My Reading Year

December 21, 2020

I’ve been reading everyone else’s end-of-the-year favorite book lists, and OF COURSE I have to chime in. Because reading has been, and will always be (I hope and believe) a constant comfort and joy for me, even when real life is kind of a train wreck.

I’m looking at you, 2020.

So let’s talk books, shall we? Settle in, it might take a while.

The Unread Shelf Project

As of this writing, I’ve read 110 books this year! Many of them from my own stash as I participated in Whitney Conard’s The Unread Shelf Project. While I often try to read from my own TBR shelf each year, if only to keep the books from taking over, The Unread Shelf Project made it more of an adventure to read from my own stacks. One of my favorite devices was “Unread Bingo”—genius! It helped me finish the year strong, as well as choose books that I normally might pass by just so I could get a bingo. I’m finishing a book right now that I’m loving—but it has sat on my shelf for FIVE years. I also “unshelved” a few books, after giving them a shot and determining they were not of interest to me anymore. Whitney just unveiled the 2021 Unread Shelf Project, if you’re interested in joining in. 

Monthly favorites and more

Every month in the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter (sign up here), I share my two favorite reads (see below), but of course there have been other books I’ve read that have made an impact that deserve a mention.

I finished Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi, back in September. This was a thick book on difficult subject matter, but also well-written and very interesting. I have a lot to learn about racism and the experience of people who are not white, and this was a good place for me to start. 

The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss. My mother-in-law gave me this book because of the horse connection. What I discovered was a beautifully written, gentle story, and an author I’d like to read more of.

Educated, by Tara Westover. This sometimes-harrowing memoir of growing up in a survivalist Mormon family was one of the most gripping books I read all year. 

The Stranger Inside, Lisa Unger. I’ve read several of Unger’s books, and they are twisty page-turners. I went to hear her speak in Tampa on one of my last public outings before the pandemic changed all our lives. 

I discovered a couple of new-to-me series I want to keep reading: Susan Wittig Albert’s The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. 

For comfort, I reread several of the Anne of Green Gables books, a few Agatha Christie mysteries, and Paris Letters, by Janice MacLeod. (I’m surprised I didn’t do more comfort rereading this year.)

Monthly favorites from Happy Little Thoughts:

Jan.: Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman; The Sidetracked Sisters Happiness File, Pam Young and Peggy Jones

Feb.: The Hazel Wood, Melissa Albert; The Genius of Birds, Jennifer Ackerman

March: This Must Be the Place, Marrie O’Farrell; Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin

April: A Better Man, Louise Penny; Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting Commitment to Your Creativity, Jan Phillips

May: Venetia, Georgette Heyer; Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path, Erin Loechner

June: The Stranger Diaries, Elly Griffiths; The Muse Is In: An Owner's Manual to Your Creativity, Jill Badonsky

July: Before the Coffee Gets Cold, Toshikazu Kawaguchi; Broken Places & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected, Nnedi Okorafor

August: Love Lettering, Kate Clayborn; L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, David Leibovitz

Sept.: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, Josie Silver; Look Alive Out There, Sloane Crosley

Oct.: All the Devils Are Here, Louise Penny; Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett

Nov.: Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry; The Dance of Intimacy: A Womans Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships, Harriet Lerner

As usual, my reading was all over the place, since mostly I read at whim whatever sounds most interesting to me at the time. In 2020, I think that was just the right approach to take.

What did your reading year look like? Did you read more or less than usual? Any books that especially made an impact? Do share in the comments below. Because my TBR list isn’t long enough…


The Weight of the Year

December 29, 2014

I know the calendar is an arbitrary division of time, but I feel the weight of the old year bearing down on me. The weight of goals achieved and not achieved, of challenges met and unmet...the days and weeks and months of 2014 feel heavier each moment. A new year is about to dawn, and it feels like a weight will fall off my shoulders with the passing of the old year. Do you feel that way too? The endings and beginnings of this time of year feel like a good chance to shrug off the old and look forward with optimism to the new. But before I go all philosophical on you, let me just quickly review the public challenges I set for myself in 2014:

 Reading Challenges
I succeeded in all three of my reading challenges—click here to see the results. I am just finishing up that last Mt. TBR book, but it will be done by the end of the month. I managed just one bingo, but I filled a number of other spaces—just not in a line! And I read all the “required” classics, and one of the optional books.

For 2015: I plan to read from my shelves again, since (surprise!) I continued to buy new-to-me books in 2014. I did end up with a small reduction in the TBR pile, but I still have many, many books secreted on my closet shelves.  I’ll also participate in the updated classics challenge here and once again in the Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge.

30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge
I’m so happy that I completed this challenge—it was fun, uplifting and gave me the boost I needed to take on…

31 Days of Sketching with Belle from Belle, Book and Candle starting Jan. 1. She plans to post her art on a separate blog (address to come), and I’m not sure yet how I’m going to post mine. I’m still working out the details and collecting prompts so that I’m never at a loss for what to sketch. My goal is to make sketching an activity rather than an event.

This year has been a year of emotional stress and upheaval (and dying computers and dogs going to the emergency vet), though I haven’t publicly written much about it. It was also a year of seeing old friends and family, reading good books and discovering Doctor Who. I’m grateful for the gifts 2014 has given me, but I want 2015 to feel different—less frustrating and anxiety ridden. I can’t control what happens to me, only how I react. Optimistically, I turn towards 2015, hoping for a happier and more successful year. But hoping will not make it so. If I want 2015 to be better than 2014, and I do, I will have to make some changes—in what I do and how I think. I’ll share what I learn in hopes that it will help and encourage you, too. As always, I’m especially grateful for all of you who have taken time to read my words and share your thoughts with me.

What gifts has 2014 given you? What do you look forward to in 2015?


Announcing the Kathy Book Awards...

December 12, 2014

Photo courtesy Mocanu Bogdan

Oh, you’ve never heard of the Kathys? That’s because I just invented them. I was planning to do a “10 Favorite Reads of 2014” post, when I realized I had nearly twice that many favorites chosen after a quick pass through the list of books I read this year.  These awards are completely personal and subjective, with the main requirement being that I read and loved each book listed in 2014, regardless of when it was published. Sadly, the authors receive nothing but my undying thanks and admiration, and the likelihood that I will recommend and buy their books in future, even if they, the authors, are dead. (I admit this is a fairly questionable honor.) So without further ado, I give you the Kathy Book Awards:

Fiction: Life After Life, Kate Atkinson. 
Runner up: Kind of Cruel, Sophie Hannah. I was surprised and pleased to find this is one in a series.

This was the hardest category from which to choose a winner. I read a number of really outstanding novels this year. Other favorites included: Old Filth, What Alice Forgot, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and The Little Stranger.

Vintage mystery: The House on the Roof, Mignon G. Eberhart. Great story, and a terrier named Blitz.
Runner up: The Brading Collection, Patricia Wentworth. I figured out whodunit!

Classic: All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque. Surprisingly, All Quiet beat out a horse classic for the honor. The book affected me deeply, and I wrote about it here.
Runner up: My Friend Flicka, Mary O’Hara.

Non-fiction: Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Georgina Howell. Remarkable woman, sometimes called the “female Lawrence of Arabia.”
Runner up: What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. Portraits of 80 people from 30 countries with the food they typically eat in one day. Aren’t you curious about how the diet of a Japanese sumo wrestler or a Masai herdswoman compares to your own?

Books on writing: Still Writing, Dani Shapiro. Longer on inspiration than on craft, this book was just what I needed to reignite my love for writing. A favorite among favorites.
Runner up: Around the Writer’s Block, Rosanne Bane. Using brain science to fight resistance—lots of great and practical information.

Reread: How I Got to Be Perfect, Jean Kerr. I adore Jean Kerr’s writing, and a post about her is in the works for the future.
Runner up: It’s Not That I’m Bitter…, Gina Barreca. Read this if you want to laugh out loud.

What were your favorite reads this year? Please share your own version of the Kathys!


What I Read This Summer

September 08, 2014

Here in Florida, summer—at least the weather part of it—won’t be over for another couple of months. However, since kids are back in school and fall decorations fill the stores, I’m going to pretend summer is over and do a summer reading round up. Maybe that will help fall get here sooner?

I broke with my usual summer reading traditions (no Wilkie Collins this summer—I missed him—and no writer’s biography). Instead, I’ve been steadily reading from my own shelves as well as consolidating my massive TBR (“to be read” for the uninitiated) list. As I have time, I’ve been looking up each book on my current list and deciding whether or not I still want to read it. If I do, I’m creating a brand new TBR list.  As I do this, I’m choosing a book here and there from the list to check out of the library. Nerdy as it sounds, it’s been a lot of fun!

Here are just a few highlights of my summer’s reading:

From my own shelves:

The appropriately-titled So Many Books, So Little Time, by Sara Nelson. Nelson’s chronicle of a year’s worth of reading a book a week woven into the events of her private life. I loved this and have added it to my shelf of “books about books.”

Old Filth, Jane Gardam. New-to-me author, and so good! I read about this on Danielle Simpson’s blog, and had picked up this copy at my library’s bookstore for a dollar. I will be reading more of Gardam’s work.

Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff, was another library bookstore purchase. This fascinating biography had me from the first page: “Among the most famous women to have lived, Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt for twenty-two years. She lost a kingdom once, regained it, nearly lost it again, amassed an empire, lost it all. A goddess as a child, a queen at eighteen, a celebrity soon thereafter, she was an object of speculation and veneration, gossip and legend, even in her own time.”

From my enormous TBR list:

The Awakening of Miss Prim, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera. I was disappointed in this book. It sounded like the perfect read for me, but I was left with an overall feeling of “meh.” Still, it did have this lovely passage: “Miss Prim sipped her tea and nestled down into the storeroom armchair. She too believed in the value of the little things. Her first coffee in the morning drunk from her Limoges porcelain cup. Sunlight filtering through the shutters of her room, casting shadows on the floor. Dozing off over a book on a summer’s afternoon. The look in the children’s eyes when they told you about some fact they’d just learned. It was from the little things that the big ones were made, it definitely was.”

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. Just the right amount of spooky, and a story I keep thinking about.

And I just finished Still Life With Bread Crumbs, by Anna Quindlen, which I loved. From page 223: “One day she had been out walking and she had wondered whether she’d become a different person in the last year, maybe because of what Paige Whittington had said about the dog pictures. Then when she really thought about it she realized she’d been becoming different people for as long as she could remember but had never really noticed, or had put it down to moods, or marriage, or motherhood. The problem was that she’d thought that at a certain point she would be a finished product. Now she wasn’t sure what that might be, especially when she considered how sure she had been about it at various times in the past, and how wrong she’d been.”

And while I didn’t read a writer’s biography, I did read Agatha Christie at Home—and now I want to visit Greenway, her home in Devon!

There were also comfort rereads: Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders and Death in the Air (also known as Death in the Clouds), and This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart. (I forgot all about The Crystal Cave…still need to check that out at the library.)

As far as reading challenges go, aside from the Mount TBR challenge, I’ve been slacking. Time to get back to the classics and the Vintage Mystery Challenge.

What were your favorite reads this summer?


Summer Rerun--Book Junkie

June 09, 2014

Note: I'm taking a more relaxed approach to blogging this summer, so occasionally I'm going to rerun a previous post. I hope you enjoy this one, from 2010. I have made a few minor edits, including updating the photos, since it last appeared, and I've added an author's note regarding the progress (or lack thereof) I'm making on my TBR piles.

I confess. I’m a book junkie. In this electronic age, I’m utterly and completely addicted to books: reading them, buying them, browsing through them in a bookstore or library. When I inhale the smell of a bookstore, especially a used bookstore, my heart flutters and adrenaline surges through me.

Libraries also give me a rush. All those books waiting to be opened—and they’re free. I know my 14-digit library card number by heart, and I adore searching the online catalog and putting books on hold. With one click of a mouse, I can feed my habit with books from libraries all over my county.

And buying books online? While it lacks the sensuality of the bookstore, online book buying gives me an additional fix: endless titles and both familiar and obscure-but-fascinating authors to explore. I can spend hours wandering through Amazon or Abe Books or Not only is there the thrill of finding a bargain book (May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude for a penny!), but the additional pleasure of anticipating the arrival of that book in the mail.

My addiction is such that I read at every opportunity, and in every type of surrounding. Along with more traditional places, such as doctors’ waiting rooms or the bathtub, I read while in the gas station car wash (and once while pumping gas), while in line at the drive through at the pharmacy or bank, while blow drying my hair, while nursing my baby in the middle of the night, and between halves at that baby’s football games (he’s 19 now). I once tried to read in a Jacuzzi spa, but found the jets splashed too much water on the book.

I usually read at least three books at one time—fiction, non-fiction, self-help, humor, spirituality…I’ve got a book for every mood. I read books about books (one of my favorites was aptly titled Leave Me Alone I’m Reading) and keep a log of the books I read each year. Once, I made a New Year’s resolution to read less. When I pack for a vacation, I choose what books to take as carefully as I choose my clothing.

I confess that I feed my husband’s addiction as well. Aside from the pleasure I know reading gives him, if he doesn’t have something good to read, then I won’t be able to…he’ll need conversation or meals or (ahem) “marital attention” when I want to read. (Does that make me a pusher?)

I like to blame my mother for my dilemma. I inherited my love of reading from her, but she may have just the slightest addiction problem herself: she once got a traffic ticket for reading while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. She had opened a book on the seat beside her, snatching sentences while the traffic remained at a standstill. The motorcycle cop who ticketed her did not approve.

Books started out as my innocent companions—my solace in a rather lonely childhood, their characters my friends and comforters. Coming home to an empty house after school wasn’t quite so bad when I could roam the fields and woods of Prince Edward Island with Anne of Green Gables or feel the wind on my face as Alec raced with the Black Stallion. Books taught me about everything from puberty to how to bake brownies. My desire to travel was first awakened by reading James Herriot’s Yorkshire.

Books have enriched my life more than I can say—but somehow, I crossed the line from relaxing hobby to addiction. For years, I kidded myself, denying I had a problem—until we recently remodeled our bedroom closet and my addiction became something I could no longer ignore. On a free-standing bookcase in our closet, I had stored my stash of purchased-but-not-yet-read books. When I moved them to make room for the new closet system, I found I had 52 unread books. That’s a whole year’s worth if I manage to read one a week!

So now I’m in rehab. I can’t buy any more books and I must curtail my library habit until I read some of the ones I actually own. I’ve sifted through the books in the closet and made the hard decision to get rid of a few. As they’ve lingered in the stack, I’ve realized that I’m just not going to read some of them. (Henry James’ The Golden Bowl comes to mind. I’ve begun that book three times and haven’t been able to make it out of the first chapter.)

One of the piles
It’s been several months since I confronted my problem. I haven’t been completely successful in reining in my book habit, but the unread books in my closet now number only 28. Hey, it’s a start.

Author's note: Since I wrote this post, things have only gotten worse. I currently have even MORE than 52 unread books on my shelves, despite participating in two Mount TBR Challenges. In 2014 I have limited my book acquisition to books received from Paperback Swap, purchased from my library's book shop or with my credit at a local used book shop. I'm still acquiring books, but at a slower rate. I don't think I'll ever come to the end of my TBR piles, but my goal is just to get them down to a manageable size so that I won't feel like a hoarder every time I enter my closet.

Back to the Classics

Reading from the Mountain, Playing Mystery Bingo and Back to the Classics

January 08, 2014

It’s reading challenge time again. In 2014, I’m signing up for two challenges, ones I’ve done before, and using a third challenge as inspiration: the Back to the Classics Challenge.  Reading is practically my favorite thing, and I’ve decided to use that to gently step outside my usual comfort zone.

I’m returning to Bev’s (My Reader’s Block) Mount TBR Challenge in 2014, but stepping it up to the Mt. Vancouver level (36 books) because Something Must Be Done about the state of my bookshelves. This will truly be a challenge because I barely squeaked by with my 24 from last year, even after I got off to a good start. I’ll need to average three books a month from my own shelves to reach my goal. Fortunately, I’m well-equipped for this, and I’ll use books from my stash for my other two challenges. Now if only I can keep from being too distracted by the intriguing books I’ll hear about this year….

2014 Vintage Mystery BINGO Sign-UpVintage mysteries are my favorite, possibly because I grew up reading Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Erle Stanley Gardner, and this will be my third vintage mystery challenge. This year, I’m playing Vintage Mystery Bingo, also hosted by Bev. I’m doing the Golden level, and might consider the Silver level as well if I find myself reading enough books from that era without putting strain on the other two challenges. I’ve already finished Georgette Heyer’s A Blunt Instrument and have started Sheila Pim’s Creeping Venom. This will be by far my easiest challenge—these books are the equivalent of eating cookies: delicious and comforting. 

And finally, I’m using the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate, as inspiration for reading more classics. (I’m not officially signing up because I’m not planning to write a blog post about each classic that I read—I’m just going to use the categories as guidelines.) I’ve wanted to read more classic literature but haven’t been able to discipline myself to do so, even though “classic” doesn’t have to mean difficult, long or boring. (Pride and Prejudice is a classic and one of my all-time favorite books, for example). This challenge seems within my reach, with six required books, and four more optional choices. Of course, I have a number of unread classics on my TBR shelves to choose from. (Thank you to Danielle at A Work in Progress for linking to Karen’s challenge.) 

It’s likely I’m biting off more than I can chew—but it’s a new year and everything seems possible! Even putting a dent in my (almost literal) mountain of unread books. (See the sidebar left for a link to my 2014 reading challenge log.)

Will you join any reading challenges in 2014?


Book(ish) Ends

December 23, 2013

I did it! I completed both the reading challenges I joined in 2013. 

I got off to a strong start with my Mount TBR challenge, and actually read more than 24 books from my own shelves, but the rules said I could count only those books that were on my shelf prior to Jan. 1, 2013. I continued to buy books throughout the year (possibly ending up with more than I started with—I’m afraid to count) and read quite a few of those during 2013, too. I will continue to read from my shelves in 2014, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the only way I’ll be able to make any real headway in reducing the stacks will be if I put myself on a book-buying fast for a few months. I may do this, though I know I’ll find it quite painful!

While I came it at “just” 24 (my goal) for the Mount TBR challenge, I exceeded my goal for the Vintage Mystery Challenge. It was so much fun! I loved the different categories, with names like “Colorful Crime” (“a book with a color or reference to color in the title”) or “Country House Criminals” (“a standard—or not so standard—Golden Age country house murder”). I plan to join 2014’s Vintage Mystery Challenge, which has a Bingo theme. (Click here for a complete list of the books I read for each challenge.)

I’m down to two books left to finish for my year-end reading, Personal Pleasures and Wherever You Go, There You Are. I don’t think I’ll finish them by the end of the year, but you never know. I plan to take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to relax and do some extra reading

Other than the two books mentioned above, what will I be reading? I’m so glad you asked!

I went a little crazy with the library holds, which, of course, all came in at the same time. (I don’t expect to finish all these within my three-week borrowing period—I’m sure several of them will have to be renewed.)

Here is the book bounty:

Unpacking My Bookshelves—Writers and Their Books, Leah Price. I can hardly think of a more appealing book to a nosy book fiend like me. This book will probably inspire a post all on its own. 

The Heroine’s Bookshelf, Erin Blakemore. I’ve only just flipped through this book, but already I wish I had written it.  

Thin Is the New Happy, Valerie Frankel.  I’m already halfway through this memoir of Frankel’s efforts to “exorcise her bad body-image demons, to uncover the truths behind what put them there, and to learn how to truly love herself.” 

Ten Dollar Dinners, Melissa D’Arabian. I am always looking for creative and inexpensive ways to feed the family. 

The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky. Subtitled: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, but Does.” I’m looking forward to reading this book that “empowers readers to look beyond their first response, sharing scientific evidence that often it is our mindset—not our circumstances—that matters most.”

Why We Ride: Women Writers on the Horses in Their Lives, edited by Verna Dreisbach. I can’t wait to read this collection of essays exploring the ways horses have enriched the lives of the contributors, including Jacqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries. With an introduction by Jane Smiley.

You’re probably wondering where the fiction is. I’m already reading Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley, and I’ll pick something else from my own overloaded shelves when I finish that. 

So you see I’ll have plenty to occupy me as the 2013 reading year comes to an end. I’m looking forward to curling up with a cup of tea or coffee and immersing myself in some of these.

What are your plans for year’s end, reading or otherwise?


It's Summer--Let's Read!

June 24, 2013

Remember those summer reading lists we used to get when we were in school—books that were either required or “recommended” for us to read before school started the next year? Even though I’ve always loved reading, I used to hate those lists. Rarely did they contain something I wanted to read, and somehow it took some of the fun out of reading when it was assigned. Even now, I’m an extremely random reader—drifting from book to book as suits my mood. I don’t often plan out a course of reading, though I admire those who do, and I love to see other people’s reading lists (like Danielle’s at A Work in Progress) and summer reading recommendations (click here for some fun ones).

This summer, to make the most of what I hope will be extra reading time (when most people are preparing to get outdoors more in summer, here in central Florida, I’m planning ways to stay indoors as much as I can—it’s just too dang hot and humid), I thought I’d try making up my own reading list in an effort to read more widely and carefully instead of just reading more.

I started my list with books from the pattern that has emerged the past couple of years. For instance, every summer, I read a biography or autobiography of a writer. In past years, I’ve read about Edna St. Vincent Millay, Louisa May Alcott and Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. This summer, I’ve picked up a volume of L.M. Montgomery’s journals (she’s the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, see below), and I think I might also tackle Mark Twain’s autobiography

Interestingly, for the past two summers I’ve read a book by Wilkie Collins (The Moonstone and The Woman in White). This year, it’s No Name, the story of Magdalen and Norah Vanstone, who find themselves orphaned and penniless when their inheritance goes to their uncle.

I also like to pick up a classic. I’m already working on The Three Musketeers (which I started months ago—not a reflection on the story, but on the fact that I’m reading it on my tablet, which I dislike for reading). I’m also considering Eudora WeltyDelta Wedding, which is described on Amazon as “A vivid and charming portrait of a large southern family, the Fairchilds, who live on a plantation in the Mississippi delta. The story…[is] centered around the visit of a young relative, Laura McRaven, and the family’s preparations for her cousin Dabney’s wedding.” I’m just discovering Welty’s work, and so far I’ve loved everything I’ve read.

I’ll continue with my vintage mystery challenge—with Ngaio Marsh’s Spinsters in Jeopardy—what a great title!—up next.  I’ll probably also sneak in another Georgette Heyer mystery. I’m working my way through the Sourcebooks Landmark editions with their terrific vintage covers.

What would summer be like without a comfort reread (or two…or more!)? I’m thinking of revisiting Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners (especially for the Cretan setting), and Anne’s House of Dreams, the fifth book in Anne of Green Gables series. And I think it’s about time I reread an Agatha Christie mystery. 

And lest you think I’m eternally stuck in the past, I also want to read Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel Flight Behavior, I’m working on the fourth Maisie Dobbs mystery, Messenger of Truth and I’m already more than halfway through Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. (Jenny is better known as The Bloggess.) 

My summer list also includes Dave Barry’s I’ll Mature When I’m Dead and Val Frankel’s memoir, It’s Hard Not to Hate You, as well as Debbie Macomber’s Between Friends and Patricia Wentworth’s The Catherine Wheel, another vintage mystery.

Whew. That should more than take me through the summer! And if it doesn’t, I still have quite a mountain of choices on my shelves, despite my efforts to whittle them down. (Tip: in order to effectively reduce one’s total “mountain” of books, one must quit buying books. So much easier said than done.)

What will you read this summer?


Bookish Pleasures

May 24, 2013

One of my greatest pleasures is reading. But not just the reading itself—also thinking about reading, planning what to read next, even reading about reading. This week I’ve spent more time than usual doing the fun little tasks associated with reading: shuffling piles, consolidating the to-be-read (TBR) list, and so on.

I always have piles of books lying around: books in progress, books lined up for one of the reading challenges I’m doing, books I’ve finished reading, but want to reread select parts of or write notes about. But the very best pile of all is the one of books next up to be read. I got this little pile at the library this week, except for the top one which I own and had already started to read. Here’s what I got:

What I Learned at Bug Camp, Sarah Juniper Rabkin. I’m always on the lookout for collections of essays, and I read about this one on Susan J. Tweit’s blog. Rabkin is a naturalist, artist and teacher, and I’m very much enjoying her thoughtful writing.

The Muse Is IN: An Owner’s Manual to Your Creativity, Jill Badonsky. This brightly-illustrated book looks like a fun jump start to creativity. It might help me with my proposed 30 Days of Creativity (coming soon!).

The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days, Ian Frazier. A humorous novel written in daybook form, the main character is a “hilariously desperate housewife with a taste for swearing and large glasses of red wine, who speaks to the frustrations of everyday life.” I read about this in the New York Times, and it sounds like a good antidote to stress, don’t you think?

Moving to Higher Ground, Wynton Marsalis with Geoffrey C. Ward. Marsalis writes about lessons learned in a lifetime in jazz—I’m quite excited about finally checking this out, because it’s one of the books that’s been on my TBR list the longest!

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn. The novel that made such a splash last year, apparently a twisty/turny thriller. I’m looking forward to seeing what the fuss was all about.

I’ll have to start Gone Girl first because there are people signed up after me to read it and I won’t be able to renew it after the checkout period is over. This might be a challenge, because next week will be given up to entertaining out-of-town family and celebrating my son’s graduation from high school. Surely I’ll be able to sneak a little reading time in there. I hope.

In addition to piles of books, I have lists of books. On Sunday I spent an hour puttering through my TBR list, consolidating and updating. I’d finished a book, and wandered through the library catalog looking for something new to put on hold (see pile above for the result). I checked reviews on Amazon to see if I still wanted to read a few books that had been on my list for a while, crossing out a few, but mostly transferring them to a clean page in my organizer. My library recently changed its cataloging system, and it took me a little while to figure out how to best use it.  Occasionally, a book on my list will disappear from the catalog and I have to decide if I want to try interlibrary loan, buy a copy, or discard the book from my TBR list. Momentous decisions!

I’ll be spending some time getting a start on one or more of my new books this weekend before all the company arrives. What are you reading this weekend?

Audur Ava Olafsdottir

Maybe I Should Call These Reading Un-Challenges?

February 18, 2013

My 2013 reading challenges are off to a good start. I’ve already read six books (out of 24) from my To Be Read (TBR) pile and two books for the Vintage Mystery Challenge (out of eight), with a third in progress. Having to wait around in the jury duty pool in early January wasn’t all bad! (For a complete list of books I've read for the challenges, click here. I update the list every time I finish a book, and it can always be found by scrolling down the sidebar at right.)

I haven’t been adventurous at all with this year’s reading challenges. I do need to do the TBR challenge if I don’t want to be entirely overrun by books and the Vintage Mystery Challenge isn’t so much a challenge as a way to discover new authors in my favorite genre. Next time I should choose a challenge that really is a challenge, perhaps? I don’t know. Reading is such a pleasure and relaxation for me, I hesitate to turn it into a true “challenge.” I have enough of those in my life. Perhaps instead of more challenging challenges, I might participate in the various read-alongs I hear about that don’t last a whole year?

But enough about why my challenges aren’t really challenges—let’s talk about books.

The first book I read this year was from my TBR pile: The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, originally written in Icelandic and translated by Brian FitzGibbon. The Greenhouse follows Arnljotur, known as Lobbi, a young man from Iceland, who leaves his home, father and autistic twin brother, to restore an old garden in a remote village monastery in an unnamed country in Europe. Lobbi’s mother, with whom he shared a love of gardening, has recently died in a car accident.  On top of that, during one impulsive night, Lobbi has fathered a child with Anna, an acquaintance. Anna is raising their baby daughter, Flora Sol, without much input from Lobbi, who doesn’t really know what his role with Anna and Flora Sol should be—though he’s more clueless than unwilling. After he begins work on the monastery garden, Anna and Flora Sol come to visit. Anna wants to continue her studies and needs Lobbi’s help to care for the baby. During their time together, Anna and Lobbi begin to build a relationship, and Lobbi slowly learns how to nurture the people in his life as tenderly as he nurtures the flowers in the garden. I loved this book. It was a quiet and gentle story, with interesting secondary characters, such as Lobbi's father and the film-buff monk Father Thomas. It was a page-turner in the respect that I enjoyed that world so much I could hardly wait to get back to it.

My first Vintage Mystery read was Georgette Heyer’s Why Shoot a Butler? In a twist on a murder mystery cliche, a butler is the first victim. Amateur sleuth Frank Amberley must help the baffled police find the murderer before they arrest the young woman Frank is falling in love with. Reading this type of cozy mystery feels like slipping under a fuzzy blanket with a good cup of tea (I always crave Earl Grey tea when reading books or watching movies set in England). I love Georgette Heyer’s historical novels, which she’s better know for, but the few mysteries she wrote also contain her trademark wit and humor. I plan to read at least one more of her books before the challenge is done. I love the covers of these editions as well—wonderful vintage artwork.

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Texas catching up with a few girlfriends I used to work with, as well as my roommate before I got married, and maybe even my old boss. If you hear a lot of laughing and carrying on coming from the general vicinity of Dallas, that’s us. In addition to the talking, laughing and eating I expect to do, I should have some good reading time on the flights to and from. So please excuse me while I go choose what to take with me—my clothes are already packed, but the books…that takes me longer to decide…

What did you do this weekend?


I Accept: Reading Challenges in 2013

January 04, 2013

Even though I read a lot in 2012 (112 books!), I was unorganized about it, I didn’t read the classics I wanted to read, and I allowed my to-be-read (TBR) stack to proliferate ridiculously. I also didn’t participate in any reading challenges, and I missed that. I don’t need prodding to read, but I like the feeling of working towards a goal. So this year, I’m going to participate in two reading challenges, both sponsored by Bev at MyReader’s Block.

I desperately need to do another “Off the Shelf” challenge, and there are several floating around out there with varying degrees of rigor. I chose Bev’s TBR challenge because it’s simple, I like the button and the mountain references! I’m shooting for the Mont Blanc level: 24 books from my TBR pile, and if it goes well, I might upgrade to the Mt. Vancouver level (36 books). Even so, I really am going to have to put myself on a book-buying diet. Even 36 books will barely put a dent in my stack. Perhaps it’s time to go through and purge the piles again.

Vintage Reading  Challenge 2013 Signup
The second challenge is another Vintage Mystery Challenge. I participated in Bev’s VMC in 2011 and loved it. I found some great, new-to-me authors (and revisited some old favorites). This year, Bev has come up with categories that sound like lots fun.  To be eligible for a prize, there’s an eight book minimum using the categories she’s provided, which include things like “Colorful Crime: a book with a color or reference to color in the title” and “A Calendar of Crime: a mystery with a date/holiday/year/month/etc. in the title.” I haven’t chosen all my titles yet, but I think my first choice will be Gladys Mitchell’s Spotted Hemlock (“Murderous Methods: a book with a means of death in the title”). I’m planning to look for new authors and books instead of just rereading old favorites…though I’m sure one or two will sneak in.

Do you participate in reading challenges? Which ones? Do you have any reading plans for 2013?



December 16, 2011

I read most of these...
I finished the last book from the Off the Shelf challenge earlier this week: Tom Piazza’s Why New Orleans Matters. Very moving and readable book about some of the reasons New Orleans is special and why careful rebuilding after Katrina is so important. From the introduction: “New Orleans is not just a list of attractions or restaurants or ceremonies, no matter how sublime and subtle. New Orleans is the interaction among all those things, and countless more. It gains its character from the spirit that is summoned, like a hologram, in the midst of all these elements, and that comes, ultimately, from the people who live there—those who have chosen to live there, and those whose parents and grandparents and ancestors lived there.”

I completed both my reading challenges on time—not that either of them was all that “challenging”—and they both served a purpose. The Vintage Mystery Challenge introduced me to some new authors in my favorite genre (Frances and Richard Lockridge, Margery Allingham) and allowed me to revisit some old favorites (Rex Stout, Patricia Wentworth and Agatha Christie). The Off the Shelf challenge helped clear my shelves a bit. (Shh…don’t tell anyone, but I’ve filled up that space with more books I’ve purchased this year!) I read some books that had been languishing there for too long and even got rid of a couple without reading them at all, hopefully passing them on to someone who will appreciate them. (See the 2011 Reading Challenge Log for a full list of the challenge books I read this year.)

I’ve considered signing up for new reading challenges next year, like this Classics challenge or even revisiting the Off the Shelf challenge to try to clear that shelf for good (hahahahaha). But I decided not to. I love reading, and I will still read for pleasure, and for research, but 2012 must be devoted to writing the book that I keep telling people I’m going to write. I can’t allow myself to be distracted by reading challenges, tempting though they are. My focus must narrow a bit, at least for now. It’s time to put up or shut up.

What challenges, reading or other, are you going to tackle in 2012?


I'd Rather Be Reading

December 09, 2011

I’m shamelessly stealing a page from Dani Torres’ blog (pun totally intended but not very good) and doing a library books post today… mostly because I’m snowed under by so much stuff I “should” be doing that I don’t want to do anything. And because when I went to the library to return things, a whole bunch of my requested books had come in AND I found a couple books at the Friends of the Library bookstore. You never know with the library request system. Sometimes books come right away, and other times it takes a week or more. I got all hot and bothered requesting books last weekend, and five of them came in all at once! This makes me simultaneously happy and stressed…happy because I love to have plenty of delicious books to choose from, and stressed because I’m worried I’ll have to give them back before I finish with them. Though I want to start on these right away, I’m already reading a novel (The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, which I am loving) and the last book for my “Off the Shelf” challenge (Why New Orleans Matters, by Tom Piazza, also excellent)

I know it’s crazy to have so many books hanging around waiting to be read, especially this time of year when I have so many other things to do. I can’t seem to help myself! See, here are the library books I picked up. Don’t they all sound tempting in their own ways?

Of Flowers and a Village, Wilfred Blunt. I can’t remember where I heard of this, but it sounds charming. This is a novel written in the form of “chatty letters” from a godfather to his goddaughter who is bedridden while recovering from an illness. The letters paint a picture of village life, combined with history, gardening knowledge and local lore.

The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life, William Nicholson. Laura, a happily married mother of two, begins to question her choices after her college boyfriend resurfaces after 20 years, comparing the passion of her first love with her current suburban life. Little does she know, she’s not the only one having a personal crisis in her small English village.

Civil War Wives, Carol Berkin. A peek into the lives of the wives of abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, Confederacy President Jefferson Davis and Union commander Ulysses S. Grant. Publisher’s Weekly says, “[Berkin] wants to catch the realities of three privileged, yet restricted women and thus to reveal how even the most fortunate of wives—at least fortunate in the importance and celebrity of their husbands—struggled, not always successfully, to face down the difficulties of their sex. In this, [she] is entirely successful.”

Design*Sponge at Home, Grace Bonney. Design*Sponge is one of the most popular design sites on the web, and creator Bonney’s book contains home tours, DIY projects, before-and-after makeovers and more. I’m enamored of this table/library project...

What It Is, Lynda Barry. How to describe this book? It’s called a “writing how-to graphic novel” and one review commented, “Each page is a feast for the eyes with beautiful full-page collages of photographs, watercolors, ink drawings, and text, resulting in a gorgeous volume that explores and encourages writing in a combination of ways.” Sounds fun, yes?

My two bookstore finds were Mary Emmerling’s Romantic Country, and, ironically considering the state of my house and my mind, Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui.

It’s likely that while I “should” be wrapping gifts or writing Christmas cards, I’ll be reading. Oh, well. Maybe I can use reading time as a reward for getting my chores done?

Which book would you choose to start with?


Speaking of Books...

June 13, 2011

How are your reading challenges going? I’m plugging along on my “Off the Shelf” challenge, now having read nine of the 15 I’d committed to (see complete list of books read here) and we’re only about halfway through the year. I’d feel better about that if I could just stop myself from buying more books! At the rate I’m going, I’ll have refilled my “to read” shelf with 15 (possibly more!) new books. Oh, well. I guess if I keep reading significant numbers of books I’ve stockpiled, they won’t actually take over my house, and eventually I’ll clear out the piles. (A girl can dream.)

Anyway, despite the problem of the magically refilling to-read shelf, I’m happy with my progress. A couple of highlights:

I bought Treasure in a Cornfield: The Discovery and Excavation of the Steamboat Arabia after I visited the Arabia museum in Missouri (see my account of that visit here). Written by one of the excavators, it’s surprisingly readable and gave a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges of the excavation. And believe me, there were challenges.

Some of the Arabia's cargo
Traveling With Pomegranates, by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor, delighted me from start to finish. I fall somewhere in between them in age and stage of life, and can identify with both. They alternate telling the story of two trips they took together to Greece (and one to France). I fell in love with Greece when I visited a few years ago, and deeply identified with something Sue wrote: “…I was a little shocked at how displaced I felt inside. So much of my sense of self had been altered in Greece, far more than I realized. Old understandings of myself as a woman, a mother, a writer, and a person in search of the spiritual were unraveled by my experiences over there, by the places themselves.”

The other challenge I signed up for was the Vintage Mystery Challenge, and I could have completed that one in about two weeks…but I have chosen to spread it out over the year. The vintage mystery (think Agatha Christie) is one of my favorite genres, and I’ve already read three of the 4-6 I signed on for. Since I last checked in here, I’ve read The Norths Meet Murder (Frances and Richard Lockridge) and 13 Clues for Miss Marple. The Norths are new to me, and this book was the first in a series. I didn’t like this as well as the first Campion book I talked about, but the characters were interesting enough that I have the second book on reserve at the library. 13 Clues is a collection of short stories featuring Christie’s fluffy old lady sleuth Miss Marple. Even though I’d read it before years ago, I didn’t remember the stories and chose it when I needed a comfort read.

Now that school is out, I’m making summer reading plans. Since we spruced up the lanai. I plan to plop myself down in the chaise with a good book every chance I get. I just watched Ken Burns’ documentary on Mark Twain, and I think I’ll pick up MT’s autobiography. (I may put it down again just as quickly, but I want to give it a shot!) I’ve also got “Off the Shelf” books Sullivan’s Island (Dorothea Benton Frank) and The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins) lined up.

What are your summer reading plans? Do you have a theme like some bloggers I know?


Reading Challenge Update

January 24, 2011

My two reading challenges are off to a great start, and already I'm having so much fun. I'll periodically post about what I'm reading, and I'll keep an updated list on my separate 2011 Reading Challenges page if you want to check in between posts. So far, here's what I've read: 

Off the Shelf Challenge (Goal: 15)

A Pelican at Blandings, P.G. Wodehouse (fiction). I love P.G. Wodehouse and his gentle, goofy humor. This book cost me 50 cents at my library's "Friends of the Library" bookstore and it was delightful from start to finish.  The first paragraph reads: "The summer day was drawing to a close and dusk had fallen on Blandings Castle, shrouding from view the ancient battlements, dulling the silver surface of the lake and causing Lord Emsworth's supreme Berkshire sow Empress of Blandings to leave the open air portion of her sty and withdraw into the covered shed where she did her sleeping. A dedicated believer in the maxim of early to bed and early to rise, she always turned in at about this time. Only by getting its regular eight hours can a pig keep up to the mark and preserve that schoolgirl complexion."

Drinking the Rain, Alix Kates Shulman (memoir). When she turned 50, Shulman, a novelist, began spending her summers alone at her family's cabin on an island off the coast of Maine. Sound romantic? The cabin had no indoor plumbing or heat! Shulman read, wrote, even foraged for food in the tidal pools (particularly mussels) and the area surrounding her cabin. Alone, she discovered the interconnectedness of all life.

A favorite quote: "For years, I avidly read books and eagerly wrote them, systematically trying to stuff my head with all the thoughts of mankind, but always so determined to master a subject or pursue a goal that I seldom practiced the simple pleasures of reading whatever caught my fancy or following a thought wherever it happened to lead. My plans and projects were usually so backed up that no matter what work I was engaged in at any moment, I suspected it ought to be something else." (I know just how she felt.)

The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley (fiction). A new author for me, thanks to Danielle at A Work in Progress. Kearsley's been compared to vintage Mary Stewart (Madame, Will You Talk? My Brother Michael, etc.), and I found her writing very similar. I'm thrilled because I love vintage Mary Stewart!

Verity Grey, Kearsley's protagonist, comes to Scotland to work on an archaeolgical dig searching for remains of a Roman marching camp. "I woke in the darkness, listening. The sound that wrenched me from my sleep had been strange to by city-bred ears. Train-like, yet not a train...the rhythm was too wild, too random. A horse, I thought. A horse in the next field over, galloping endlessly around and around, galloping, galloping...." There are no horses anywhere near the house Verity is staying in--why does she hear them running every night? What other ghostly presences haunt Rosehill?

The Summer Book--Tove Jansson (fiction). Jansson is a Swedish writer, who is known mostly for her children's books. I also discovered her through Danielle. (I've gotten tons of great book recommendations from Danielle's blog--you should check it out!) Reading this book felt like being wrapped in a warm summer day--pleasant in chilly January. It tells the story of a 6-year-old girl and her grandmother spending the summer on an island off the coast of Finland (I must have a thing for summer island books!). It's more like a series of vignettes than a true novel, but each story is quietly beautiful. From page 36: "[Grandmother] turned on her side and put her arm over her head. Between the arm of her sweater, her hat, and the white reeds, she could see a triangle of sky, sea and sand--quite a small triangle. There was a blade of grass in the sand beside her, and between its sawtoothed leaves it held a piece of seabird down--the taut white rib in the middle, surrounded by the down itself, which was pale brown and lighter than the air, and then darker and shiny towards the tip, which ended in a tiny but spirited curve. The down moved in a draft of air too slight for her to feel."

Vintage Mystery Challenge (Goal: 4-6)

The Crime at Black DudleyMargery Allingham. This is her first "Albert Campion" mystery, and a pure delight. I found Allingham's writing flowed easily and made me want to keep reading. I also enjoyed the characters in this story, and I will be reading more of her work. (Sorry I don't have a quote for this one--I returned it to the library before I wrote this post!)

I've requested my next book from the library: The Norths Meet Murder, by Frances and Richard Lockridge.

What are you reading right now?