My Reading Plan for 2017

My book shelves are overflowing. I indulged my book buying habit freely in 2017, both locally and nationally, with a particularly interesting haul from the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, Colorado.

Now, it’s time to read. I am not making any promises about not buying any more but at least for now, my reading plans revolve around books already on the shelves. In addition, I want to explore some of the diverse genres that I’ve collected including graphic novels, poetry and essays. Poetry and essays especially seem to demand a different kind of reading: more slowly, over time. Time is needed to explore and savor before moving onto the next piece. While some of this reading will come from my library, others will come from other places. I have an oft-neglected subscription to The New Yorker and have committed to at least an hour or so a week attending to it.

For January, I’ve pulled a few volumes off the shelf:


The Donald Hall books came from my buying spree at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle, Washington, DC.

I am going to join the book group at my local library. The book for January is We Never Asked for Wings. I have a copy on my Kindle and suspect I will dive in this weekend.

I’ve begun pulling books together for the rest of 2017 but that’s for another blog post…



Book Bingo Update Plus Some Bookstore Tourism

I wrote about Book Bingo over at In Another Place related to gamifying reading.

I filled out my card and have been using it to drive my reading. It’s fun to explore different genres including fantasy (The Graveyard Book), science fiction (Ender’s Game) and alternative history (The Man in the High Castle). I took advantage of the analog AND digital library to find a couple books (The Graveyard Book and The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian) and retired one that’s been around for awhile (Spartina).

I did take time off the bingo card to read The Emperor’s Tomb by Steve Berry, my first Overdrive checkout. The app connects to my Amazon account to get to my Kindle and lets me choose the length of the check out time. It’s interesting that not all of the books in the Cotton Malone series are available electronically. But the next one is already on the shelf at my local branch so I’ll head down there this week.

KramerbooksA conference in Washington, DC, got me to a new bookstore. Kramerbooks is in Dupont Circle and packs a lot of books in two pretty small rooms. Walk through the store to a bar and a lovely cafe. I might be willing to move to the city if I could live around the corner from a spot like this. I came away with a nice pile of interesting reads including Education: A Very Short Introduction by Gary Thomas, part of Oxford’s series of short introductions to lots of topics. I’m proud of myself that I only walked away with one. I’ve mostly stopped by fiction in analog since I read them so quickly. Instead, I added a few others to the library including A History of the World in Twelve Maps and On Dupont Circle, which tells the story of the Roosevelts and their progressive friends who shaped the beginning of the 20th century.

It’s harder to find time to read this time of year: the garden is calling. There’s weeding and culling and moving and mulching, and I like to do a couple hours a day, in smaller chunks of 45 minutes or so. After five years of working on these garden beds, adding perennials and shaping edges, they are coming together nicely, and I’m looking forward to seeing them move through the seasons. The biggest challenge now is dealing with some of the large chunks of daylilies and irises we have in various places. I have spots for them but the digging and hauling have deterred me so far.


When You Want the Book

Sometimes you just want the “real” book and this is one of those times. Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk is a children’s book that explores the large number of phrases and expressions we inherited from the Bard. Writer Jane Sutcliffe explains the phrases while illustrator John Shelley creates wonderfully detailed visions of London in the 16th century. I could buy the Kindle version and have it right now, but there’s something about this book that makes me want the book itself to hold and explore.

But, then it occurs to me that the Kindle version would allow me to better explore as I can expand the illustrations and move around them. I’ve been reading the Lumberjanes comic books using the Kindle app and it’s fun to be able to dive into the illustrations.

So…maybe I’ll just buy both!


Friday Finds At A Favorite Bookstore

I had to make a trip to Richmond today so I made sure I arrived early enough to visit one of my favorite Indie bookstores: Fountain Bookstore. It’s small and cozy with an interesting selection of books and other booky merchandise. I never leave without something in my hands and today, despite my resolutions, was no exception.

Having just finished Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson (I’ll blog about that book later), I’m in a Civil War mode so was excited to pick up Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman.

I’m reading Armada and decided it was time to finally read Ender’s Game. She had a paperback copy.

And two books about our criminal justice system: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson and Writing Our Way Out: Memoirs From Jail, which features writing by prison inmates collected by their writing teacher David Coogan.

Looking forward to reading all of them!


Vocabulary Lesson: Tsundoku

It turns out there is a word for my habit of buying books that I don’t read: tsundoku.

I have made the no new books pledge in the past only to break it pretty quickly.

This year, I am  making the same promise although I’m already thinking about a trip to Chester County Book Company next week when I make a trek to Pennsylvania to visit old friends. I love their newsletter and really think I should support indie book stores, right?

I joined two LibraryThing groups for the new year: the 75 Book Challenge and the ROOTS 2015 (Reading Our Own Tomes). The latter is just for people like me who have lots of books on the shelf that they haven’t read. I started 2015 with The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro as part of British authors reading challenge. It’s been on the shelf since April 2012.

I managed to get in 71 books in 2014: here’s the list.

The Accidental Pilgrimage: On Being Aware

Work took me to San Francisco. I was fortunate to have an afternoon off and, at one point in my pre-trip planning, checked the location of possibly the most revered of all United States bookstores: City Lights. I have been there once, in 1987, and can still remember that I bought Mother by Maxim Gorky. I thought I was staying in the Presidio and the store was pretty far away from there so I decided I probably couldn’t make it this trip. Although now that I’ve been to San Francisco, I’ll say that it is very walkable and, while I didn’t use it, there seems to be abundant public transportation so even if I had been staying in the Presidio, I could have gotten to the store without too much trouble.

What I didn’t realize is that my hotel was on Union Square, much closer to the bookstore, just a mile away. But, I never rechecked and planned a walk through Chinatown to the Coit Tower and then lunch at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadaro without thinking about the store.

So, I set out on the planned journey. As I climbed the hill on Grant Avenue and moved further into Chinatown, I came upon a bronze dedication to Jack Kerouac at the entrance to an alley that featured several stunning murals. I took some photos before heading back to Grant Avenue and continuing my journey.

I was tired when I got back to the hotel room but decided to check out my photos. On the edge of a photo of the Vida y sueños de la cañada Perla (Life and Dreams of the Perla River Valley) mural, I noticed a yellow banner that said City Lights Books. I was a bit taken by surprise. In my zeal for photographing the murals and then following the plan, I simply didn’t see the banner.

Mural at City LIghts with Banner

It turns out that I also missed the pavers in the alley with quotes from authors like Kerouac, Felinghetti and Angelou. In fact, I discovered that I had wandered down Jack Kerouac Alley, the brainchild of poet and bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It turns out the mural was painted on the wall of the bookstore.

There really was no choice but to go back. Despite having already walked several miles on the city concrete, I knew I would forever regret not making this pilgrimage. So, I trudged up the hill to China Town once again, found the alley and entered the bookstore. It is small, crammed with books, yet inviting with simple wooden chairs where one can ponder the shelves or turn a few pages. The past is very much present as you walk the same creaky floors where the Beat Generation founders read and wrote and talked. This is more than a place to buy books; it is a place where wrestling with the ideas found in books is a sacred act.

I picked up several volumes including two Ivan Doig novels I hadn’t seen before. A few others piqued my interest. But I had sort of decided I would just buy one book, probably one published by City Lights Books.

Then, I walked the stairs to the Poetry Room. I fingered some Kerouac, took a few photos of the Poet’s Chair and then found the Wendell Berry section. I own a lot of Berry, have read some, but would love to spend more time with him. I picked up Farming: A Handbook, a new printing of poems written more than 40 years ago, focusing on Berry’s experience of farming. Right beside it was the real find: a copy of a volume of letters between Berry and Gary Snyder. It was autographed by both authors. The covers shows a laughing Berry with Snyder by his side in front of Grimblefingers Bookstore in Nevada. I knew I had found my purchases and headed downstairs. These just seemed the perfect two books to buy in this special place.

Then, I discovered they would ship books. The box of other choices is on its way. It includes the two Doigs but some other more unusual volumes that I wouldn’t have looked for such as Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society edited by Kevin Evans, Carrie Galbraith and John Law.

I am grateful for whatever higher power may have intervened here to direct my attention. I would have been really upset if I waited to look at my picture until I got home. It is a lesson in being completely aware. I find cities very distracting with all their people and sounds and smells. So many places to look and sense that it is easy to lose track of it all. I focused on murals and missed banners and the ground under my feet.

Dear NPR


I am writing this blog post in response to your request on Facebook:

If you’re a book lover, you probably have shelves upon shelves of literary treasures. We want to know for an upcoming story: How do you organize all these? Do you keep fiction and literature separate? Do you go alphabetical? Or do you sort by size and appearance? What has to be in hard copy and what only lives on your Kindle? Where do you hide those guilty pleasure reads?

First, the book lover part: My husband and I actually bought an old house partially because it had a library where I could finally put out the bulk of my books. Many years ago, I rented an apartment for the same reason, and in those days, the collection was probably not even 1/4 of what it is now. My previous house was very small, and I had to find interesting places to put all the books I couldn’t resist buying. It led to a funny story about hiding books in the linen closet. They weren’t particularly guilty reads, but I had made a pledge I wasn’t buying any more books so when I broke the pledge almost immediately, I needed to keep them out of my husband’s sight. He found them when he went looking for toilet paper.

Even in my new house, there are still a few books stored in the cupboards below the open shelves, and the collection has spilled over to other rooms. Almost every room in my house has at least a few books that live in it.

booksYou seem particularly interested in organization. I’m currently working on scanning my books into a database and have been thinking a lot about how I organize. For now, my books are loosely organized by genre. I have several major collections: children’s books, education, nature and history, and they are housed together in groups but not in any other order. I also have a huge collection of fiction and literature, but they are in no particular order and tend to be sprinkled throughout the shelves as I don’t have any more open areas so I just shelve them where I can. Probably my favorite shelving pair is the Kama Sutra sitting next to the Bible, something I didn’t plan but that a friend pointed out.

Some books were placed where they are because of the height of the shelves. The house came with books from the previous owner, a doctor whose children were not book people. He had a huge collection of dime store paperbacks that fit perfectly in the top shelves. They are put together by author since I had to move all of them and took the time to put them together as I placed them on the shelves.

At this point, with books spilling over everywhere, I try to limit my purchases in general. I buy first editions and hard covers in the  nature and history categories since they are my major areas of collecting. I will buy hard cover first editions of other kinds of books. I also buy analog books when I’m supporting independent book stores, part of something I call book store tourism. I make it a point to seek out local stores when I travel and usually have room for a couple in my suitcase. Kindle and Nook purchases and library checkouts are for books that I’m going to read quickly, in a day or two. But, I will break that rule if the books are used and cheap. I don’t mind reading ebooks, but there are times when I just crave a real book.

As for guilty pleasures, earlier this year I announced that I wasn’t going to feel guilty about reading anything ever again. I’ve read my share of the classics, tackled some tough nonfiction, so I don’t have to justify my reading habits to anyone. My books are on the shelves for me, and I’m old enough that I just don’t care about what other people think. If you’re ever near by Bottle Tree Farm, feel free to stop by and browse.

Books, books, books

I’ve been on a book buying binge lately: summer at the airports, September at the Outer Banks, culminating at the Cornwall Manor Fall Festival. Books have been arriving in the mail as well, and every time I open the Kindle app, I’m surprised to see the new digital books that are so easy to buy, spurred on by the numerous books-of-the-day emails I get. So, this week, after making yet another resolution to stop buying books but determined to finish up Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series, I put in my request for Death of Kings to the library and managed to pick up two more books before heading to the check out.

And this is at a time when I seem to be reading less and less. My days are filled with farm chores and project work, and it’s only when I tumble into bed that I have a few minutes to pick up a book. I am jealous of Joe Queenan, author of One for the Books, who reads books two hours every day. His book, which I picked up this week after reading the first few pages some time ago (that little detail will be important in a moment), is filled with stories of books, places where books live, and people who love books. I love his acerbic style but also his ability to paint loving portraits of important people in his life.

Queenan has no time for electronic books as they get in the way of his annotation habit, and he doesn’t like library books for the same reason although he seems to spend a lot of time in libraries as they feed his love of browsing. Perhaps part of the reason I am really enjoying this book is that we have so much in common when it comes to books. I am never happier then when I am browsing in a book store or library, able to pick up a book, flip the pages, read a few lines, imagine myself buried with it in my chair, lost to the world beyond. Bookstores, according to Queenan, open us to the realm of chance that doesn’t happen when we head to Amazon to purchase a specific book. People who do that are missing something:

by refusing to patronize bookstores and libraries, by refusing to expose themselves to the music of chance, they have purged all the authentic, nonelectronic magic and mystery from their lives. They have rolled over and surrendered to the machines. This may be convenient, but that’s all it is. All technology is corporate (p. 27).

Queenan understands something that non-book people and those who continually declare the end of the book do not. Books are more than just a device for conveying words but objects that hold a certain power and, according to Queenan, are perfect the way they are:

Books are sublime, but books are also visceral. They are physically appealing, emotionally evocative objects that constitute a perfect delivery system. Electronic books…are useless for people who are engaged in an intense, lifelong love affiar with books. Books that we can touch; books that we can smell; books that we can depend on (p. 27).

Also, like Queenan, I’ve begun reading several books at a time. Not the 30 or 40 that he might be in the midst of, but at current count, about eight or so, including Queenan’s books itself. I’m not sure how it happened. Partially because I started No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s tome about the Roosevelts during World War II. I find it fascinating but it’s a huge commitment, and I don’t want to give up other books until I finish it. I had actually read a few pages of Queenan’s book when I first brought it home, even posted a few sticky notes, but then moved on. Unlike Queenan, once I’ve left a book for more than a week or so, I don’t just pick up where I left off. My memory is not as robust as his, and I like the experience of reading a book from beginning to end in one more or less continuous chunk of time. So, as I was running out of the house to catch the ferry, I grabbed it, choosing partially by size as I wanted something I could tuck in my bag.

The only problem with Queenan’s book, of which I am not even half way done, is that I am feeling a bit inadequate, both in the number of books I read but also the titles. He has whole pages with titles of books, many of which I have never encountered. And lots of classics that I have never read despite my claim to being a lifelong English major. Spurred on my Queenan, I rose before dawn this morning and settled in with Kearns Goodwin for an hour before heading out for chores. It was a delight, a reminder of my childhood when I would set the alarm for 4:30 AM in order to get in reading time before school where I was forced to disconnect, not from my digital world like today’s student, but from my analog one. I may return to that practice and start my day with books.





Book Buying

Reading books and owning books are two different things. I have resumed my love affair with the library when it comes to books I want to read. Generally, these are popular fiction or mysteries that I will read in a few days. They are all part of a series with, in some cases, eight installments. And they rarely come up in the bargain ebook bin. With five of them under my belt, I’ve probably saved $50!

Which I then invested in analog books. The library will never replace buying a book for me and it seems as though book shops have been throwing themselves in my path. I had to take an extra suitcase to San Antonio that would be essentially empty coming back but still have to be checked. What to do? Fill it with books!

I investigated independent bookstores in San Antonio and found The Twig Book Shop, but it was too far away with my limited schedule. One evening, however, I wandered through the Rivercenter Mall and came upon the Thai Princess Book Shop. It was an intriguing shop, small with extensive collections of a few popular authors and then an interesting smattering of other stuff including San Antonio authors. That’s mostly what I bought along with two of the Thai Princess’s books.

Yes, there is a Thai Princess and she’s been endorsed by Oprah! Her name is Nuensie Nancy Suku Oakley. Poor, abused, she fought hard to become a successful businesswoman. The proceeds from her books go to charity. I had the privilege of talking with her and she promised to come help me when I’m ready to open my own book shop.

Here’s the list of what I bought. I’ve already finished Simple Genius, the third book in David Baldacci’s King and Maxwell series. It was a well written version of a pretty formulaic genre. So much so, I borrowed the first book in the series from the library. Split Second was also good…a little creepier than Simple Genius but with similar dead ends, plots twists, and generally well-developed characters.

My folks invited me to spend a few days with them in their condo at Massanutten. It was a last minute trip…they didn’t expect to have a second bedroom. I accepted and had a lovely visit with them that included some Skyline Drive, an interesting lunch at the Thomas House restaurant in Dayton, and a trip to the Green Valley Book Fair. I resolved to only fill one basket and managed to do so quite nicely. I bought a couple cookbooks and six other books. Here’s the list, which includes books purchased when I was there in the spring. I picked up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter today and am finding it intriguing and a bit fun.

Speaking of book shops appearing out of nowhere, I don’t think I posted about the books I bought when I was visiting in Pennsylvania in early May? Turns out BJ’s Wholesale Club has a pretty good selection of recent titles. I walked away with a few books including Edward Rutherford’s new tome, Paris, which I started but then abandoned until I have a few days when I can immerse myself in the sprawling novel.

I did write about my visit to Blue Whale Books in Charlottesville.

It has been a good book shop year so far…not sure what I’ll find this summer. It’s going to be an airport summer, and I found some great books last summer in the airport book stores. I’ve already gotten started with Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. I bought it in the Richmond airport and finished it during a recent trip. I did bring it home…any one want to borrow it? It’s a novel with a message about environmental stewardship woven into a complex tale of family and community.

I’ve been reading quite a bit, it seems, escaping the afternoon heat and incoming emails for an hour here and there. I’ll post a longer review of Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, which flowed richly from the page, a big story of the West that managed to also be an intimate portrait of a marriage.

I am going to start my career as a bookseller this summer. We’re going to have a table at the local farmers’ market, and I’m going to fill up my book spinner with a few paperbacks. I think I can part with a few things. I need shelf space for the new books I bought.

Binge Reading

No matter how busy I am, I find time to read…last night, after many hours in the garden, I carried a drink out to the front porch and read well past sunset. And the book list grows: I’m a James Lee Burke fan and realized yesterday that I missed a couple Dave Robicheaux books. I’m getting caught up on Maisie Dobbs and really want to move forward with Bernard Cornwell’s Alfred series. These last three really cry out to be borrowed from the library and my public library has all of them in their catalog. Unfortunately, my library card has expired. I love the IDEA of the public library but have never been a very good patron. I like owning books and the digital age has only enhanced that desire. But, I’m not going to reread the above books so being able to get them for free makes a lot of sense. So, I shall make the trek this week.

Meanwhile, I have three books going right now. The literary book is Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. It was a natural follow up to Ivan Doig and tells the story of Lyman Ward, who from the view of his own mortality, explores the life of his grandparents, particularly his grandmother who made the journey to the West in the name of love. It is beautiful in so many ways: lyrical prose, engaging story, deeply developed characters. I’m reading it slowly, a chapter each night before I fall asleep.

Then there’s the fluff…both came by way of Kindle daily deals. At least Death By A Honey Bee provides some insight into my latest hobby of beekeeping. It’s the first in a series by Abigail Keam. I share some similarities with the main character in terms of age and interests but I am hoping that she is wrong about the murderer since the mystery seems solved with more than half the book to go.

The second one is borrowed from the Kindle lending library and is set in Stanardsville, Virginia. Also the start of a mystery series by Ann Mullen, it’s called What You See. It has its moments and it’s always fun to read something regional.

These two are easy to pick up and put down so they are perfect for summer days when I need a coffee or tea break from gardening.

But now…it’s time to tend my own hives.