Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Giving Thanks

I adore our week of Thanksgiving. We gather family around us and cook like mad for days and days. Books and Kindles are strewn across every available surface and for once they are not all mine. Puzzles, old photographs, funny stories, cooking, cleaning, (and a touch of politics to spice it up,) make the act of remembering nearly synonymous with giving thanks. Being up in the mountains with snow flurries filling the sky doesn't hurt either.

And you, fellow book fiends: I am thankful for you as well.  Knowing there are like-minded folk out there gives me reason to be thankful every day. My thoughts are with you all today—I hope you are able to find a moment of peace and a kernel of joy. Happy November!

Friday, November 6, 2015

For the Record: October 2015

My readathon books
Probably the most exciting bookish news for me is that I participated in Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-thon for the first time in October. My weekends are typically too busy to do much reading, so it was a treat to be able to take time out and push through some books.

No, wait...the most exciting bookish news for me is that I'm almost done setting up my library! What a dream come true—all of my books accessible and visible at long last. I have a bit more sorting to do and need to go find myself a reading chair, but pretty thrilling all the same. Pictures coming soon!

13 Books Read in October! [74 books year-to-date]

2 Classics:
  - Animal Farm, George Orwell (4) This was my first time reading this little guy. I assumed that I wouldn't like it much since it's one of those "required reading" books, but it wasn't at all heavy handed (a la Lord of the Flies). Even though it was obviously written with a political statement in mind, I found it entertaining and interesting.
  - Right Ho, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse (3.5) The humor was actually a bit tiresome for me, but then I was at the end of a readathon with a head cold really kicking in, so it could totally be a matter of timing.

2 NonFiction:
  - The Big Burn, Timothy Egan (3) I'd been meaning to read this for a long time, even more so since loving Egan's The Worst Hard Time. For whatever combination of reasons, I found this book very hard to focus on and continue reading. The parts with Teddy Roosevelt were great, but they were also few and far between.  This is actually more of a biography of the guy who spearheaded the National Forest Service, and whose name I've already forgotten.  Pinchot, I think. Not a bad book, just not suited for me at this time.
  - A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson (4) I listened to the audio version, and liked Bryson so much in that capacity that I may not read a physical copy of his book again. The story was enjoyable. As is typical for me, there were times when Bryson's soapbox aggravated me...not because of his views as much as his views contradict each other and he doesn't seem to realize it. It was interesting reading his comments on the National Forest Service after having just completed The Big Burn. Now I need to remember to watch the film adaptation!


4 Adult Fiction:
  - Wolf Winter, Cecilia Eckback (4.5) Wow wow wow, thank you Powell's Indiespensable for a wonderful selection! This book was somewhat dark and creepy, steeped in Nordic superstition at a time when witch hunts were not too unimaginable. This isn't the type of book I'd usually give 5 stars, but I enjoyed it that much. This isn't your typical historical fiction or mystery. (It's much better!)(Disclaimer: I like books that focus on characters more than plot, so it might be slow for other readers...though I didn't find it to be that way at all.)
  - Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline (3.5) I've read so many books recently that try to combine a modern story with an historical story and fail to make either fully fleshed out. This is kind of typical book club fare, but at least it was written better than the others. It made me decide that I do not like present tense writing as a general rule, but it was good for a quick read.
  - Did You Ever Have a Family, Bill Clegg (4.5) If you're up for a uniquely written book that sucks you in, this one's for you. Powell's Indiespensable selected another winner! If a changing point-of-view drives you batty, maybe think twice about reading this. Each section was a different perspective, and often it was one you had to figure out. It does tie together in the end, and paints a complex picture of life, love, and grief.
  - In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin (3.5) This collection of short stories centered in Pakistan was my book club pick. The writing quality and character development were good, but there was death, poverty, and depression in almost every story. While the enjoyment factor wasn't super high for me, I did appreciate the portraits painted of a society emerging from (or collapsing?) a caste system, attempting to develop a middle class.


5 Junior Fiction:
  - The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare (4) I read this aloud to my 11yo for our American history studies and she looooved it. She couldn't get enough of it. The contrast of Puritan and Shaker philosophy was interested, but the romantic interests put it over the top. :)
  - Justin Morgan Had a Horse, Marguerite Henry (4) Another read-aloud...since we finished the last one ahead of schedule we fit another one in. Why not one about a horse? This is a sweet story, with more than your average horse/human bond: the history of the Morgan horse is the focus.
  - Little Shop of Hamsters, R.L. Stine (3.5) I never read R.L. Stine growing up, and I always wondered how the books could possibly manage keeping blood and horror at a PG rating. I was pretty impressed. The tone was lighthearted enough (plenty of exclamation marks will do that) that it never got truly frightening.
  - Poppy, Avi (3.5) This was recommended to me by a friend in my book club that loves reading this aloud to her class. I liked it, and can see how it would make a good read-aloud, but I wish that the characters and story had been developed more.
  - Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George (4.5) One of my favorite authors for Junior Fiction, Jessica Day George knocked it out the park again with this one. My 11yo read it and then made me read it. If you've ever loved a fairy tale, this will bring the kid out in you and have you loving them again.


Current Reads:
  - The Martian, Andy Weir. My current audiobook. The narrator and production on this one is top notch.
  - My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgard. I've only just cracked the cover of this one, but I'm loving the introspection and philosophical thought.
  - Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes. Current read-aloud to my 11yo daughter to go along with our history studies.


On My Nightstand:
Pretty much everything is on my figurative nightstand right now.  For the first time in a decade I have all of my books present and visible and I've got book-selection-ADD. I'm too excited to go about selecting my next books methodically!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Read-a-thon Wrap-Up

I had so much fun focusing on reading yesterday. I haven't done that since third grade when some kindly neighbor promised to pay a quarter for each page I read and then went apoplectic when they found out how much I'd read.

Yesterday I finished four books and got halfway through another, which equaled out to about 975 pages spread over about 15 hours. I also managed to make pancakes, roast a chicken, drive my 15yo to a friend's house, and have numerous meaningful conversations...there's something about seeing mom sitting alone, peacefully reading a book, that makes teenagers want to talk. It's fabulous actually; I love that my kiddos want to talk to me.


So, I got some pre-reading done for my 11yo, as well as knocking off a couple others. My favorite was definitely Did You Ever Have a Family and my least favorite was probably Poppy. Or Right Ho, Jeeves.  They were both good, just not as great as the first two. Tuesdays at the Castle is fantastic so far.  I just love how Jessica Day George writes. Her Dragon Slippers series was wonderful.

I'm so thankful for all the time and effort that went into running the readathon - I had no idea! In fact, I only found out about it the day before it happened, but that won't happen again. I'll be on top of it in the spring, and hopefully I'll have another blissfully empty weekend coincide with the date.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

My First 24-Hour Readathon! (Start-Up Post)

I'm so excited to have found out about Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon just in time!

My blog has been bare bones for a while now, and now that my home remodeling project is just about complete I'm very ready to build more book-blogging-friendships. What better way than through a readathon? This weekend happens to be a rare low-key weekend for me: perfect timing.

I pulled out a bunch of possibilities for reading material, focusing on lighter reading as well as a few I need to get read sooner rather than later (a couple pre-reads for my 11yo, and my next book club pick).

Since the readathon officially began at 5am Pacific Standard Time, an ungodly hour for a long-awaited Saturday, the first part of my day went like this:

Hour 1: sleep
Hour 2: wake up and go back to sleep
Hour 3: sleep
Hour 4: sleep
Hour 5: wake up and speed through an R.L. Stine book

Now heading into Hour 6, it's time for me to make some coffee and get serious about settling into a book.  And charging my laptop.

I'll be balancing out my first read with the new Indiespensable pick from Powell's Books: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg.  So far, (just barely into it,) I'm enjoying my first readathon!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sneak Peek at my New Library

Last weekend I loaded my car absolutely to the brim with books. It was so exciting. After three years in storage, it was finally time to start reacquainting myself with my old friends.

yes, I fit all of that in my sedan...where there's a will there's a way!
My library cabinets had been installed but not yet sealed, so I was jumping the gun a little bit, but I reasoned that there was organizing to be done anyhow. I was curious to find out how many of my books I'd no longer care about after not having seen them in quite some time. In the end, combined with homeschooling books I no longer needed, I got rid of 4-5 boxes of books.  Even so, my kiddos are pretty sure there is no way all of these books will fit on my shelves.

I don't know if this is just exciting or also a little overwhelming

I've had a lot of time to think about how I want to organize my books, and I've settled upon a combination of chronology and topic. Most of my books, (fiction/nonfiction, kids/adults,) will be displayed according to the time period it was written or set. The rest will be grouped into topics or genres (poetry, junior fiction, gardening, etc.)

Sorting my books into all these groups was quite an eye-opener. I lean heavily towards mid-19th century and early 20th century, and have pretty slim pickings for pre-18th century and post-1940s. It'll be interesting to see how that looks when they're up on the shelves.

I had my shelves built out of cherry, with no stain. I love the look of natural cherry. Our house has a lot of walnut, and I wanted the library to feel a little brighter, like golden sunshine. This is one of the few rooms of the house that doesn't have open beam ceilings, and existing windows meant my shelves aren't too tall. Many people seemed pretty sad that I don't get a library ladder, but I'm not. To be frank, I want all my books within arm's reach.  Otherwise they are just decoration and that's not really my style.

the low cabinets under the shelves stay in line with mid-century modern design lines, and provide space to store games, puzzles, and office/homeschooling supplies

I can't wait to toss those boxes and see my books on my shelves. A nice reading chair in the corner nook and an inviting seating area in the middle of the library will make this room my favorite part of our home. How could it be otherwise?

Friday, October 9, 2015

For the Record: September 2015

What a relief to be back in a routine. It hasn't been easy to focus on schooling when we still have workers in our house every day, but the end is in sight.  After another week or two, we should have our home back to ourselves.  It's only been three years. Yikes. (*big sigh of relief...or was that just exhaustion?) My library cabinets are being oiled and all the loose ends are being tied up; pretty soon the only problem with my house will be that it is located in Southern California instead of Northern California! (I actually don't mind SoCal but I'm a NorCal girl and I miss it So Much.)

Reading this month wasn't too bad! Partially because of routine and school books, partially because getting all my books out of storage made my thirsty for reading.

8 Books Read in September: [61 books year-to-date]

2 Classics:
  - The Optimist's Daughter, Eudora Welty (4.5) What a beautiful portrait this small book is! Full of Southern manners and culture clash, family dynamics and truth, this is a book that I already want to read again. There isn't much plot, but as a character study and observation on life, this has it all.
  - Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes (4) Before reading this book I was pretty certain that I wouldn't like it. It seemed too tied to an agenda to be enjoyable. Of course I was wrong. I did have a hard time getting into it at first (probably because of my preconceived ideas) but it was written so well and plotted so perfectly that I ended up being won over. This read happened to coincide with Banned Books Week: happy accident.

2 Other/Fiction:
  - Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee (4) I had decided to not read this book. Not because I loved To Kill a Mockingbird so much, but because I didn't love it enough to warrant reading a subsequent book. I'm glad it was picked for my book club though, because it ended up being the perfect companion novel and helped me appreciate Mockingbird more than I did before. Where Mockingbird felt polished, clean, and purposeful, Watchman felt raw, pointed, and passionate. I don't think the characters were portrayed with different personalities, rather with a different perspective. Very interesting read, and wonderful discussion in my book group.
  - The Story of Land and Sea, Katy Simpson Smith (3.5) Though I usually enjoy books that focus on the characters and setting more than the plot, this one was the exception. I found myself skipping over descriptive passages trying to find the story. It was an interesting look at America during the time of the Revolution, as it didn't focus on the war as much as most novels in that setting would tend to do.

4 Junior Fiction:
  - Pedro's Journal, Pam Conrad (3) A fictional journal of a boy on Columbus' first journey, this was more about the history than the entertainment.
  - Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo (4) This was an entertaining little story of a squirrel with super powers and the girl that needed him in her life.  My 11yo is reading it and is also entertained with the intelligent humor and addition of drawings and comics. It's a cast of oddballs, which somehow makes it more realistic.
  - Walk the World's Rim, Betty Baker (4) Really interesting history here! I've had a hard time teaching about the explorers and conquistadors without feeling like it's a bunch of names and dates that don't matter much. This book does a wonderful job at introducing many cultures, geographical locations, and historical events in a very simple manner.
  - Om-kas-toe, Kenneth Thomasma (3) Although this was an interesting picture of the Blackfeet Indians, their lifestyle and introduction to horses, the writing was kind of terrible. It would have been more interesting, perhaps, if the reader had some familiarity with modern day Montana and was able to identify the locations the author mentioned. As it was, the continual interjections of commentary into the story made it harder to stay focused.


Current Reads:

  - A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson. My current audiobook. Isn't this being made into a movie? Usually I like to watch a movie before reading a book, contrary to most readers, but this seemed like a good one to read first.
  - Wolf Winter, Cecilia Eckback. This story is pretty intense! I suppose it could be classified as a crime mystery, but it so thoroughly feels like I've been dropped into 1717 rural Sweden that I can't help but think that this is exactly what historical fiction should be.
  - Justin Morgan Had a Horse, Marguerite Henry. Current read-aloud to my 11yo daughter. The accents written into the dialogue make this a fun read.


On My Nightstand:
Since unpacking my books, I kind of just want to read everything immediately. The plan, though, is to alternate some of the books that have been on my nightstand forever with some of the new books I've picked up. So, next up is The Big Burn by Timothy Egan followed by The Night Watch. We'll see where I go from there.


Monday, September 14, 2015

For the Record: August 2015

To be honest, I was surprised when I looked back and saw that I'd actually read a few books in August. Summers are always busier than I think they'll be, and this one was even more so. I've been working long days trying to get to the point where we actually feel like we are mostly moved into our home, and that doesn't leave much time or energy for reading. We still have people working on the house every day, but the task list is starting to get smaller (at long last!) My library cabinets are finally being built, and I seriously can't wait to be able to take my books out of storage.

I had been planning on joining The Classic's Club for Austen in August, but I only managed to get through the introduction of Northanger Abbey before setting it aside for now.  Kind of sad! I did manage to knit a pair of slippers for my 16yo son and a hat for my14yo daughter, (knitting is a more brainless pastime than reading,) so I feel like I accomplished something in August. I'm guessing that the rest of 2015 will be similarly busy, but I'm definitely hoping that life will mellow out a bit come January.

5 Books Read in August: [53 books year-to-date]

1 Nonfiction:
  - Being Mortal, Atul Gawande (5) Frankly, reading the details of how our bodies begin to fall apart was not my idea of good reading...so I am thankful that part didn't last long! This book was written in a very caring, thoughtful manner, and yet was detailed, researched, and organized. As it addresses something we will all eventually face, I'd say this book deserves a wide audience.

1 from Powell's Indiespensable:
  - The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty, Vendela Vida (3.5) If you've ever been curious about reading a book written in second person, here's your chance to experience it. It was entertaining, though not captivating.

1 Audiobook:
  - The Privileges, Jonathan Dee (2.5) I felt like the narrator did a fine job, but the story felt disjointed and lacking a strong theme. I kept wondering what the point of the story was, and I'm still not sure. It didn't satisfy my appreciation for character studies either, so I was pretty unattached and irritated throughout.

2 Other/Fiction:
  - The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara (5) I've had this on my shelf for quite a long time and always thought it would be too militarily technical, but I was mistaken. I'm so glad I finally read it. Breathtaking portrait of the Battle of Gettysburg.
  - Harry and Hortense at Hormone High, Paul Zindel (4) If that title sounds bizarre, take a gander at the book's cover art. This was one of many books that my 14yo daughter saved from the recycle bin at her school's library, and I couldn't bear for it to go unread. It ended up being funny as well as dealing with serious issues, not to mention being a delightful flashback to the '80s.


2 Current Reads:

  - Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo. This is really a book that I'd typically read in one sitting, but life. It's intelligent and entertaining, and makes me want to get some opinions from my kiddos to see if they'd like it as well.
  - Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee. My current audiobook, listening to it for my book club. I actually have a hard copy of it but I'm enjoying hearing Reese Witherspoon read it.  I may actually be enjoying this book more than To Kill a Mockingbird...or more accurately: I am finding myself appreciating To Kill a Mockingbird more than I could have without reading Go Set a Watchman. It may not be as polished, but I feel that it's a little more honest and raw and I like that.


On My Nightstand:
It grows and it grows, then I put all the books away in a box until I can finally shelve them properly. Then I buy more on impulse because I don't have time to read but want to. I actually have no idea what I'll read next. These are the books I bought on impulse so maybe it'll be one of these:

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