The Sunday Salon: On “Reading it all,” … or not

Two weeks ago I shared my March over-commitments with you, and now that we’re halfway through the month I can say with complete certainty that I will not make it through everything I hoped to read this month.  I have three books on the go now: one for my short story project, another for a LibraryThing group read, and a third for a group read hosted by Rebecca @ Love at First Book.


From left to right: At the Owl Woman Saloon, Doctor Thorne, and In the Woods

Tess Gallagher’s stories are poetic and beautiful.  Doctor Thorne is typical Trollope and good fun, and In the Woods is a gripping crime novel.  The vast differences between these books make it somewhat easier for me to read them concurrently, but I can’t help feeling frustrated that I haven’t finished a book yet this month.  I still hope to read The Beth Book, by Sarah Grand, my pick for the Classics Spin.  But I’ll have to defer The Word Child, by Iris Murdoch and The Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner.  The latter was a LibraryThing group read, but it seems like a lot of folks are slow to start.  With any kind of luck, the group read will still be going when I get to this book.

So there I was feeling frustrated about not being able to read it all, now, when suddenly my Google Reader exploded with news of Google Reader’s retirement on July 1.  I was quickly distracted from reading books, and found myself obsessing on reading about Reader!  Feelings ranged from outrage to resignation, and I pored through several articles recommending alternatives to my beloved RSS reader.  I even test drove a couple of services, ultimately deciding that “plan A” is Feedly, which I use today, and which the company claims will seamlessly adapt when Reader disappears.

But wait.  Not so fast.  Along came The New Yorker, questioning the value of RSS feeds in the first place.  And suddenly I saw myself not as a hip and hyper-connected blogger (which I surely am, LOL) but as a luddite, clinging to a cute but clumsy bit of retro tech.  In Farewell, Dear Reader, Joshua Rothman wrote:

Reader was made for absurdly ambitious readers. It’s designed for people like me—or, rather, for people like the person I used to be—that is, for people who really do intend to read everything. You might feel great when you reach Inbox Zero, but, believe me, it feels even better to reach Reader Zero: to scroll and scan until you’ve seen it all. Twitter, which has replaced Reader (and R.S.S.) for many people, works on a different principle. It’s not organized or completist. There are no illusions with Twitter. You can’t pretend, by “marking it read,” that you’ve read it all; you don’t think you’re going to cram “the world of ideas” into your Twitter stream. At the same time, you’re going to be surprised, provoked, informed. It’s a better model.

Does anyone else find this mind-blowing?  I am constantly in pursuit of “Reader Zero,” so much so that I usually find myself scanning post titles, reading one or two, starring a few more  to read later, and then marking all as read and breathing a sigh of relief.  And I do this several times a day, lest I miss something.  Then I hop over to Twitter, and find many of my fellow bloggers there, tweeting the same posts I just saw on Reader.  But they’ve also been chatting, and I’m usually too late to join in — the conversation moved on while I was busy “marking all as read.”

So I took a hard look at my Reader subscriptions and shifted the news I’m most likely to “mark read” to Twitter.  Instant relief — no pressure about keeping up with those anymore!  Now I’m considering shifting as many sources as possible to Twitter, and using Feedly only for my blogging friends who aren’t tweeting yet.

It feels kind of liberating already: no pressure to read it all, and I might even free up some time to read my books!

Do you still use RSS?  Would work Twitter for you? 

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The Sunday Salon: Jane Austen at the Flower Show

Today is the last day of the Philadelphia Flower Show, an annual extravaganza devoted to gardening and horticulture.  This year’s “Brilliant!” theme revolved around all things British.  When I visited the show last Sunday I was ready to take in all the pomp and circumstance, and all the grandeur.  In addition, acting on a tip from the Jane Austen Society of North America, and the serendipitously timed Classics Club March Meme, I was also keen to discover a bit of Jane Austen at the show.  More on that in a minute.  The day before visiting the Flower Show, The Classics Club posed this question:

Do you love Jane Austen or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”? (Phrase borrowed from Mark Twain).

  1. Why? (for either answer)?
  2. Favorite and/or least favorite Austen novel?

If you follow this blog, you’ll already know I love Jane Austen.  Just search on her name, and you’ll find reviews and thoughts.  I’ve read each of her novels once, and am working my way through the cycle again.  A two-year-old post, Why I read Jane Austen, answers the Classics Club’s first question and since it’s one of my favorite posts, I see no reason to write another!  My friend Tui described her love for Austen in a way that really clicked, and started me on my own “reread one each year” plan:

Every winter at some point, I reread a Jane Austen and have for decades. Why? Every time I do, something new comes out of each book but also it is like walking and talking with a good friend, sharing her observations of everything from nature to people.

Before I started rereading, I considered Persuasion my favorite Austen novel.  But now I’m not sure.  I’ve reread Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility, and with each one I discovered new gems and insight I missed the first time around.  I don’t think I can name a favorite, or a least favorite!

Now, about the Flower Show.  The first thing visitors see is this huge replica of Big Ben, visible from just about anywhere in the show:

At one point, you might think you’ve stumbled into the London Underground:

In the midst of all these larger-than-life exhibits, I turned a corner and came across a row of faux shop windows and doorways, all decorated in British themes.  And suddenly, there was Jane, courtesy of the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Eastern Pennsylvania region:

I loved this small cottage entrance adorned with the opening line from Pride and Prejudice. Poking out of the letterbox is a missive addressed to Lizzie Bennett — no doubt from Mr. Darcy!  There’s a lovely stack of books with a cup of tea close at hand, and of course the inevitable silhouette of Jane herself.

This was a lovely oasis amidst the throng of visitors, just as Austen’s novels can offer a nice quiet space to escape from the busy-ness of everyday living.  Be sure to stop by The Classics Club or follow #ccmeme on Twitter, to see what others are saying about Jane Austen.

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The Sunday Salon: My Over-committed March Book Stack

What was I thinking?  Back in December, March seemed so far away and I gleefully committed to two group reads.  In February I added two more commitments for March that sounded like too much fun to resist.  And then there’s my short story project, and a LibraryThing Iris Murdoch group offering further temptation, and I fear I’m rather over-committed.

The good news is, I really enjoyed reading through my February book stack.  I re-read a Jane Austen novel, finished my second collection of short stories, read an immensely enjoyable Tudor mystery,  and savored a novel by the great Molly Keane.  As I write this, I’m nearly finished with Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters, which has also been a very good read.  Quite a satisfying month.

But March … oh, March.  Again, what was I thinking?

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From top to bottom:

  • Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope:  This is on my Kindle, thank goodness, because print editions are over 900 pages!  This is for a LibraryThing group read. Several of us read The Warden and Barchester Towers, and wanted more.  But 900 pages more?  Good heavens!  CORRECTION: The Penguin Classics edition of this book is 592 pages.  Still …
  • The Word Child, by Iris Murdoch:  Also on my Kindle, and now vying for the “most likely not to be read in March” award.
  • At the Owl Woman Saloon, by Tess Gallagher:  These are my bedtime short stories for the month.  I’m not going to let my other commitments send my short story project off track!
  • The Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner.  Another LibraryThing group read.  I picked this up in a used book sale two years ago, not long after reading Angle of Repose, which was terrific.  The group read inspired me to dust it off.  Now will I read it?
  • The Beth Book, by Sarah Grand: This is my pick for the Classics Spin, and the rules say I have to read it by April 1.  Eek!
  • In the Woods, by Tana French: My book blogging buddy, Rebecca @ Love at First Book, is hosting a group read in March.  As with the Stegner, the book was already on my shelves.  I really want to read it.  It seems like it’s just meant to be, doesn’t it?  Want to join me? It’s not to late to sign up!

Since I’ve been on a 5-books-per-month pace for a while, and one of these books is huge, it’s doubtful I can get through them all.  Oh, and did I mention I completely succumbed to hype and requested a book from the library, too?  Granted, I’m #46 in the queue but I’ve moved up about 10 spaces in the past week so it’s possible it will be mine before the month is out.  And then what will I do ?!!

To begin with, I’m not going to worry about it.  I’m just going to dive in and do my best.  Short stories will continue to serve as bedtime reading.  I’ll be glad if I get through half of Doctor Thorne, and I don’t mind spreading that out over two months.  Rebecca suggested a schedule for reading In the Woods, which looks manageable too.  I’ll have three books on the go at any one time, which is a real change for me.  But I’m up for the challenge … wish me luck!

Do you have any challenging commitments this month?
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The Sunday Salon: Re-Reading Sense and Sensibility

This week I’ve been re-reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  I’ve made it a tradition to  re-read an Austen novel every year.  In 2011 it was Pride and Prejudice (read my review), and last year I re-read Emma.

I first read Sense and Sensibility in 2007, and it was my personal tipping point in becoming a Janeite.  My review appears on my old LiveJournal blog, here, but I have to admit it doesn’t say much.  Or maybe I’m just catching more details this time around.  I know the basic plot already, so I can focus more on Austen’s characters and wit.

The men seem to get short shrift.  Elinor and Marianne’s brother John falls victim to his manipulative wife and fails to provide for his mother and sisters, then makes nice later, probably realizing what a jerk he’s been.  Willoughby is a cad, and we know it, but much of his bad behavior occurs off-stage.  And Edward Ferrars: what does Elinor see in him, anyway?  He’s just sort of “there,” someone Elinor has pined after for some time.  But why?  Colonel Brandon is one of the few men with depth, although honestly I’m not sure if that’s because of Austen’s writing, or Alan Rickman’s portrayal in the 1995 film adaptation.

The women fare better, although my imagination is once again enhanced by memories of Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.  Elinor is a rock, almost too much so.  She is entrusted with a secret that is actually devastating news to her personally, and yet she sucks it up and keeps the secret for four months.  She doesn’t even tell her mother or sister.  I could not do this.  And while she’s dealing with that, Marianne experiences personal trauma of her own, and there’s Elinor at her side providing comfort.

If Elinor is one of those common-sense, no-nonsense women, Marianne is her opposite.  Emotional and somewhat frivolous, Marianne goes where her mood takes her.  Left to her own devices, she would fail to check herself in conversation, and blurt out whatever comes to mind.  When Marianne is dealing with trauma, everybody knows it.

And then there are the ancillary female characters.  My favorite is Mrs Jennings, a busybody who gets it wrong more often than not.  Austen sets up a hilarious moment in chapter 30-something, where Mrs Jennings overhears half of a conversation between Elinor and Brandon, and jumps to conclusions.  Mrs Jennings attempts to discuss what she thinks she heard, and Elinor answers based on what really happened. Hilarity ensues.  This type of comedy is Austen at her finest.

As I write this, I’m actually only about 80% of my way through the novel, about to begin Chapter 41.  I know the ending will be satisfying, as Austen’s novels always are.  So I think I’ll brew a cup of tea and get back to it!

Who is your favorite character in Sense and Sensibility?

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The Sunday Salon: A “Surprising” Classic

This month The Classics Club posed a question to its members:

“What classic has most surprised you so far, and why?”

I had to think about this one for a while.  “Surprises” come in many forms: plot, characters, writing style, enjoyment, etc.  On my Classics Club list are books I enjoyed, disappointing books, and others that weren’t what I expected.  But as I scrolled through the list, one stood out as the biggest surprise so far:  The Warden, by Anthony Trollope.  My review opens with this:

This review could be subtitled, “In which I develop a fondness for Anthony Trollope.”  A couple of years ago I gave up on Barchester Towers, and while I had my reasons I never felt good about it.  This time I decided to start at the beginning of Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire, and I’m glad I did.

Bookish friends told me  The Warden was a quiet novel, and an important introduction to Trollope’s fictional county of Barsetshire.   I was helped along by a tutored read on LibraryThing, which explained the intricacies of the 19th century English church and other important context.  But mostly I fell in love with Septimus Harding, the title character.  He was such a dear man, and nearly done in by unjust accusations.  While my love for Septimus came as a surprise, perhaps more surprising was how much I loved the entire book, and how it set me on a course to read the complete Chronicles of Barsetshire.  I read Barchester Towers in December (read my review), and I’ll be reading the third novel, Doctor Thorne, next month.

I love discovering new authors, and when they are classics, so much the better!

What’s your most surprising classic read?

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The Sunday Salon: My February Book Stack

Hello fellow readers and welcome to another Sunday Salon.  I woke this morning to see a couple of inches of snow on the ground, and it’s very cold outside.  But yesterday, everybody’s favorite groundhog predicted an early spring, so I’m sure this will all pass quickly.  🙂

The groundhog also reminded me that it’s a new month, and time to share what I plan to read in the coming weeks.  I admit, I didn’t stick to my January plans, but I enjoyed the diversion and still read 5 books, including one short story collection, getting my short story project off to a good start.

For February, I’ve again assembled 5 books (one of which is not pictured, since it will come from the library).

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Taking a closer look:

  • Mrs Somebody Somebody, by Tracy Winn:  These are February’s short stories.  I’ll probably start this tonight before bed (and after Downton Abbey!)
  • Sovereign, by C.J. Sansom:  This is the third book in the Matthew Shardlake mystery series, set in the time of King Henry VIII. This one is a 660-page chunkster, but easy reading, and I’m about 1/3 of the way through it.  It was just what I needed after finishing the rather bleak Patrick Melrose Novels this week (read my review).
  • Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen:  A couple of years ago I re-read Pride and Prejudice, and then decided to re-read one of Jane Austen’s novels every February.  Why February?  Well, mostly because it’s such a bleak month and Austen cheers me up enormously.  It’s also my birthday month, so it’s like giving myself a present.  I have all of her works on my Kindle (the red volume in the stack).
  • Full House, by M.J. Farrell (Molly Keane): This is one of my favorite Virago authors, and this book is also on my Classics Club list.

And finally, when I’m ready I will visit my local library for:

  • Family Matters, by Rohinton Mistry:  I loved Mistry’s A Fine Balance, and have meant to read more of his work ever since.  Family Matters was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, so I expect good things.

So that’s it.  I’m off to get the coffee started and enjoy the rest of the weekend.  How about you?

What are you planning to read this month?
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The Sunday Salon: My Best-laid Plan has Gone Astray

Well, what can I say?  Three books into my January book stack, I careened off in a different direction.  I rang in the new year reading Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle, which was a delightful way to begin her centenary year (here’s my review).  I also started The Progress of Love by Alice Munro, my first book for this year’s short story project.  I’ve enjoyed reading the stories at bedtime, a bit here and there — it’s better than tackling them all at once.

Then I began the third book on my stack, Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose Novels.  I have an omnibus edition of  four novels, and originally planned to read only the first, Never Mind.  But it was short, and intriguing.  The storyline was difficult, so I can’t say I liked it exactly, but I wasn’t ready to move on to something else, either.  So I kept going.

And then a weird thing happened:  I looked at the other books I planned to read — all Orange Prize nominees from a decade ago — and couldn’t get excited about any of them.  This is very strange, because the Orange Prize (now the Women’s Prize) is one of my favorite literary prizes!  I’ve selectively worked my way through the back list, but I’m wondering if I’ve reached a point of diminishing marginal returns with those older works?  In any case, my lack of enthusiasm caused me to abandon Orange January for the first time.  I feel bad about that, but I blame it on poor planning and a lack of research into the titles I’d chosen.   I’m determined to return to my lovely Oranges in July, and this time I’ll probably choose more recent books.

So there I was reading the second Patrick Melrose novel, Bad News, when I listened to a Guardian Books podcast which included a preview of books to be released in 2013. I got really excited about new releases from Kate Atkinson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Margaret Atwood.  Atwood’s novel, MaddAddam, is a third in a trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake.  Now, I read Oryx and Crake last year, and bought a copy of The Year of the Flood at about the same time, but then allowed it to languish on my shelves.  Suddenly I had to read it right away, so after finishing Bad News I picked up The Year of the Flood.  It’s an interesting book, one I wish I’d read immediately after Oryx and Crake because I think the connections between the two would be more obvious.  But I’m still enjoying it, and I’ll return to Patrick Melrose when I’ve finished. 

I’m actually rather pleased with myself for deviating from my plan.   Back in the days when I was doing a lot of reading challenges, I planned my reads months in advance to make sure I met my goals.  It’s taken me a couple of years to develop a more spontaneous approach, choosing books that fit my mood.  So while I feel bad about abandoning a favorite literary prize, I’ve loved reading more on a whim.  I hope this becomes a trend!

Have you had any unexpected reading experiences this week?

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