Sunday, January 06, 2019

As a reader I cherish the fantasy of one day stopping acquiring books, of subsisting only on what is already stashed away in the crammed larder that I call a study. Buying books and not reading them – or waiting to read them – is a form of hoarding, similar to picking up and hanging on to something because it might one day come in handy, but a book is always both more and less than handy: potentially life-changing and, at the same time, quite useless. In a quasi-Borgesian way, I would ideally draw my last breath just as I turned the final page of the only unread book left in my collection. At that moment my library – my life – would be complete.

--Geoff Dyer, "Better read than dead"

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

I'm back again

Before I discovered book blogs, but after I had realized the internet could be used to place holds on library books and to find other readers in like-minded communities, I enjoyed perusing the comprehensive reading lists that others were putting online. If only I had kept a list of every book I'd ever read--or had maintained consistent lists for my kids that lasted for more than a random school year here and there!

I went to work creating as comprehensive a list of my own could be, sans children's books, using the lists I found as a way of jumpstarting my memory. I made the list I constructed the center of my auxiliary blog once I started this one, and updated it fairly regularly, even after I'd stopped blogging here. It was just so useful to have a list close at hand whenever I needed to make a recommendation but could remember only a partial title or that the author's name had started with an S.

In late November I saw a link to a journalist's lifetime list that dated all the way back to 1949. I loved perusing the years, seeing what had stood the test of time and what had not. It sent me back to my own yearly lists, where I was dismayed to note that for way too many books, I had retained nothing. Clearly, I needed to either return to blogging my reading or begin annotating my lists from here on out.

And because bookish camaraderie is what I need more than the fretting over politics that's made up the largest portion of my social media diet of the past few years, here I am.

I've long intended to reread my Margaret Drabbles in the the order that they were written, interspersing them with my Anne Tylers. These two may seem an odd coupling for most, but my instructor assigned  The Realms of Gold and Searching for Caleb in a lit class my freshman year of college and I've counted Drabble and Tyler as favorites ever since. I reread A Summer's Bird-cage and The Garrick Year in December. I'm now reading Tyler's first, If Morning Ever Comes. Chances are I won't work my way through all their books this year, but I'm hoping to get through the ones written in the 60s and 70s at least.

Otherwise I want to spend the year reading from my 60 by 60 list, a five-year reading plan that ends on my birthday in October, and from which I still need to read 18 books. I've been overly focused on just-published books the last few years.

Happy New Year and happy reading!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017




















She had never felt so vulgar in her life.

Later, he said: 'I doesn't make you happy, though, does it?'

'It doesn't make me anything.' Then she added with a rush: 'I'm sorry. I don't feel real. Everything seems a long way ahead or a long way behind, and I seem in the very middle of a vast vacuous interim. Do you understand that?'

He shook his head. 'Never mind. What do you do in London?'

'Why?'

'I just wondered what you did.'

She took a deep breath. 'I run one house in London and another in the country.'

'What country?'

'Kent.'

There was a pause while she waited for him to say something about Kent; but he said nothing, and she continued faster and more defensively: 'I look after my children. Julian's at his prep school and Deirdre goes to a day school near London. I--'

'So they are away or out all day,' he interrupted.

'Yes. That's what all childen do at that age. Many children,' she corrected herself--obviously he had not done it. 'Then we entertain a good deal. Conrad likes streams of people.'

'So you have a lot of cooking.'

'I don't do the cooking. I couldn't possibly cook well enough for Conrad. I do the arranging of it. There is a lot of arranging, you  know. I read, and look at pictures, and garden, and listen to music - and Conrad minds awfully about clothes so I spend a certain amount of time on them--' She stopped: she knew dimly how it all sounded to him and knew dimly what it was all like - equally and differently unsatisfactory and incomprehensible to them both, and her talking only made it more irreconcilable.

'I suppose I'm a sort of scene shifter for Conrad,' she finished. 'He likes an elaborate setting, and he likes it to vary. I try to do that for him.'

'I'm sure you're very good at whatever you try to do,' he said; and they surveyed one another worlds apart across the small table. Anyway, I can leave him, she thought; it will not be difficult at all, and years hence it will simply be a surprising and friendly thing to remember. We have nothing in common, she thought, and if we go on now, I shall be back before the children are asleep.

--Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Long View

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Have You Seen My Trumpet? by Michaël Escoffier

This interactive book consists of a series of questions, the answers to which are found in the final word in the questions. For example, the final word of one question is “dandelion;” the answer to the question is “lion.” Interspersed among the questions is a recurring query from a little girl who is looking for her trumpet. Yes, she does eventually find her (you guessed it) pet. How delightful to read a book that makes words fun! How nice that this title is preceded by two others of the same ilk. A minor complaint is that some of the answers are spelled the same as a part of the final word in the question, but they do not sound the same, which could be confusing to emerging readers. For example, the last word in one of the questions is “fishbowl.” The answer to the question is “owl.” The silver lining is the opportunity for teachers, parents, and caregivers to instruct readers in the wonderful world of the phonetic vagaries of the English language. The illustrators are a feast of earth tones, texture, personality, and humor. In addition, the manner in which Di Giacomo rendered the eyes of the characters enables the reader to know instantly the emotional construct of these characters. As for the humor, what child will not delight in seeing a bat sitting on a toilet?  Note: On the first page, Frisbee is not capitalized. It should be, for it is a trademarked brand name. In addition, a line of text on the final page is missing a comma.

Swallow the Leader: A Counting Book by Danna Smith

In this amusing spin on the universal childhood game of “Follow the Leader,” one little fish, the leader, leads one, two, three, then ultimately nine other small fish through a winding course in the ocean. Along the way, they follow the leader as it splashes, hides, floats, and imitates other sea creatures. And when the leader instructs the other fish to eat a snack, they follow suit, eventually eating each other one by one. The last fish just happens to be a shark that gleefully swallows fish number nine, which, like the Russian nesting dolls, contains all of the other fish. However, all is not lost, for the shark emits a huge burp, expelling the nine little fish. Told in a singsong rhyme, the tale is part poetry, part marine biology, part addition and subtraction, and part happily ever after. The illustrations of the little fish and shark remind this reviewer of Muppets: bright colors, simple bodies, big mouths, and bulging eyes. The watery environment and its residents of rays, blowfish, turtles, crabs, and a whale have a softer feel—  as if they were created with tissue paper and watercolor. Whatever the method, the book is a visual joy.

Shapes, Reshape! by Silvia Borando

This new spin on a counting book invites children to rely on key words, shapes, and colors to identify different animals. Each two-page spread consists of text on one page and a collection of shapes in different sizes and colors on the other. The text is simple and follows a pattern: The first sentence gives a hint as to what the shapes will make once they are reassembled. Each answer is brief and includes a few alliterative descriptive words to describe each of the eleven different animals featured in the book. The illustrations look like bright pieces of cut paper that are stacked on one page and then reassembled as lions and crabs and hedgehogs and other animals on another. The design choice of lots of white space around the text and illustrations allows the simplicity to shine. Children who enjoy this book will also enjoy Borando’s Shapes at Play. Note: Activities related to this book can be found at http://minibombo.com/en/games-activities/shapes-reshapes.php.

As a reader I cherish the fantasy of one day stopping acquiring books, of subsisting only on what is already stashed away in the crammed lar...