a lot of people. He also uses creative methods to get data, or to use data that exists for another purpose (including data on test scores to measure teacher cheating, and business records of a bagel salesman to study corporate cheating). I was afraid this book was going to be one of those pop science books where people pose interesting questions and then make guesses about the answers without any real evidence to back them up, but this guy obviously put a lot of work into his conclusions.
I am hitting a hard stop at bedtime here. Actually, I passed that by awhile back, but I can no longer ignore it. I'll have to look at the rest of my list again soon; I know there are other books on there I want to talk about. That is the cool thing about having a list, though--I don't have to do it now, the list will be there to remind me what I have been reading later.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
On the other hand, I am excited to finally have enough books on my list of those I have read for it to start being interesting. For instance, at the beginning of this month, I filtered the list for Science Fiction books, and was very surprised to only find 4 of them. Granted, there were only 28 books on the list at that time, and for many people, 4 would be a large number of books to devote to science fiction, but it is one of my favorite genres. I immediately went out and bought 2 Philip K. Dick books, Lies, Inc, and Paycheck and Other Classic Stories. I also bought two more science fiction novels this weekend--Psychlone by Greg Bear, and Time Out of Joint, again by Philip K. Dick.
This morning I even took a stab at cleaning up the second and third pages of my workbook. I moved books that I had bought from my list of books-to-buy over to my list of books-to-be-read. I deleted books-to-be-read that I actually had read, but had forgotten to remove from the list. I even added the five books that I bought yesterday to the list of books-to-be-read. I ended up with 49 books to be read, 29+ books to buy and 33 books read since the end of last November. Looking back a couple of posts, it looks like I have made progress going through the books I own (my post from January 8 says that I had 53 books on the to-be-read list), but that is probably because I didn't look through my bookshelves to see what still needs to be added.
So, here are some random thoughts I had when looking over my list of books so far.
- I haven't read as many memoirs lately as I thought I had. I have bought some, but there are only two memoirs that are actually completely read. This is interesting to me, because it seemed to me that lately I have been reading a lot of memoirs. This is probably due to several factors: reading those two very close together in time, purchasing 3 more right after reading those, and endlessly debating the nature of memoirs with my friend Michael after that whole James Frey thing.
- I read a lot of collections of books. I like to find an author that I like and read everything by him or her. I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It does mean I read a lot of books that I like, but I wonder if it means that I am lacking in breadth and diversity.
- Counteracting the above observation to some degree, I read a lot more non-fiction than I did when I was younger. I used to be a fiction-only kind of gal, but now I find myself enjoying non-fiction quite a bit more. I have only completed 5 non-fiction books in the past 4 months or so that I have been listing them, but I have others that I know I will read, and hey, I'm sitting at 15% of the total books that I have read. It's not a huge percentage, but it is significant.
- Even though I feel like I have been reading more slowly lately, I am still on a pace of two books per week.
- I don't read nearly as many magazines lately as I used to. I want all of my reading to count for this list, dammit! I do still read newspapers, though, and lots and lots of stuff for work.
- Having a list makes me much more conscious of what I am reading, and not always in a good way. I want my list to make me look intelligent, so I put off reading The Summer I Dared, by Barbara Delinsky, for a while because it felt too lightweight. I finally read it last week and finished it in a day. I stayed up until 1 AM on a work night because I HAD to know how it ended. So, snobbery could have robbed me of a great reading experience. Who cares if a book is weighty? It should just be good.
I thought about adding some kind of intellectual point after that last observation, but stopped myself just in time ;-).
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Today I succumbed to the siren call of the Borders gift card. It started out so innocently. I am missing a book in my Martha Grimes series, so I thought I would go see if the Borders near me had it. I had looked at a couple of other bookstores, but not this one yet. I knew it was dangerous, but I thought I could handle it. Of course, things started falling apart before I was even fully in the store.
In the alcove between the two sets of doors, they have set up a bunch of bargain books. I was just going to breeze through, but I saw an interesting looking yoga dvd and book set. I have been wanting to try yoga, but I don't want to go take a class, so I veered over to check it out. This is not a problem, I said to myself. It's not even a book I will need to add to my list. It's a reference book, not yet another book-to-be-read. But then, naturally, there was a sign declaring Buy 3 Bargain Books, Get the 4th FREE! So, I had to pick out 3 more, didn't I?
Once inside the doors, I headed straight for the mystery section to see if they had what I actually came to get. No such luck. They did, however, have a book at the end of the series that I had not yet purchased, so that was added to my stack.
At this point, I needed to sit down and look over my choices. I can't go to the bookstore without sitting down and reading parts of the books, making sure I really want them, and just enjoying the bookstore atmosphere. On my way to the back of the bookstore, however, I passed the table of Buy 3 for the Price of 2! trade paperbacks. I picked up three of those and continued on my way. One last pickup--a daytimer for mom's, marked down to only $4!--and I was looking at the stack.
Now, here the story gets a little better. I started out with the Day-Timer. It was pretty intimidating, let me tell you. The directions for use recommended setting three hours aside to get the thing set up. Hmm. That sounded like something that was more likely to produce guilt than organization. I set it aside and started in on the books. After looking through the trade paperbacks, all of which (Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, edited by Dave Eggers, and Size 12 is Not Fat, by Meg Cabot) looked excellent, and moving the Martha Grimes book to the buy pile, I turned to my stack of bargain books.
And then came my minor victory. I realized that I only really wanted the yoga dvd. The world would not come to an end if I didn't buy 3 to get the 4th FREE! And anyway, I was already getting Size 12 is Not Fat free, so I wasn't completely forgoing free books. So, I put the 3 bargain books back, along with the intimidating organizer.
Of course, I still bought 5 books, none of which were the one I went to the bookstore expressly to get, but hey, I did call it a minor victory.
Friday, January 13, 2006
One thing I really didn't like about the book--it had a discussion guide at the end. I suppose that those can be helpful to structure a book group discussion, but I find them irritating. First of all, I read for fun, not to take a test at the end. Also, it seems kind of lazy to me. If you are going to have a book group, shouldn't you come up with the discussion questions yourselves? I've never belonged to a book group, so I don't know for sure, but it seems to me that if I were in one, it would be to discuss how the book spoke to us as readers, not to determine if I could answer a bunch of academic questions. Part of the fun would be discovering these questions and topics through discussion, not through reading a list. So, it makes me feel lazy (this slothful reader-for-pleasure, no literary analysis for me), but it also seems lazy to use the guides if you are going in for literary analysis. Which is probably just snobbishness, but they annoy me anyway.
Total number of books on my list of not-read-yet books: 53.
I finished two, I discovered that I actually had read one, and I added a bunch of books I bought at the book closeout place Monday night while the kids were at their dad's. I didn't add all of them, though, so the actual number of books that I haven't read is higher, but I ran out of energy for typing them in.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Friend: You always seem to have a different book, how do you have so much time to read?
Me: My house is a mess!
We both laugh.
Me: Plus, I read a lot when my kids are at their dad's house.
Friend, nodding: Oh, yeah, I bet that helps a lot.
But I was serious with the first response. So, the past couple of weeks, I have been working on getting some of the clutter out of my house, putting things where they belong, and generally cleaning up around here. The apartment looks a lot nicer, but it is seriously cutting into my reading time.
And I need my reading time, because (are you ready for a shocker, here?), I bought still more books this weekend. The book closeout store is closing soon, so they have marked all of their books down to $4 per hardback and $2 per paperback. I tried to be picky, and I think I got some good stuff, but I still bought a bunch of books. I am thinking I might go back next weekend when the kids are at their dad's house, too. It's just such a good deal! I didn't see anything that was on my list of books to buy, but I did get a couple of books written by the same authors as some of the books on the list, so that is good. Total number of books that I own, but have not yet read: 48.
In other news, I have been trying to get back to healthy eating lately. I used to be insanely fanatic about eating healthy food only, but that's been a while, and my figure shows it. Plus, I feel more tired and generally yucky, so I am going back to eating the good stuff. I spent an arm and a leg at the grocery store today and last week stocking up on some stuff, and buying expensive winter produce. I am at that awkward stage of food transition where I never feel quite satisfied by the healthy food, so I feel like I am hungry all the time, even though I am eating enough food. If I do succumb and try something fatty, though, it doesn't satisfy, either; it lays like a brick in my stomach and feels greasy and too rich. I just need to get through this, though, and I will be satisfied with the good stuff, I know it!