Midweek @ Musings: Wishing

This week’s post is inspired by the latest prompt from Weekly Geeks:

Is your wishlist as big as your TBR pile? What books are topping your list? Are there any new releases that you are counting down the days for? Share a handful of titles and be sure to share why you want to get your hands on these books! And if another blogger is responsible for that book being on your wishlist, consider sharing a link to their review!

My wishlist is quite different from my TBR pile.  My TBR pile represents books I want to read, and may not own now or ever.  My wishlist is for books I want to own, and my book-buying habits have changed a lot over the years. Once upon a time, if I wanted to read a book I’d rush over to the bookstore and buy it.  And I’d buy a couple more on that “3 for 2” table in the front. A trip to the bookstore made for an exciting Friday night when our children were young:  Browse.  Buy.  Then Amazon made it much easier:  Wish.  Click. Buy.

About five years ago, my buying habits changed dramatically.  There was no grand epiphany; I just discovered more economical sources.  We no longer live near a big-box book retailer, but I discovered several used bookstores within a short drive.  I also discovered Paperbackswap, which is ideal for me since I rarely re-read books.  Finally, my local library system is a treasure trove — I’m amazed at what they have in circulation.

Today, when I learn about a book I’d like to read, the first place I look is my library.  If they don’t have it, I check Paperbackswap, and request it if it’s available.  If I can’t find it through those two sources, onto the wishlist it goes!  I have two wishlists, with slightly different purposes:

  • My Paperbackswap Wishlist:  My PBS wishlist includes a few titles that are not available through my library, and I don’t feel like buying (at least not yet).   But mainly, this wishlist is a vehicle for passively collecting Virago Modern Classics.  Virago Press published over 500 of these, and my collection currently stands at 128.  I prefer the older editions.  Every once in a while, a PBS member posts a title and voila, I snag it.  I’ve made a number of acquisitions this way, steadily building my collection over the past few years.  You can view the wishlist by going to my Paperbackswap profile page.
  • My LibraryThing Wishlist:  This list is reserved for books that I can’t find used or in my library, reference books, and “special” books I really want to own and cherish.  This is the list I give out to friends looking for gift ideas.  At this very moment, my wishlist includes a book on dog training that came highly recommended from a LibraryThing member, a vegetarian cooking book I might want to try when the weather gets colder, and several newer, notable books that have garnered a lot of press on LibraryThing and in the blogosphere.  Here are just a few of recent additions to my LibraryThing wishlist (click on the cover for details):

What are you wishing for?

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The Sunday Salon & Weekly Geeks: A “Reading Globally” Confession

On Saturday morning I was pondering what to write about this week.  And what to my wondering eyes did appear in my Google Reader?  The latest Weekly Geeks topic, that’s what.  It’s all about “reading globally,” a subject near and dear to my heart and one that I’m feeling a bit guilty about.  So I’d like to take this opportunity to confess my sins …

I began reading globally in 2007, reading authors who were from countries outside the United States.  I “visited” 20 new countries that year, and 20 more countries in 2008.  I set myself a perpetual challenge to read authors from all 192 countries in the world, and kept track of my travels on a map (which is on display at those links).  I was an active member of a Reading Globally group on LibraryThing, and found it a great source of recommendations and discussion.  Yes, I was a veritable Phileas Fogg when it came to reading globally.

And then, in 2009, I ran out of gas.  Six books.  That’s it.  How embarrassing.  My problem was finding books from “new” countries that appealed to me.  You’d think, having visited only 58 of the 192 countries, that there would still be scads of great literature in translation out there.  And I’m sure there is; I just wasn’t discovering it.  I decided to change my travel plans; here’s what I wrote at the time:

I’m thinking of my Reading Across Borders journey like one of those hop on / hop off bus tours in large cities.  For now, I’m going to hop off the bus and go where my mood takes me.  I will probably still read books in translation, but not necessarily from “new” countries.  It might be interesting to read one country’s literature in greater depth.  Whatever I choose to do, I can’t lose sight of the “fun” part of reading!

Well, I hopped off the bus all right.  I’ve been on a global reading hiatus for nine months!  Oh, don’t get me wrong:  I’ve read a few books in translation this year.  I just haven’t been actively seeking new global reading experiences.  But all that is about to change.

Last year, I was very excited about the launch of Belletrista, a bi-monthly magazine featuring the work of women writers the world over.  Every issue has been chock-a-block with interesting selections, not to mention author interviews and other features.  My 2010 reading goals include reading 6 books from Belle’s treasure trove of reviews.  I’m no longer looking exclusively for new countries; rather, I’m combining two interests:  global reading and women writers.  Now I just need to get on with it.

Once I finish my current book (Marilynne Robinsons’s Gilead, which is wonderful), I’ll read my first Belletrista-inspired work: The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa.  This book has been on my wishlist since the Belletrista review, all the way back in September.  I just picked it up from the library yesterday.

I’m ready to hop on the bus again, and am looking forward to more global literature discoveries.

Read more from The Sunday Salon here.

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Midweek @ Musings: Growth through Reading

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the process of personal growth through reading.  Let’s start at the very beginning … with this week’s Weekly Geeks:

Think back to the moment when you realized “I am a reader!”  What books defined that moment in your life?

I was about 12 or 13 years old.  I remember the day I was allowed to stray outside the “juvenile fiction” section of my local library.  They gave me a special card that allowed me to borrow selected “grown-up” books.  I still enjoyed older juvenile fiction (which today would be called “young adult”).  Anyone else have a dog-eared copy of Are you There God?  It’s me, Margaret ? But I also read books my mom recommended, like R.F. Delderfield’s To Serve them all my Days.  And then I joined a local bookstore’s summer reading contest.  I spent most of the summer curled up with a book, even taking Jane Eyre with me to summer camp.  I came in second, and received a bookstore gift certificate.  Yes, at that point, I knew I was a reader.

A few years later, while on vacation with my family, I read several Shakespearean tragedies — and this was before the days of required summer reading.  I’m sure fellow tourists instantly labeled me a geek when they saw me lying on the beach, reading Macbeth.  But I didn’t care — I was a reader.

At university I studied Computer Science, and the curriculum was short on humanities.  One year I attended summer session, having worked an internship the previous term.  I took two courses:  Chemistry and World Literature.  Spend my summer reading Madame Bovary?  No problem — I was a reader.

Just before the birth of my second child, my book group read The Mists of Avalon, a retelling of Arthurian legend from a woman’s point of view.  The baby was born before I finished the book, but the nice thing about newborns is that they sleep a lot, at least for the first couple of weeks.  And I took very seriously the advice from other mothers, to use nap time to do something nice for yourself.  That’s how I finished The Mists of Avalon! Yes, I was still a reader.

Reading has always been a fun leisure activity, and an escape from the daily stress of life.  But it has also been a source of inspiration and personal growth.  For the past week or so, I’ve been reading A History of Their Own, Volume I, a history of women in Europe from prehistory to the present time.  The primary thesis is that gender was the single most important factor in shaping the lives of women — more than education, money, social status, religion, country of origin, etc.  I happened on this book at a used book sale, but would never have bought it were it not for a lifetime of reading that shaped my own feminist ideals.  I began with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in the late 1970s.  On entering the workforce in the 1980s, I read several books on how to succeed in a man’s world.  In the 1990s, books like Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand helped me stop trying to be like a man and instead capitalize on my unique strengths as a woman.  I’ve also read quite a bit about how to raise strong and independent daughters.  Reading The Mists of Avalon was the start of a related journey, to understand and celebrate the literature by women writers, stories about women with strong female protagonists.  Today I’m an avid follower of the Orange Prize (as mentioned in last week’s post), and I collect Virago Modern Classics, “dedicated to the celebration of women writers and to the rediscovery and reprinting of their works.”

And all because I became a reader, way back at the age of 12.  Where will reading take me next?  I’m eager to find out …

How about you:  when did you know you were a reader?  In what ways have you experienced personal growth, thanks to books & reading?

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Weekly Geeks: For the Love of Comments

This week, let’s talk commenting.

I love receiving comments!   Mine is not one of those super-popular, high traffic blogs.  So I’m overjoyed when I receive a comment or two.  Every post holds the promise of discussion, and I’m really happy when someone takes that extra moment to share their thoughts.  I’ve tried to be a better commenter lately myself.  When I comment on a post, I actually prefer to give information about myself (like my blog address), in hopes of striking up an ongoing dialogue.  I have also been making an effort to subscribe to follow-up comments by email, because I like to see what others have to say, and I would hate to miss a reply from the blogger.

Here at Musings, I don’t have a comment policy per se.  But in preparing this post, I realized I’ve set things up in a way that reflects my own practices as a commenter:

  • You can subscribe to posts or comments via RSS
  • When you leave a comment you can subscribe to follow-up comments via email.
  • I don’t moderate comments.
  • I don’t use word verification.
  • You do not need to register, but I do require a name and email address.
  • I really like it when you also give your blog’s address.  I’ve discovered some great new blogs that way.

I make an effort to respond to all comments, especially when the commenter has offered an opinion or insight.  I usually respond right on the blog, so it can be read as part of the conversation.  I can imagine situations where a personal email response might be better, but that hasn’t happened on my blog yet. I’ve been fortunate in that all of my visitors are wonderful people — I’ve never experienced flaming or other difficult behaviors.  And so far I’ve been impressed with how WordPress handles spam.  I’m surprised how much spam there is, but fortunately the spam filter works well, and none of it has ever been published on my blog.

Now, I have a couple of questions for you:

  • I’ve read some negative blog posts about the name & email requirement.  This is a fairly common practice, and has never prevented me from leaving a comment.  But if it bugs you, leave a comment and tell me why — I’d like to understand the issue.
  • I’d like to generate more comments and discussion, but I haven’t found the “secret sauce” yet.  So here’s another comment opportunity for you.  What inspires you to comment on a blog post?  What turns you off?

Tell me about it … please!

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Weekly Geeks: Facts about Elizabeth Taylor

This week’s prompt:  fun facts about authors.

  • Choose a writer you like.
  • Using resources such as Wikipedia, the author’s website, whatever you can find, make a list of interesting facts about the author.
  • Post your fun facts list in your blog, maybe with a photo of the writer, a collage of his or her books, whatever you want.
  • As you run into (or deliberately seek out) other Weekly Geeks’ lists, add links to your post for authors you like or authors you think your readers are interested in.

A few years ago I discovered English author Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975).  Some interesting facts about her:

  • She is not Elizabeth Taylor, the actress.
  • She worked as a governess and librarian before marriage.
  • Her first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, was published in 1945, the year after Elizabeth Taylor, the actress, starred in National Velvet.
  • This is why Elizabeth Taylor, the author, was overshadowed by Elizabeth Taylor, the actress.
  • Elizabeth Taylor, the author wrote 12 novels.
  • Her books deal primarily with everyday events,  relationships, and behavior of women in the British middle- and upper-middle classes.
  • She also wrote short stories, which were published by The New Yorker but not by a British magazine.
  • She was an intensely private person, and did not appear much in the media.

Contemporary authors praise Elizabeth Taylor:

‘Elizabeth Taylor is finally being recognised as an important British author: an author of great subtlety, great compassion and great depth. As a reader, I have found huge pleasure in returning to Taylor’s novels and short stories many times over. As a writer I’ve returned to her too – in awe of her achievements, and trying to work out how she does it’  Sarah Waters

‘One of the most underrated novelists of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Taylor writes with a wonderful precision and grace. Her world is totally absorbing’  Antonia Fraser

I have many of her books in Virago Modern Classic editions.  While I haven’t read them all yet, my favorite so far is A View of the Harbour (read my review).

My sources for this post included:

And here are some other featured authors you might enjoy:

If you’ve read Elizabeth Taylor, which of her books is your favorite?

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Weekly Geeks: Winter Reading

This week’s prompt:

For this week’s Weekly Geeks, share with us the books which call out to you during the cold, wintry months. Are there genres which appeal to you most? Why do you think you are drawn to these types of books during winter? Do you have some book recommendations for other readers who are looking for some escape from the blustery weather? Give us some of your favorites and tell us why you recommend them.

Just as summer is often reserved for “beach reads” and other light fare, my winter reading often gravitates toward heavier stuff.  During the colder months, I’m much more likely to pick up a difficult classic, a super chunky book, or a book with dark or somber storyline.  I don’t think I’m especially drawn to these during winter; they just don’t appeal to me as much in the summer.  And some of my favorite books have come from winter reading.  I checked my top 5 reads from 2007-2009, and found these books.  I read all of these in the first 3 months of the year (links will open reviews in a new window or tab):

Each of these books has elements of tragedy and loss.  Several deal with war and its effects on society.  And each one is exquisitely written.  I don’t recommend reading them all in one go, but you wouldn’t go wrong adding these to your “tbr pile.”

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Weekly Geeks: Haiti

This week’s prompt:

Since Haiti has received a lot of press this past week, and is likely in everyone’s thoughts, I thought we could take this opportunity to talk about Haiti in a positive light.

Last week my friend Terri at Reading, Writing and Retirement wrote an excellent review of The Dew Breaker, that inspired me to pull this book off my shelves.  This is a collection of short stories, so I figured I could read a few and discuss them here.  As I write this, I’ve passed the halfway mark.  These stories are quite good.  The main character in each story differs, but they are all Haitian immigrants living in New York.  They all have some personal connection to political repression and violence in their homeland.  In Terri’s review, she described the intricate connections between stories, which I agree is the real strength and power of this book.

I first discovered Edwidge Danticat in 2008; I think I stumbled upon an NPR piece after the release of Brother, I’m Dying.  I decided to begin with her debut novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, which I reviewed in March 2008.  I reviewed Brother, I’m Dying a few months later.  I had picked up a copy of The Dew Breaker at a library book sale; why didn’t I read it then as well?  Who knows … but I can definitely recommend all three of these books.

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Weekly Geeks: Award Time!

This is my first time participating in Weekly Geeks, in which book bloggers write about a specific theme.  I like having a prompt, and I like having an entire week to write about it!

This week’s prompt is inspired by the American Library Association’s award announcements on Monday, January 18th:  the 2010 winners of the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Printz, and the Coretta Scott King awards.  While I haven’t read many of these books lately, in looking over the archive of Newbery Medal and Honor Books, I recognized many winners from long ago, that played a formative role in my development as a reader during the 1960s and 70s:

And then there’s the Caldecott Medal, where my reminiscences were even more evocative.  Being an award for illustration, each title conjures up an image of the cover, or illustrations within the text.  These medal winners were some of my childhood favorites, and some 40 years later I can still see myself sitting cross-legged in my bedroom, slowly turning each page and marveling at the lines, the color, the figures …

I’ve read very few of the more recent award winners, but when my children were young I sought them out, especially for gifts.  The Newbery and Caldecott emblems were an automatic “seal of quality.”  My girls are now in their teens, but they have developed an appreciation for reading and literature that I’m sure will endure for their lifetime.  I like to imagine them looking back on these award lists someday, with memories just as fond as my own.

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