Status of the universe: It’s complicated

Complicated

Current reads:

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu
Helen and Trojan Women by Euripides
The Poems of Hesiod, translated by Barry B. Powell

Current thoughts:

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my first response to the first line of Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey: “Tell me about a complicated man.” Relief. It was a feeling similar to when you have a word on the tip of your tongue but can’t recall it. It’s maddening. For a second, you think you have it, but it slips away. And then someone says it. They give you the word, and now you can relax. Continue reading “Status of the universe: It’s complicated”

Don’t call it a TBR

Don't call it a TBR

Every last time I create a TBR, I fail to follow it. At least, that’s how it feels. I think one time, for a readathon, I read some of the books I said I’d read. Sort of?

Point is, I want to read a ton of books. Literally, one entire ton. So many that I can’t even keep track of them. It is not possible. Or maybe the part that’s impossible is actually reading all the books I want to read. Continue reading “Don’t call it a TBR”

The not-so-secret reason I became an e-reader

The not-so-secret reason I became an e-reader

The way I put it in the title makes it sounds as if I literally became an e-reader. Like I’m in a Franz Kafka story, but instead of waking up as a cockroach, I woke up one morning as a Nook GlowLight Plus.

Maybe that would make a good 21st century reboot, now I think about it. But no. I haven’t turned into an electronic device. (I’ll bet you figured that part out, though.)

Continue reading “The not-so-secret reason I became an e-reader”

Thoughts on reading book 11 in 44 Scotland Street

On reading the 44 Scotland Street Series

Back in October, I was excited to learn that a book 11 in Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series existed. Finishing book 10 in September had left me feeling melancholy. I’d thought it was the last one. To find out just a few weeks later that an eleventh book existed felt a little like finding out a friend who moved away is coming back to town. Continue reading “Thoughts on reading book 11 in 44 Scotland Street”

Would you want to erase your memories of favorite books?

Would you want to erase your memories of books?

Last month, I saw the attached photo about books and memories. I immediately began thinking of the books I’d want to experience for the first time. These included my favorite books from childhood, the Harry Potter series, A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, among endless others.

But when I though about it further, I’m not so sure. Continue reading “Would you want to erase your memories of favorite books?”

Do you read more than one book at a time?

This week, I realized I cannot read two novels at the same time. Do you read more than one book at a time? How about multiple novels?

I’m a strong believer in having more than one book going at a time. It gives me options. If one book is super heavy (metaphorically speaking), the other book can provide a mood change. Or if one book is quite sad or sends my brain into overdrive, I can have a lighter book to read at bedtime.

Read just one book at a time? I say laugh in the face of stuffy convention that dictates that’s how it’s done!

via GIPHY

Anyway…this is what I said to myself last week when I was strolling through Barnes and Noble – with no intention whatsoever of buying any books at all – until I saw this book:

This week, I realized I cannot read two novels at the same time. Do you read more than one book at a time? How about multiple novels?

I’ve seen it, heard about it, wondered about it. Granted, I couldn’t recall anything specific about it, just general praise and a vague notion that the book sounded interesting.

It’s a cool cover, isn’t it? It might actually be my favorite of 2016. You have the vaguely 1970s vibe of the photo. The title text is bold, but the notes and arrows annotate it in a way that seems to play foil.

So I picked the book up and read the jacket copy. I learned this is a fantasy YA novel set in the 16th century. Conveniently enough, that’s the one category left in my When Are You Reading? challenge. I learned it is comical. I learned it takes Liberties with History, specifically with the story of Lady Jane Grey. She lost her head (literally) during the English succession drama of 1553.

Usually, when I read historical fiction, I prefer it render history faithfully. I’m not expecting factual accuracy in every regard, but a spirit of faithfulness to the period would be nice. However…My Lady Jane just sounded too entertaining to pass up. (Also, my reading challenge!)

This week, I realized I cannot read two novels at the same time. Do you read more than one book at a time? How about multiple novels?So I bought it and brought it home and was super excited to read it, and…I couldn’t do it. I was still only 100 pages into Jane Eyre at the time. (I’m now only just over 300…with about 250 still to go.) I worried My Lady Jane would distract me from Jane Eyre. I worried that shuffling between the two worlds would dilute my experience of both. Especially with two very different Janes to keep track of. Part of me wanted to test the theory by pushing myself to read the novels together. In the end, though, I couldn’t do it. I’m sticking with Jane Eyre to the bitter (ahem) end. 

This whole thing surprised me. What happened to laughing maniacally in the face of convention? I asked myself. But when I looked at the books I’ve read in pairs, it seems I typically pair fiction with nonfiction. I can’t actually think of a time I read two novels actively at the same time. I sometimes take breaks from books I’m not feeling. Other times, for bedtime reading, I’ll reread favorite chapters from favorite books. But full-scale engagement in two fiction worlds, simultaneously? No.

Someone who follows me on Goodreads might say, Hang on, haven’t I seen rows of novels on your “currently reading” shelf? Admittedly, that’s quite likely. In truth, though, a novel sitting on my “currently reading” shelf for three months is not a novel I’m actively reading. It’s one I started, got distracted from, but want to return to. It stays on the shelf as a reminder because, for a long time, I refused to keep a “want to read” section. I was (justifiably) afraid of what it would become. But…I finally caved. So now, it I haven’t picked a book up in a month or so, I move it to “want to read.”

What about you? Do you read multiple books at once? If so, what genres? Do you read more than one novel at the same time?

I started a “want to read” list on Goodreads & now I’m scared

I promised myself I wouldn’t do it: I promised myself I wouldn’t overwhelm myself by curating a “want to read” list on Goodreads. And now I’ve gone and done it.

I promised myself I wouldn’t do it: I promised myself I wouldn’t overwhelm myself by curating a “want to read” list on Goodreads. And now I’ve gone and done it.

Admission: I didn’t use Goodreads much ever before this year. I had an account, but it was like…

via GIPHY

If I did visit Goodreads, it was to look up a book or quote, not to track the books I read. For that, I had an Excel spreadsheet. Which was fun, for a while. It allowed me to create tables, charts, and pies of random information related to my reading. The pie charts were my favorite. Who can argue with pie?

via GIPHY – This hamster eating a tiny pie has nothing whatsoever to do with my reading life. It’s just too cute not to share. Squeee!

What changed is, I got bored of my Excel spreadsheets. After a few years, it began to feel sort of coldly efficient, like I was tracking sales figures or medical symptoms. I keep a reading journal, but it’s not the most helpful for at-a-glance information. Sometimes, I want to know what my most read genre was in a given year or how to spell the name of an author whose book I read months ago.

To summarize: I was looking for a new way to track my reading. Continue reading “I started a “want to read” list on Goodreads & now I’m scared”

Modern Wisdom from Classic Literature: Book Reviews

When do you seek out other readers’ responses through book reviews? Does it depend on the genre of book?

When do you seek out other readers’ responses through book reviews? Does it depend on the genre of book? What is the function of book reviews?

Is it to “save” people from a “bad” art experience? Can bad art exist? If it’s art, isn’t it, by definition, beautiful? Otherwise, wouldn’t it be failed art or attempted art or, you know, just … not art?

Recently, I read a time travel novel for middle grade readers, Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague. I bought the book without knowing anything about it other than the jacket copy’s description because time travel novels are one of my favorites. (Perhaps this explains why I ended up with two copies … oops.*) When the story opens, 13-year-old Margaret’s father has been found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to death. Desperate to save him, Margaret draws on her ability to time travel. Her quest takes her back to 1938, the year a tragedy soured the life of Lucas, who grows up to become the judge who sentenced Margaret’s father.  The story took a turn I won’t reveal (spoilers) other than to say it moved me to reflect on the power of living in the present moment. It’s a message I need to be reminded of often as I have a bad habit of obsessing over the past.

I rarely read extended reviews before reading a book. A friend’s recommendation, or the appeal of a book’s themes or jacket copy, is enough to inspire me to dive in. Extended reviews are for later, during or after reading a book I have a strong reaction to – whether it’s being moved, impressed, angry, surprised, provoked, etc.

When I read reviews, I’m not looking for a breakdown of what did and didn’t work according to one person, even one very smart or respected person. I can decide that for myself. Nitpicking about perceived flaws doesn’t interest me either, unless they’re so egregious as to disrupt my ability to engage in a story’s world. (If that’s the case, though, my reading experience probably isn’t interesting enough to inspire me to look up other readers’ responses.) I don’t expect a book to be perfect. That would be weird. I mean, what’s perfect on this planet?

I read reviews to connect with others’ experiences. Did others see and feel moved by this too? Did they see something I missed that will deepen my experience of a story? Continue reading “Modern Wisdom from Classic Literature: Book Reviews”

Modern Wisdom from Classic Literature, Part 1

Classic literature, like fantasy, separates us from the familiar trappings and references around which we construct our arguments and defenses.

Classic literature, like fantasy, separates us from the familiar trappings and references around which we construct our arguments and defenses.Years ago, when I was trying to shape my dissertation study, I had the “brilliant” idea to study how reading changes us. I’d been a reader for as long as I could remember. I recognized that the books I’d read throughout my life, in school and out, have shaped the way I think and act in the world. I wanted to understand how that happens, how it works.

My dissertation chair never came right out and said, “That’s a dreadful dissertation topic.” An exceedingly gentle and wise man, the kind of man about whom people are likely to say, “they don’t make them like him anymore,” he wanted to see me finish my dissertation sometime before the universe’s inevitable flame-out. He asked me questions. He showed me what such a study might entail. He invoked the vaguely Orwellian sounding Human Subjects Committee.

Somehow, by the end of our extended pre-proposal discussions, he delicately helped me construct an infinitely more manageable – and quantifiable – study: I looked at how writing handbooks advise student writers to incorporate texts alongside how “exemplary” student writers actually incorporate them. I worked with published texts and numbers. I enjoyed researching and writing my dissertation immensely … even if it was the kind of study that exactly seven people on Earth are likely to read (because they had to): The three members of my dissertation committee, my two outside readers (who probably skimmed it), my writing partner, and me.

Conducting my study helped me think about the ways we bring other writers into our work at the language level. It was fascinating and instructive. I’m grateful for the years I spent working on it. Still, my larger question has lingered. Earlier this year, I articulated some of the related questions circling around that larger one: Continue reading “Modern Wisdom from Classic Literature, Part 1”