Sunday, November 29, 2015

Books Read in November

Since I was focusing on NaNoWriMo for most of November, I didn't get a huge amount of reading done and it was all nonfiction, except for books I finished at the very beginning of the month. Therefore, I got in both an sf book for Science Fiction Month (Ancillary Mercy) and a few books for Nonfiction November.

I'll let you know in December, but I have also probably finished Book Riot's Read Harder challenge and Popsugar's 2015 Reading Challenge. I heard about the latter toward the beginning of the year and decided to see if my reading would complete it without purposefully doing so. I only saw Book Riot's challenge more recently, but I think I will similarly have completed at least most of it without trying.

61. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

I started reading this awhile back, in slow stages, and finished as I was beginning NaNoWriMo. It's a series of vignettes about writing, life, and Zen Buddhism that are helpful for putting you in the mood to feel inspired and un-self-conscious about your writing. I would highly recommend this book to any writer.

62. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The life-changing aspect is still under investigation, but this book about cleaning is surprisingly inspiring. It's translated from Japanese, which I didn't realize at first, and so, in retrospect, a lot of the comments she makes about her clients make more sense. However, whatever country (or planet) you're on, her advice about letting go of your overabundance of things makes sense. The book focuses on discarding, in particular categories in a particular order. The method is one that I have personally found very freeing--you judge each object by picking it up, touching it, and deciding whether or not it gives you joy. I can attest that I found this effective. She also wrote some thoughts that I found particularly freeing, like the idea that a gift or a card has done its job as soon as it reaches you and that it is okay to let go of gifts from loved ones because they would not want them to be a burden to you. She claims that all of her clients who have followed this method faithfully have never relapsed, which is a huge claim that I intend to put to the test. So far, I have gotten through clothes and books. We'll see what happens!

63. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Although I've wanted to read this book for years, it turns out it's a marrow bone that's been sucked dry. Many of the great Hemingway quotes seem to originate from it, so I was constantly getting deja vu while reading. I was also getting deja vu because the writing style was very familiar to me, exactly like a certain type of pretentious (usually male, sorry!) writer, who, of course, have based their styles on Hemingway. So, thanks Hem, for that. I do love this hilarious observation that Hemingway makes about Fitzgerald: "It was hard to accept him as a drunkard, since he was affected by such small quantities of alcohol." What a jab between fellow alcoholic writers!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What I Learned from Paring Down My Library or 5 Absurd Ways to Judge Books

As you may know, I recently reduced my personal library from 700+ books to 449, using the KonMari method from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Although Ms. Kondo whittled her own books down to a Hall of Fame of 30, this number feels comfortable to me. I always wanted a substantial home library, and I feel better knowing that I consciously chose each one of these books, and can continue to do so. As I went through my books, I kept tally marks of books in each genre, paperback and hardback, and also wrote down the names of those books that especially touched me, my "Hall of Fame." My Hall of Fame consists of 46 books, so if I ever need to reduce my collection further, I know what I want to keep.

I also learned a number of other absurd facts about my preferences in books, which I will share for your amusement and edification.

1. I dislike Dover Thrift editions. Every single Dover Thrift edition I owned ended up in the discard pile.

2. However, I am extremely attached to Puffins Classics editions. Every single one of my old, torn Puffins Classics editions made it through the purge, including books for which I have duplicates.

3. The largest genre I own consists of international literature paperbacks (62). I was surprised because I had not realized I was that worldly of a reader, but then I realized I was counting British and Canadian as international, and I own all of Jane Austen's (9, including duplicates) and most of L.M. Montgomery's oeuvre (10).

4. I don't care about owning plays. As a devoted theatre fan, I had purposefully built up a library of esteemed plays. Every single one of them ended up in the discard pile, except for Cyrano de Bergerac. I'm not counting Shakespeare here, since he fits into my 16th/17th century British literature genre (yes, I have enough of those to have a genre).

5. Almost every single book that ended up in my Hall of Fame is there not so much because of the content, but because that particular physical book was given to me, or recommended to me, by a loved one. That was an incredibly powerful realization.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. I'm more than 70% done with my NaNoWriMo word count!!! I think my novel may need to go over the 50,000 words, but it looks like I'm going to win on my first try! I rigged it a little, since I've purposely avoided doing it until such year as I had enough time. Also, I got some advice from a friend who's done it in the past that really helped. She told me to get as far ahead as I could in the first few days, and that even if I write, say, 4,000 words in one day, don't use that as an excuse not to write the next day. When she told me that, I laughed because I thought there was no way I could write 4,000 words in a day, but I surprised myself by writing 4,000 words the very next day and over 5,000 on one other day. Keep in mind, this is definitely an Ann Lamott-esque first draft, but 38, 769 words and counting!

2. My library reduction project has been started and completed! Using the KonMari method as outlined in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I went from 700+ books in my personal library to 449. The piles of books are still on the floor and I still need to come up with an organizational method, but now, each and every one of the books I own has been chosen by me. And that is a really amazing feeling. I also learned all kinds of interesting things about my preferences in books, which I'll probably talk about in a separate post.

3. I'm also using the KonMari method for tidying up the rest of my life. The method starts out with clothes, which was easy for me, since I hate clothes, but books are second, and that is obviously huge for me. On to komono (miscellaneous items), papers, and, what I'm dreading most of all, sentimental items. I'll let you know if it works!

4. The library system that I've been using for my entire life recently demanded proof of residence, and while I work and spend almost 100% of my family and social life in that county, I technically no longer live there. I am really upset. Besides the fact that I'm emotionally attached to my library card, which I've had since I was five (did I mention I'm dreading discarding sentimental items?), it's an especially good system where I can almost always get what I want, unless it's super brand new. I stalked the web catalog of the library nearest to my residence, and it took 12 tries to find a book that I want that they actually have available. Boohoo. =(

5. I celebrated paring down my library by...ordering myself new books! Okay, actually, they are more pity party books because I ordered them when I was really upset about the library thing. Needless to say, neither of these books are available at my local library. Also, I bought the Japanese flower print spiral notebook because I am really happy that I realized I specifically like using spiral notebooks of this size with inspiring images on the cover (a side effect of the library tidying, wherein I also discarded never-used journals).

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Books Read in Autumn

These books all fall in an awkward category between late October, after I scheduled the October Books post, and early November. Thus, Autumn.

58. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

An instructor that I worked with gifted me with this slim volume a few years ago. It never felt like the moment to read it until I was ready to embark on NaNoWriMo (I'm past 16k!). While I've felt guilty for not reading it before, I'm glad I waited. It had a special resonance now. Although this book is ostensibly a book to help writers, it's not about the art of writing so much as it is the art of writing. The ironic, or perhaps, unironic observation I've made on books about writing is that they read so well. Each word has purpose, depth, motivation. What most captured me about Dillard's book is an image of a plane swirling in the sky, and even though it seems like it has nothing to do with writing, it gave me a vision for what to do.

59. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

I cannot be a slightly impartial observer about this one yet. Maybe later.

First Impressions:

It's not as good as the other two, and yet, it's the same. The same pitch-perfect tone, mood, Leckie captures the exact cadence of a machine that is in some ways more human than humans, and yet...she captures the intricacies of humanity and society in the panoramic and the particular. My only complaint really is that it didn't go in the direction I predicted or wanted, but I still ate up every morsel and wanted more. Maybe that's really the worst of it. The novel continues the story, there's no universe-shattering climax, unlike the first book, not even as much of a climax as the second book really, and there's still so much we don't know...this has to be a series. Ann Leckie, I'm begging you.

60. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

The story of four young Londoners during and after the Blitz is told in reverse. Waters' writing is exquisite, and the plotting works, but only because the setting is a backdrop for a set of character studies. The book might have been just fine, an example of beautiful writing, but not as well-plotted and complete as her later book, The Paying Guests, which I read earlier this year. However, I had a visceral reaction to one of the characters, a very unpleasant one, so much so that I almost put the book down. I won't say which, but one of the characters reminds me of someone I used to know. And it is this that makes the taste of the book stick in my mouth, makes my thoughts return to it again and again, trying to use it as a lens to figure things out. And this is the terror and beauty of books sometimes, sometimes what hurts you most about it can elevate it too. It says much about the talents of the author that she is able to bring this character, and all the characters, to such vivid life.