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My eldest came to kiss me goodnight last night and looked at the tottering pile of books on the bedside table.  Then he looked at the shelf of Books To Be Read.

“That’s a lot of books, Mum.  How many books are you reading, anyway?”

“Don’t go there, son,”  said his father. 

Wise man.

Actually, I am reading two books.  This one and the one in my handbag.”

“And the one you’re reading to us.”

Yes, so just three.

And there are a mere 124 in the pile.  Not including the (overdue) library book.  Also not including the one that was on the shelf twice.  But I’ve read more than that many books so far this year, so I’ll be through that lot by September.

Always thinking ahead. 

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Read and Unread

 

 

An added incentive to reduce the TBR pile before adding to it: a balancing act of a bookshelf.  On one side, books read; on the other side, books to be read.

Made by Niko Economidis, via shelf awareness.

 

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Books about My 2011 Reading Challenges II

The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, From Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

Erin Blakemore

Toronto: Harper Collins, 2010.

Oh, dear.  I am not at all the right reader for this book.  No, not at all.  This is a particular blow because I agree in principle with much of what Blakemore says, but I am so disappointed that this passionate book lover is not speaking to me.  We are not a good match, this book and I.  The tone is all wrong, though I might agree with the substance of what she says. 

Blakemore’s book is divided into 12 chapters, each giving a biographical sketch of an author and a summary of the plot for her protagonist.  Each chapter is focussed on a theme like ambition or simplicity, and each ends with a suggestion of how to match what ails you to the book balm.  For example, the chapter on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice ends with the suggestion that you read this book

  • When your mom complains that you’ll never give her grandchildren
  • When your inner people-pleaser threatens to drown out your gut instinct
  • As an antidote to deathly seriousness (17)

Well, accuse me of deathly seriousness if you will, but a list like this shuts down much of the magnificence of these books.  I also bristle at the idea of my favourite books as self-help guides, because I don’t sit down with Pride and Prejudice for a “life lesson.”

“Heroine” designates both author and protagonist, and Blakemore does make a convincing case for why these authors and their creations are the timeless touchstones that they are.  My favourite aspect of the book was the biographical sketch of the author in each chapter.  Blakemore gives an efficient and concise summary of the writers’ personal and professional lives, without ever being reductive about biographical readings of the fiction, and I was grateful for the overviews.  The twelve chapters discuss 

  • Jane Austen and Lizzy Bennet
  • Zora Neale Hurston and Janie Crawford
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery and Anne Shirley
  • Alice Walker and Celie
  • Betty Smith and Francie Nolan
  • Colette and Claudine
  • Margaret Mitchell and Scarlett O’Hara
  • Harper Lee and Scout Finch
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder and Laura Ingalls
  • Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre
  • Louisa May Alcott and Jo March, and
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett and Mary Lennox. 

Each chapter also ends with a list of three of the protagonists’ “literary sisters,” for further reading.  Since I have read and re-read all twelve books, it was for the literary sisters that I took up the Heroine’s Bookshelf Challenge.

The book gets off to the most awkward start, though, with an introduction that seems to be addressed to people who don’t read, which is odd, because, well, this is a book.  Not only people who don’t read, but who actively argue that there are better things to do and it’s a waste of time to read. 

Writing a book about reading at a time when the practical is the popular has been a rare challenge.  Surely there’s always something better to do than revisit women who’ve been dead for centuries. (xix)

Well, yes, but choosing to read in spite of life’s other pressures is precisely what makes us book lovers, isn’t it?  Blakemore makes exactly that point, but I do wish she had taken a different tone.  Why be pre-emptively defensive?

In times of struggle, there are as many reasons not to read as there are to breathe.  Don’t you have better things to do?  Reading, let alone rereading, is the terrain of milquetoasts and mopey spinsters.  At life’s ugliest junctures, the very act of opening a book can smack of cowardly escapism.  Who chooses to read when there’s work to be done? (xi)

Again, I scratch my head in wonder.  If those who hold this opinion aren’t reading other books, they likely aren’t reading this one, so why address them and their arguments?  Here is a book about the timelessness of books, and it is mired in its own time: mid-recession, belt-tightening, grouchy-about-frills-like-reading time.  I wish she had dispensed with all of the pre-emptive defense about why books matter and just gotten on with the job of extolling the heroines. 

With her choice of twelve heroines I have no quibbles at all.  These books have given me many hours of comfort and joy, and I was pleased to have been reminded of old friends.

Immediately after putting this book down, I picked up one of the literary sisters.  I’ve had Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle on my TBR pile for ages, and Cassandra Mortmain is named as one of Jane Eyre’s literary sisters in steadfastness.  I devoured the book, gorging on its delightful wit and whimsy.  For giving me the nudge to read I Capture the Castle I am profoundly grateful.  Dodie Smith and I, we are a good fit.

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Right around the time I discovered book blogs and began my own, I discovered the Bibliophilic Books Challenge, in which readers pledge to read books about books.  A challenge meant for me!  It was the only challenge I did last year, and it was, truth be told, shamefully easy to complete because, of course, I was reading the books for this blog and determined to make a big dent in my collection of books about books. 

Buried in Print is a self-confessed challenge addict, and I have been inspired by her end-of-year wrap-up posts about the many challenges she completed this year.  I am taking advantage of the path she has forged and doing many of her challenges, as well as a few others I’ve discovered.

I will, of course, be (re)reading all of the Canada Reads Independently picks, as well as the Canada Reads books, which will see me in good stead for the Canadian Book Challenge hosted by Book Mine Set.  I really need no inducement to read Canadian literature, but one of the pleasures of challenges, I’m discovering, is reading in company.  

 

Ever the optimist, I have signed up for the TBR Dare, over at Ready When You Are, C.B.  I failed this project spectacularly last year when I tried to stop myself buying new books, but I’ll give it a go again.  I’ve pledged the maximum time: no new books until April 1

Home of...

In a similar vein, but with the restriction that it must be 12 books that have been on the bedside for more than a year, is the 2011 To Be Read Challenge.  The book must have been published prior to 2010.  I have several books that I ran out to buy in 2009, and never got to, so this will be my prompt.   2011TBR

Also similar: the Off the Shelf Challenge at Bookish Ardour, in which one pledges to read a certain number of books off the shelf. I’m aiming for 50.  That will be 1/3 of my goal of 150 books for the year. 

Off The Shelf!

There are a number of challenges based on fulfilling a rubric, and I like the idea of prescribed reading.  It appeals to the perpetual student in me, so I’ve signed up for three challenges in that vein.

The first is What’s in a Name, hosted by Beth Fish, in which one reads books with specific words in the title.

The second is Bart’s Bookshelf’s Twenty Eleven Reading Challenge: read 20 books from 11 categories.  I am new to the approach to reading as a grab bag of categories, and it really appeals.

The third is the 1% Well-Read Challenge: read 13 of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.  The kids gave me the 1001 Children’s Books to Read Before You Grow Up, and since I am still growing up, I’ll do double duty and read a total of 26 for this challenge.  It’s got to be done before April 30, 2011, and I’ve pledged only to read from the TBR pile until April 1, so this may be a bit tricky.

Bibliophibian is also hosting a challenge based on a book about books: The Heroine’s Bookshelf.

Because I have several of these from 2010 I still have not read, I’ll be doing The Short Story Reading Challenge.

This is one that caught my eye in 2010: The Essay Reading Challenge.  I’m in for 30 essays, many of which double as essays about books.

From short to long: The Chunkster Challenge.  I’m in for the minimum four.

File under Comfort Reads: mysteries.  When I want to tune out, this is what I read.  I gave Ted a great pile of mysteries for his birthday last year, and, conveniently, I have not read any of them, so I’ll tick boxes with the Off the Shelf challenge, too.  12 mysteries in 12 months.  No problem. 

And because I have more than a few science books on the bedside tower, I’m in for the science book challenge hosted by Science City.  This is their description:

The Science Book Challenge is easy as pi: read 3 (or 3.14!) science books during 2011, then tell us and others about the books you’ve read and help spread science literacy.

Hopefully also as easy as pi is the Science in Fiction challenge.  1 More Chapter hosted this challenge last year.  I will aim low with this one (3), but several have been on my TBR list for a while.  Curiosities, I’m looking at you.

All of the above are books I’d be reading with or without a challenge, so I’ve found three that will push me a bit:

The Nautical Reading Challenge, at the Dinghy level (that’s up to five books).

The Global Reading Challenge appeals to me because I’m anglo-centric and need a push to read from other languages and because I really like the button.

And, because I’ve only listened to one book in my lifetime, I’m doing the Audio Book Challenge at the Curious level (3).

I’m giddy with all this listing.  I’m sure I’ve got a case of eyes bigger than stomach, but I’ve picked challenges in which overlaps are allowed.  The majority of these books will not be books about books, so I’ll just be listing them on my new 2011 Challenges page.  I’m undecided about what to do about reviews.  Perhaps they’ll be on Library Thing.

Are you doing any challenges?  If you are looking for a collected selection of reading challenges, go to A Novel Challenge, where you will find a huge selection of them.

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2011TBR

This is almost totally revised from first my posting.  I had put books on here that worked for other challenges, but I want this one to be about reading the books I bought in hardover and did not read right away.

The Rules: read 12 books from the TBR pile that have been there for at least a year.  2 alternates are allowed.

Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Trofimik

Curiosity by Joan Thomas

Going Ashore by Mavis Gallant

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

The Last Supper by Rachel Cusk

Little, Big by John Crowley (abandoned)

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt

The Girls Who Saw Everything by Sean Dixon.  Toronto: Coach House Press, 2007.  Will read for Canada Reads Independently.

Still Life with June by Darren Greer.  Toronto: Cormorant, 2003.  Will read for Canada Reads Independently.

Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb.  London: J.M. Dent, 1906. Will read for essay challenge.

A Plea for Eros by Siri Hustvedt.  New York: Picador, 2006.  Will read for essay challenge.

The Big House by George Howe Colt.  New York: Scribner, 2003. Will read for other TBR challenges.

Boredom: A Literary History of a State of Mind by Patricia Meyer Spacks.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

The Plot by Madeleine Bunting.  London: Granta, 2009.

The Girl on the Wall by Jean Baggott.  London: Icon, 2009.

The Pattern in the Carpet by Margaret Drabble.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith.  Toronto: Hamish Hamilton, 2009.

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane.  New York: Norton, 2009.  Will read for science book challenge.

The Element by Ken Robinson.  New York: Viking, 2009. Will read for science book challenge.

Alternates:

Stolen Words: The Classic Book on Plagiarism by Thomas Mallon.  New York: Penguin, 1991.

Proust and the Squid: The Story of Science and the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf.  New York: Harper Collins, 2007.

Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

The Origin of Species Nino Ricci

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Ask him:

Results for “I’ve just finished reading Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman.  What should I read next?”

Amazon recommends:

  • At Large and at Small: Confessions of a Literary Hedonist by Anne Fadiman
  • The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (a Memoir, a History) by Lewis Buzbee
  • So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson
  • Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love by Anne Fadiman
  • Howards End is on the Landing: A year of reading from home by Susan Hill
  • At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries by Estelle Ellis
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: a Hmong Child, her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman
  • A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel
  • A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books by Alberto Manguel
  • Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Lawrence Goldstone

Great suggestions.  I’ve read them all!

Full disclosure: there’s a suggestion to go to local bookstore or library and ask, but I think this is an amazon thing.  When I clicked the local bookshop link, it took me to England.

Thanks to the Canadian Bookshelf for the link.

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At last

Got your coffee?  Click play.  Relax.  Establish the mood.  There is a soundtrack for this post. (And so that it does not stop while you read, I have put links at the bottom of the post.)

I very quietly turned 40 last week.  (Well, except for the part where the live band and a contingent of Terry Fox Run participants at Simcoe Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake sang “Happy Birthday.”  But that only lasted a minute.  Otherwise, I very quietly turned 40.) 

At last. 

I’ve been looking forward to this milestone, and my true love made it happen in the best possible way. 

He sent me 40 emails in the weeks leading up to my birthday, with topics like “Literary Prize Winners in 1970” and links to amazing photo albums he created of fountain pens and post it notes, two of my passions.  He took me away for a weekend sans kids, and we saw a play in which typewriters are characters.  The Age of Arousal by Linda Griffiths at the Shaw Festival.  (Go see it!!  Very funny.)  I had a delicious reunion with my three boys on the Sunday morning, and we walked along the Niagara River.  For the second year running, our entire clan did the Terry Fox Run in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and then we had a scrumptious picnic lunch.  Best of all, my true love went into my email address book and onto facebook and asked my friends and family to send him a message with a memory or an anecdote, then he made them all into a book.  Reading such a wonderful collection of others’ memories was a treasure beyond words. 

I have never understood the dread of getting older.  I only dread being the centre of attention, which is why I wanted a quiet celebration.  My 30s were about many new beginnings: getting married, having three amazing boys, earning my Ph.D, becoming a professor and a writer, learning, learning, learning.  I hope never to stop doing that, and I am so looking forward to my 40s.  Can’t wait to see what it will bring. 

One thing it has brought is new friends.  I met two people on Thursday with whom I already felt well acquainted from their blogs.  Kerry invited Julia and me over for pie, which was luscious, and for real, in-person conversation, which was also luscious.  I have lengthened my TBR list, I have much to look forward to in getting to know these women better, and I have deepened my appreciation for their wonderfully rich reading lives.  It was the perfect threshold for my much-anticipated (by me) return to sanity.

At last.  I have had time to pull myself out of the vortex of the back-to-school merry-go-round.  I have had time to unfurl and can now write about David Denby’s glorious Great Books.  (You still playing, Etta? Croon on.) 

You know how sometimes you find a book, and it is everything you want it to be?  Or it’s what you wish you had done?  David Denby went back to school to study the Great Books, and he made a book out of it.  And I will have a post about it up on Monday.

In the mean time, I am also celebrating knowing the other 3 mothers from 4mothers1blog.  We met in a writing class one year ago, and their friendship has been one of the most amazing gifts of the last year of my 30s.  We started a blog about parenting together and were thrilled to see it make the freshly pressed list on Friday.

Blessings abound.

Post-it note art

Fountain pens

Age of Arousal

Kerry

Julia

freshly pressed

4mothers1blog

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