Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Editing My Bookshelves, Part II

Last post, I told you about culling my bookshelves recently as part of a project to transform the closet in our TV/Guest Room/Library into a workspace that would allow me some room to sprawl and be somewhat organized. To leave my projects on the desktop while I attended to other tasks without having to feel apologetic about them cluttering up the dining table--or resentful if I had to pack them away.
Before the "big cull" we'd emptied and dismantled one wall of shelves -- I anticipated that with the closet doors removed and my new workspace exposed, the room would look too busy; it needed to be lightened up. Instead of two opposing walls of dark bookshelves, we repurposed a long narrow table, blond, bought at Ikea years ago. The TV sits on it, and there's now room on the wall for an arrangement of paintings and prints we'd been storing. Below that, a special-edition Ikea bench in a similar blond wood -- it comes in handy a few times a year for extra seating at family dinners, and we'd been loath to get rid of it. So that works well for my make-do approach. We're still working on finding a balance here between storage and display. . . Almost there, though, and much more suitable to the space than the darker bookshelves. Much easier to clean as well.


But you're not really here for the "decorating" details, are you?

Last post, I promised to tell you a bit more about the process, about the way those pages you see above represent a sort of Marie Kondo approach to the letting go, even if they made it much longer.

I mentioned, in that post, that I'd already sent hundreds of CDs off to the thrift shop. Yes, I suffered pangs about how many thousands of dollars I'd spent on them, but quickly countered my misgivings with memories of all the hours of pleasure they'd brought. More difficult to quiet was my regret about not having this music close at hand anymore, even though we'd somehow lost the habit of playing CDs and were unlikely to replace the ancient player. The salve here, for me, was ensuring that I "followed" each artist or band or opera or symphony or compilation on Spotify. It's true that there will be some less popular, more obscure tracks that I will probably lose/miss in the process. And there will likely come a day when I will mind that very much for a moment. I hope I'll remind myself then that I can't have everything and that I made a considered and worthy choice which has served me well.

So by the time I came to culling the books, a few weeks later, I'd done some of the emotional work already, and I'd got a useful approach in place. This time, instead of Spotify, I turned to paper and pen, recording title and author of each book in the back pages of my reading journal.


As I lifted each book off the shelf,  I thought for a moment about when I'd bought it, and why. Some were from the year or two when I subscribed to the Book-of-the-Month club in my very late teens, very early twenties and amassed a few sets of classics (Faulkner, Hemingway, Austen, Brontë, Fitzgerald, Maugham, Tolstoy, etc.). I paused more to think of me at 20, young and earnest, buying books after a childhood and adolescence of borrowing them, trying to discern which were worth owning, taking a modest pride in titles filling in the bricks-and-boards bookshelves. The books themselves I don't need copies of. They can easily be found in any library almost anywhere, although the Austen and Brontë I might borrow now won't have my teaching notes in the margins. . . .

Some books recalled book clubs I've belonged to over the years; some reminded me of the fervour of a particular time, the relevance, for example, of feminist fiction, relief that something I knew intuitively, experienced regularly, had been articulated eloquently. Again, though, many of these could be recovered at a library -- and many, in retrospect, seemed too caught up in the time of the original reading for me to know I wanted to revisit them.

Of course, many course syllabi were represented on the shelves--ones that I'd taught and ones that I'd studied. Commonwealth/postcolonial studies and German Literature in translation and English Literature in its numerous periods. A graduate course on Salman Rushdie, another on James Joyce. Some of these will stay on my shelves, still too meaningful to part with. But as much as these were a combination of Musts and Shoulds at the time, they are now rather reproachful Shoulds. Time to admit I'm not going to reread them, not likely even to pick them up looking for a particular passage. And, again, if I want to, I can pick up a copy at the local library or request an inter-library loan.

Another set of books that once comprised both Musts and Shoulds can be seen in the titles that I once wanted to read because they were the latest work of an author I admired or because I'd read an intriguing review or because a friend pressed the book on me or a daughter gave me a copy on my birthday. All worth reading at the time, but again, time to admit I don't need to own a copy anymore. I especially didn't need to dust it regularly (shocking how much dust comes in the windows of our urban condo!).

With each book that I decided, after this brief evaluative process, to release, I wrote down the title in a quickly lengthening list and I put the book into one of two boxes -- We'd learned that the (well-stocked, good-quality) secondhand bookstore in our neighbourhood would only take books with no ink markings. I hope you won't be shocked to know that I do write in my books, but it's true. Especially if I read the book for a course, even more so if I used it for teaching, I'd quite likely underlined passages or marked them with an asterisk or jotted notes in margins and in the endpapers. Many of my books had name and phone number written on the front page. I used up many minutes obscuring those with a dark marker before putting the books in boxes destined for the Salvation Army thrift store.

I readily admit to my good fortune in sharing the labour of this task with Pater/Paul, who had to carry and load the boxes into and out of the car, delivering them to the thrift shop. Even more impressive is that he carried the books with better re-sale possibilities three blocks up the street to the secondhand bookstore. It became a bit easier for him once the bookstore clerk realized he was seeing a repeat performance and that there were more in the wings. At that point, Paul was lent a dolly, which he used to make three or four more trips, these ones transporting three stacked boxes of books at a time.

Which brings me to the next commitment I made last post, when I promised to write this one:  I'll tell you how much money I made selling the books to a local secondhand bookshop (I didn't get rich!), and I'll share a few discoveries. And I'll tell you which book I'd been meaning to order a copy of -- ever since reading Raynor Winn's The Salt Path (the last entry in that 2+months ago post). . . and then found I'd already bought a few years ago and forgot about because it was lost in my own bookshelves!

For the boxes and boxes of books, which represented thousands of dollars spent and untold hours lost to the pleasure of reading, I was delighted to receive 150 dollars. Cash. Not store credit which would have had me filling up those shelves as quickly as I'd cleared them. Cash. Almost enough to pay for the roll of wallpaper enlivening my new workspace. Well, almost enough for 3/4 of the roll. I was primarily gratified that the books were deemed worthy of space on the bookshop's shelves, that new readers will be discovering them soon. . . .

The discoveries I made while clearing shelves? I have quite a few books signed by their authors, many of whom I've been fortunate to meet in person over the years. I'd decided early in the culling process that, for now, I'd keep those. So Margaret Drabble's The Gates of Ivory, consigned to the give-away pile (I've just checked; as I suspected, it's readily available from the library) moved back to sit with my "keepers" when I opened it to check for the bookstore's disqualifying ink and found Drabble's signature.  Not only is the book a signed copy but she must have signed it in my presence because her signature is prefaced by "for Frances." I must have heard her read, as well, and I try to prod my recalcitrant memory but other than tentatively identifying a writer's festival in the early '90s, I've got nothing. Except a signed paperback copy of her book, back on my bookshelves.

As I gently shook out the pages of one book, a piece of notepaper slid out, my dad's immediately recognizable hand, the contact details of my younger brother and his wife. Dad died in 2000, and the contact details were from an address my brother's family left some years before that.  . .

When I pulled my hardcover copy of Michael Pollan's A Place of my Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder off the shelf, I remembered the email I'd sent to the address on the end flap at the back.  We were in the middle of a big renovation of our little cedar cabin at the beach, lifting it up to give it a better foundation, adding a two-storey addition, and his quiet erudition mixed with thoughtful meditation about domestic space and our space in the world inspired me and guided me and comforted me by putting our travails at the time into a wider context. The email address was a welcome invitation to let him know that. But I didn't expect a personal response and I remember the delight (and some awe) when I opened my email to find he'd written me a very thoughtful and sincere paragraph. A brief paragraph, but not one obviously written by an assistant. Remembering all this in a flash, wishing I'd saved a digital copy (but how many transfers would that have meant, over the 20+ years), I opened the book, wondering if it was time to let another reader find it. And there inside was a printed copy of my email on one side of a folded page, a copy of his on the other side. So this one stays, for now, although I have a good friend who's building a house right now, and perhaps I should lend her it. . . . 

And finally, the book I'd been intending to buy, luckily hadn't yet ordered because I found this in a stack of books that had been haphazardly stored on the shelves that used to harbour the TV.

There you go. The book I "shopped my bookshelves for" is by Simon Armitage, the "walking poet" for whom Raynor Winn's husband kept being mistaken as the recently homeless couple walked their way along England's Salt Path. I've just begun to read Walking Home: A Poet's Journey, and I'll report back to you later (so far, I can say that it's good enough to have been absolutely no help at all with a recent bout of insomnia. No help in getting me back to sleep, that is, but it did keep me thoroughly entertained at 3 a.m.).

And now I'm done. Done culling my bookshelves, done sorting and reshelving and making space for the next batch of book purchases (it's ongoing, an addiction I don't hope to overcome). And done shifting the room, and carving out a workspace where I can write about -- even sketch representation of -- my reading. As I finish this post, I'm sitting at the desk you see above, and if I stretch out my right hand and swivel my chair sharply to the right, I can touch the bookshelf. If I push the chair back too vigorously, I'll be stopped by the rolled arm of the leather couch that we cozy up on to watch Netflix on the TV opposite.

Leaving that wheeled swivel chair now, leaving my desk, and leaving the mic to you. Your comments are always welcome. I'm especially curious to know how my culling parameters relate to yours, and whether or not reading figures in the design of your living space. The conversation that built around the previous post was splendidly engaging and I hope it might continue here.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Editing Bookshelves, Not Books. . . Do you curate or cull?

Two months (and some days) have passed since I last wrote here, although I have, at least, been keeping track of my reading in a hand-written journal, as I resolved to do at the beginning of the year.  As well, I've been making regular posts to my Instagram "books" account: Mater_Reads.

Each medium shapes what I say about what I read, though, and I have a particular fondness for the way this blog has worked in the past. I'm curious what it might become, still, even if I'm not here as often. I'm planning a few catch-up posts over the next week or two, as I settle into the new workspace we've set up for me -- just in time for La Rentrée. . .
I listed titles and authors of most of the books I culled. . . .
Before those catch-up posts, though, I thought you might be curious about the culling process. As readers, many of us find it difficult to part with our books, and I'm a prime example. Four years ago this spring, when I packed up my campus office at retirement, I sent many of my books to the help-yourself table we kept by the Faculty office. I also carted several boxes home and found space for them in my study (I had a "room of my own" there, a large work surface and a wall of shelves) and on the many book shelves we had through the house.

When we left the island a year later, I culled boxes of books. Boxes and boxes. Genre fiction and topical non-fiction. Literary criticism that a year of retirement had shown me I wasn't likely to dive back into. Books I'd bought for myself and books I'd been given. Books about craft, cookbooks, outdated hiking books, parenting books. Ah, I culled. . .

But I kept as well. The boxes of books contributed considerably to the mover's invoice, but Paul knew how important my books were to me, and any title I hesitated over came along with us. Bookshelves were among the first items we bought for our new condo, and we lined two (opposing) walls of the second bedroom with them, furnished it with a leather sofabed, adjusted the shelves to make room for the flatscreen TV, and called the room our TV/guestroom/library. . .

And then last month, once again frustrated at having to move a project-in-the-making from our dining table back into a small work surface in our bedroom, a lightbulb flashed insistently above my head. Okay, not really, but I wondered if the TV/guestroom/library closet could be converted into an office space.

First, though, some space needed to be cleared in the room itself. I warmed up with the CDs. We'd played them very rarely in our three years here, having gradually succumbed -- with some reservations, admittedly -- to Sonos + Spotify. Our stereo system was well over twenty years old, acting up occasionally, and we aren't likely to buy a new one. Easy to read -- and finally obey -- the writing on the wall.

Once the CDs had been boxed up and sent away, I applied some of the same logic to books. So many I've been hanging onto with the idea that I will read them again. Many I have, many I know I will. But with a branch of a very good civic library system a three-minute walk away, I can probably borrow most of those titles readily. So to stay on the shelves this time, books didn't necessarily need to "Spark Joy," but they needed to evoke one of at least three responses: a significant memory of where and when I'd read the book or of a particular passage or character or mood; a strong desire, nay, even intent, to reread, or at least search out a passage or two; a wish, sometimes a need, to tell others about the title, to recommend and/or proselytize its virtues. . . .

Since I've been working on this post for over an hour now, and this is my second day at it, I'm going to take some advice from myself, as noted in this page from my Lists Notebook (not its official title).
See there, when I didn't get either my Workout or a Reading Blog post accomplished Today? "Tomorrow" was yesterday, and I spent that hour I mentioned, but the post wasn't done before we had to get to our Italian lesson (we didn't want to be late to our first class!). And this morning, having spent another fifteen minutes at it, rather dismayed at the idea of what I still want to tell you about this Book-Culling process, I looked at my list again and read that little encouragement I'd added a few days ago : "can be short"  (Do you do this kind of self-talk in your Lists? Does it help? Do you pay attention to yourself or ignore? Asking for a friend. . . )

I think my younger self was wise, and I think it would be okay if this post were short. To achieve that, and get myself away from the keyboard, I'm going to make this a "to be continued" post. . . .

When I continue (very soon, I promise), I'm going to tell you a bit more about the process, about the way those pages you see above represent a sort of Marie Kondo approach to the letting go, even if they made it much longer. I'll tell you how much money I made selling the books to a local secondhand bookshop (I didn't get rich!), and I'll share a few discoveries. And I'll tell you which book I'd been meaning to order a copy of -- ever since reading Raynor Winn's The Salt Path (the last entry in that 2+months ago post). . . and then found I'd already bought a few years ago and forgot about because it was lost in my own bookshelves!

Until then. . . .if anyone's still reading this blog, I'd love to hear your experience with book-culling. Can you cull books? Have you? Might you? Or do you tend to keep the books moving after you've read them? Have you switched completely to e-reading to avoid the hoarding and the dusting? Or do you hope to die surrounded by every book you've ever owned? Do tell. Please. . . .

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Halfway Through My Reading Year, A List for You. . . .

Tomorrow will be two months since I last posted here. Perhaps next year, I'll fold this blog back into my primary blog, but for now, I'm content enough with the compromise of keeping a physical Reading Journal and an Instagram account. Less time writing on a keyboard, at a screen, suits me better for the present -- and allows more reading time, which is always good, right?

But I do like to stay in touch with you, and I miss the conversations we used to have here. Especially, I love the reading suggestions you offer, even if they make my own TBR list impossibly long.  Returning the favour, here's my halfway-through-the-year list of books read so far in 2019. If you want to find out what I thought about any of the first 19 books on the list, you could scroll back through my earlier posts to see what I wrote in my Reading Journal.

1. C.J. Samson, Dissolution
2. Kate Atkinson, Transcription
3. Michael Robotham, Shatter
4. Samantha Dion Baker, Draw Your Day: An Inspiring Guide to Keeping a Sketch Journal
5. N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season
6. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard, trans. Archibald Colquhoun
7. Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1 (didn't finish, although I did get to almost 500 pages)
8. Philippe Georget, Summertime: All The Cats Are Bored
9. Anna Burns, Milkman
10. Térèse Marie Mailhot, Heart Berries: A Memoir
11. Jackie Kae Ellis, The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris 
12. Helen Atlee, The Land Where Lemons Grow
13. Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia (read to my granddaughter)
14. Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road (read to my husband)
15. N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate
16. Guillaume Musso, Demain
17. Glynnis MacNicol, No One Tells You This
18. Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman
19. Donna Leon, The Golden Egg

And since that last post, at the beginning of May, this is what I've read. . . .
20. Robin Robertson, The Long Take  my Instagram post is here
21. Abu Bakr Al Rabbeah and Winnie Young, Homes IG post here
22. Denise Mina, Still Midnight IG and also
23. Donna Leon, By Its Cover IG

I'm including photos of my Reading Journal pages -- if you need some help deciphering a sentence that interests you, let me know in the Comments below, and I'll try to remember what I scrawled.  (And yes, the numbers in my journal don't correspond correctly here, because somehow I forgot to record my response to Robertson's noir novel in verse -- it's #24 in the pages below. Blame it on the disruptions of travel -- it's actually an unforgettable work!)


24. Rebecca Makai, The Borrower IG 
I loved this book -- have you read it? Utterly charming, and I've made a note to read more titles by Makai.


25. Mick Herron, Slow Horses 
26. Mick Herron, Dead Lions
I got started on the Mick Herron "Slough House" series thanks to a brilliant Instagrammer whose reviews there are brilliant examples of what brevity combined with perspicacity, wit, and a love of language and story can do, something too many have forgotten. I almost hesitate to send you to her account because once there, you'll wonder why you'd ever return to my often prolix prose. .  . But we're reading friends, aren't we, and I really shouldn't hold out on you -- @a.conteuse is a gem, you can thank me later ;-)

27. Philippe Georget, Les Méfaits d'Hiver IG (but this is only a video of the book's pages on my lap in a Bordeaux park. . .
28. Denise Mina, The End of the Wasp Season
29. Philippe Georget, Les Violents d'Automne (still reading this -- put it aside because so many books I'd put on hold at the library were available when I got home).


30. Rachel Cusk, Outline IG
31. James Lee Burke, New Iberia Blues IG
32. Elizabeth Hay, All Things Consoled IG
33. Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things IG
34. Elly Griffiths, The Stranger Diaries IG


35. Raynor Winn, The Salt Path IG and here (read the two pages at that last IG post for some of the best sex writing I've read -- accomplished with almost no description of the physical aspect, and yet so brilliantly, movingly evocative.

That's all I've got for now -- currently back to reading Les Violents d'Automne via Kobo on my iPad Mini, and dipping in and out of Marcus Tanner's history of Croatia: Croatia: A Nation Forged in War. And I'm preparing for the inevitable deluge when the eight books (I know! but I want them all!!) I have on hold at the library all come in at once. . . .

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Catching Up . . . Well, Trying To

Okay, I've just realized that I didn't post this, as intended, before we left for Europe last month. . . not only didn't post it, but didn't write any accompanying text, just uploaded these photos of my written book journal.

And since it's now almost a month later, and I'm now on the 25th entry in this same journal, I can't even take time to apologize for my tardiness, never mind transcribe any of the entries. All I can do for now is list the books

10. Térèse Marie Mailhot, Heart Berries: A Memoir
11. Jackie Kae Ellis, The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris
12. Helen Atlee, The Land Where Lemons Grow
13. Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia (read to my granddaughter)
14. Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road (read to my husband)
15. N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate
16. Guillaume Musso, Demain
17. Glynnis MacNicol, No One Tells You This
18. Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman
19. Donna Leon, The Golden Egg

and if you have specific questions, I'll happily answer those. I'll also be happy to transcribe any of my handwritten text that you are interested in and can't figure out on your own. Let me know in the comments. Thank you.

And I will try my best to get the next post up this month. . . Meanwhile, I do try to share titles as I go, over on my Instagram Books account. . . 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

February Reading Update

 If you ever peek at my other blog or at my Instagram feed, you might already know that I was at a veritable Book Mecca last week, when I spent some pleasant and tempting hours at Powell's Books in Portland Oregon
 Rooms and rooms filled with stacks and stacks of books new and used. . . .


I did not leave empty-handed. . . .
 But before I dive into that pile, time to up-date here on the blog. I'm enjoying my new approach to recording and sharing my reading. Jotting down a few notes as I read or finish each book seems more immediate and minimizes the dangers of procrastination. Similarly, the ease of posting a photo of a book cover or page on Instagram requires so much less work than writing a post here.

As I've said before, however, I still value very much the community that we've built here, and I think this platform might be better both for sharing your recommendations and for finding each other's recommendations later.

So with the aid of my little notebook, let me catch you up with my reading, and then perhaps you'll tell me about yours. (I do realize that this notebook approach means that my comments on what I've read will tend to be more fragmentary, but at least this way I might end up posting more regularly.)
 N.K. Jemisin's Fifth Season  is the first volume of her Broken Earth trilogy, which I gave Paul for Christmas (don't worry, I waited for him to finish it before I borrowed it ;-)

Transcription: Fantasy -- post-apocalyptic/dystopian. Cohesive imaginative world. Great characters.

Actually, this is perhaps more science fiction than fantasy -- Speculative fiction?
It's frighteningly easy to imagine this as a post-apocalyptic Earth, although the orogenes and stone-eaters might be an extrapolation too far. They work so well as analogy, though, and allow so much to be explored re race and class and caste, individuals and communities, power, politics, respect for the environment, what survival means and what values survive the focus on survival. . . 

Also, the layers and layers of history, the regular annotations from the books that lay down foundational stories, rules for survival etc., And then the stories (written and oral) that question or counter these . . . 

Gender, sexuality, erotics -- imaginative and credible. Horrifying control of "Breeding" but/which applies to both genders.
 6. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard -- about which I wrote a fair bit, in green ink you can see above and below.  After a very brief synopsis of the novel -- a modern classic about the effects of Italian unification on Sicily, through the eyes of a Sicilian aristocrat, Don Fabrizio Corbera--I've copied a few passages that seemed worth considering.
 I also posted favourite passages from the book on Instagram: here and here and here.
 7. I returned Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1  to the library yesterday, and I will admit with only the teeniest bit of shame or regret that I returned it without having read the last 400 pages, stopping at around 470 pages.  The book has a fascinating structure, tracing four possible lives of a single protagonist growing up in post-war America in a non-religious Jewish home. We realize at a certain point that new chapters might locate us in a different life, so that some re-orientation is necessary, as I explain briefly in my notes.
 I also comment on the sentences -- their length and energy are astonishing, impressive, admirable, although they sometimes require a deep breath beforeheand.

And as you'll see, above, on February 13th I admitted that I'm not going to finish the book, and below I declare that decision was made without regrets. Hmmmm.
 I apologize for the pink ink and readily concede that it's not legible enough. Let me know if you'd like me to transcribe a particular passage. . .

8. Philippe Georget's Summertime: All the Cats Are Bored is the first in a French noir series I highly recommend (I'd love to be able to find at least one of the series in the original French and will keep an eye out when I'm next in France; our library doesn't have a copy, although it does keep a decent French collection).

and then
9. Anna Burns' stunning Man-Booker-prize-winning Milkman
I recommend this highly. An amazing tour-de-force,  a sort of misbildungsroman, if you will. (A country/community/culture like the one depicted in this novel -- clearly Northern Ireland during The Troubles, although identifying names or landmarks or military forces are never given except in generalities such as "the country across the water" and "the country across the border" and "the state" and "renouncers of the state" -- is not capable of "bildung" -- of "building" or "educating" its young to adulthood). The young female protagonist is the most compelling mix of perception and naïveté and humour and impetuousness and caution and mutism and resistance. . .

And the writer -- wow! -- stylistically and structurally this book invites analysis and deserves marvel. Her mastery of long divergences that prove themselves inarguably relevant, and the litanies, catalogues, pilings-on of analogies in the protagonist and her community's attempts to get closer to saying what they mean (in a culture with a disposition to use language well, to tell stories, but in a time and place where muzzling is a dominant force, gossip a terrifying and potent discursive element).

 This section below, when the narrator's mother inquires if her daughter's been "fecundated" by the eponymous Milkman -- and then goes on to offer alternatives to that "singular" word. . .
and
10. I've just finished Terese Marie Mailhot's Heart Berries: A Memoir to the library where there were 14 people waiting for a copy (and 65 copies out being read -- and it deserves all that attention, this brilliant, lyrical, searingly honest, beautiful, painful memoir about a First Nation (Coast Salish) woman who breaks away from the poverty and family dysfunction that are a direct result of colonialism -- but, in breaking away, in making a place for herself in the academic world of creative writing, also struggles with mental illness, with motherhood, with negotiating a healthy relationship with the man she . . . nope, no spoilers here. This one you will want to read for yourselves. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

January Reading -- New Formats for Recording and Reporting

Okay, so far I'm liking the greater immediacy and ease of posting the books I'm reading on Instagram. I don't feel as compelled (or constrained!) to wait until I've got a few decently structured paragraphs as I tend to do in this blog format. This means less guilt or sense of unmet obligation, which is good from my perspective at least.

I do miss the conversations we've had here -- I hope some might develop on Instagram, but I think that the blog might be a cosier place to nourish and sustain those, so I'm going to try to keep this space working although I may tend to fill it with photos and/or point you over to photos I've already posted on Instagram. I hope I'll find a workable balance/solution gradually, and I also hope you will hang in there while I do.

Besides trying out the new Instagram account (devoted just to my reading), I'm also experimenting with keeping a little notebook of books read, sometimes jotting down a few thoughts, mostly to jog my memory about what I've read. I'm going to share these pages with you from time to time via photos. Right now, I think I won't offer transcriptions of my handwritten text -- that would defeat my purpose which is to spend a bit less time keyboarding and online. But I will be happy to "translate" particular passages or words you can't make out. . .

So without further ado. . .
The notebook pages for books I've read so far this year. . .
 Note that I said I few more words about Dissolution here and here
 and about Transcription here and here and here (If you've been following my reading account on Instagram, you'll already have seen these. . .


You know I love to hear from you, whether in the Comments here or over on Instagram. I'm curious to know if you've read any of these books -- and if so, how do our responses compare? what did you like that I didn't and vice versa? -- but also always curious about what you're reading. I think that the latter, especially, makes the conversations here a good resource for the readers who visit from time to time. Over to you. . .

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 Reading List

Ta-Da! Only the 2nd of the year, and I've published my 2018 Reading List! Not only is that a record for promptness, but I think this is my longest list yet -- and includes the most entries for which I've only managed to say a few words here rather than more extended commentary in a separate post. About twenty of those entries were written in the last few days, and the haste is manifest, I'm afraid, but at least you can glean some new possible titles here, and it's pretty clear whether I recommend or not. Plus, as usual, I hope that the list overall and the individual entries might spark a conversation -- and that you might share your own recommendations from your last year's reading.

A note before you read through the list -- I've decided on a different approach for sharing my reading on social media in 2019. I'm going to keep this blog open, but I'm going to post my reading on Instagram as I read each book -- either through a photo of the cover or screen-shots of favourite passages or a photo of a handwritten entry in my daily journal. I'll try to say a few words on that Instagram post, and if I can manage it, I hope occasionally to write longer posts here when the book warrants--or demands--it.

And because not all of you are on Instagram, nor want to add another social media platform to your life, I'll add the links here as regularly as I can manage--at the very least, I'm hoping to post a monthly round-up of my reading -- and I think I'm going to try doing that on my main blog as well.  Not sure how these changes will work, but I need to streamline my social media efforts, and I really do not want to lose this community -- you've all come to mean so much to me and although our conversations are not frequent, they've contributed considerably to my reading life. So thank you, truly, and I wish you a Very Happy 2019, Full of Books!

1. Sara Blaedel, Only One Life (trans. Erik J. Macki and Tara F. Chace
2. Jacqueline Park, The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi
3. Elly Griffiths, The House at Sea's End
4. Aurélie Valognes, Mémé dans les Orties
5. Donato Carrisi, The Whisperer (trans. Shaun Whiteside)
6. Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins
7. Isabel Vincent, Dinner with Edward Oh, why did I never manage to say a few words about this sweet, sweet memoir. It's a delightful book about an unexpected friendship that develops between a recently widowed octogenarian and a 40-something reporter whose marriage is dissolving. The friendship is nurtured over dinners prepared by the widower--who is committed to sharing with the journalist what he knows about love and life, as learned in his long and passionate marriage. That he does this through food -- he's a culinary master, never following a recipe but nonetheless precise and clear such that Vincent is able to capture recipes for us and offer them here -- Roast Chicken and Vegetables in a Bag, anyone? Mmmm. . .
8. Peter Robinson, Sleeping in the Ground
9. Lee Child, The Midnight Line
10. Edward St. Aubyn, Never Mind
11. Edward St. Aubyn, Bad News
12. Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
13. Val McDermid, Insidious Intent
14. Edward St. Aubyn, Some Hope
15. Edward St. Aubyn, Mother's Milk
16. Peter May, Extraordinary People
17. George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
18. Keigo Higashino, The Devotion of Suspect X (translator, Alexander O. Smith)
19. Ali Smith, Winter
20. Sara Baume, A Line Made by Walking
21. Gary Paul Nabhan, Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy
22. Bernard McLaverty, A Midwinter Break
23. Thomas Perry, A String of Beads
24. Liane Moriarty, Truly Madly Guilty
25. Georges Simenon, Maigret et la Vielle Dame
26. Carol Matthews, Minerva's Owl: The Bereavement Phase of My Marriage
27. Elly Griffiths, A Room Full of Bones, I'm working my way through the very enjoyable Ruth Galloway series. . .
28. Edward St. Aubyn, At Last
29. Roz Chast, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant
30. Elizabeth George, The Punishment She Deserves
31. Leila Slimane, Chanson Douce
32. Michael Connelly, Two Kinds of Truth (a Harry Bosch mystery)
33. Susan Hill, From the Heart
34. Anna Quindlen, Miller's Valley
35. Danielle Postel-Vinay, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home
36. Andrew Battershill, Pillow
37. Elly Griffiths,  A Dying Fall
38. Edna O'Brien, The Little Red Chairs
39. Elly Griffiths, The Outcast Dead
40. Elizabeth Berg, Talk Before Sleep
41. Elly Griffiths, The Ghost Fields
42. Elly Griffiths, The Woman in Blue
43. Elly Griffiths, The Chalk Pit
44. Liam Callanan, Paris by the Book
45. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific (a few words here also)
46. Ann-Marie MacDonald, Adult Onset
47. Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road
48. Kate Harris, Lands of Lost Borders: Journey on the Silk Road
49. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
50. Ruth Ware, In a Dark, Dark Wood
51. Rebecca Scherm, Unbecoming
52. Ruth Ware, The Woman in Cabin 10
53. Jeffrey Deaver, The Cutting Edge If you don't like graphttp://materfamiliasknits.blogspot.com/2018/07/weekend-sketching.htmlhic violence in your mystery novels,  don't bother. And to be honest, there are always at least two twists too many in a Deaver novel, but I still pick up a new Lincoln Rhyme, despite my reservations. . .
54. Ursula LeGuin, No Time to Spare This book of essays is one I would have liked to linger over, but had to rush through before it was due back at the library. Before I did, I commented very briefly in my journal, as transcribed here.
55. Donna Leon, The Girl of His Dreams -- you'll note that besides catching up on Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway mysteries, I'm also working my way through Donna Leon's Venetian detective series with Commisario Brunetti.  . .
56. Elly Griffiths, Dark Angel
57. Ruth Ware, The Lying Game
58. Georges Simenon, L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre (a Commissaire Maigret novel)
59. Philippe Sands, East West Street: On the Origins of "Genocide" and "Crimes against Humanity"
60. Joanna Cannon, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep --a charming novel that combines the satisfactions of a social study, a novel of manners, really, with the intrigue of a mystery, and the added delight of a story that trods the ground between innocence and experience through the eyes of two just-pubescent young girls. Their friendship is delicate, based as it is on their shared exclusion or marginalisation from their supposed peers, and the bond is alternately strengthened and then challenged through their search to find out what happened to a woman missing from their neighbourhood. Suburban England is exposed in its hypocrisies and petty snobberies and surprising loyalties and its kindnesses and vulnerabilities in a very hot mid-1970s summer . .
61. Susie Steiner, Missing, Presumed
62. Sonia Choquette, Waking up in Paris: Overcoming Darkness in the City of Light
63. Susie Steiner, Persons Unknown
64. Ann Mah, The Lost Vintage
65. Guillaume Musso, Un Appartement à Paris -- As you might remember, reading French mystery novels is one of my favourite ways to practice my French, and this book is great fun. Set in the world of contemporary art that draws heavily from the street, it moves between Paris and New York when a misanthropic writer finds himself unwillingly interrupting his annual hunkering-down in Paris to track down the whereabouts of a missing painting. Pairing up -- again, unwillingly -- with another escapee from the New York scene, a woman with a painful past, with tender but tentative hopes for a future, he becomes caught up in a mystery with a horrible tragedy at its centre. The ending is surprising and rather satisfying, unless you lean heavily to the skeptic side of life. . . (My Instagram post featuring the book's striking cover)
66. Michael Ondaatje, Warlight -- Highly recommended, this beautifully lyrical novel is set in London in the strange ménage where two children have been left by their parents. They've been told a story about their parents' travels that they begin to suspect is untrue. Decades later, the now-adult son of those parents is trying to sort through layers of memories and of facts he's subsequently unearthed to understand his mother's role in the war. The pastoral England we associate with fairy tales, with Enid Blyton children's adventures, with Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, distorts itself weirdly to accommodate espionage and murder, the (Second World) war casting its light forward and backwards across lives. Elegiac thriller, then, but so much more. Ondaatje's focus on the orphaned or abandoned or exiled child continues here, complicated thoughtfully with a meditation on the demands of motherhood on women who may be pulled urgently in other directions.
67. Miriam Toews, Women Talking -- Marvellous book. Difficult subject -- rape and religion and patriarchy -- made possibly more difficult for being based on a case of mass/serial rape within a Mennonite community in Bolivia. Marvellous because Toews brings to the novel her own complicated relationship with a Mennonite community to give voice to the women left behind while the men in that Bolivian Mennonite community--both the accused and their peers-- are in the city dealing with the justice system. The women are using the three days they have free of surveillance to decide what to do, and the ensuing discussion is rich and humane and funny and wise. I don't know many other writers who can bring humour and sorrow and the bizarre/grotesque together as can Toews -- and beauty. Surprising beauty.
68. Patrick DeWitt, French Exit --  So very different from his The Sisters Brothers, which I loved (no, haven't seen the movie yet, not sure if I want to). Again, though, brilliantly individual, quirky characters and perhaps similarly in the strangely quixotic trajectory of a mother and son's move to Paris from New York via an Atlantic crossing. Unexpected plot twists, cleverly-paced revelations, Paris setting, and always DeWitt's fresh -- generally wry -- descriptions. If I weren't writing this on the last day of the year, with another 20+ titles to get through, I'd find a few to show you what I mean
69. C.S. Richardson, The End of the Alphabet -- as sweet and magical as you'd expect from the author of The Emperor of Paris (which, in fact, was written five years after Alphabet). A husband learns that he has about a month left to live and embarks, with his wife, on a pilgrimage, alphabetically following a lifetime's desires. . . .
70. Tom Rachman, The Italian Teacher Ah, the patriarchy. . . From a son's perspective, a son whose philandering artist father has always been loved and admired -- worshipped? -- from the distance of abandonment excepting those magical weeks spent with son and mother in Rome. As did his mother, the son abandons his own artistic potential in service of The Greater Artist his father supposedly is. The veil takes a shockingly long time to fall from his eyes, but there's an intriguing, and lovely, twist,  finally. And the novel also offers the treat of its various settings -- Rome and London prime among those.
71. Donna Leon, Drawing Conclusions 
72. Kamin Mohammadi, Bella Figura: How to Live, Love, and Eat the Italian Way
A very enjoyable memoir about a woman who retreats temporarily from a stressful life in London to a friend's unoccupied flat in Florence -- and is seduced into changing her life. Reminiscent, yes, of Eat, Pray, Love,  but more sustainable and more focused, more practical. There is a love story -- two, in fact. Wonderful food, lovingly described. A panoply of entertaining neighbourhood characters. And a recommendation or two -- can you believe I've been swallowing a teaspoon or two of olive oil daily since reading this? What? It's good for me! ;-)
73. Sara Midda, South of France: A Sketchbook -- Just charming. A classic, apparently, of a travel journal, which I'd missed. . .
74. Keigo Higashino, Salvation of a Saint --  As did Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X, this mystery is elegant and complex and fascinating at every single turn. Highly recommend these Detective Galileo mysteries.
75. Guillaume Musso, Parce Que Je T'Aime Another Musso novel, this one has an intriguing twist at its heart -- actually, twist isn't quite adequate. The dénouement is, franchement, bouleversant.  It will absolutely upend you, and I'm not sure it's at all credible, but the ride was fun, and I practiced my French. . . .
76. Patrick Modiano, Pour Que Tu Ne Perds Pas Dans Le Quartier I practiced my French here as well, but this is a very different sort of novel. I said a few words about it in an Instagram post, where I commented on the austerity of the cover (typical of so many French books) and called it "seductive. . . Although in a muted and melancholy, elegiac and somewhat labyrinthine manner, as I've come to expect from the few other Modiano novels I've read."
77. Donna Leon, A Question of Belief
78. Francine Prose, Goldengrove -- Mentioned this on Instagram -- provocative and interesting response to Gerard Manley Hopkins' eponymous poem. Honestly, I wouldn't go out of my way to read this, nor buy a copy, but I was happy enough to spend time with it, borrowed from Vancouver Public Library.
79. Michael Robotham, The Suspect. I'm smitten by Joe O'Loughlin (a clinical--and sometimes forensic--psychologist contending with the limitations imposed by  Parkinson's) and will be working my way through this series with gratitude to Instagram's @a.conteuse for recommending it.
80. Frances Mayes, Women in Sunlight
So much fun, this story of three American women, who meet while considering the retirement communities deemed sensible by their families. Instead, the women jointly rent an Italian villa and commit to spending a year there together. Their story is told by an American poet who has lived in the adjoining rural Italian home for much of her adult life, and who tells it through the lens of the loss of a friend and erstwhile mentor, a rather severe older female writer. Again, a whiff of Eat, Pray, Love here, if in fictional form, but while the novel is light enough to qualify for beach (or fireside armchair) reading, it's very well written. As well, the many pertinent literary references and the meditations on art (writing, painting, architecture, horticulture, interior design--even cooking and winemaking) are worth lingering over and the exploration of possibilities for women over 55 inspiring, if daydreamingly (and ever so inescapably "white bourgeoisie") so. . .
81. Esi Edugyan, Washington Black You don't need me to tell you about this one -- winner of the Giller prize and shortlisted for the Booker, it's been reviewed everywhere and has landed on all the Top 10 Fiction lists that matter. An epic imagining of the life of a young slave who escapes likely execution on a Caribbean plantation by . . . . well, I won't tell you all that, but I will say that young Wash ends up in Canada and then in the Arctic, London, England, and even makes it to Morocco. . .And all the while, Edugyan not only exposes the human cost of slavery on its victims but she also explores the cost to those who benefit from it, even those who claim to favour Abolition.  Recommended without reservation, and pleased to have the world getting to know another great Canadian writer.
82. Andrew Sean Greer, Less I read this because of my friend Sue's review -- and I wasn't disappointed. Such a droll, clever novel. . .
83. Michael Connelly, Dark Sacred Night. I've long been a Harry Bosch fan, but the series has faltered the past five or so years (the Lincoln Lawyer never captured me either). The introduction, with this title, of Detective Renée Ballard, might be just what's needed as a foil to Bosch's chcaracter -- worked for me, at least. . .
84. Eden Robinson, Trickster Drift Robinson brings the young First Nations protagonist of Son of a Trickster to the city, where he's going to attend college, hoping to leave the supernatural behind him. . . But things quickly get complicated as he meets more of his extended family. A lively and engaging -- and funny! story, right up until the end, which I found less than satisfying. Still would recommend this, although I'd point you first to Monkey Beach, and then to Son of a Trickster. I'm hoping she has one more book in this Trickster series. . .
85. Donna Leon, Beastly Things 
86. Deborah Levy, Things I Don't Want to Know: A Living Autobiography Both volumes of this "living autobiography" (86 and 87 here) are good enough that I wish I owned copies rather than having borrowed them from the library. The texture of them makes me want to analyse how she manages so much space, lightness, air . . . there are such weighted, dense anecdotes that convey so much, but they're somehow suspended in a prose that's fairly spare. Or something. I obviously haven't figured it out yet. But she chooses the representative moments and images so well that she conveys significant stretches of a life in relatively few pages -- neither memoir is more than 200 pages, yet she covers (white) childhood in apartheid South Africa, exile/expat life, marriage, divorce, motherhood, bereavement. . . .
87. Deborah Levy, The Cost of Living: A Living Autobiography
88. Madeline Miller, Circe This is great fun, this imagined narration of her life story by one of the characters from the Odyssey, a daughter of Helios (the sun god) and Perse (a nymph).
89. Tana French, The Witch Elm -- I'm a big fan of Tana French's mysteries, especially those featuring the Dublin Murder Squad, so I had to read this one, despite the somewhat mixed reviews it's getting.  And I enjoyed it despite some impatience -- I think it could have been edited more severely for length and even perhaps for likelihood. Won't say more than that for fear of spoiling it, but I did, by the end, feel satisfied after some surprising (and almost credible) twists and turns.
90. Michael Robotham, Lost. My second Joe O'Louqhlin mystery -- and how interesting that Joe is brought in partway into the novel by the protagonist, a police detective suffering from amnesia after sustaining serious injuries and nearly drowning. More interesting is that this detective is one who harassed O'Loughlin as a potential suspect in the first book of the series (aptly named Suspect). I'm so delighted to have discovered this series -- highly recommended.
91. Lee Child, Past Tense. Yes, I am piling up the mysteries at year end. Obviously some cocooning going on (and why cocooning should involve murder mysteries, I cannot explain). This Jack Reacher novel kept me turning pages to see how its two separate narratives would converge. Yes, there's at least one action-packed chapter that calls for Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief," but overall I found the plotting quite elegant and ingenious. (and interesting to note that Reacher plays a bit of a matchmaker here but is not managing the romantic/sexual connections of his earlier novels with anywhere near the same frequency these days. . . )