Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rating Books

I've kept track of the books I've read for the last 8 (almost 9) years. When I first started out I also included an ultra-brief review, but as time went on I lost the patience and inspiration. They were too short to be meaningful, but I didn't have time to write longer reviews.

Since I've started cataloging and organizing my books on I've tried to keep up with rating all the books I read, and reviewing them as much as possible. I have to admit that it is nice to be able to look back on these opinions, because it doesn't take long for a memory to become less vivid. has a 5-star rating system. They do have half-stars too, though, so in reality it is a bit more flexible than simply 5 choices.

I'm always interested in how different people distribute ratings. How often do they hand out those 5-star ratings? Does it tie into the person's overall optimism/pessimism? I'm really interested in how people view a 3-star rating on a scale of 1 to 5.

I find that I am pretty stingy with my 1-star and 5-star labels. Most of the books I read fall somewhere in the 3-4 range. This is my thought process:

3-stars: average. Plain old average. Nothing special nor terrible...many books are simply average to me.

2-stars/4-stars: something in the storyline or writing really set it apart as particularly irritating or lovely. These books provide me with enough interest to be able to talk about them at length.

1-star/5-stars: either so shockingly horrible or so amazingly wonderful that they will be thrown in the ocean/fire/recycle/trash or be purchased multiple times and end up being buried with me when I die just in case "you can't take it with you" ends up being not-so-true after all. These books have typically evoked such strong feelings that I have a difficult time discussing them because I don't know where to begin (or if I will ever stop once I do begin).

What about you? Is everything you enjoy worth 5 stars? Does everything you rate start at 1 star and move up from there? Am I the only crazy one who even thinks about this stuff?

Friday, January 22, 2010

New-to-me Newbery Books

I had the great pleasure today of visiting a bookstore all by myself--without children along, preventing me from spending as much time as I wished in whichever section of the store I desired. And which section of the bookstore--you may ask--did I decide to spend the majority of my time? Why, the Junior Fiction section of course. My "To-Read" list is so long, that a good quality junior fiction book is often a very satisfying read. And it has the added bonus of being quickly finished, and I am then able to recommend the books to my children.

All 5 of the books I ended up buying today were Newbery Medal (or Honor) books.

1. Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson
2. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
3. Abel's Island by William Steig
4. Whittington by Alan Armstrong
5. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

I already finished reading Rabbit Hill, which had delightful drawings and anthropomorphism. Which one next? I'm thinking Criss Cross.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hello, My Name Is...

How do you approach a book when you see it for the first time?   Whether it is in the bookstore, library, or on someone else's shelf, do you have a standard way for finding out what that new book is all about?

I read How to Read Novels Like a Professor last year, (one of my least favorite books of the year,) and in it the author claimed that when people approach a book for the first time, they always turn to the first page and read the first sentence...they never turn directly to the middle of the book.  When I read that, I was both amused and irritated because I don't know if I have ever turned directly to the first sentence when looking at a book for the first time.  Certainly first sentences are important, and I enjoy comparing them, but that's not how I approach a book.  I want to be a bit better acquainted with a book before I go reading its first sentence.  Here's how I go about it:

I look at the cover: the title, the author, the art, the awards/comments; I look at the back cover: who reviewed it? does the summary hold my interest? anything else interesting?  If it's a hardcover I'll look at the inside flaps for the same sort of information.  Then I slowly fan through the book--backwards, mind you--to get a general idea of the book: font size, feel of the paper, density of words on a page, amount of dialog.  I stop at random places while flipping to read a sentence or two; getting an idea of the writing style.  By the time I've reached the front of the book again, and take another look at the front cover, I have a pretty good idea of whether I'm interested in reading it or not.  I actually don't usually read the first sentence until I've purchased or borrowed the book and put in on my "To Be Read" or "Currently Reading" list.

I found out recently that this is almost exactly how my dad looks at a new book too.  But then discovered that my older brother and mom do it very differently--but equally similar to each other.  Time to approach my younger brother to see what he does!  What do you do?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reading in 2009: A Year in Review

2009 was another great year for me for reading.  My determination at the beginning of 2008 to get myself reading again--it had become a nearly nonexistent pastime since the birth of my youngest daughter--not only really paid off in 2008, but has also helped to reinstate reading as a normal part of my life in the years since then.

I read a total of 110 books in 2009: 53 were Junior/Young Adult Fiction, (most were either read aloud to my children, or read because one of my kids thought I'd enjoy it,) 17 were Nonfiction, 17 were--by my estimation--Classics, and the remaining 23 were regular old Adult Fiction.  These number include 9 book club books, and 5 Early Reviewer books from LibraryThing.

My Top 5 Books of the Year: (in no particular order)

The Johnstown Flood
The Johnstown Flood, David McCullogh
David McCullough does a great job at relating history in The Johnstown Flood he does really well with the pace and laying the groundwork for the situation. He has organized his thoughts and presented them so well that it is not a struggle to read or understand. Because he is so logical and methodical in his retelling, it is easier to experience the time in history he is discussing, rather than feeling like you are slogging through it.  The Johnstown Flood is an incredible story, much deserving of this retelling.

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) 
What an amazing book. Heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. The writing is exquisite, with a surprising amount of depth. There are so many layers to this book, which makes it highly re-readable. Also very easy to read for the amount of insight. Oh, and a great story too!

War and Peace (Vintage Classics)
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Amazing in so many ways. The characters were wonderful, and the story captivating. Tolstoy's insights and discussions were a joy...I love the way his mind works: the allegories, the poetic philosophy countered by logic. I devoured it in less than 2 weeks and didn't want it to end. I found it surprisingly readable and don't think that it at all deserves the reputation for heft, and denseness that it's received.

Cather Novels & Stories 1905-1918: The Troll Garden, O Pioneers! The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia

The Song of the Lark and My Antonia,Willa Cather
Song of the Lark convinced me to read all of Cather's works. The theme wasn't quite as strong as in O Pioneers, but there were moments that were so insightful, beautiful, and touching that it was very much worth the reading. I love how all of the feelings and emotions are described and explained. The sentiment mixed with duty (whether to others or oneself) is tangible. How Thea's journey to unleash her artistic side is so intrinsically tied to her memories of home makes for a deeply touching story.  I've fallen in love with Willa Cather's writing. I had to rush through reading My Antonia because I was on a deadline, and I wish that I hadn't. Willa Cather's books, in my experience, benefit greatly by spending a little time with them.  I've loved everything of hers I've read. They each have different things that make them shine. Lovely, touching, enjoyable reading.

Olive Kitteridge
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
What enjoyable writing! I flew through the book because it was such a satisfying read. I really liked how the book was organized as short stories that added up to tell about Olive and her town in Maine. All the characters were so real that I found myself amazed at times. My only complaint is that it got to be pretty depressing. All the stories are about life changing calamities that aren't necessarily balanced out with hope. There was an overriding theme of the fear, loneliness and uncertainty that goes along with old age. Strout seemed to do a great job in expressing those feelings.

The Complete List of Nonfiction:

  1. Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson—4 stars
  2. The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition, Jim Trelease—4 stars
  3. Honey for a Child's Heart, Gladys Hunt—4 stars
  4. Growing Up in Coal Country, Susan Bartoletti—4 stars
  5. Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp, Jerry Stanley—4 stars
  6. Children of the Great Depression, Russell Freedman—4 stars
  7. A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, Tony Horwitz—3.5 stars
  8. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, Gary Chapman—3 stars
  9. The Middle Place, Kelly Corrigan—4 stars
  10. The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt (Landmark Books), Elizabeth Payne—3.5 stars
  11. Landscaping With Fruit, Lee Reich—4 stars
  12. Let it Rot!: The Gardener's Guide to Composting, Stu Campbell—4 stars
  13. How to Read Novels Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster—2 stars
  14. The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone, James Cross Giblin—3 stars
  15. A New Kind of Christian, Brian D. McLaren—3.5 stars
  16. The Johnstown Flood, David McCullough—4.5 stars
  17. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, Nathaniel Philbrick—4 stars

The Complete List of Classics:
  1. Emma, Jane Austen—4 stars
  2. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath—4 stars
  3. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, W.S.Merwin—4 stars
  4. Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte—4 stars
  5. Canterbury Quintet : The General Prologue and Four Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer—3 stars
  6. The Importance Of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde—4 stars
  7. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen—5 stars
  8. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee—5 stars
  9. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy—5 stars
  10. The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather—4.5 stars
  11. My Antonia, Willa Cather—4.5 stars
  12. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle—4 stars
  13. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle—4 stars
  14. Hamlet, William Shakespeare—4 stars
  15. The Stranger, Albert Camus—4 stars
  16. A Separate Peace, John Knowles—3.5 stars
  17. Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie—3 stars

The Complete List of Adult Fiction:
  1. Life Of Pi, Yann Martel—3.5 stars
  2. Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers, Ralph Moody—4 stars
  3. I Know This Much Is True, Wally Lamb—2.5 stars
  4. The Secret (Seasons of Grace, Book 1), Beverly Lewis—3 stars
  5. The Tattooed Girl, Joyce Carol Oates—3.5 stars
  6. Love's Pursuit, Siri Mitchell—2.5 stars
  7. Snow, Orhan Pamuk—4 stars
  8. Land of My Heart (Heirs of Montana #1), Tracie Peterson—3 stars
  9. Sarah's Key, Tatiana De Rosnay—3 stars
  10. A Flickering Light (Portraits of the Heart, Book 1), Jane Kirkpatrick—4 stars
  11. The Coming Storm (Heirs of Montana #2), Tracie Peterson—3 stars
  12. To Dream Anew (Heirs of Montana #3), Tracie Peterson—3 stars
  13. The Hope Within (Heirs of Montana #4), Tracie Peterson—3 stars
  14. Loving FrankNancy Horan—3.5 stars
  15. Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, Susan Gregg Gilmore—3 stars
  16. Tender Graces, Kathryn Magendie—4 stars
  17. Fair and Tender Ladies, Lee Smith—4 stars
  18. They Came Like Swallows, William Maxwell—4 stars
  19. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Shaffer and Barrows—4 stars
  20. The Day the Falls Stood Still, Cathy Buchanan—3 stars
  21. So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell—4 stars
  22. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami—3 stars
  23. Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout—4 stars

The Complete List of Junior/Young Adult Fiction:
  1. The Best Christmas Ever, Sylvia Green—2 stars
  2. The Fire Within, Chris D’Lacey—3 stars
  3. Ramona Quimby, Age 8Beverly Cleary—4 stars
  4. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo—3.5 stars
  5. Gone-Away LakeElizabeth Enright—4 stars
  6. The Terrible Wave, Marden Dahlstedt—4 stars
  7. Earthquake!: A Story of the San Francisco Earthquake, Kathleen Kudlinski—3 stars
  8. Ramona and Her Mother, Beverly Cleary—4 stars
  9. Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine—4 stars
  10. The Cay, Theodore Taylor—4 stars
  11. Twilight, Stephenie Meyer—3 stars
  12. Jackaroo: A Novel of the Kingdom, Cynthia Voigt—4 stars
  13. Rough and Ready; Or, Life Among the New York Newsboys, Horatio Alger Jr—4 stars
  14. Ramona's World, Beverly Cleary—4 stars
  15. Miracles on Maple HillVirginia Sorensen—4 stars
  16. The Winged Watchman, Hilda VanStockum—4 stars
  17. A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, C.Coco DeYoung—4 stars
  18. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr—3.5 stars
  19. One Eye Laughing, The Other Eye Weeping, Barry Denenberg—1.5 stars
  20. Number the Stars, Lois Lowry—4 stars
  21. The Gadget, Paul Zindel—3.5 stars
  22. Journey to America, Sonia Levitin—3.5 stars
  23. Snow Treasure, Marie McSwigan—4 stars
  24. Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt—4 stars
  25. On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder—4 stars
  26. Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren—4 stars
  27. Skinnybones, Barbara Park—2 stars
  28. Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, Robin McKinley—4 stars
  29. By the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura Ingalls Wilder—4 stars
  30. The Plant That Ate Dirty SocksNancy McArthur—3.5 stars
  31. Miracles on Maple HillVirginia Sorensen—4 stars
  32. The Cricket in Times Square, George Seldon—4 stars
  33. The BFG, Roald Dahl—4 stars
  34. Tirzah, Lucille Travis—3.5 stars
  35. Beauty In The Fields, Anne Tyra Adams—2.5 stars
  36. A Place in the Sun, Jill Rubalcaba—3 stars
  37. Charlotte's Web, E.B. White—4 stars
  38. The Golden Goblet, Eloise Jarvis McGraw—4 stars
  39. Mara, Daughter of the Nile, Eloise Jarvis McGraw—4 stars
  40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum—3 stars
  41. Hittite Warrior, Joanne Williamson—3 stars
  42. God King: A Story in the Days of King Hezekiah, Joanne Williamson—3 stars
  43. Mr. Popper's Penguins, Richard and Florence Atwater—3.5 stars
  44. The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis—4 stars
  45. Adara, Beatrice Gormley—2.5 stars
  46. Earthquake at Dawn, Kristiana Gregory—4 stars
  47. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis—4 stars
  48. On Fortune's Wheel, Cynthia Voigt—4 stars
  49. The Secret History of Tom Trueheart, Ian Beck—3.5 stars
  50. Tirzah, Lucille Travis—3.5 stars
  51. Fairest, Gail Carson Levine—4 stars
  52. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster—4 stars
  53. Justin Morgan Had a Horse, Marguerite Henry—4 stars