Friday, December 30, 2011

Where My Books Come From

Here we are at the end of the year, with all the fun stats and surveys that entails.  Last year I divided up my year-end stuff into 3 posts, and I think I'll do that again: #1 for a look at why I pick up (and read) the books I do, #2 for a little survey action, and #3 for all the stats and lists that I like to have on record.

What compelled me to read this year's books?

I did this last year, inspired by Jay, and found it to be eye-opening.  It actually inspired me to keep better track of the reason I chose to read each book of 2011.  I'm on the never-ending quest for balance, so let's see how this year compared to last year.

Total Books (so far!): 125 (111 in last year's stats)

Book Club: 9 (+2 I didn't finish = 3 less than 2010)
Some were great, some I didn't finish (*cringe) but I always love meeting with my groups and talking books. My favorite was The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (picked by me, recommended by you, and yet to be reviewed).

Read-Aloud to my Kiddos: 13 (11 less than 2010)
I'm not homeschooling as many kiddos this year (just 1 of my 4) so many less read-alouds this year.  Most of these weren't incredibly enjoyable for me, but the kiddos liked them, which is what counts, right? My [perennial] favorite was Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White.

ARCs: 13 (4 more than 2010)
A couple of these were really terrible, which prodded me to adopt stricter personal guidelines for accepting a book for review.  I can't choose my favorite: I loved both The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb by George Rabasa.

Interest/Mood:  23 (9 more than 2010)
Comprised of my highest rated books of the year (except for Lord of the Flies--yuck) My favorite? A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (actually my favorite read this year over all).

Recommendations  (from many different sources): 17 (1 more than 2010)
I always have mixed luck with these, but most of them were enjoyable.  My favorite was recommended by a bookshop in Clifden, Ireland: The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry.

Challenges  (all qualifying books): 51 (31 more than 2010!)
First, most of these books I was interested in -- it isn't as if they were all a chore.  At some point I think I decided that this category preempted the others.  Second, most of these were the novellas I read in August...otherwise the number would have been about the same.  Picking a favorite here is hard--I had a lot of wonderful classics, including a favorite I re-read (O Pioneers!) and a couple of terrific read-alongs (Villette and Anna Karenina) but I think that I'm in the mood to pick the Tales of Belkin by Alexander Pushkin.

  - Last year I decided to try to let go of obligations, and focus on reading more books for challenges, recommendations, and interests.  I think I did a good job with that.
  - I'm pretty happy with how these categories balanced out this year, though I wouldn't mind amping up the number of books I read just because I want to read them.

Up Next:
the handy dandy survey!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bookish Gifts, and How Amazing is Powell's Books?!

Before I get to posting all my year-end lists, I have to show you all the books I've given and received over the holidays!  Too much goodness to pass up!  I decided this year that I was going to get a book for everybody, even the ones that don't read.  Too bad, tough cookies, you're getting a book.  In addition to other gifties, of course, but still.

Books Given: (click on the pics to find out more about each title)
For those to whom reading is Hard Work: (my father-in-law, brother-in-law, and 11 year-old daughter)

For those preferring NonFiction: (my father and a sister-in-law)

For the Deep Thinkers: (my brother and 12 year-old son)

For the Lit Lovers: (my other brother, step-mother-in-law, and grandmother-in-law)

All right, so there were (admittedly) some friends and family that didn't get books.  My other sister-in-law, my other mother-in-law and father-in-law...but since we haven't had our gift exchanges as of yet, I've still got time to decide for them!  Also, I didn't include the picture books for my little one or my assured that the little ones weren't neglected!

and...Why Powell's Books is Amazing:
I try to buy my books not-on-Amazon, which means I typically patronize my local Barnes&Noble, or my new flame: Powell's Books.  I stumbled upon Powell's, an independent bookstore based in Portland, Oregon, when I found (and subscribed) to their Indiespensable program at the beginning of the year--I've been nothing but happy with them since.

Recently my "happy" status got boosted up a few notches when Powell's went above and beyond for me in the crazy few days before Christmas.  I had placed an order with them towards the beginning of December, and had my books shipped to our vacation home (500 miles away) where we are spending the holidays.  I somehow forgot that the USPS won't deliver there, however, so when we arrived at the house a week before Christmas, my Powell's package was nowhere to be found.  (*cue utter despair, wailing, gnashing of teeth--Christmas without books??  Nooo!!!)

First thing, I checked their website, which led me to a very thorough package-tracking-log.  Sure enough, my package had been returned to them.  I called them first thing the next morning, and was completely impressed with the lengths they (er, Mike, actually--hi Mike!) went for me.  I'd been dreading having my husband suggest canceling my Powell's order and placing an Amazon Prime order instead...fortunately it didn't come to that (I like to use my Prime shipping for larger chipper shredders.  True story.)  First, they attempted to locate my package.  When it looked like the post office had mixed it in with the masses of incoming books [from publishers etc.] I was about to accept my fate, but Mike had other tricks up his sleeve.  It ended up being a most-of-the-day ordeal on his end (I'm guessing), including him searching for additional copies of the books I'd ordered, and looking for my package multiple times.  The result? My package was ultimately found and sent out via UPS, arriving in 2 days at no extra charge to me.  All of my stuff, before Christmas, even though it was my goof-up, not theirs.
my favorite mug   :)
I'm blown away.  I can't imagine many shopping experiences having such a personal, fulfilling result.  These guys rock.  Thank you Powell's Books!  You made this Christmas a fabulous one.

Oh! and Wait!  the Books I Received for Christmas!
It isn't every year that there are books under the tree, you know?  So often my family thinks I've got plenty of books already, or they look at my wishlist and get overwhelmed.  This year I lucked out--so much fun!  My parents got me a BookBook for my iphone (*swoon) and my darling dear husband got me some actual books--that's because he knows that when I say "I already have too many books," he's supposed to laugh.  That's my idea of a good joke.  So, here's the goodies (including a zombie treat from my brother):

Also over the last week, since I'm around my other set of TBR books, I've been doing some massive culling and reorganizing.  I'm getting rid of quite a few books, which somehow--in combination with the end of the Christmas Craziness--leaves me with incredible urge to go on a book-buying-spree.  Shopping carts in a book store sounds like just the thing right now, don't you think?  Half of me hopes I'll resist, half of my wants to fill up my Powell's shopping cart before I have the opportunity to change my mind.  Either way, hope you all are having a happy week.  I may not be getting mountains of reading done this month, but it's filled with some bookish happiness all the same.  I hope that goes for all of you as well--thanks for being such grand literary company!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Countdown is On

Ohmygoodness only 12 days left in the YEAR!  In some ways, this is oh-so-difficult to believe, and in other ways, incredible that it didn't happen a long time ago.  Seriously, this year has felt about 2 years long.

me & my hunny
December has been filled with so many preparations for parties and house furnishings (in addition to the usual decorating and gift-buying) that blogging and reading have been on the back burner.  This is the second year that we have hosted  a big Christmas party, complete with themed music and dress.  Last year, to celebrate moving into our mid-century modern house, we went with an early 60s theme (great fun) and this year, to honor the Mexican traditions of my husband's family, we had a Latin/Mexican theme.  SO much fun: great food, pinatas, Mariachi and Latin Jazz bands, mojitos and margaritas...yum&yay!

I'm coming to the realization, with less than a fortnight remaining until 2012 gets underway, that I'm not going to be completing many more books, so I suppose it's time to begin wrapping up my 2011 reads and looking forward to 2012.  I love looking at my year-end stats, but hopefully you all won't be too overwhelmed with my ruminations in the next week or so!

A big thing for me right now is the Indie Lit Awards.  The nominations close at the end of the year, and will be followed by some fun reading--some of the best books of 2011!  I can tell you, as the director of the Fiction category, that the short list (at least for the Fiction category) is still rather undecided, so if you had a favorite read published in 2011, nominate it! Get your friends and family to nominate it too...anything can happen!  You have more influence than you may think--whether your favorite title was big or small this year, your votes are needed.  The form is simple and quick too, so it won't even take much time. :)

And oh, by the way, if you are looking for a wonderful book to buy for a little person this year, I have to tell you about Press Here by Herve Tullet.  This is not your traditional kid's book, it's interactive, it's fun, it's surprising.  My 7 year-old was delighted with it.  Half-way through reading it she looked up with a smile on her face and said "I like this book!"  My 10 year-old read it next.  She smiled and said with a grin, "This is enjoyable!"  Even my 13 & 15 year-old boys liked it, smiling and following all the instructions, remarking on how funny it was.  I ended up buying 3 copies: 2 to give away, and one to keep. Fun stuff here!

Enjoy your final days of 2011, and happy holidays to all!  You'll be hearing from me again soon...get ready for those year-end lists! :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Anna Karenina: Week 8-9 of 12

My Thoughts on pp.483-620
  1. I've enjoyed the depiction of newly married life.  What weight Kitty attaches to trivial things! How volatile are Levin's emotions!

  2. I don't know if it is simply my translation, but the phrase "in the depths of his soul" is starting to grate on me.  Must everything truly be felt in the depths of one's soul?

  3. In the quote below from p. 608, Dolly contemplates the quality of the love she lives with, comparing it to the decisions that Anna has made.  How sad, and yet how realistic, is the realization that life isn't perfect?  She admits that she does have a husband she loves, only not as she'd have wanted to love.

  4. Anna, in the last quote, declares that all she wants is to live, causing no harm to anyone but herself.  And yet this really doesn't accurately depict the choices she's made.  In reality, she chose to live instead of causing harm only to herself (the torture of not being with Vronsky).  I understand that she feels that her husband and son are better off without her, and that she is better off without the marriage, and that she is paying for her choice by ruining her reputation.  But I also see that her husband's reputation has been destroyed, and her son's happiness as well.  I know that she didn't think she had a choice, and yet I wonder...It is so common to think the grass is greener on the other side, but rarely does it really turn out that way.
Quotes from pp.483-620
  • p. 511: was so necessary for him in his humiliation to possess at least an invented loftiness form which he, despised by everyone, could despise others, that he clung to his imaginary salvation as if it were salvation indeed.

  • p. 527-8: The elder brother, who had always respected the opinions of the younger, could not quite tell whether he was right or wrong until society decided the question; he himself, for his own part, had nothing against it and went together with Alexei to see Anna.

  • p. 549: And those assurances of love, which seemed so banal to him that he was ashamed to utter them, she drank in and gradually grew calm. The next day, completely reconciled, they left for the country.

  • p. 608: "And they all fall upon Anna. What for? Am I any better? I at least have a husband I love. Not as I’d have wanted to love, but I do love him, and Anna did not love hers. How is she to blame, then? She wants to live. God has put that into our souls. [...] I might have loved and been loved in a real way."

  • p. 614: “When you love someone, you love the whole person, as they are, and not as you’d like them to be.”

  • p. 616: “I don’t want to prove anything, I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself. I have that right, haven’t I?”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I Suppose I Should Talk About THE MARRIAGE PLOT

Reading the new & buzzworthy, up & coming, anticipated, hyped literary fiction releases is a relatively new experience for me this year.  Actually, because of the Indie Lit Awards, it was a special focus of mine for 2011.  I wanted to be more aware of what the "big" titles were.  I subscribed to Powell's Indiespensable program, the Shelf Awareness newsletters, and I was on my way.

Now, I've never been too thrilled about doing what everyone else is doing.  

- At 12, I ditched my friends because it bothered me that we all did what one girl felt like doing.
- At 17, I got engaged and spent my senior year planning for the rest of my life instead of having fun with friends.
- At 19, I had my first child instead of working towards a college degree.

I may be a good 15 years younger than most parents at my kiddos' schools, I may occasionally find myself with fewer people to relate to than I'd like, but although it's been different, it has also been fun.

This itch to be different relates to The Marriage Plot in a couple ways.  First, I'm having a hard time talking about a book that everybody else is currently talking about (but I'm getting past that, see?)  Second, I had a hard time relating to the characters who were very "college track" --opposite of my alternate route.

The Marriage Plot is about three students in (and out of) their college years: academia circa early 1980s.  It is about Literature, Science, and Religion (very Capital Letter subjects) as well as about mental illness, soul searching, and [a little too much] about sexual thoughts/experiences [for my taste] [which, I'm finding, doesn't take much].

I decided to read it because, having no experience with Eugenides (no, none), it showed up on my doorstep inside my Indiespensable shipment and I was curious what the buzz was about.  I opened it to read the first paragraph and accidentally read the first 20-30 pages instead.

Reading this book was somewhat of an odd experience for me.  I wasn't really "sucked in" to it, I had no problem putting it down and doing something else, the writing didn't strike me as incredible [readable but not quite remarkable], I couldn't relate to the characters or the setting, the story-line wasn't gripping, and yet I was interested.  It was one of those strange times when I was reading the book and concurrently thinking that I wasn't enjoying it so much, and yet something kept me going (and I don't think it was only the fact that I was on a cross-country flight.  I did have other books to choose from!)

It was the ending that made the book for me.  It really brought the whole book together in a way that made it say much more than I thought it was going to.  It made me think, which is something I appreciate.  It made me feel, which is something I'd been missing in the story up until that point.

And so,  reading a currently-very-popular book has turned out to be a pretty good experience after all. I must say that I think the trick is to get it read before reviews are swarming, otherwise I seem to put it aside (like poor State of Wonder and Night Circus--other Indiespensable selections) until a later date.  And as far as Eugenides goes, though I've heard that his books are all very different in style, I'm looking forward to pulling Middlesex off my shelf and experiencing another angle of this intriguing author.

Title: The Marriage Plot
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Pages: 416
Published: Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2011
Read for: Powell's Indiespensable
My Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, December 4, 2011

How to Organize Your TBR Shelf in a Guilt-Free Fashion

This year I've been lamenting the fact that most of my reading lately has been obligatory.  That isn't to say that everything I've read has been uninteresting, but rather that there is a reason I'm reading it beyond my mood.  Declaring that my reading needed to be more whim-tastic, I immediately instituted a two-pronged approach.

Not sure if this balancing act could be solved by
rearranging my bookshelf...though I'd still try!
(photo credit)
First, the books I took on my impending vacation were not allowed to be "guilt" books (need to read, obligatory books for whatever reason) I could only take books that I had a bubbling interest in reading (I ended up cheating a little bit by taking Anna Karenina, which ended up being quite difficult to read in the Caribbean--duh).

Second, I did what I always do when I need to get my life in order: reorganize by bookshelf.

For many readers, acquiring books is a balancing act.  It starts with the realization that there are more books being put on the list than are being crossed off the list.  For some people that isn't a problem: they are blessed with the ability to view bookcases of unread books as opportunities rather than responsibilities.  Others fear that the mood or the interest will pass and so begin feeling antsy or guilty.  And then there's always that mysterious breed that is so moderate they don't even understand the concept of book hoarding.  We'll not be talking about those people. Nor the first group.  We're here to discuss those that feel guilt when the unread books they own seem to be multiplying on their own in the dead of night.  This is about justification, people.  Own more books, guilt free!

Me, furrowed brow, reloading my TBR pages on Goodreads and Librarything to see if the number of books I haven't read has changed since I looked at it an hour ago.  Quickly scrolling through the list, I keep an eyebrow cocked on the lookout for a book I've read--a stowaway silently undermining my mission.  HUNDREDS of books.  How did we get here?

Curled up on a couch, steaming coffee in hand, cozy blanket wrapped around my legs, quietly traveling to another time, another place.  There is no other book in the world than the one I'm reading.  Life is organized, under control.  The days of the sagging TBR shelves are a thing of the past.

Wait, how did that happen?
It's all in the organization.  Looking at the shelves filled with books you haven't yet read and organizing them alphabetically isn't going to do anything to soothe your conscience.  Sorting them according the colors of the covers might be a fun puzzle and pleasing to the eye, but won't be much help beyond that.  Maybe you don't keep your unread books apart from the ones you've read, on a shelf of their own, but if you do (or want to) this is how I go about it.

Start here:
The main step, (and it may be a large one,) is deciding on some general types of To Be Read books you have.
  • Nonfiction: are you planning to read it straight through? or is it a coffee-table book? a reference book?  Unless you specifically plan on reading the whole thing from front to back, get it off your TBR shelf.
  • Collections: 
    • Type 1--sometimes I acquire books more for the beauty and collectability than for the simple fact that I'm dying to read it.  I don't do this as often as I would like, but it happens.  These books should be on your beautiful-books-shelf, not your TBR-shelf.
    • Type 2--personal goals/interests/challenges may not consist of a predetermined collection of books, but they should be grouped as one nonetheless.  Whether it's my growing collection of Willa Cather books or Pulitzer books, these need to be separated from the general TBR riff-raff.
  • Obligatory:  Chances are, some of the books you "need" to read are not books that you've bought for yourself.  They might be ARCs or book club selections, they might be books loaned/given to you my a friend or family member.  These need a special spot on your shelf to help with prioritizing and deciding on your next read.
  • Genres: I may be nit-picking, but I like to separate my books a bit further.  All of my classics are on their own shelf, (not shown below,) whether I've read them or not.  For me, they are like a collection of their own.  The craving to read a classic is different than a craving to read nonfiction or current adult fiction.  In the picture below you can see how I've done this: Junior Fiction on the bottom shelf, Collections and NonFiction on the 2nd shelf, followed by Adult Fiction, and the top shelf is for the more transient books: those lent to me, those needing to be returned, and obligatory reads.  (I have to be honest and say that I have more books TBR than just these...but they are at a different house right now--something I do not recommend! How am I supposed to read them if they aren't even around me??)

With your super-stealthy multitasking balancing mega-powers, as you are sorting your books, why not take the time to cull some unwanted books?  I actually do this quite often, which--I'm discovering--makes it quite difficult to build a massive library.  BUT, it has the side affect of not becoming an "extra stuff" burden.  Some of the books on my TBR shelf are there for some really flimsy reasons. (Most often they were passed on to me by a well-meaning friend or family member, and I kept them out of obligation, not interest--if you aren't interested in it, get rid of it!)

How does that feel?
I may be a bit more nuts-o about organizing my shelves than you, (it's okay, you can laugh,) but having my books properly sorted makes such a huge difference for me!  My TBR books seemed to go from an entire bookcase down to one measly shelf (the Adult Fiction is the genre I feel guiltiest about for some reason...those are the ones I worry about my tastes changing.)  A whole bookcase full of books I haven't read is overwhelming, but I can handle a shelf.

What books seem to be the most guilt-inducing for you?  Do you have any special tricks for preventing over-whelm-ation?  The end of the year, as you are putting together goals and ideas for next year's reading, is the perfect time to do some decluttering and reorganizing.  And I'm not just saying that because I love to organize.  :)

Friday, December 2, 2011

For the Record: November 2011

I'm SO not ready for those BEST OF 2011 posts to pop up, much less compose them.  How is it that November is already over??  I was away from home most of the month, so it was an odd one, that's for sure.  I did get some fun reading done, although I haven't really talked about any of the books yet. Working on that.

The end of November also means that there is one month left to nominate books for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards. Which isn't too late to nominate some great literary titles! You all need to be on that like a rat on a cheeto.  :)

10 Books Read in November: (122 books year-to-date) (titles link to my review)
1 for Book Club:
  - The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox -O'Farrell (what a fabulous surprise this book was! --4)
1 Read-Aloud for my kiddos:
  - The Trumpet of the Swan  -White (Love this book! --4)
1 ARC:
  - The Western Lit Survival Kit -Newman (for LibraryThing, A funny guide to the classics.  --4)
5 Recommendations:
  - The Westing Game -Raskin (from my 12 year-old son. Lotsa characters, but fun read.  --3)
  - Nothing But the Truth -Avi (also from my son.  Good discussion book.  --3)
  - The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets -Rice (blogger rec, not sure who...need to keep track of that!  --4)
  - The Marriage Plot -Eugenides (a Powell's Indiespensable selection, and my 1st Eugenides.  --4)
  - Remember Me -Bedford (really really terrible, shouldn't have read it.  --1)
2 Just Because:
  - After the Quake -Murakami (I was entranced by The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle when my book club read it a couple of years back, this collection of short stories wasn't quite as wonderful for me.  --3.5)
  - On Canaan's Side -Barry (Not as incredible as A Long Long Way, but still up there.  --4.5)

1 DNF: No Country For Old Men (Cormac McCarthy)
I feel a little terrible admitting I didn't finish this book.  I thought The Road was quite well written, and this seemed to have a similar style.  The names of the characters and the guns confused me, so I couldn't keep anything straight or vivid in my mind.  I kept feeling that the movie would have been so much better.  Think I'll watch it instead of reading it.  Someday.

3 Current Reads:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (read-along with Wallace @ Unputdownables.  Over halfway through and love love loving it.)
- Possession by A.S. Byatt (I've been meaning to read this for a long time.  I'm not very far in, but planning on finishing it in December.)
- Up Stairs and Down Stairs by Jeremy Musson (Can't wait to really dive into this one!)

On My Nightstand:
- Some Short Stories by Flannery O'Connnor (I read another in October, but still have 8 of 31 stories left to read--want to finish this before the end of the year!)
- Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers (ARC from LibraryThing)

Before the End of the Year:
I'm planning on taking it pretty easy for the rest of the year.  If I can finish the 5 books shown above, I'll be more than happy.  I'm itching to read another Willa Cather book, so re-reading Song of the Lark will be the next item on the list if I end up with more time to read.

Other than that, it's all planning for 2012. One of my favorite things: making lists, plans, and goals!  Apart from reading goals, I'm thinking of shaking up how I blog, introducing a new feature or two.  I'm hoping to streamline my posts a bit, we'll see what I come up with.