Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion

Published: 2005
Read: 2011
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 4
Review: Goodreads

A quick read with lots of dog eared pages, underlined passages and notes in the margins.  This is a memoir told in snippets or snapshots of memories and flashbacks interspersed with the present - how she dealt with the sudden death of her husband.  I don't get the title.

I agree with the Chicago Sun-Times: "Unforgettable...both personal and universal.  She has given the reader an eloquent starting point in which to navigate through the wilderness of grief."  If I ever wrote a book about my grief journey, I would want this to be said.

A more extensive post with quotes and my thoughts of this highly recommended book is on Josh's blog. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"A Passion For Books" Ed by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan

Published: 1999
Read: 2011
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 3
Reviews: Goodreads

The book delivers on its full title:  A Passion for Books: A book lover's treasury of stories, essays, humor, lore, and lists on collecting, reading, borrowing, lending, caring for, and appreciating books.  Anyone trying to curb their book-buying activities will find no assistance here.   A smorgasbord where one can pick and choose the topics.  Most interesting to me were those of a personal nature - how the essay writer connects with books, why the obsession with books, the importance of books to his or her life, etc.

Favorite Essays:
The Ritual by Rob Kaplan
This author has 4,000 books which means he has brought home on average,  2 books per week over the past 40 years.  He has a process, procedure or ritual to make the books his before incorporating them into his personal library.  First, he logs them into an acquisition list, then into a database and finally places them on the appropriate shelves.

His process:  "does not serve obvious practical purpose, yet I find the process of cataloging new books to be one of the greatest pleasures of my life.  It provides a kind of closure.  It's a means of taking possession and a way of putting things into order in an otherwise disordered or disorderly world." (16).

This essay made me think of my own process of bringing a book home and making it my own.  I have a small Moleskin notebook where I write all acquisitions; last name (first letter in red ink) and first name of the author, then title of the book.  This is a portable and handy tool when at the bookstore, library or browsing online.   I then write the following on the top right hand of the title page: my name, date and place of purchase.  If there is a particular reason why I bought the book, I will also make a note.   Then it is shelved - in no particular order as I haven't gotten around to organizing my books.  A bookcase from Staples is still in it's box - not sure why I haven't put it together yet.  Oh well.  These days, I don't push anything - just do what I want, when I want.

Comfort Found In Good Old Books by George Hamlin Fitch
Fitch was a weekly columnist for the Sunday book page of the San Francisco Chronicle for 30 years.  This book was published in 1911 and within, he writes of the comfort received from reading after the sudden and tragic death of his son.  This is obviously very relevant to me.  B&N only has this as a Nook book but I can get a hard copy at Amazon.

Some meaningful quotes from this essay:

"Books...those old favorites of all ages that can still beguile me, though my head is bowed in the dust of grief and my heart is as sore as an open wound touched by a careless hand." (56).

"The vital thing is that you have your own favorite books that are real and genuine, each one brimful of the inspiration of a great soul.  Keep these books on a shelf convenient for use, and read them again and again until you have saturated your mind with their wisdom and their beauty.  So may you come into the true Kingdom of may you be armed against the worst blows that fate can deal you in this world." (59-60)

"One book through which beats the great heart of a man who suffered yet grew strong under the lash of fate is worth more than a thousand books that teach no real lesson of life, that are as broken cisterns holding no water, when the soul is athirst and cries out for refreshment." (60).

Favorite Quotes:

  • "I cannot live without books."  Thomas Jefferson (introduction)
  • "When I have a little money I buy books.  And if any is left, I buy food and clothing." Desiderius Erasmus (introduction).
  • "When we are collecting books, we are collecting happiness."  Vincent Starrett (18).
  • "The contents of someone's bookcase are part of his history, like an ancestral portrait." Anatoly Broyard (36).
  • "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention." Francis Bacon (322).
  • "Books are the windows through which a soul looks out.  A home without books is like a room without windows." Henry Ward Beecher (164)
  • "A little library, growing larger every year, is an honorable part of a man's history.  It is a man's duty to have books.  A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life." Henry Ward Beecher (164)

Recommended Books
  • Intoxicated by My Illness and Other Writings on Life and Death by Anatole Broyard
  • Comfort Found in Good Old Books by George Hamlin Fitch 

Monday, April 4, 2011

"So Many Books, So Little Time" by Sara Nelson

Published: 2003
Read: 2011
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 3
Review: Goodreads

Picked this up at the library after reading the inside jacket cover:
"...Sara Nelson - editor, reporter, reviewer, mother, daughter, wife, and compulsive reader - set out to chronicle a year's worth of reading, to explore how the world of books and words intermingled with children, marriage, friends, and the rest of the "real" world....She discovered that the books chose her as much as she chose them, and the rewards and frustrations they brought were nothing she could plan for."
A quick and interesting read.  My favorite chapter is called "Afterlife with Father".  Her reading of Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart brought back poignant memories of the discussions she and her deceased father had about the stock market.  Her feelings while reading:
"But what it made me feel was nostalgic and wistful and sentimental.  It reminded me yet again that what's in a book is only part of what matters; in the right circumstances and with the right history, just about any book can take you where you need to go, even if you could never have found that place on a map" and "it transported me to a dreamlike world....a world where a girl and her father sit up long into the night, drinking and arguing and talking about life."
What I can relate to:
  • Non-bookish husband
  • Loving a book by an author and buying every other book written.  (In my case, I loved The Once and Future King by T.H White which is about the Arthurian legend.  Went on Amazon and bought almost a dozen other books on this topic).
  • Staying up until the wee hours of the morning to finish a book. 
What I can't relate to (and envy):
  • Her insomnia - seems like she is routinely up at 3am and is able to get in several hours of quiet reading time before the day begins.
  • Her "library" - three walls lined with cherry shelves, filled with at least 3,000 books
  • Her "Rain Man" like ability to not only know every book she owns but where it is on the shelves.  (This would've have come in handy while at yesterday's local library's book sale as I bought a book already owned.  At least it was really cheap - only 50 cents).
  • Her job - paid to read books.
Favorite Quotes:
"Explaining the moment of connection between a reader and a book to someone who's never experienced it is like trying to describe sex to a virgin." (33)

"A books is a way to shut out the noise of the world.  It's a way to be alone without being totally alone." (39)

"Allowing yourself to stop reading a book - is a rite of passage in a reader's life, the literary equivalent of a bar mitzvah or a communion, the moment at which you look at yourself and announce: Today I am an adult. I can make my own decisions." (55)

"My books are my secret lovers, the friends I run to to get away from the daily drudgeries of life, to try out something new and yes, to get books are the affairs I do not have." (148)

"I kind of flit from one topic, one genre, and one author to another, depending on my mood and what's going on around me." (200)

Recommended Books:
  • Whitegirl by Kate Manning
  • The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
  • And Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman
  • Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
  • Stuffed by Patricia Volk
  • The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
  • Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue