I’d Rather be Reading

I'd Rather be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of The Reading LifeI'd Rather be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of The Reading Life
by Anne Bogel
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780801072925
Publication Date: September 15, 2018
Pages: 156
Genre: Books and Reading, Essays, Non-fiction
Publisher: Baker Books

 

So, I ended up finishing How About Never? Is Never Good for You? entirely too quickly last night and needed something else to read while waiting for sleep to claim me.  The bookshelf right next to my bed held this slim little tome and it felt just right.

And it was.  A slim volume of 21 essays about books, reading books, owning books, borrowing books, and becoming the books you read.  Each one well written and thoughtful, touching on subjects that any dedicated reader has faced before, be it library fines or a dearth of bookshelves and the space to keep them.

It was a pleasant, relaxing read that reminded me that slump or not, I’m a book nerd and will always, always be a reader.

Seven Kinds of People You Find in a Bookshop

Seven Kinds of People You Find in BookshopsSeven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops
by Shaun Bythell
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781788166584
Publication Date: November 5, 2020
Pages: 137
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Profile Books

In twenty years behind the till in The Bookshop, Wigtown, Shaun Bythell has met pretty much every kind of customer there is - from the charming, erudite and deep-pocketed to the eccentric, flatulent and possibly larcenous.

In Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops he distils the essence of his experience into a warm, witty and quirky taxonomy of the book-loving public. So, step inside to meet the crafty Antiquarian, the shy and retiring Erotica Browser and gormless yet strangely likeable shop assistant Student Hugo - along with much loved bookseller favourites like the passionate Sci-Fi Fan, the voracious Railway Collector and the ever-elusive Perfect Customer.


Having read his first two books, I was surprised when this arrived at how small it was.  But good things / small packages and all that.  It may be a small, slim volume, but it’s spot on and hilarious.  I’ve never owned a bookshop (yet) but I recognise these people from time spent in bookshops – and a library or two – everywhere.  I found myself reading most of it aloud to my husband, and we took turns naming those we know who fit Bythell’s descriptions a little too well, inside or outside a bookshop.

MT self-identified with type 3 of the Homo qui desidet or Loiterer, sub-type The Bored Spouse (though in his defense, he just buys his books way too fast).  I was relived not to have identified with the American sub-type of Family Historian, since I leave all that stuff to my mom, who is a first generation American, so comes by it honestly, at least.  I’d like to think I fall firmly in the bonus category of Cliens Perfectus as I generally enter a bookshop, talk to nobody, browse everything, and almost never leave without a stack, and the idea of haggling is one I find personally abhorrent, but then, doesn’t everyone think they’re the Perfect Customer?

All in all, a fun way to spend a few hours as long as you have a healthy sense of humor about humanity.

The Library of the Unwritten

The Library of the UnwrittenThe Library of the Unwritten
by A.J. Hackwith
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984806376
Series: Hell's Library #1
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Pages: 374
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

A great tale for anyone who loves books, but especially for those who fancy themselves future authors, struggling authors, or really, anyone who’d embrace the title of author in any form.

Myself, I’ve never found the title of author appealing.  My love of books is strictly that of the receiver of stories, and as such, some of the rhapsodic odes to unwritten stories was lost on me, though I connected with the idea of potentiality.

Regardless, once I got into the story, which admittedly took awhile, I was invested.  I thoroughly appreciated the author’s take on Christian theology and judgement, but had a hard time buying into the creative license she took with heaven on several different levels.  There’s a serious feminist vibe running throughout the narrative, which is fine, but for the record:  God is no more a ‘she’ than God is a ‘he’; God is Omni; God is all, and while it makes no material difference which gender pronoun one uses, the overt use of “she’ has always felt  petty to me. It was a small blip, but whenever it happened it yanked me out of the story, even if just for a second.

The author’s grasp of the mythology of the underworld felt less formed, but only if you really stop to consider; the logic of the plotting cracks a bit around the edges if you stop to consider how she’s got the bureaucracy of Hell set up.  Don’t think about it too much though and it works well enough.

The characters are well written, though Leto’s story is obviously the one that is the most fully developed.  This is the character the author thought most deeply about, or had enough life experience that bled through into his creation.  Which is both unfortunate and haunting, though the result is a character the reader can care about and cheer for.  To use Hackworth’s logic, Leto is the character most likely to leave his book.

Overall, an engaging story, an adventure.  There’s a second book out next month that I’ll happily read, and I hope this time around we’ll spend more time in the library itself.

The World Between Two Covers

Reading The Globe
by Ann Morgan

Published: May 05, 2015 by Liveright
ISBN: 9781631490675
Format: Hardback

 

[star]

 

Well, that’s over.  From the front flap of the book:

Prompted to read a book translated into English from each of the world’s 195 UN-recognized countries (plus Taiwan and one extra), Ann sought out classics, folktales, current favorites and commercial triumphs, novels, short stories, memoirs, and countless mixtures of all these things. 

The world between two covers, the world to which Ann introduces us with affection and no small measure of wit, is a world rich in the kind of narratives that engage us passionately: we meet an irreverent junk food–obsessed heroine in Kuwait, an explorer from Togo who spent years among the Inuit in Greenland, and a former child circus performer of Roma background seeking sanctuary in Switzerland. 

I was excited to read this book because I was looking forward to hearing about Morgan’s experiences sourcing native literature from each country and her thoughts about what she read.  After all, isn’t that what the title and flap seem to be offering?

Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.  What I got was a dissertation on reading globally, writing for a global audience and a whole lot of theorising about imperialism, racism, war and how they relate to writing and publishing.  The only time Morgan mentions her experiences with sourcing and reading literature from every UN recognized country at all in this book is when she’s using them as citations to support the idea she’s espousing at that moment.  As to her thoughts about what she read – they’re almost non-existent until nearly the end when she discusses her feelings about the perceptions of non-Europeans/North Americans of the British and the Yanks.

I’d have given this book 1 star, but the book does have merit; it’s thoughtful, insightful, and well-written.  If this is what you’re looking for, definitely check out this book.  But this wasn’t what I was looking for; I was looking for what was advertised on the packet and since I didn’t get that my rating is lower than the book objectively deserves.

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The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book
by Wendy Welch

Published: Oct 15, 2013
by St. Martin’s Griffin
ISBN: 9781250031617
Format: Paperback / softback | Trade paperback (US)

[star]

So here’s a deep, dark secret: I would love to own a bookstore someday.

I have this bookstore planned out in my mind almost to the last detail, although I sometimes fluctuate between whether to go all-inclusive or specialise in mystery fiction and also between all new books or a combination new/used.

All of this to say that when Nothing Better than a Good Book mentioned this memoir of a couple starting a used bookstore in a small Virginia town, I had to go out and immediately order it. This was a great opportunity to read about someone else’s experience trying to do the same thing I daydream about doing myself someday .

I found a lot of good stuff in here. A lot of things I knew, being the child of a shop (flower) owner and the wife of a business owner, but a lot of stuff too that I never took into account, like the amount of emotional baggage that can often accompany a crateful of used books or just how much a bookshop can become a community center.

There’s also a fair amount of philosophising most of which was interesting and some of it a little bit defensive but all of it mostly spot-on. Most of her defensiveness comes up when talking about ebooks and really, any bookseller would get defensive on this topic because people insist on viewing ‘ebooks vs. paper’ as a competition instead of what it is: a choice, an option. I understand where she’s coming from, but she protested just a bit too much.

This is solidly a memoir about starting a bookshop and it’s on the meatier side of the spectrum; it wasn’t a slog at all but it wasn’t a quick read either. I had sort of expected her to veer off topic once in awhile but the focus remained tightly on starting the bookshop and the first five years of keeping it running. I found it highly informative and interesting. Now if I can just get my husband to read it….

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Books

A Memoir
by Larry McMurtry

Published: Jul 08, 2008 by Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781416583349

[star]

There were so many things I didn’t like about this book, yet I still couldn’t stop reading it.

I’ve not read any of McMurty’s other books, although his bibliography is certainly impressive, but I have to believe they were not written in the same style as Books: A Memoir. If they are, I’m missing something.

As I started this book I kept thinking who writes like this? How did this make it through editing? About 25% of the way through I realised this was written as though it’s a straight transcription of a dictation: imagine someone you know, probably an older someone, sitting in their chair, telling you stories about ‘the old days’; the kind of stories where the teller gets sidetracked because he’s reminded of another story. That’s the narrative style of this book. There’s no timeline to speak of, no narrative cohesion. The book is 259 pages long and there are 109 chapters; a few chapters are no more than a paragraph and mostly just fleeting thoughts written down as they pass through.

I bought the book because I wanted memoirs of a bookseller and collector, but while I got some of that, I got a lot more “I” than I wanted. There’s a lot of matter-of-fact boasting about his accomplishments, his successes and a metric ton of name dropping. If the names were rain, we’d need an ark. Now, I don’t actually mind a bit of name dropping sometimes, if I have the first clue who the people actually are. But 90% of the names were other booksellers, traders, or scouts and were meaningless to me and a burden to keep track of. He writes, in chapter 101:

I’ve chosen, for the most part, to keep this memoir personality-free. Attempting to interest twenty-first-century readers in the personalities of (mainly) twentieth-century bookmen risks making this narrative more circumscribed than I want it to be.

Really? All due respect to McMurtry, but isn’t that something a writer should do? Does he think so little of me as a twenty-first-century reader that he thinks I can’t be interested in twentieth century bookmen? Were they that boring? Or can he just not be bothered because that would take the attention off himself? I gotta be honest, it feels like door #3 is closest to the truth. He must drop at least 100 names in this book and if any of them had any personality at all, it would have made this a much more interesting book.

In spite of all this, I never actually considered DNF’ing the book; I harbour a dream of someday being a book seller myself and as such, I hunger for first hand information about others’ experience. Sprinkled all too lightly throughout the 109 chapters were glimpses of just what I was looking for and I was eagerly forging my way through all the somewhat narcissistic horn blowing in order to mine these small gems. I was left at the end with the vague sense of getting what I wanted, but man, he made me work for it.

Something rotten

by Jasper Fforde

ISBN: 9781932416244

[star]

Thursday has left the Bookworld after 2 years and is transitioning back to the real world and not without a fair few hurdles. Goliath is aiming for classification as a religion, Kaine is one step away from ruling all of the UK as a dictator, Danish books are being rounded up and burned by order of the government and in her absence, Thursday was convicted of cheese smuggling. Her husband is still eradicated and she’s 20k pounds in the hole on her overdraft. Oh, and she has to keep an eye on Hamlet, who came out of Bookworld with her so he could find himself.

Oh, so many things to love about this book. In no particular order and without spoilers:

– Pickwick. Pickwick is always worth loving but Fforde makes her so expressive with so very few words. She made me laugh out loud at least once.

– This is not the book to be in if you’re Danish. Lots of satirical comedy surrounding the sudden discrimination against Danes (especially in the chapter headings). Because some of my best friends in the world are Danish, I think I find it a lot funnier than some might; Fforde just nails it.

– Neanderthals get a lot more page time.

– The fight in the hanger. No spoilers, but I’ll just say it was masterful literary chess.

– The fate of the world might truly rest on the outcome of a game.

This is the book that wraps up more than a couple of story arcs. Lots of answers and very few questions remaining. I’ll admit I missed the footnoterphone more than I would have thought, and I truly prefer the shenanigans of Bookworld over the shenanigans of Real Life. Not really a surprise. There was a bit that I think went too far and felt too convenient, but I can’t even hint at it without spoilers so I’ll leave it at that.

The ending of Something Rotten is what got that last 1/2 star out of me. It was… well, just read it for yourself. If you’re a Thursday Next fan, I expect it will get you in the same place.

Phantoms on the Bookshelves

By Jacques Bonnet

ISBN: 9781906694586
Format: Hardcover

[star]

40,000 books. Bonnet has 40,000 books in his personal library. At one point he had bookshelves in his bathroom, so he couldn’t use the shower and could only run the bath with the window open. He also had bookshelves in his kitchen, so no cooking with strong flavours could be done either. I’ve been looking at my 1300 or so books thinking to myself I’m staring into the face of a possible obsession, but 40,000?!? I suddenly feel quite well-adjusted.

I loved this book; it hit just the right note of chatty and philosophical, with so many quotable bits I just stopped trying to keep track – I’d have ended up reproducing the book itself. Unlike Books: A Memoir this is entirely about the books: collecting, reading, organising; what Bonnet says about himself might amount to 2 sentences in total if you threw in a few articles and punctuation.

My only, only niggle is the result of my own reading inadequacies: he drops a lot of titles into the text (of course), and most of them are ones I’ve never heard of and seem to be only available in French. This is entirely understandable, because Bonnet is French and this book was originally written and published in French. So I was left in a few places skimming over French titles that meant little to me; c’est la vie.

Speaking of this being a translation, I can’t speak with any authority, but I thought this was an excellent translation insomuch as I felt like the author’s personality came through perfectly; the narrative felt smooth and natural and Reynolds took pains at the beginning to explain how French titles would be translated to English based on whether or not an English translation of the book was ever published. A bibliography is also included at the back of books mentioned in the text.

This one is for the book collectors out there; those who love physical books and find tranquility in standing in a room surrounded by them. For you, this is a book worth reading (and owning, of course!).

Shakespeare Wrote for Money

by Nick Hornby

Published: Dec 01, 2008 by McSweeney’s
ISBN: 9781934781296

[star]

I’d been in the mood for a book about books and started reading The World Between Two Covers, but it’s turning out to be more a thesis of, than ode to, reading, so I switched to a sure thing and picked up Nick Hornby’s third collection of columns from the Believer magazine.

Shakespeare Wrote for Money covers two years, from 2006-2008, and purports to be the last one, as Hornby left the Believer after his September 2008 column. As it turns out the leave was temporary, as I already own his fourth collection, but this one does seem to lack the enthusiasm that over-flowed from the first two books. It was still highly entertaining and thought-provoking, but there was a hint, in comparison, of a going through the motions.

I still highly recommend it and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to the fourth collection; perhaps after his self-imposed hiatus he’ll be back in top form.

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Housekeeping vs. the dirt

by Nick Hornby

Published: Sep 13, 2006 by McSweeney’s
ISBN: 9781932416596
Format: Paperback / softback | Trade paperback (US)

[star]

I gave Hornby’s first collection of critical essays, The Polysyllabic Spree, 5 stars because I thought it was excellent. Well-written and hysterically funny, he writes about books like he’s a book lover, not a critic. I liked it so much I went immediately to McSweeney’s website and bought the next three collections. This is the second book and takes place pretty much where The Polysyllabic Spree leaves off.

Here’s the problem: I like this one even better. At the risk of blowing what little meaning ratings have, I sort of need another 1/2 star to add to the 5 I’ve already given it.

The 14 essays contained in Housekeeping vs. the Dirt are the same format as The Polysyllabic Spree – a list of books bought, books read, and a chatty narrative about his thoughts on those reads. But this time the essays are even smoother, like Hornby found his groove at this point. Also, and I’m sure it’s not coincidental to my added enjoyment, he had titles on his list that I’ve actually read (although he doesn’t discuss any of them in this book). He includes 4 excerpts from the books he read and loved, and one of them I’ve added to my own list (Assassination Vacation).

It’s going to be hard putting off diving directly into the next collection, but I’m trying to pace myself to string out the pleasure as long as I can. If you think you might enjoy critical essays that aren’t very critical and have a bit of fun at the expense of pretentiousness, I definitely recommend giving Hornby’s essays a try.

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