The Summer of Romance and Mystery

The only constant in life is change, right? My library system will be reopening to the public next Friday. At least half the branches and the main library, anyway. I’m still a bit in shock and not really happy with the pace of it, but I’m not in charge (even our director is not in charge; it’s the county mayor’s decision.) But as I must work, I will be there. The virus in our part of the country is not as sweeping as in other places, but it’s still around. So I will wear a mask, sit behind plexiglass desk shields, point to the six feet markers on the floor, wash my hands a million times, and do the best I can. To begin we won’t have any public computer use, and that’s a good thing (less people sitting in the building for a length of time.) No programs or story times indefinitely. I’m nervous, and know that with our nearest branch being closed, we will be doubly busy. But I will be be very glad to see my coworkers and my lovely library regulars.

As to how this will affect my reading, it’s hard to say. I imagine I will be tired and possibly frazzled, so I don’t plan on any heavy reading for a while. I’m calling this summer THE SUMMER OF ROMANCE AND MYSTERY! I had planned to participate in Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer event, and I am still going to give it a go – with the lightest, fluffiest books I can find. My “light and fluffy” still includes lots of murder mysteries, by the way. I’m thinking of knocking out a lot of Agatha Christie this summer, as I have an unofficial goal to eventually read all of her novels. I will post my list for 20 Books of Summer next weekend.

img_5695So for a bit I won’t be around WordPress as much as I have been this spring. I hope to post once a week, on weekends, and catch up on your blogs as much as I can in between. Please send some good thoughts my way and to all library workers as they begin to reopen libraries. I knew I’d eventually go back, but the furlough wasn’t supposed to end for another month, so it’s an adjustment. I hope you are all safe and well, and fully stocked with engaging books. I’m currently rereading one of my all-time favorite books: Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. A delicious and smart comfort read if there ever was one. Till next time, read on, friends!

Shirley Jackson and Muriel Spark (Mini-Reviews)

I’m trying to read more books from my own shelves (ongoing, a voracious reader’s constant struggle.) I still have some books checked out from the library from pre-quarantine times, but for some reason I don’t want to read them all yet! It’s like I’m saving them or something! 😀 So I tried two from the shelf by my bed and am pleased to report that they were both (mostly) enjoyable. And one is from my Classics Club list. Here are some quick thoughts.

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (Classics Club)

I LOVE Shirley Jackson. I’ve read almost all of her novels but still have short stories and nonfiction to go. This is a memoir/essay collection published in 1953, focusing on her growing family renting an old house in rural Vermont and the zany antics that ensue with young children, pets, and a house and car that constantly need repairs. This is decidedly not like the Shirley Jackson you may know from The Haunting of Hill House or We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s an interesting look into daily life in a rural town in the late 1940s and early 1950s. And of course at that time, women were primary caregivers and housekeepers in most families. Even knowing that, I still bristled at the lack of a father/husband figure in the memoir. I haven’t read a biography of Jackson yet, but I’ve heard that things weren’t great at home with her husband. So I guess it fits that he’s such a non-entity. I felt sorry for Shirley dealing with the very active, precocious children (although they are cute and funny) and all the household things breaking down, and she mentions being out of money a lot. I was mad at her husband for not even being a good “breadwinner,” which is the very least you’d expect a traditional 1950’s husband to be! And all the while she is writing amazing, subversive, creepy fiction somehow! Overall I enjoyed it enough, but my annoyance probably colored my impression more than some readers. A quick scan of Goodreads reviews show me that most readers found this very funny. I would call it “amusing.” I’m not sure if I’ll read Raising Demons, which is her other domestic memoir. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark

This is my first novel by Muriel Spark but it definitely won’t be my last. I’ve read about her work for a while now from many other bloggers and picked up a copy of her 1988 novel A Far Cry From Kensington at a local used book store for $.75. What a bargain. What a quirky book! It’s kind of hard to summarize and felt expansive for its slim 187 pages. Set in London in the 1950s, it focuses on the residents of a boarding house and reads almost like a mystery. Our narrator, Mrs. Hawkins, is a 28 year-old war widow who works in publishing and is the kind of woman others find capable and helpful. Looking back on this time, she attributed it to her size:

Milly, like everyone else in the house or in my office, never used my first name. Although I was a young woman of twenty-eight I was generally known as Mrs. Hawkins. There was something about me, Mrs. Hawkins, that invited confidences. I was abundantly aware of it, and indeed abundance was the impression I gave. I was massive in size, strong-muscled, huge-bosomed, with wide hips, hefty long legs, a bulging belly and fat backside; I carried an ample weight with my five-foot-six of height, and was healthy with it. It was, of course, partly this physical factor that disposed people to confide in me. I looked comfortable.

Here is the only thing about the book I wasn’t comfortable with, this intense focus on size as the defining characteristic of Mrs. Hawkins. She is a funny character, always dispensing free advice, and not afraid to tell it like it is with dreadful people (as in her nemesis, pushy, would-be writer Hector Bartlett.) But there was an awful lot of fat phobia on display here in Spark’s writing, and it didn’t sit right with me. As the story continues Mrs. Hawkins decides to become thin (by eating half portions of everything) and it completely changes her life. A tired old trope to be sure. Thankfully, there is a riveting story line to go along with all this diet talk. One of Mrs. Hawkins’ fellow boarders, a Polish refugee and seamstress named Wanda, is receiving mysterious, threatening, anonymous letters and is terrified. And the publisher for which Mrs. Hawkins works is engaging in illegal activities as well. I did enjoy this tremendously despite the diet stuff, which is a testament to Spark’s storytelling. I have another of her books on my shelf to read, the one for which she may be best known, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Have you read either of these, or anything else by these authors?

Friday TBR Talk

Another beautiful day here, and I’m outside in the backyard. Another Friday. Friday is vacuum day for me. To give my days some sense of structure I’ve made a little chore chart for myself (or whoever wants to help) with one or two chores for each day. Since I’m not working it has helped me retain a sense of time and purpose, and gives me one solid productive thing to do each day. And it helps me differentiate between the days so they don’t all run together! You gotta do what you gotta do.

Earlier this week, my son said, “I wish I had some new books to read.” Well that was a request that I couldn’t pass up! I immediately ordered some books from Barnes and Noble (I want them to survive the pandemic too) and here they are (minus a Big Nate book he immediately grabbed from the box):

I’ve read The Mysterious Benedict Society (awesome) and my son has read the Mac B Kid Spy (he loved it, so I thought he’d like to have his own copy) but Flora, George, and Wild Robot are all new to both of us. Have you read any of these?

Earlier today I was listening to the Reading Glasses podcast, one of my favorites, and they were talking about TBR piles and/or lists (episode 148). Mallory was saying that she feels like TBR piles and lists make people feel stress about their reading, and she advocates getting rid of them and just having some unread books in the house, interspersed with books you’ve already read. She likened her unread books to snacks, that she has the pleasure of “getting to” enjoy rather than feeling like she “has to” get to them or check off some list. Brea was saying that it makes her feel anxious to think about getting rid of her TBR list, and that she doesn’t want to forget about books since she considers herself kind of a spacey person. She advocates culling your TBR list periodically, though, if the length starts to stress you out.

I do have a rather lengthy TBR list on Goodreads, and I side with Brea in this issue. I like having one place I can go to see what might fit the mood next. In pre-pandemic times I would check my list and order things from other library branches, so that I’d have three to four books at home to choose from when the mood struck. Now I take comfort that at least I have a place to check for inspiration in case any of the 40+ unread physical books in my house don’t appeal.

Inspired by their episode, I went through my list today and I culled 26 books! It feels good. Like the equivalent of cleaning out a drawer and giving a bag of stuff to the thrift store. Sometimes I can’t even remember why I put a book on my list, or I look at it and go, “Meh.” Meh is definitely a reason to remove a book from the list,

How do you all feel about TBR lists or piles? Do you ever sometimes wish you didn’t have one? Do you periodically go through them? Do they cause you stress? Do you enjoy the Reading Glasses podcast? Let me know in the comments.

The Most Exciting Bit

Yesterday I finished reading Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier (review will post during DDM Reading Week.) And then came what I think is my favorite part of reading: the sweet spot between books!

Once I’ve finished a book I write it down in my book journal, with any impressions or categorization that I want to include. Then I head straightaway to Goodreads, where I make sure I’ve got a star rating and the “shelves” I want. Next I go to the Listopia section of Goodreads, which in my opinion is best accessed through a desktop or iPad browser, and NOT the app. There’s a list that I add my books to called 2020: What Women Born in the 1970s Have Read So Far This Year. The list creator has been doing one for years now and I look forward to the new one each year. I add the book to the list and see if anyone else has read it this year as well. (You can rank your choices however you like.) It’s always fun to see what are the most popular books in any given year, and the sheer variety of books read is amazing. 6,691 books were listed last year.

The first 8 books on the list

 

So then I get to decide what book to read next. For me this is THE most exciting time. With a TBR list currently at 367 books, I have so many possibilities. Currently, with the quarantine and the libraries closed, I am trying to read what I’ve got on hand. I’m well stocked with my own unread books and still have 5 or 6 books from the library I’ve not yet gotten to. I know some of you plan out your reading weeks in advance, or get ARCs that you want to write about close to publication time. I don’t do either of those things, so I really just see what I’m in the mood for.

The last 6 books on the list, currently.

 

Last night I decided I was in the mood for a mystery, and I have three from the library. I chose Elly Griffith’s The Woman in Blue, which is the 8th in her Ruth Galloway series. And yes, I still need to read Adam Bede, my Classics Club pick, but frankly I’m putting it off. I started it and the dialect is very challenging so far. And it’s over 600 pages! I swear when I initially put it on my list I thought it was much shorter! 😂 Oh well, I’ll come back around to it after the Griffith.

So what do you think? Are you a big nerd like me? Do you relish the feeling of having completed a book and not knowing what you’ll read next? I’m curious about those of you who schedule your reading. Maybe you get a similar feeling at the beginning of the month when you make your monthly plan? Mood readers and planners alike, let me know in the comments.

2020 Reading Goal Check In

Let me start this post by paraphrasing something I saw and loved on Instagram this week. You’re not required to be productive in a FREAKING PANDEMIC. Full stop. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk 2020 reading goals. It’s almost the end of March, which means that the year is almost 1/4 through!

My four reading goals for this year are:

  1. Read 20 nonfiction titles
  2. Reread four favorite books.
  3. Read 12 titles from my Classics Club list.
  4. Read more authors of color (higher than last year’s pitiful 18%.)

I’m psyched to say that so far I’m on track with all of my goals. I’ve read eight nonfiction titles, and reread one book (Sylvia Boorstein’s It’s Easier Than You Think.) I’ve read three Classics Club books, and so far my authors of color is at a better 24%.

I’m toying with rereading a Jane Austen novel soon, as they are the ultimate in comfort reading for me. And this lady needs some comfort reading! I haven’t read Persuasion in a long time so that might be the one.

What’s my favorite read so far this year? Ugh, it’s tough. It’s either Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha or Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. Or The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel. OR Christy Harrison’s Anti-Diet. Too hard!

One thing I’ve loved so far this year are the great books my son and I have been reading together. So far my favorites are Fudge-a-Mania by Judy Blume and Mac Cracks the Code by Mac Barnett.

I hope you all are staying safe and healthy, able to take walks outside or do yoga or something else to clear your mind, and able to pry yourselves away from the news. It’s hard for me but I’ve been a bit better about not constantly checking news or Twitter. I’ll leave you with something hilarious I found on a friend’s Instagram story. It’s a Choose Your Recluse chart using famous movie characters. I think I’m a cross between Boss Lady and Sloppy Wizard. Which recluse are you?

Sunday Afternoon Bookish Ramblings

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Big Reading Life Manor, and I think Spring is finally on its way. We’ve had a few sunny days here and there, enough to matter, and daffodils are blooming. On my walk in the park earlier today I noticed blossoms on the trees (don’t ask me what kind of trees, I don’t know) and that made me happy. I will seek out and clutch any tiny happy thing I can find these days, and being outside, blue skies, and new life blooming will definitely fit the bill. And as I’m writing this the ice cream truck just went past our house! That’s DEFINITELY a sign of Spring!

I got my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds yesterday. As usual I’ve purchased way more seeds than I have space in my yard for. But seeds are cheap and dreams are big, and who knows how crazy with planting I’ll get this year? It’s still about a month too soon to plant anything really, except maybe the peas (Tom Thumb, which are supposed to grow easily in pots) and the arugula (which I’ve never tried to grow.) I’m such a haphazard gardener but I’m a Master Yard Putterer.

What have I been reading lately? Well, I just finished Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, which is the fourth Miss Marple Book. Jackie @ Death By Tsundoku asked me a few weeks ago if I planned on reading ALL of the Agatha Christie novels, and until she asked me I don’t exactly think I had a plan to. But I was like, “Yeah, I think I DO want to read all of her novels!” And another reading goal is born. It will take me years, but that’s fine with me. There’s nothing like an Agatha Christie for fun escapism, if murder mysteries are your thing. The Moving Finger was good, about smutty anonymous letters being sent to virtually everyone in a small town, and the perilous aftermath of that. Miss Marple doesn’t even show up until 2/3 of the way through and that’s was fine with me, because I enjoyed the narrator, Jerry Burton, so much as a character. The thing a modern reader has to watch out for with Christie is that sometimes she’ll slide in a racist or homophobic line or two here and there, and it sort of jars you for a minute. I note them, think, “Yikes!” and move on, remembering that in 1942 things were different. On the plus side, it confirms how far we’ve come, right?

I listened to Colton Whitehead’s poker memoir The Noble Hustle through my library’s Libby app, and that was fun. He reads it himself and I liked his voice very much. A magazine paid him to enter the World Series of Poker and write about it. I’m not very interested or knowledgeable about poker, so the interest in this for me was mostly in learning more about one of my favorite authors. He’s funny! Darkly, cynically funny, and his main target is himself. I can see now why his fiction feels so cerebral sometimes… he freely admits to being someone who is “anhedonic,” unable to feel pleasure. Which is one reason he has such a good poker face – he’s “half dead inside!” This is the kind of sardonic humor Whitehead uses throughout the book. You get the impression that his glass is perpetually half empty but you can’t help but like him anyway. If you’re interested in this memoir I highly recommend listening to the audiobook.

Currently I’m reading Wallace Stegner’s 1987 novel Crossing to Safety for my Classics Club and Buddy Read with Rebecca and Smithereens. I’m about 40% through. I LOVE IT. That’s all I’ll say for now.

What’s up next? I’ve got a stack a mile high, as I’ve been going nuts putting library books on hold lately. It’s nice to have a lot to choose from, isn’t it? Besides the above stack I’ve got Ta-Nehisi Coates’s memoir The Beautiful Struggle, Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season, Ian Rankin’s The Hanging Garden, Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons, and my own purchased copy of Jenny Offill’s latest book Weather. I hardly know what to pick up next! Well, perhaps I should start with one of the Irish books seeing as how this is Reading Ireland Month and I haven’t even started, whoops!

How is everyone? Are we able to read with all the political news and coronavirus stuff going on? I know my concentration has been crap the past few weeks because of it. I hope you all are staying well and have a good tall stack of books to keep you company even if you aren’t. I hope to catch up on reading all of your blog posts soon. Be well and hold on – Spring is coming!

Friday Afternoon Bookish Ramblings

It’s a beautiful sunny but cold day here at a Big Reading Life Manor, and it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I just haven’t had time or energy to write about books or anything else. There is sleep to prioritize (self-care 2020!) and also I’ve been finishing watching The Good Place and Netflix’s Next in Fashion. But today I have a bit of time and wanted to catch up on things. So, hello! I hope your week has been a good one. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much sick of winter. I’m sick of gray and I’m sick of rain. I’m trying to remind myself that everything changes, and so will the seasons, in time.

Anyway, I’ve read some good books lately, for which I am grateful. One five-star read (The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel, which had been on my TBR List since 2015) and three four-star reads: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot, Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe, and Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson. Two of the latter were ones I owned, so whoopee for reading my own books! Lately I’ve been really trying to look at my own shelves and also the beginning of my TBR list and trying to choose reads from those. It’s a constant struggle to balance those considerations with the newest, shiniest books that I have on hold at the library. You can relate, I am sure.

51anPJ5-ihL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_What am I currently reading? Lindy West’s new essay collection The Witches Are Coming, which is AWESOME and so smart and funny. I’ve only read the first four essays but so far she’s killing it. I just finished Mavis Gallant’s short story collection In Transit, which I’d been reading since December. It was good – she’s masterful at capturing humans trying and failing to relate to one another. But for me overall it was a bit depressing and I’m relieved to be finished. I am not sure what work of fiction I’ll pick up next. I think I need something light to boost my mood! I may try Helen Hoang’s romance The Kiss Quotient, which I just checked out from my library.

Next month I plan to participate in Cathy’s Reading Ireland Month, so I need to pick at91Vq1lzeOaL least one Irish book – this event always sneaks up one me. I also will be reading Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety with Smithereens as a buddy read – another selection from my Classics Club list. Please read along with us in March if you’d like!

So that’s it from me for now. I’ll leave you with some body positive affirmations from Megan Jayne Crabbe’s book (if you’re on Instagram, you should consider following her @bodyposipanda. She’s delightful.)

I’m grateful for everything that my body allows me to do in the world, and all the ways it takes care of me.
I am hotter than the inside of a poptart in this outfit!
There’s no such thing as a problem area, my body is not a problem to be fixed!
My softness is beautiful.
My cellulite clusters are constellations mapped across my thighs and I am magical.
I deserve the space I take up in the world.
I am good enough.
My body is not the enemy.

Also – how do we like this new “block editor” thing WordPress has given us? I don’t like it at all and when I tried to switch back to the classic editor it’s made my spacing weird in this post. Hmmmph. Oh well. I hope you have a very good weekend, friends – may you have lots of time for reading!

 

Why Do I Own So Many Unread Short Story Collections?

I finished a five-star read yesterday, and I was unsure about what to pick up next. I guess I’ve got a small book hangover. Currently I’ve been slowly reading Mavis Gallant’s collection In Transit (inspired by Buried in Print’s Gallant reading project.) She is a marvelous writer but, as often is the case with short stories, I need to take my time and not rush through. I want to give each story its due time to contemplate.

I was looking at my unread shelf at home and noticed a trend. I have a lot of unread short story collections. Eight of them in fact. That may not be a lot for some of you, but it feels like a lot to me, particularly because I’ve had some of them for years. I don’t want to pick another one up until I finish the Gallant book, because I can’t imagine trying to read two short story collections simultaneously. (Do people do this?)

img_5313Why do these books linger on my shelf? Why do I keep buying more?

Okay, I buy them because I buy books, duh, it’s what I do. I think they linger because I have the impression that a short story collection is a commitment. I feel like they take longer to finish than a novel, and they do. But why does this make me hesitate about reading them? It’s the same thing with nonfiction. I hesitate to choose it because I think it will take me longer. WHAT IS THIS OBSESSION WITH FINISHING A BOOK QUICKLY? I know I’m not alone in this, but why are we (mostly fiction readers) this way? Why am I so consumed with more, more, more?

Part of it is that I am always reading about new books coming out, adding more to my TBR list every week. Part of it is working at a library surrounded by books all day, seeing and holding the new books in person. Part of it is participating in the bookish community, seeing people reading all these amazing books at what seems like a breakneck pace and comparing myself.

It’s a wonderful NON-problem to have many more books I want to read than I have time to actually read. How lucky are we to live in a time and place where our access to books is so unfettered and free?

I am going to try and incorporate these short story collections throughout the year and not worry about how long it takes me to finish them. And if I’m not enjoying them I’m going to release them to a new home where hopefully they will land in the right hands. AND I’m also not going to buy any more collections until I get through at least half of the ones I have already.

How about you? Do you have a stack of short stories or nonfiction or something else that you’re just not getting to because it will take “too long?”

Reading Goals for 2020

And now one of my favorite things about book blogging… the annual setting of the goals! Oh, how the possibilities are endless in January. And then somewhere in October the cold hard realities set in… 😂

As usual, I am not going to put too much pressure on myself with a huge list of goals. I’ve picked four goals to pursue. Without further ado:

Goal #1: Read at least 20 nonfiction titles this year.

I follow so many bloggers who regularly read some excellent sounding nonfiction, and I keep adding titles to my TBR list, but my ratio of nonfiction to fiction is still pitiful. This year I am aiming a little higher and hope to start knocking some of those titles off my list.

Goal #2: Reread at least 4 books from my owned shelf.

I keep books that I love and think I will reread “sometime.” But in reality I just don’t end up doing that, and they sit there collecting dust. Last year I reread just one title, and it was a library book! So this year I’m making this a focus.

Goal #3: Read at least 12 titles from my Classics Club list.

If I am to stay on track to finish my list in February 2023 then I need to stay on task with this project.

Goal #4: Read more authors of color. Last year my percentage was a pitiful 18%. Not good enough.

So that’s it. I feel like these are manageable. And as blogger Naomi once reminded me, it’s not so much the achieving of the goals as the pursuit and improvement that’s important.

59927359120__83537172-c8c3-49da-9fc9-cf768a1e7dc1To switch topics here slightly, I began the new year with a feat of reading that I never do… I bought a book and read it right away! I got some gift cards to the local independent bookstore for Christmas and of course they burned a hole in my pocket. I bought Prince’s The Beautiful Ones, and I’m pleased to say that it’s a solid four star read. A must-read if you’re a Prince fan. It’s a wonderful glimpse into his childhood and his family, the early days of his recording music. It saddens me that he died before completing it… it’s such a tantalizing look at a brilliant, playful mind. He definitely left us too soon and is terribly missed. So there’s one nonfiction book to start the year off right!

I can’t wait to read all of your reading goals for 2020, if you choose to set them. I hope your reading year is getting off to a good start!

Another Blogiversary

Tonight is my FIVE YEAR blogiversary y’all! I can hardly believe it.

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Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Last year I considered abandoning my blog because I wasn’t sure I had anything valuable to add to the conversation. Also, I was very stressed. This year has been much less stressful, I finally figured out what works for me, and I FINALLY stopped comparing my blog to others’ blogs. Hallelujah! As I was reminded on Instagram recently (@whatkarireads), reading ISN’T A COMPETITION and blogging shouldn’t be either.

I’ve got some fun plans for the blog next year and some solid, reasonable reading goals as well. More on that soon.

I want to thank those of you who drop by and comment regularly. You are superstars and I value your bookish insights, comments, and support. Getting to be in regular conversation with you is a privilege. 

Happy New Year, bloggers. Onward!