Sunday, November 16, 2008

Have I Mentioned Books Lately?

I don't think I have. But since I was laid low by a stomach bug this weekend, it seems like a good thing to do. Curl up in bed or on the couch with a good book. Or a laptop, and write about a good book.

The last several years I've set annual reading goals for myself. Last year I set a couple goals, the first to read at least 50 - I signed on a 50 Book Reading Challenge Group on Shelfari - and another goal was to read a greater variety of genres, including more classics and more nonfiction. I barely made the 50 as I hadn't realized how much the combination of travel and visitors would cut into my assumed reading time, but I did squeak through and I was satisfied with how much I'd branched out from my typical diet of cozy mysteries and urban fantasy. (Not that I don't still love me some cozies and UF's!)

This year my goals were similar, only I upped my goal to read 60 books - five a month. I did a quick count the other night because I was sure I was woefully behind where I was even last year. I was surprised to find I was pretty close to "on schedule". Perhaps, having discovered what slowed me up last year, I made unconscious adjustments for it, or maybe it was the fact that I'd gone back to my old routine of reading two books at a time that increased my reading time. When William was homeschooling I was always reading two books simultaneously. One book, I read during the day. Although supposedly this was "William's book", it was always a book we both wanted to read. In fact he often insisted I make the final selection. Then I would have another book that was just for me which I read in bed each night.

When William went to school, he didn't have time for us to read together anymore. (sniff) And - momentary digression - isn't it one of life's saddest ironies that school kids don't have TIME TO READ FOR PLEASURE! I found that to be true for me as well, from grade school all the way through college. I remember being excited about summer break because it meant I could finally hit the library and bring home a stack of books all of my own choosing! Digression over. So, William off to the land of probably outdated, undoubtedly boring textbooks, I went back to reading one book at a time. This year I decided to go back to the two book routine, only tweaked for my own purposes.

I have a nonfiction book that I carry around with me so I can read it in snippets in the car or a waiting room. I set it on the end table where I sit in the living room and also read from it occasionally during commercials when I'm watching television or throughout a show if the television is on someone else's show and I want to sit with the family. I leave my fiction for right before bed, to help me clear my head of daily life and stress - my nightly nonpresciption sleeping pill. Although, if the book is an exciting one, I probably lose more sleep than I gain from it. I've been known to read until dawn. Anyway, all those little two to five minute chunks of time during the day must add up because I was surprised at how many books I'd managed to read this year even though I think we've had even more family trips and more visitors than last year.

I also wanted to continue to read a variety of books including a list of specific books. I don't remember where I put that list (somewhere in my great forest of paper piles!) or which books exactly where on it. My reading priorities are constantly changing as I discover new detours from online reviews or read a new author and find entirely new vistas opened up before me. I add books to my list at a rate far faster than I can read the ones already on it. But I do think I've managed to read some of those original titles from my lost list.

Another goal I didn't officially set for myself, but which I've had in the back of my mind for awhile, was unexpectedly met this year. I've joined a book club. A woman, a stranger who I ended up having a lively conversation with in a local bookstore last year (or maybe the year before that) and exchanging phone numbers with, called me out of the blue early this year. She had rounded up a number of interested friends and wanted to know if I would like to help start a new book club in town. The first meeting was fun as it turned out, small town that this is, I already knew and were friends with about half the people there. I missed one book (which, honestly, disinterested me entirely) and one meeting because I knew I'd be out of town, and another meeting because I screwed up and hadn't read the book on time. I could have still attended that meeting but I really do want to read the book and I passionately hate spoilers.

So, what have I been reading lately? I finished Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series, which I will save for a post unto itself.

I read Chocolat by Joanne Harris, in order to be ready for the paperback of the sequel, The Girl With No Shadow, to come out in the US in January. I read a different edition, with a different cover, but isn't this cover a pretty one?! The Girl With No Shadow was published in the UK as The Lollipop Shoes, which seems a far more intriguing title to me. I wonder why the change? A cultural difference, like the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone thing? I'll be curious after I read it to see which title I think fits it best.

I love this cover. Before I went back to Paris this spring I found an intriguing photo of this street somewhere online and for months I used it as my desktop wallpaper. I didn't know where the street was, I knew it wasn't a street I had visited, but it captured Paris for me in a single frame. In particular I became fascinated with a young woman in the crowd in that photo that seemed set apart and I wondered endlessly what her story was. Without any plan to do so, I actually discovered this street in real life, from the very angle captured on the cover above. I was walking up the steep street, head down, a bit out of breath, and I looked up. With a delighted gasp, I recognized it immediately as the street. It is a well known corner in Montmartre, which I had not visited on my first trip to Paris but which our entire party adored on this last trip. I wonder if the woman in "my" photo might be a character in Harris' story? And if she isn't, I wonder if I need to write her story myself?

I also just read the last two in a fantasy mystery genre combination, Shirley Damsgaard's Ophelia and Abbey Series. These aren't "great literature", but they're fun, usually keep me guessing for awhile, and I've become really attached to the characters. I find that I'm willing to overlook a lot of writing issues that pop up in fastly written series (fastly? Is that a word?) when I love the characters. Not that I think this author has made any noticable gaffes in her writing. In fact, now that I think about it, except for the expected difficult path of developing her characters from book to book, I can't think of any. I did notice some dumb copyediting snafus though. Still, my point is, this is a fun series and I also like how the magic in the book is described surprisingly accurate - occasionally exaggerated for literary purposes but, still, well done.

I've pointed out before that one of the reasons I shied away from the fantasy or mystery genres for the longest time was because they both seemed completely made up with series instead of the solo books I was used to reading. I was confused and intimidated at the thought of figuring out where to start or how to break into an author without finding myself somewhere in the middle of a number of connected stories. This was, remember, long ago, PRE-internet, when it wasn't just a matter of googling an author's website or to find out the publication dates or order the books in a series were arranged in.

I've come a long way from there, I have literally dozens of series dangling between the last book I read and the next one to find or awaiting publication. It can get very confusing in my mind. If a long time goes by before I read a new book in a series, sometimes I forget important information that is necessary for the reader to already know. Or I confuse two series, blending characters or story lines - before I knew them well I confused Gaiman and DeLint (although Gaiman isn't really a series author and not all of De Lint's are either), and I still sometimes get Kim Harrison and Kelley Armstrong's series mixed up although I'm far more caught up on Harrison's series and woefully behind on Armstrong's even though I liked her books a lot.

I don't know why I am more caught up on some series than others - a combination of what I feel like reading at any particular moment, what books I already own, which I can find at the used bookstore, which have more buzz in the popular media, which fit the time of year it is, what I've just finished reading (I don't like to read similar themes or styles back-to-back).... It's not completely about which series are more compelling or better written, although obviously both those things would be assets. Still, I have series I really enjoy languishing on my shelves, where I'm three or four books behind what's already available. I have other series that I'm only waiting for the author to finish writing the next book so I can start reading. (Jim Butcher, I'm going through Harry Dresden withdrawals! Hurry up!) I have the next Cara Black mystery, that I couldn't even wait for the paperback to come out I was so excited to read it, sitting unread on my shelf for months because I've been waiting for a time when my every day life isn't as busy or distracting. I've got a hankering to start the Sookie Stackhouse books all over again from the beginning (I've read all except the latest hardcover) because I'm loving the HBO miniseries, so I can compare the books and the show, but I lent them all to my daughter-in-law who is gobbling them up now that she's raced through the Twilight series and been infected with the vampire genre! I think instead I'll reread that little series by J. K. Rowling again, just because it's been a year or so since I reread them all.

Maybe what I should do is make myself another list with all my series written down a column and then in each row all the books in order for each series, highlighting each title as I read it. Of course I'd just lose the list. Hmmm, maybe I could keep it on the bookshelf. Good idea.

Anyway, at the moment I'm reading a stand alone book, I'm finally reading a book that my friend Kristen recommended to me years ago, The Eight by Katherine Neville. Apparently her favorite book. She knows I hate spoilers so she didn't give me any more information but, if she'd mentioned that the book starts out in France, I probably would have given it a try long before this. I'm only 75 pages into it but so far so good. It seems like it's also about the oil industry (not sure how important that will be yet) so it seems a good time in history to read it. Maybe the author was ahead of her time in writing it!

I'm also reading an autobiography that's about place, Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. Doesn't just the title make you want to open it? It's stories and reflections from five years that the author and his wife spent raising their young son in Paris. It's a fairly new book but the story takes place in the last five years of the last millenium and it's surprising how much has changed since then. Not that this makes the book out-of-date, it's just surprising to be shown, inadvertently, how quickly modern life is morphing into new norms, each gone before we can even adapt.

I'm only a short way into this book as well, but I'm really enjoying both the rich imagery and vocabulary. It's lovely to read a book that assumes you know the "big words". And we're well matched as author and reader for this book as he states that the main reason and excuse for moving to Paris was because he simply, inexplicably fell in love with the city. My story is different, but the love affair seems to be the same, I love Paris for a million different reasons but mainly just for being Paris.

What are you reading lately? Did you set goals for this year? As the year slides towards an end, how are your efforts matching up to your long ago expectations? Are you reading more now that the hours of light are short and the weather turns cold and keeps you inside? Or did you read more this summer when you were on holiday time and life wasn't so busy?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, that is fantastic! I've been hooked on the True Blood series (got hooked on the genre from reading the Twilight series as well). Anyways, I didn't know that it was based on a book! That's great, thank you! I've added that to my reading list. :)

And speaking of a couple minutes of reading here and there a day adding up. You should check out the daily reader site. They send out short installments of books to your email each day. And it really adds up, it's helping me to reach my goal - although its much lower than yours :(

And I'm glad the book club is working out. I've always wanted to join one but have never seemed to run into one/find the time.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Priscilla said...

Hi, I really enjoyed reading your book post! I also have the Shirley Damsgaard's Ophelia and Abbey Series on my list of books to read, I do like books with a magical twist. I have also read Chololat and seen the film! At the moment I am reading New Moon from the Twilight series, I also hope to read the second book in the inkheart trilogy 'Inkspell'....

Priscilla x

11:18 AM  

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