Midweek @ Musings: A Tour of my new Bookshelves

Last week heralded the arrival of new bookshelves chez Musings, courtesy of my talented husband, who designs and builds custom furniture.  We had a lovely time reorganizing our books, deciding which ones were worthy of a place on the new shelves.  We also used this as an opportunity for some much-needed housekeeping, creating piles for donation to our library, and listing a bunch of books on Paperbackswap.  Now it’s time for a virtual tour!  I used thumbnails to save space but I hope you will click each one for a larger view, which will open in a new window.

Living Room Shelves (TBR in cabinets)) photo 91CDEA41-3F0D-4F19-923A-C97BAAD797EC-2098-000001C2BC59B18D.jpg"His" Shelves and Gardening Books photo 7704B44B-FA00-4FE4-BAB3-37368B421262-1568-0000010175571D26.jpg "Her" Shelves and Room to Grow photo 6D9D53FF-6919-4906-A563-4F3455C12847-1568-000001017B9C633A.jpg

First, in the living room, we have a bookcase for some of our “nicer” books.  The cabinets underneath house my TBR shelf and what we affectionately call “ugly paperbacks.”  The new bookcases are in a hallway leading from the family room to the study.  The photo in the center is one of the new bookcases, let’s call it “his” shelves.  Here you will find everything from Proust to William Boyd to David Foster Wallace to P.G. Wodehouse.  Not to mention our gardening books on the bottom two shelves.  The bookcase on the right is the same design, just wider, and holds some of my more display-worthy books.  And there’s plenty of room to grow!  Zooming in on my shelves:

  Persephones photo 6759EA9C-53F2-46AA-955D-4714065DD955-2098-000001C2B42D62B4.jpg Memorable Reads photo 0DCBBE67-53FC-43EE-A921-D61393426D55-2098-000001C2AD955E39.jpg Great Women Authors photo 23ADFD76-E88C-43FA-A8C3-573FE0CB9ACC-2098-000001C2A68FC33B.jpg

Persephones, memorable reads, and favorite women authors

And finally, all of this reorganizing and culling now allows me to devote an entire bookcase to my Virago Modern Classics collection (now at 215).  Et voila, la pièce de résistance:
Virago Modern Classics Collection at 215 photo 6BC582E9-2E5F-4C36-A9F2-3739698466EB-1568-000001016AD4E57E.jpg

We picked up this bookcase in an antique auction years ago.  It’s in the study, so my books can watch over me when I work from home. The doors are usually closed, but I wanted you to see all the green spines!  Now that we’ve relocated books to the “his and hers” bookcases, I have plenty of room to expand my Virago collection too.

I love organizing and reorganizing my books.  How about you?

Midweek @ Musings: 2013 Reading Resolutions


Welcome to 2013 and what I hope will be another fine year of reading!  The last week of the year is always a busy blogging week, and this year has been no exception:  I have books I want to finish, there’s always a bit of blog maintenance and redecorating to be done, and then of course I need to publish a 2012 Year in Review post …  Well, that’s all done & dusted and we are now in a shiny new year, so let’s talk about what’s on tap for the next twelve months.

As I mulled over possible reading resolutions, I took a trip down memory lane to see what I “resolved” in earlier years.  I’ve come a long way from the hyper-planned, over-structured reading patterns of 2009-10.  These days I try to balance my reading across several categories of books, but leave room for books chosen “just for fun,” whether that’s due to my mood or a newly published book that everyone seems to be reading.  I like to assemble a little book stack at the beginning of each month, but I’m not bound to it, and I swapped books on & off my monthly stack several times last year.

In 2013 I want to stick with many of the same resolutions as 2012, with one twist in the form of a new personal project.  Here they are:

  1. I will read more books from my stacks than I acquire. I didn’t quite succeed in 2012, but I didn’t fail either.  I did, however, enjoy going over my stacks and pulling books that sound interesting at the moment.  Sometimes I found my reading tastes had changed since I acquired the book, but at other times I wondered why I hadn’t read the book sooner.  So let’s do that again, shall we?
  2. I will continue making progress on all reading projects, but especially the Booker Prize, Orange Prize, and Virago Modern Classics.  I don’t have quantitative goals, but will be reading books that catch my interest.
  3. I will continue to foster community with other book bloggers.  This includes reading events like Orange January/July and The Complete Booker, which I host, groups like The Classics Club, celebrations like Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and of course Rebecca from Love at First Book, my buddy from the Estella Society’s Book Blogging Buddy System.
  4. I will read more short stories.  This is my new personal project.  Not long ago, I was perusing my stacks and found nine short story collections, all completely untouched.  And I’m not even counting short stories published as Virago Modern Classics, or the 626-page volume of Elizabeth Taylor’s Complete Short Stories.  Honestly, I’m swimming in them.  And wouldn’t they make nice bedtime reading?  Well, that’s my plan anyway.  The nine collections are neatly stacked on my nightstand, and my plan is to dip into no more than one or two books at a time, perhaps one story each night before bed.  From time to time I’ll post about my short story reading, to review a completed book or talk about selected stories.  Here’s what I have to look forward to:

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  • The View from Castle Rock, by Alice Munro
  • The Progress of Love, by Alice Munro
  • At the Owl Woman Saloon, by Tess Gallagher
  • The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Means of Escape, by Penelope Fitzgerald
  • A Chorus of Mushrooms, by Hiromi Goto
  • Mrs Somebody Somebody, by Tracy Winn
  • The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter
  • The Stories of Edith Wharton

So that’s it, and now we’re off and running!

Did you make any 2013 reading resolutions?

Midweek @ Musings: I Can’t Stop Knitting Socks!

There’s no doubt about it:  this has been my slowest reading year since I started blogging in 2007.  Each year I’ve read more than 70 books, with a high water mark of 81 in 2008.  My “year in review” post will be up in a few days, but — spoiler alert — I’ll  have read less than 65 books.  I’m only a teensy bit bothered by that, because it’s easy to explain.  Yes, there have been some stressful life events that made reading a challenge, but on the plus side I took up a new hobby: knitting.  And I love it.

It all started about a year ago, when my daughter came home from university having learned to knit in her spare time.  She took a few lessons at our local yarn shop over her Christmas break, and I was so impressed that I took the same course in January.  Little did I realize, when I finished my first pair of socks, that sock knitting would become an obsession.  I couldn’t help combining my sock obsession with my reading obsession, acquiring three excellent books on knitting socks.  And the good news is, I have something to show for it: five pairs of socks!  My first three pairs were all from Ann Budd’s Getting Started Knitting Socks. I made two pairs for me, and then one for my husband.  The fourth pair, in blue, is from Favorite Socks, and the fifth pair (also for my husband) is a pattern I found on Ravelry.  Click on the thumbnails to enlarge:

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

I love the geometric logic behind socks; each successful heel is like a little miracle.  I enjoy knitting designs with patterned stitches more than the basic stockinette stitch.  And I’m beginning to learn how to pair yarn with a design.  In my fifth pair, the yarn competed with the pattern, and the stitch design kind of got lost.  I’d use a “quieter” yarn the next time.  I started my my first pair of socks with a lacey pattern, and I’m very happy with the way this subtle yarn knits up (click for a larger view):
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

The only problem is, after knitting an entire leg I discovered I made a huge mistake reading the knitting chart, and the resulting design was completely wrong.  I couldn’t live with it, so I “frogged” it and will start over after a short break to make a different pair as a gift.

Socks are a nice short-term project.  It usually takes a few weeks to knit a complete pair, and I like being able to take my knitting with me when I travel.  When I have free time I’m always faced with the “do I read, or do I knit?” dilemma.  But as with reading, it seems I always need to have a knitting project on the go.  I’m still intimidated by more complicated garments, but yesterday Santa brought me three books on knitting sweaters.  I guess it’s time to broaden my horizons.  And buy more needles and yarn!

So all in all, I don’t feel too badly about reading fewer books this year. 🙂

Midweek @ Musings: Thank You, Virago Secret Santa!

The Virago Modern Classics Group on LibraryThing has a wonderful Virago Secret Santa tradition, now in its fifth year.  We begin with the metaphorical drawing of names from a hat, which of course is done virtually.  Then there is much chatter about selecting gifts, and mailing gifts, and gifts arriving in recipients’ mailboxes.  And finally, as always, the party begins with “opening day” on December 19.  Group members can choose to open their gifts later, and that’s good for all of us, because it just keeps the festivities going.  But I wasn’t about to wait. In fact, I cheated just a bit.

My gifts arrived last week all boxed up with a San Francisco book shop as the return address, and no clues about Santa’s identity. But the contents were lovely, all wrapped in bookish paper. I asked my Eldreth Pottery Redware Santas to keep watch until opening day:

I opened my gifts Tuesday night, pretending to live in Australia, where it was already Wednesday. I had to work Wednesday, and I didn’t want to rush in the morning! And no, I didn’t want to wait until evening either. The gift wrap is wonderful — each is a reproduction of a book jacket. I was very careful unwrapping so I could photograph the set:

So yes, those look like books but no! That’s just the wrapping paper! The contents were simply marvelous. Five books (the quantity alone astonished me), all by Virago authors, all well-loved by previous readers. Some are very old editions. All are books I’m very proud to have in my library.

Clockwise from top right:

  • Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris, which I have been secretly coveting having seen it all over LT and blog-land this year.  It’s one of Rachel at Booksnob‘s Twelve Books of 2012.
  • Angela Thirkell’s Pomfret Towers, another author I’ve recently become aware of and thought I should discover sooner than later.
  • Molly Keane’s Time After Time, from one of my favorite Virago authors.
  • Elizabeth von Arnim’s Christopher and Columbus, a Doubleday edition from 1920!! Oh my goodness, it’s so delicate.
  • E. M. Delafield’s The Pelicans, published by Knopf in 1919. On the inside cover, the book’s first owner wrote simply “Berkeley, 1920”.  This book didn’t travel far to reach the San Francisco book shop.  I’m quite curious about its origins, and whether it ever traveled beyond the Bay Area.

Words fail me. My Santa was so generous, and so thoughtful, and so spot on in choosing books I will cherish. Santa, thank you so very much.

After unwrapping my gifts and exclaiming over each of them, just one secret remained: who gave me these lovely books?  The enclosed card only said, “from your Virago Secret Santa”.  I had to wait for my Santa to “check in” at the Virago Group and identify themselves as Lisa, aka booktruffler, who has been on a year-long Virago reading junket.  She has impeccable taste in books and I feel very lucky to have her as my Secret Santa this year.

Now I’m going to return to our online Christmas party and see what others have received.  Merry Christmas!

Midweek @ Musings: Elizabeth Taylor December Preview

We are rapidly approaching the end of the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary celebration.  It’s been a great year, reading her novels in order of publication, and discussing them with bloggers from the world over (you can catch up on all of this via the previous link).

December’s events will be hosted here, by a very special guest: Dee from the LibraryThing Virago Group (also known as Soupdragon on Librarything).  Here’s Dee to tell you more about how we met, and what we’ve planned for next month …

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Laura has kindly offered me a guest spot on Musings in December, so that I can host the final Elizabeth Taylor Centenary discussions where we will be looking at Blaming, Taylor’s last novel.

Just to introduce myself, I am a forty-something mother of boys, a volunteer coordinator for an advice charity and, of course, a life-long bookworm. I live in East Yorkshire with my husband, two sons and cat.

I “met” Laura through a shared love of reading in general and Virago Modern Classics in particular. I’ve been a VMC fan since my teenage years in the 1980s, when I’d regularly head straight for the rack of green spines at my local library. Elizabeth Taylor, however, did not cross my radar until many years later. Maybe I’d got her confused with the actress, maybe I’d been put off by the unfair descriptions of her as a genteel ladies writer or maybe I’d just never heard of her.

In any case, this all changed in 2008 when I joined the ReadItSwapIt site in the hope of saving money by swapping books instead of buying them. (It didn’t work, of course. I just started swapping books as well as buying them). Perusing the list of titles offered by a swapper after an early Sue Grafton paperback of mine, I noticed a Virago Modern Classic called Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. ReadItSwapIt handily provides direct links to Librarything for information on each book mentioned. Not only did that link persuade me that yes, I would like to exchange Sue Grafton for Elizabeth Taylor but it was the door to a whole new world. I soon discovered the joys of cataloguing every book I owned on Librarything and, even better, I met a whole community of lovely, like-minded and eloquent readers at the Virago forum. From my earliest days at Librarything, Laura was warm and welcoming and we soon discovered a wide range of shared bookish interests, not only Virago related!

A link on Laura’s profile led me to Musings, the first book blog I’d seen and then to many more. I now have a long list of bookmarked book blogs, should I ever need more literary inspiration!

I am delighted to have the opportunity to host the final Centenary discussions and am really looking forwarding to sharing my thoughts on Blaming and to hearing everyone else’s thoughts.

I’ll just say for starters, that there is all the usual subtlety, understatement, hidden emotional depth and moments of dark, unexpected humour that we have come to expect from Taylor. I also found it to have a particular mood all of its own. Please do join in with December’s read and let us know what you think!

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Enter to win a copy of Nicola Beauman’s biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor!

Click here for details.  The giveaway ends Friday, November 23 at 5pm US EST.

Midweek @ Musings: Coming Soon – Elizabeth Taylor Centenary Giveaway

This has been a banner year for fans of Elizabeth Taylor, the British novelist.  To celebrate the 100th anniversary of her birth, book bloggers and LibraryThing Virago Group members have been reading her novels in order of publication, one novel each month.  The book reviews and monthly discussion have been delightful (visit my Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page to explore).

We are now very close to the end of this journey, with only two novels left to read:

  • Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (1971) – hosted by Verity @ Verity’s Virago Venture. Verity has enlisted other readers to seed the discussion, and I can’t wait to see what she has planned.  Look for a post on her blog later this week.
  • Blaming (1976) – guest hosted by Dee, a LibraryThing member.  Next week I’ll introduce Dee and say more about what she has planned for December.

I’m also planning a giveaway this month!  I have a brand-new copy of Nicola Beauman’s biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor, which will be up for grabs on Sunday.  This book is somewhat controversial, in that Taylor’s children have objected to certain themes, but despite that I found it an invaluable resource on the life of a very private person (read my review).  This book is a must-have for any Elizabeth Taylor fan, and makes great reading even if you are just getting to know Taylor and her work.

I hope you’ll consider taking part in one of the final readalongs, and be on the lookout this Sunday for information on the giveaway!

Midweek @ Musings: Why I Read Classics

This month The Classics Club posed a pretty fundamental question:  why read classics?   My first thought was “oh, that’s easy” … but the more I thought about it, the less clear my answer.  Why was it, that within minutes after learning of The Classics Club, I had assembled my reading list and signed up?  Why is it that I’ve already read 12 of the over 50 titles on my list?  And why is it that I’m drawn to these books more than to contemporary fiction?  Having pondered this for a few days, I’m still not sure I’ve hit on “the” answer, but I have some thoughts.

  • Classics are a foundation on which today’s literature is built.  Modern authors and their writing are often influenced by those who have gone before.  I like being able to spot the parallels; it often helps me appreciate the contemporary version all the more.
  • Classics can be a fun way to learn about history.  I enjoy history, really I do, but I don’t especially enjoy dry tomes full of facts and figures.  I’ve learned a great deal about certain periods by reading the literature of the day.
  • My literary education was woefully inadequate.  While I read a few classics in high school, my university degree in computer science required minimal exposure to language and letters.  I’ve come to the classics on my own, to “catch up” on what a lot of people seem to have learned already.
  • “Modern classics” often celebrate writers overlooked during earlier literary periods.  Virago Modern Classics make up a large chunk of my reading, and Persephone books are a recent discovery.  Both publish books by women authors who might otherwise have gone unnoticed.  I love discovering these women and learning more about their lives, and their ability to make a career despite formidable barriers to entry.

When The Classics Club formed, it was pretty easy to make a list of 50 books to read over 5 years.  I mean honestly, I have a bookcase with more than 200 Virago Modern Classics, so really any of those will do.  And yes, Virago and Persephone make up more than half my list as of today.  But the literary canon is huge; I’m always discovering something new.  Recently, after enjoying Trollope’s The Warden (read my review), I added the remaining five books in the Chronicles of Barsetshire to my list.

On further reflection, I guess it’s all about lifelong learning. I’m up to 61 books now.  As I read more, I learn more, and I just find more that I want to read!

Midweek @ Musings: Two “meh” books

I pride myself on reviewing every book I read, and today I have a confession to make:  I skipped reviews for two books in the past month.  You see, these were “meh” books.  Reviews are easy to write if you love a book, and I also enjoy writing reviews for books that are just plain bad.  But if they’re just “meh”?  When I’m finished I just want to move on and not think about them anymore.  These two books were both contemporary fiction, and had been on my TBR pile for four years.  They weren’t bestsellers, and have long passed off the typical book buyer’s radar screen.  You’re not likely to find these on the 3-for-2 table at a major book store, nor will there be hundreds of copies in used bookshops.

So really, it doesn’t matter what I think of them.  But admit it: you’re kind of curious, aren’t you?  And don’t I owe it to you as a reader to help you avoid a mediocre read?  Well, here are a couple of not-really-reviews-but-reviews for you:

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Wild Life, by Molly Gloss

I really wanted to like this book, because it had a number of elements that normally appeal to me: strong female protagonist, feminism, and a historic setting (in this case, the Pacific Northwest c. 1900). The main character, a widowed mother of four, sets off to help find a missing child and goes missing herself. Unfortunately, the events that followed seemed a bit far-fetched, and the account of her adventure was interspersed with other writings, making it difficult to make sense of the work as a whole.

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Gardens of Water, by Alan Drew

Sinan and his family are left homeless after a massive earthquake hits Turkey. His young son Ismail is initially thought to have died, but is found alive in the rubble. Their neighbors, an American family, were not so lucky, losing Sarah, wife to Marcus and mother of Dylan. Then Marcus and Dylan join an American relief corp running a camp and convince Sinan and family to live in the camp. Dylan and Sinan’s daughter Irem become close; their illicit love is a source of family conflict and exacerbates an existing conflict between Sinan and Marcus.

This book, too, had some promising elements but on the whole just didn’t work. Dylan in particular: having lived all of his 17 years in Turkey, he was still very American (jeans, personal music player, tattoos & piercings) and prone to cultural gaffes. It also struck me as odd that Marcus and Dylan, bereaved and newly homeless themselves, would become relief workers. Wouldn’t they need support as much as any Turkish family? Or does their nationality afford them some special status, uniquely able to rise above personal tragedy and help those “less fortunate”?

The novel was also very dry, and didn’t generate the emotion it should have given a number of tragic plot elements.

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There, that feels better.  Moving on …

Midweek @ Musings: Death, Love, & Marriage in Elizabeth Taylor’s “In a Summer Season”


If you haven’t been following this month’s discussion of Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth novel, In a Summer Season, you’re really missing out!  Karen @ Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings has written two tremendously thought-provoking posts, prompting one LibraryThing member to say, “Karen, your posts are very perceptive and I found myself mentally nodding and exclaiming ‘Yes! That’s absolutely right!’ as I read!”  I couldn’t agree more.  Each week I’ve found her posts ratting around in my head and sparking all kinds of thoughts, and all this for a book I read three years ago!

During Week 1, Karen talked about Death, and a recurring theme in Taylor’s work where a significant death occurs before the start of the story.  Then in Week 2, she discussed Love and Marriage, and how these are portrayed in several of Taylor’s novels, wondering whether Taylor had “a jaded view of the state of matrimony.”  This then led to discussion of physical attraction and sex in Taylor’s work.

Have I piqued your interest?  This week Karen will publish her review of In a Summer Season, and the next week will discuss “Art Imitating Life (or Vice Versa).”  I wonder what that’s about?  You can bet I’ll be watching for these posts.  I hope you will as well, and will feel free to dive into discussion via the comments.

Have you read and reviewed In a Summer Season?  Be sure to share your review via the “Mr. Linky” on my Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page.  There’s also discussion happening on LibraryThing, and on Facebook.

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Midweek @ Musings: August Readalong – Elizabeth Taylor’s “In a Summer Season”

It’s been a few months since my last Midweek @ Musings post (life does get away from me sometimes), but I finally found something to say on a Wednesday!

The 2012 Elizabeth Taylor Centenary continues in August with Taylor’s eighth novel, In a Summer Season.  Our host is Karen @ Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. Karen is relatively new to blogging, but has dived in with both feet and I’m enjoying her bookish thoughts both on what she’s read, and bookish excursions like this recent crawl through a used bookshop.

The description on the novel’s back cover reads:

” ‘You taste of rain,’ he said, kissing her. ‘People say I married her for her money,’ he thought contentedly, and for the moment was full of the self-respect that loving her had given him.”

Kate Heron is a wealthy charming widow who marries a man ten years her junior: the attractive, feckless Dermot. They live in commuter country, an hour from London. Theirs is an unconventional marriage, but a happy one. Their special love arms them against the disapproval of conservative friends and neighbors – until the return of Kate’s old friend Charles, intelligent, kind, now widowed with a beautiful daughter. Happily, she watches as their two families are drawn together, finding his presence reassuringly familiar. But then one night she dreams a strange and sensual dream: a dream that disturbs the calm surface of their friendship – foreshadowing dramas fate holds in store for them all.

I read In a Summer Season in 2009, and gave it 3 stars.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as the two I’d read before (A View of the Harbour and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont).  I might feel differently today, as I’ve come to appreciate Taylor’s talents all the more.  And with each monthly discussion, I gain new insights on this talented author.

Karen kicked things off last weekend with this introductory post, and today she published her plans for weekly discussion topics.  I hope you’ll visit her blog often and join in the conversation.  And when you’ve reviewed the book, be sure to share it via the “Mr. Linky” on my Elizabeth Taylor Centenary page.  There’s also discussion happening on LibraryThing, and on Facebook.

Enjoy In a Summer Season!

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