How Reading Changed My Life (Re-read)

How Reading Changed My LifeHow Reading Changed My Life
by Anna Quindlen
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780345422781
Publication Date: November 15, 2001
Pages: 85
Genre: Books and Reading, Essays
Publisher: Penguin Random House

THE LIBRARY OF CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT is a groundbreaking series where America’s finest writers and most brilliant minds tackle today’s most provocative, fascinating, and relevant issues. Striking and daring, creative and important, these original voices on matters political, social, economic, and cultural, will enlighten, comfort, entertain, enrage, and ignite healthy debate across the country.

This was a re-read – I meant to grab Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman (which I’ll be re-reading next), but once I started I was happy to keep going.

This is one of those rare books (extended essay, really) that I rated higher on my second read.  While I mainly agree with my thoughts from the first read, I didn’t find myself annoyed by the things that annoyed me the first time around.  (My original review is on the next page.)

Overall, just an excellent essay on reading, re-reading, the importance of reading Important Texts, and just the joy of being a bookworm.

My original review is here.

My Family and Other Disasters

My Family and Other DisastersMy Family and Other Disasters
by Lucy Mangan
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780852651247
Publication Date: June 16, 2009
Pages: 260
Genre: Essays
Publisher: Guardian Publishing

'Hi Dad.'
'Who's calling, please?'
'It's Lucy ...Your daughter.'
'Ah, yes. Which one are you again? The one that reads or the one that shops?'

For Lucy Mangan family life has never exactly been a bed of roses. With parents so parsimonious that if they had soup for a meal they would decline an accompanying drink (soup is a drink), and a grandmother who refused to sit down for 82 years so that she wouldn't wear out the sofa, Lucy spent most of her childhood oscillating between extreme states of anxiety.

Fortunately, this hasn't affected her ability to write, and in this, her first collection of "Guardian" columns, she shares her hilarious take on everything from family relations to the credit crunch and why organized sport should be abolished.

I so thoroughly enjoyed Lucy Mangan’s writing in Bookworm that I wanted to try some of her other titles.  I ordered two of them, and this one was the first to arrive.

A collection of essays/columns written for The Guardian that covers a multitude of topics, My Family and Other Disasters easily met and exceeded my expectations.  I hoovered these down, laughing and often – very often – reading parts aloud to MT; her writing is so good he rarely even minded when I did.

This is a woman who does not hold back her inner misanthrope; she lets it rip and in the process tears a strip off anyone and anything she considers irrational or stupid.  I might have a tiny book crush on her, but only because I agree with her about most all of it, and she makes me laugh.

Mangan writes for the UK Guardian so there’s a highly British slant to most of her essays, but many of her topics cross the international barriers – especially the essays pertaining to television; I don’t watch TV, but the essays are old enough to refer to the shows that aired when I did.  Saying that, they were also the essays I enjoyed the least, although I whole-heartedly agree with her views on Seinfeld.

All up, a delightful collection.

No Time to Spare: Thinking about what matters

No Time to Spare: Thinking about what mattersNo Time to Spare: Thinking about what matters
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781328661593
Publication Date: January 1, 2017
Pages: 215
Genre: Essays
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

From acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin, a collection of thoughts — always adroit, often acerbic — on aging, belief, the state of literature, and the state of the nation.

Ursula K. Le Guin on the absurdity of denying your age: “If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub.”

On cultural perceptions of fantasy: “The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is ‘escapism’ an accusation of?”

On breakfast: “Eating an egg from the shell takes not only practice, but resolution, even courage, possibly willingness to commit crime.”

Ursula K. Le Guin took readers to imaginary worlds for decades. In the last great frontier of life, old age, she explored a new literary territory: the blog, a forum where she shined. The collected best of Ursula’s blog, No Time to Spare presents perfectly crystallized dispatches on what mattered to her late in life, her concerns with the world, and her wonder at it: “How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.”

Previous to this book I knew of Ursula K. Le Guin, but had never read her work; she’s primarily known for her science fiction writing and I’m known for not liking science fiction.  But I’d read something about her somewhere that left me with the impression that she had an interesting voice outside her known genre, and I’d heard great things about this collection of essays, so I bought it a couple of years ago, and it’s sat on my TBR ever since.

Recent events however, have left me ping-ponging back and forth between light reads and chewier reads in an effort not to dwell on all the things that are outside my control at the moment.  One of those things outside my control at the moment is my attention span, or the lack thereof, so I thought this a perfect time to pull this one off the shelf (which was within reach, thankfully).

I enjoyed this book, with a few blips along the way, from start to finish.  Le Guin was a very talented writer with a timeless voice, and even when I didn’t agree with her, I enjoyed reading what she had to say.  Of course, the essays about her cat Pard were my favourites, but those about ageing put things into a perspective I’d never seen better articulated, and I wanted to go back in time and hug her for her essay on belief vs. thought.

I’m still unlikely to ever read her fiction, but there’s at least one more collection of essays I’d love to get my hands on, if only to visit with this wonderful author and her mind one more time.

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.

Nature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural World

Nature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural WorldNature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural World
by Andrea Hart, Ann Datta, David Williams, Hans Walter Lack, Judith Magee, Sandra Knapp, Simon Werrett
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780565094645
Publication Date: September 1, 2019
Pages: 240
Publisher: Natural History Museum

Almost a year this book took me to read.  I just checked my start date, and if I’d known I was so close, I’d probably have put off finishing it just for the nice, round number.  Then again, probably not: the passive guilt of this book sitting on my ‘reading’ pile was wearing me down.

None of that is meant to be a condemnation of the book, so much as a result of the nature of the book itself.  Nature’s Explorers is a collection of essays written by a selection of contributors who all either work for the Museum of Natural History, or are closely associated with it.  Each essay covers one of history’s great natural explorers and their contribution to science and the arts.

All of the expected players are included: Darwin, Humboldt, Hook, Gould, Audubon, Banks, etc. but there are quite a few lesser known naturalists and explorers too.  Two women get essays, including Margaret Elizabeth Fountaine, the late-1800’s lepidopterist who inspired Deanna Raybourne’s character, Veronica Speedwell, in her latest historical mystery series.

As always in a collection of essays written by a variety of people, some are better than others.  All are detailed snapshots of the subject’s life and accomplishments, encapsulated in 3-5 pages and surrounded by gorgeous, richly coloured illustrations and reproductions of their work.

A gorgeous book worth owning, but not one to be rushed through.

Ex libris

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common ReaderEx Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
by Anne Fadiman
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780374527228
Publication Date: November 25, 2000
Pages: 162
Genre: Books and Reading
Publisher: Farrar Straus and Giroux

Anne Fadiman is--by her own admission--the sort of person who learned about sex from her father's copy of "Fanny Hill," whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate's 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice. This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story.

Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father's 22-volume set of Trollope ("My Ancestral Castles") and who only really considered herself married when she and her husband had merged collections ("Marrying Libraries"), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud. There is even a foray into pure literary gluttony--Charles Lamb liked buttered muffin crumbs between the leaves, and Fadiman knows of more than one reader who literally consumes page corners.

Perfectly balanced between humor and erudition, "Ex Libris" establishes Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.

I loved this from first word to last. A collection of essays first published in Civilization, each about some facet of the love of books or the written word.

Her first essay, Marrying Libraries started the collection off on a high note with me; after 10 years together, I still can’t quite embrace the marriage of my books with MT’s: he has his shelves and I, mine. I’ve only recently (last weekend) catalogued his books in my database software; until that point neither of us knew what he had or didn’t.

Other highpoints of the collection for me included Never Do That To a Book, My Ancestral Castles and Secondhand Prose. Fadiman’s essay on plagiarism was…interesting. I’m fairly sure it’s heavily satirical, (it’s 10 pages long and has 38 footnotes, some rather absurd) but reading it, it is clear that she has strong feelings about the theft of other people’s work. I was left with the feeling that she felt conflicted about such a sticky subject. She has also written an outstanding essay on compulsive proofreading, whose title includes those handwritten edits that are impossible to reproduce on a screen with nothing but a keyboard. But it’s one of my top three favourites of the book.

Ex Libris wraps up with a small chapter of recommended reading; a list of books about books; a list I’ll be using in the next few days as I look for more titles to add to my TBR.