Last month one of my library book clubs read The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald and it went over really well. We had a very fulfilling discussion and all the members expressed interest in reading more of Fitzgerald’s work. When I mentioned to the group that the library only owned one other of her novels (Offshore) but that I owned them all and they were welcome to borrow them, they asked which was my favorite. I said, “Well, I’ve only read The Bookshop so far.” They got puzzled looks on their faces and there was silence. Then one of the members asked, “Why do you own books that you haven’t read?” Good question!
They would probably be appalled to learn just how many books I have that are unread, that have been sitting on the shelves for years, trapping desert dust and cat hair between the pages.
That evening when I got home I walked in the door with new eyes – noticing the untidy, neglected book shelves and the piles and piles of books scattered around the house. Books I hardly ever think about or consider cracking open. I thought of the money spent on items that are really not serving me well while they remain unread. Of course, like all bookish people I do enjoy collecting books for the sake of collecting – I love pretty spines lined up on my shelves and vintage covers displayed face out. But it is getting to the point where I need to purge and I need to let titles go if I’m not going to read them, not only for space considerations but for my peace of mind as well.
So, over the weekend I devised a plan. I think it would be fun to read my books in alphabetical order by title. I will go through the alphabet reading one book from each letter until I get to Z – and then I will start all over again. I have already put all my shelves, fiction and nonfiction, in alphabetical order and am ready to begin. How is this going to help me? If I start a book and don’t like it I will need to make a decision – keep for another time (sometimes we’re just not in the mood for a particular book) or donate. I don’t want to keep things on my shelves that I will never, ever read. That is silly. And when I finish a book I will also need to decide – keep or donate? I have also decided not to purchase any books until December. My shelves – and my wallet- need a bit of a break!
I’m really feeling excitement over this new project! I’ll still read contemporary fiction from the library, but I am going to make a true effort to read more from my own shelves. I hope you will follow along and see what I read, what I keep and what I donate.
Do you also have a habit of collecting books you don’t read?
While pondering my 2017 reading goals the other evening I happened to look up at my bookcase to see the lovely row of dove grey Persephones and the colorful spines of the Persephone Classics that I have shelved together. I’ve been collecting Persephone titles for about 7 or 8 years now and, as happens to the best of us, the collecting has far exceeded the reading of these wonderful books. I recall Nicola Beauman saying in an interview I read (I can’t find the quote) that she hoped that people weren’t just collecting the books but reading them too. In this Guardian interview she says, “That’s all I care about, really, you see: the text, the text, the text.”, when asked about the design she chose for the novels she republishes. And I realized that maybe I have been collecting them just to have them – just out of a sense of pride in owning them, because I haven’t read nearly enough of them to justify their expense!
So – I came to the obvious conclusion that reading the Persephones I currently own should be my goal for 2017. I went to the Persephone website and found the master list of all the titles they’ve published, made a list of all the ones I own and haven’t read and stuck it up at the top of the page (under Operation Read Persephone) to serve as a constant reminder of this goal. Shockingly, I own 26 of the grey darlings that I have not read! The shame! But I will try to remedy that this year.
I decided that I will start with A Very Great Profession by Ms. Beauman herself as it describes her interest in and love for the books she’s chosen to republish. I’m looking forward to not just looking at and enjoying the beauty of these books but to actually honoring their authors by reading what is between the iconic covers.
Do you have a favorite Persephone? What are your reading goals for 2017?
When Lisa from TBR313 recently wrote about the progress she’s made on her reading projects I was prompted to examine my progress on my own project. The only ongoing project that I’ve committed to is the Century of Books challenge and, frankly, my progress has been pretty slow. This is the second year I’ve recorded all of the books I’ve read from 1900 to 1999 and I was really sad to see that I’ve only read 21 books published in the twentieth century in almost 2 full years. I could have sworn I’ve read more twentieth century books than that! Granted, I’ve not consciously chosen books for this project – I’ve just read what I wanted and then counted them if they fit into the parameters. Most of the books I’ve read are concentrated in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, which is no surprise as these are my favorite years to read in. I haven’t read anything from 1900-1922 or from 1977-1998. Obviously I need to try to deliberately choose books from those years to read if I’m ever going to complete the challenge.
Next year, I want to pay more attention to this challenge and to get to the half-way mark. I’ve been a bit disappointed with my reading this year as I haven’t read as many classics as I’ve wanted to or as I’ve needed to to make me a happy reader. I’m still trying to find the balance between reading what I want to read and what I feel obligated to read as a librarian. This year I feel I went too far on the contemporary/popular side so next year I need to come up with a different ratio. Perhaps one for one – one classic for every contemporary book I read. It’s a constant puzzle that I’m still trying to solve.
How have you done on your challenges or projects this year?
This month the LibraryThing Virago group is hosting the All Virago/All August event. The goal is to read as many Viragos (or Persephones -they’re included) during the month as you can or as you want. It’s a great opportunity to read those classics that you’ve been putting off or that have lingered on your shelves for years and years. I know we all have a few of those! At first I planned to only read Vs & Ps, but there are a couple of contemporary novels that I am looking forward to (like this one) that I’ll slip in among the green and the grey. I’ve already finished The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes and Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski (reviews coming soon) and have a few others in mind. Here are the titles that are top of the list right now:
This is the last day of Mary Hocking Reading Week (although by the time I post this I think it will be Monday in the UK and I officially missed the deadline) but I am just now getting my impressions about A Particular Place gathered and recorded. I finished the book sometime last week on vacation and haven’t really known what to say about it. And I still don’t feel like I can do it justice, but I am going to do my best to tell you what I think.
This short novel is set in a small town in the West Country and focuses on a small group of parishioners who are connected through their church participation. The vicar, Michael Hoath, is a very intense, serious and traditional man who is married to the cold and beautiful Valentine, an amateur actress. Everyone in the novel is in some kind of crisis, whether emotional or faith-related or family/marriage based. Michael doesn’t really think or know that he is until he falls in love with a rather flaky woman in the congregation and has to come to grips with his own inner turmoil in the midst of helping members of his parish through their various struggles.
So there really isn’t a plot – it’s more a collection of scenes wherein the characters examine themselves, their motives, their beliefs and try to connect with God or their families or their fellow parishioners. The description on the books says it’s a successor to Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor – I feel it’s probably much closer to Taylor as there is hardly any humor in the novel (which started to wear on me) yet I feel it’s unlike Taylor in that Hocking does show a smidge more compassion for her characters than Taylor does. The tone of this novel is hard to pin down. It is melancholy, woeful, at times hopeless, yet there is a transcendence that overshadows it all that makes it luminous.
Did I like it? I’m afraid to say I don’t think I really did, in the end. I admire it and like the writing and the style, but the tone is so dark and the characters so desolate that I couldn’t enjoy it. I think this is a case where I probably don’t understand this novel at all and am misreading everything about it. I am glad that I read it, though, and it won’t prevent me from trying another Mary Hocking novel.
This week at work a bunch of us are scrambling to finish our Fall Reading Challenge. I’ve issued this challenge to all staff at my library for the past few years but this is the first time that people have really taken it seriously. The challenge started back in September and the last day to finish is Saturday. My goal in creating the challenge was to get staff reading more broadly across our collection – for the children’s librarians to read some adult titles and for adult librarians to read juvenile titles. My motto is ‘In order to market the collection you have to know the collection’. Here are the requirements:
Read 3 picture books
Read 2 early readers
Read 1 children’s non-fiction book
Read 1 juvenile fiction book
Read 1 juvenile graphic novel
Read 1 juvenile non-fiction book
Read 1 young adult book
Read 1 young adult graphic novel
Read 1 adult fiction book
Read 1 adult non-fiction book
Read 1 eBook of your choice
Submit a review to the library blog
I am almost finished myself. I have to finish my adult non-fiction and my eBook and read the early readers and children’s non-fiction – and then I will join the two co-workers who’ve already finished. I’ve pledged to give all finishers a small prize next week. It’s been a lot of fun listening to everyone discuss their progress and share opinions and feedback on the books we’ve read. I’ve also had a couple of staff thank me for issuing the challenge and for motivating them to read outside of their comfort zone. I think it has been a great experience all around and I hope to do it again in the spring.
I’ve run into a dry spell on the blog lately so here is another Mary Stewart Reading Week reminder – sorry if I’m beating you over the head with it. We’ll kick off the celebration next Sunday, September 14, and I’ll post more details then about how to let me know you’ve posted. In the meantime, if you do tweet or instagram about the event you can use the #mstewartrw hashtag so that we can all follow along (and you can use it during the actual MSRW event, too). I’m really looking forward to reading some wonderful Stewart suspense next week – in fact, I’m probably going to begin a bit early and start reading The Ivy Tree when I get home from work tonight. It will be a perfect release after working at the library on a crazy Sunday.
In just two weeks the second annual Mary Stewart Reading Week will kick-off here at Gudrun’s Tights. It seems so long ago that I decided to host this event again in honor of Lady Stewart’s memory so I can’t believe that the week is nearly upon us. I envision the event working much the same as last year, but I’ll let you all know if there are any changes.
I haven’t quite decided yet what I’ll read and post about during the week. I really would like to try The Ivy Tree and possibly This Rough Magic and maybe even Rose Cottage too. Do you have any idea what you’ll read that week?
When Mary Stewart died in May I was terribly sad, but so grateful that she’s left us a legacy of charming, sophisticated, witty and intelligent suspense novels (and her Merlin series) to feast on for generations to come. I enjoyed last year’s Mary Stewart Reading Week so much and I thought it would be a wonderful tribute to Stewart to once again read her novels and celebrate her work during the week of her birthday. So, I invite you all to join me in reading Stewart’s fantastic novels from September 14 through the 21 of this year.
I’d also like to invite anyone who’d be interested in writing a guest post for the week to let me know. You can write about your discovery of Stewart’s novels, your favorite of her books, her heroines, anything you’d like. Please email me if you’re interested at gudrunstightsatgmaildotcom.
Thanks to my friend Charles for creating the badge again this year. Feel free to use it on your own blogs to let others know about the event.
I’m really looking forward to the week! I think it’s a great way to honor Stewart’s legacy. You can see all the posts from last year here.
The winner of a copy of The Mountain Lion is Michelle. Congratulations!
In looking for a place to start with American women writers I decided the best place to begin would be to read the books from my own shelves (which I will do), however I also thought it would be interesting to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winning novels or short story collections written by women. There have been thirty women who have won the prize since 1918, from Edith Wharton in 1921 to this year’s winner, Donna Tartt. I have read several of the novels including The Goldfinch and most of the recent female winners, but there are more that I haven’t read and some that I haven’t even heard of. The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson is one of the novels that was previously unknown to me.
It won the prize in 1924 and is set just after the Civil War in Iowa. The McLaughlin family are Scottish immigrants who left Glasgow to escape their cramped home (they have 11 children), to own land and to make a better living than they have in Scotland. They live in a farming community of other Scottish families who all support and encourage each other. When the novel opens the McLaughlin’s oldest son Wully has just returned from the war and plans to marry a neighbor girl, Chirstie McNair. Despite a previous understanding, she won’t have anything to do with him when he rides over to see her. Of course, he’s hurt but he’s mostly perplexed and persists until he finds out the reason she’s rejected him and the terrible secret she’s been keeping. The rest of the novel tells of the repercussions the secret has not only on Wully and Chirstie, but on the entire community.
The Able McLaughlins is not a sophisticated novel, but it’s a definite page turner. I found myself racing through it, wanting to know how Wully and Chirstie would come out and if the secret would be revealed. Compared to The Age of Innocence, which won the prize just a couple of years before, it seems terribly melodramatic and doesn’t have the nuanced characterizations that Wharton writes so beautifully. It has lots of panache and vigor and the descriptions of the pioneer life are riveting, but I’m not really surprised this novel has fallen off our reading radar – it’s in no way a classic and has a troubling theme and a bleak view of women. In 1936 Wilson published a sequel to the novel, The Law and the McLaughlins, and I’ve thought about requesting it through ILL, but I’m not sure it would be worth the $6.
I’d like to read at least one female Pulitzer Prize winner this summer – it will probably be Willa Cather or Edna Ferber. I haven’t decided if I’ll re-read the works I’ve already read like Gone With the Wind (probably not) and To Kill a Mockingbird so for now I’ll stick to reading the ones that are new to me.
Have you read any of the Pulitzers won by women? You can see a list of all the winners (male and female) here.