Become a friend of your library

Following on my last post, I agree with Neil Gaiman that libraries are of vital importance to our society. Like many readers, I grew up in a library, basically, quickly graduating from the kids’ section to the adult books. I remember systematically reading my way through every Agatha Christie (she wrote something like 85 of them). For a kid like me, the library was my refuge.

Libraries are frequent targets for budget cuts by government officials who don’t understand the vital link between reading and developing minds that can think, imagine, and innovate. Many children don’t have access to books and computers in their homes, and libraries are the only place where they can foster a love of reading. That’s why it’s vitally important for those of us who love books and reading, and who understand just how important they are, to support our local libraries as much as we possibly can. A good way to start is by joining the library’s Friends group. Take part in library activities. Support events featuring writers or aimed at improving children’s reading experiences. I recently joined the Board of our Friends of the Library group, and it has been a wonderfully enriching experience for me as I take part in supporting library programs and our local literary scene.

Books and reading are my primary passion in life. Even though almost everything I read now is on the Kindle, I believe the need for strong libraries is greater than ever. Libraries are the repositories for our culture, the archives of our rich wealth of information, and increasingly, librarians are the experts who help us navigate it all. Libraries create future readers, and they in turn become the thinkers and innovators that make our civilization strong. What could be more important?

The benefits of a book journal…

First, it was slow food, then slow blogging — now slow reading is the latest watchword. In our fast-paced world, movements designed to get us to slow down and really experience what we are doing always have my support.

Here’s a great way to practice slow reading: start a book journal. Whether it’s a notebook or a blog or an online tool like LibraryThing, journaling every book you read forces you to slow down and really think about what you’ve read. For me, my journals — which I started keeping in 2001 — have made me more thoughtful about what I’ve read and helped me form connections I might not otherwise have made. Since I started journaling my reading, I’ve chosen better books to read and integrated my reading more meaningfully into my own writing and my life in general.

I still keep a paper journal in which I write the title, author and publication date of each book I finish or abandon, my initial impressions of the book, and the date I finished it or abandoned it. For books I really like or that spawned a lot of initial thoughts, I write a second, more polished draft of the review and post it here or on LibraryThing.

How do you journal your reading and how has your journal benefited your reading?

Most influential authors…

I keep a record of what I read in LibraryThing. I haven’t recorded every book I’ve ever read, because I don’t remember (boy, I wish I had started keeping a list at the age of 5 or something). But I have recorded almost 1,200 books, so I thought I’d take a look at my authors list and see which authors were most influential on me.

It seems I read widely, because there are only 2 authors with more than 10 listings, and only one, Stephen King, with over 15 listings. I think being an eclectic reader is a very good thing. For purposes of this little poll, done for my amusement only, I decided to count any author with more than 5 listings as highly influential.

Here they are then, in order of influence:

  • Stephen King
  • Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Edward Gorey
  • Christopher Moore* (once, maybe, but not anymore)
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Jane Austen
  • Michael Chabon
  • Fred Chappell
  • Nick Hornby* (like Moore, this one is dubious, unless it’s him writing about books and reading)
  • Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Octavia Butler
  • Tom Perrotta
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Roald Dahl
  • Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Shirley Jackson
  • Francine Prose

What’s the point? None, really, just thought it was interesting data.

Whittling down Mount TBR…

I’m finding myself getting very picky about what books make it on the To Be Read (TBR) pile. By the TBR, I mean that pile of books that I’m really, truly, gosh-darn-it gonna read in the very near future. Ideally, I want the number of books on the TBR to be fewer than the number of books I read in a typical year, so I have a fighting chance of working my way through it.

Right now, I have several lists going: a list of books I own and want to read soon, a list of books I own and want to read but maybe not right away, a list of books I want to get from the library, a list of books I want to buy from Amazon if the Kindle price ever drops to a reasonable amount, a list of books I’ve heard about and kinda want to read, a list of books related to other books I’ve liked that sound interesting but I don’t know too much about them. There are probably more lists, but I’ve forgotten them.

Too many lists! I spend more time managing the lists than I do reading. So I’ve decided to cull mercilessly,  with one simple test. Am I excited to read this book? If I’m not excited to read it, it goes off the list.

For instance, All the Light We Cannot See is available at the library in electronic format, everyone’s reading it, it’s getting great reviews. So I thought about putting it on hold. But the truth is that I’m just not that excited about it. It may be truly terrific, but I feel burned out on the WWII time period, and I’m also more interested in women writers right now. So I x’ed it off the list.

I reserve the right to change my mind, of course.

StationElevenHCUS2I was going to read something else next, but everyone is reading Station Eleven and saying good things about it, I already own it on Kindle, and it is very much exciting me. I love its cover and its premise! So despite my lists and reading plans, that’s what I started reading last night.

Using this excitement test, I earmarked many, many books from my TBR pile for gradual donation to the Little Free Library or immediate donation to the Big Free Library. Now my physical TBR fits in my bedside table and there are several books on it that I am excited about reading.

I don’t like having a big TBR. It makes me feel like reading is a chore and not a joy. Also, there will always be books available, and they will always be making more books (unless, maybe, the apocalypse). So if I get rid of a book and it turns out I really did want to read it after all, I’m sure I can get another copy when I’m wanting it.

A book does it have its moment, and sometimes that moment passes us by. Books that linger too long on the TBR seem to acquire a patina of sadness. I know I’m anthropomorphizing, but that’s what it feels like to me. Better that those books move on to someone who will read them and love them and fulfill their purpose.

I will likely keep making lists, though. I do love lists.

Here’s a video from Book Riot advocating the opposite point of view–i.e., just keep adding on to the TBR all you want as long as you have money, time and space for them. (And stop anthropomorphizing books, ha ha!) I don’t tend to agree, because the TBR has weight for me, but I do think I should be able to buy and keep any books I want because I am an adult. I even buy books I’ve already and gotten rid of if I find a particularly beautiful edition. We all love books in our own ways.

When male writers show what they really think of women…

I’ve just finished two books that could not be more different, and yet they had one important thing in common. Both books, written by men, present an across-the-board indictment of women–all women.

Granted, Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon is a schlocky horror novel published in the 1970s. However, the fear of women expressed in the novel, and the resulting hatred of them, is so palpable that reading it felt icky. I wanted to wash my hands each time I turned the page. The story presents women as unfathomable to men, and ultimately violent toward and oppressive of them. Women are linked to an ancient mother Earth force that imbues them with the power to do whatever they want, despite the objections of some of the male characters. One of the “horrors” of the story is when the male protagonist loses control over his wife and daughter, and they begin acting independently to fulfill their needs and desires.

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson was published just this year, so it doesn’t have the excuse of dated values. This novel, about a social worker in rural Montana, presents all the women characters as weak, damaged, addicted, unable to fulfill their basic roles as girlfriends, wives and especially mothers. Unlike the men in the story–who despite being flawed are still essentially noble, striving to do the right thing and protect children–the women are unable to overcome the damage life has dealt them. Everything they do inflicts more damage, especially on their children. The male protagonist has also lost control over his wife, who cheated on him, and his daughter, who runs away from him. The daughter, however, is allowed one show of strength, but she is still young, and it seems like she is on the same path as all the other women characters.

My problem with these two books is that neither treats women as what they are, which is human beings. In each book, women are the “other,” portrayed as essentially different and opposed to men, wrong where men are right. Women are not mysterious and unknowable goddesses, nor are they automatons only meant for sex, reproduction and raising children. They are individuals, each with her own needs, desires, flaws and admirable qualities, just like men.

The worldview that these two authors are expressing is not one that I recognize as true, and therefore I cannot recommend either of these books. However, it does give me some insight into why misogyny and discrimination against women persists, even today.

Crowd-sourced publishing is The Cat’s Pajamas…

This week, I  got the opportunity to attend an author reading at my local bookstore, Flyleaf Books. The book is a children’s picture book, The Cat’s Pajamaswritten and illustrated by Daniel Wallace, who wrote Big Fish and is a local-to-me author.

What I did not know is that Wallace’s picture book is the first book to be published by a new crowd-funded publishing company, Inkshares. What they are doing is a new model for publishing that gives different kinds of writing the chance to be funded and published, and also allocates a greater share of royalties to writers. Because publications are funded by audience interest, Inkshares can take risks and bring books to market that might not otherwise see the light of day.

If The Cat’s Pajamas is any indication of their products, Inkshares is going to be a great source of high-quality books. Both my 6-year-old and I enjoyed the reading and loved the book (it was my son’s first author signing!).

And, oh yes: “itty-bitty kitty underpants!”

Hitchcock’s Marnie…

I watched Marnie last night for the first time. I thought it was a good movie, although probably not destined to become one of my favorites. The acting was impeccable, Sean Connery was incredibly easy on the eyes, and I enjoyed the self-conscious artificiality of the world Hitchcock created, especially his use of color.

Marnie

Does this look like a nice guy to you?

I have read that this film “proves” Hitchcock’s misogyny, but I couldn’t see it. Men come off worse than women in Marnie. Marnie is damaged, but Connery’s character Mark is perverse in his obsession with her and his desire to “fix” her that doesn’t seem to arise out of any pure intentions, but rather out of a need to possess and control her. Rather than proving Hitchcock’s hatred of women, Marnie is another dark, twisted view of humankind that characterizes all of his movies and is the primary reason why I am drawn to them.

Whatever Hitchcock’s feelings about women were in real life, I don’t want to know about them. I am sure they were more complex than a simple hatred of women. What I care about is his work. If misogyny did come through clearly in his films, that would turn me off of them. Hitchcock does not shy away from female characters who are immoral, self-serving, or shallow; certainly there are women who are like this. I think he is interested in male obsession with women, though, as can be seen in Marnie, Vertigo and possibly Notorious (which I need to rewatch soon). In all of those movies, though, I don’t see the man as a hero, as a portrayal of what Hitchcock thinks all men should be, no more than I see the woman as an indictment of what all women are. I see them as stories about people, stories that challenge our own exalted views of ourselves. This is why Hitchcock’s films continue to be so compelling.