Monday, October 29, 2007

My bookshelf

Ever since we bought this house, five years ago, we'd been struggling for a good way to store books in our bedroom. We have a very long wall at the foot of our bed, but it's interrupted by an air intake for the A/C unit, which means we can't cover it over. We couldn't figure a creative way to build in bookshelves while avoiding the intake.

As a result, most of our books resided in an old bookshelf that B had built years ago, but when we turned the guest room into Campbell's bedroom, the bookshelf had to go. As a result, all the books moved into our closet onto the top shelves, which quickly reached the point of collapse.

Then I went to IKEA, which opened in Austin last winter and has quickly become my favorite store, other than Target, and I found my dream bookshelf. Making it really, really perfect is that it has an open back, which means that we can put it in front of the air intake without a problem. As a thank you to B for putting the bookshelf together with me, I even gave B a few shelves for his Stephen King books.

And I have a cubby just for my grammar/style/editing collection. B laughed and called me a geek because I have enough of those books to warrant a whole cubby just for them.

As big as the bookshelf is, it doesn't hold all of our books. Some still reside on the top shelves of the closet - most of them are B's science fiction and horror books (we have VERY different tastes in literature), but quite a few of mine are ending up there as well.

The girls are developing quite a collection of books, too. I cleaned up their bookshelf the other day, hoping to weed out some of their books. But other than the give-away books from fast-food chains, I didn't get rid of any. Their collection is slowly creeping up the bookshelf; soon we'll have to find new places to store the knick-knacks that are on the upper shelves.

Some day I hope to have a house big enough to have my very own library. My great uncle Donald had a lroom that had been converted to a study that was filled to the brim with books. The house my grandparents lived in when I was little had a real library, with a big fireplace and leather chairs and shelf after shelf of books. I never read any of them, but I loved curling up by the fire in one of the big chairs with my own books. I think sitting by the fire there fostered my love of reading.

In the meantime, I'll continue amassing my collection and hope for a bigger house with more space for bookshelves.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


I first heard David Rackoff on NPR, reading a piece about camping in the wilds of Alaska. I laughed out loud at the story, so I went out and bought his book. I didn't laugh so much. The stories are entertaining, but not laugh out loud funny, at least not to me. They read like he was trying to be another David Sedaris, who is a friend of Rackoff's, but he couldn't quite get there.

While Rackoff's written word doesn't crack me up, his spoken word does. I've heard him read many times on NPR's "This American Life," and his pieces can send me into hysterics. One time I was running while listening to him read a piece about his adventures in TV watching after years of not watching any. I was laughing so hard I couldn't run. I literally had to stop and stand on the sidewalk, doubled over, to catch my breath from laughing. I'm sure people driving by thought I was a loon.

Perhaps I should download his books onto my iPod - maybe I'd find his stories funnier if I listened to him read them to me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Books I haven't finished

When I was in college and graduate school, I mastered the art of reading several books at a time. I had too many to read to be able to devote all of my attention to just one book. I still read books that way; I'm likely to have two or three in progress on my bedside table at any given time.

It took me much longer, however, to accept that I didn't have to finish every book I started. In school I had to because I would likely have to write a paper or exam on the book, and the professor expected me to have read them all the way through. I slogged through an alarming number of books as a non-student thinking that I was going to be tested. Then I was reading We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates, and I just hated the book. I hated the characters; I hated the writing. I dreaded picking it up to read. Then one day I realized it was just stupid and pointless to keep going. So I put the book back in the bookshelf and didn't pick it up again until it was time to donate it to Ella's school's used-book sale.

Right now I have several books in progress that I haven't yet decided whether I'll finish.

One is a biography of Edith Wharton, who is probably my favorite writer, by Hermione Lee. I tried to read Wharton's autobiography, called A Backward Glance, and got frustrated with how shallow it was. She didn't reveal much about her childhood or troubled marriage or life as a writer. It was mostly a recitation of all the people she met and had dinner with. I quit reading when she devoted pages to her car rides with Henry James. So when Lee came out with seemingly exhaustive study of Wharton, I splurged and bought the hardcover edition. And now it's just sitting on the table. Lee is certainly exhaustive in her research; I know lots about where Wharton lived and the books she may have read, but I can't say that I've actually learned anything about Wharton that I didn't already know. Perhaps one day, when I'm out of other things to read, I'll pick it up again.

I quit reading Elinor of Aquitane by Allison Weir out of frustration. Elinor was one of Europe's most powerful women, but so little is known about her. Weir's book largely consists of speculation about what Elinor may have done and where she may have gone. I want first-hand documentation, please. Give me letters, personal accounts, something other than speculation based on items listed in royal accounting books.

I also gave up on Wars of the Roses, also by Weir. She tries to cover too much ground in too short a book and ends up not doing a thorough job on any of it. Plus, those damn Brits keep changing their names, and I just can't keep up. One minute someone is the Duke of X, then he gets promoted or knighted or whatever, and then he's Earl of Q. I can't remember everyone's multiple names, and Weir doesn't help with tracking them at all.

I think those are the only books I've left unread lately. It's a much shorter list than I anticipated. Next up, maybe, the list of books I want to read.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I've been working my way through this series of books, picking up a book here or there from the bookstore or borrowing one from my neighbor. It's the perfect kind of series to read in this way - a little bit here and a little bit there. I've finished book four, and I don't remember which incident happened in which book, but I have the whole series of events socked away. I don't have any problem picking up the next book and jumping right into the story.

The books are set in Botswana and center around Precious Ramotswe, the first lady private dective in the country. The stories revolve both around the cases she solves and her personal life, which includes a fiance, Mr. J.L.B. Matekwoni, and two foster children.

The language and dialogue are absolutely charming throughout. And while some of the storylines are heartbreaking - the backstory on the foster children made me cry - the books are just delightful.

I think I may pick up book number 5 this afternoon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Knitting Rules - Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Mom gave me the book for my birthday in an attempt to convert me to the dark side of sock knitting. It took a few more months before I went over, but after I knit my first sock, I read the book. I'm glad I didn't read it before, because it would have scared me off. Not that the book isn't funny, because it is. It's just that I don't think I could ever become THAT obsessed with knitting and yarn. I don't have a stash of yarn hidden away for future projects, and I only have one project cast on at a time. Then there's that whole chaper on knitting a swatch. Yikes!

Still, it was a helpful read and, obession aside, it did make me want to knit more. I like that she included basic recipes for hats and socks. I have some baby hats I need to make, and I'll be able to do so using her recipes.

If you want to read more of her stuff, check out her blog at It's a riot.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Morning, Noon and Night

Lisa R. and I went to see a show called "Stories Left to Tell," which was a celebration of Spalding Gray's life and works put together by his wife. Various writers/performers/singers read selections from Gray's works, including his diary entries after the devastating car crash that destroyed his body and his already fragile mental health. The stories spiralled downward, leading to his last journal entry, left for his wife and family, before he committed suicide. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when the theater went dark. The lights came back up, and the show ended wonderfully though. One of the performers read a piece from this book about a fun evening in the house, with Spalding, his wife, and their children dancing to Chumbawumba in the living room. The performer turned on a boom box and played the song, while in the background there was a screen with a video of Gray on stage demonstrating the wild leaps and turns his kids were doing. That's when I truly lost it and started sobbing. I now can't listen to "Tubthumping" without bursting into tears, mourning the loss of such an original voice.

What makes me even sadder, though, is that his three kids don't have a dad. Ever since I had kids, even hearing about kids who have lost a parent can push me over the edge into a crying jag. I don't know why, but it does. So now I tend to avoid news that might include stories of that nature. Gray's youngest son, the baby in the picture on the cover of the book, was at the show, and Lisa and I got to meet him. I just wanted to hug him, but instead I muttered something foolish about how nice it was to meet him. I was dumbstruck by a 10-year-old because I was afraid I'd start crying all over him.

Lisa bought this book before the show and loaned it to me when she finished. It took me a while to read it, because I was afraid it would be sad, and at that time I couldn't handle any more sadness in my life. Instead, it is just a wonderful account of a man who came to fatherhood late in life but then embraced it with all he was worth. Every child should be so lucky to have a love story written to them in this way. They will be able to read this book and know just how much they meant to their father.

I need to give the book back to Lisa, because one of my pet peeves is when people don't return books I loan them and I don't want to be guilty of committing the same sin, but I've held onto it because I flip through and read sections here and there at random times. It makes me smile. I suppose I should just go out and buy my own copy, but given that she bought this one from Gray's son, the book holds more meaning for me. Hmmm. Perhaps I should I buy another copy and give that one to Lisa. She'll never know the difference. And since I know she doesn't read my blog, despite repeated reminders to do so . . . I won't have given up the secret.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Yokota Officers' Club

I recently saw the author, Sarah Bird, perform at a show called "Dick Monologues," which isn't as profane as it sounds. Bird's reading, about her stint as a romance novel writer, was one of the highlights of the show for me - I laughed until I cried. I left the theater wanting both to meet Bird and read one of her books.

Since I figured there was no way I'd get to meet and have a cup of coffee with her, I went to BookPeople the next day to pick up one of her novels. I bought Yokota because it was the only one of hers that I'd heard of. I was hoping for laugh-out-loud funny, like Bird's essay in the monologues, but the book wasn't funny. I was disappointed at first, but I got caught up in the story of the family and its military travels. The book may not have been a comedy, but it was a touching, well-written story of a family struggling to survive.

Next trip to the book store, I'm picking up another of her books.

Eat, Pray, Love

I read this on Liz's recommendation. I took it with me on my trip to DC, and it was the perfect vacation book.

I was a bit worried at first. I don't have anything in common with her. I'm not a well-paid writer; I'm not facing a devstating and painful divorce; I'm not able to take a year of my life off to live in three different countries.

Turns out I shouldn't have worried. My favorite section was the one set in Rome. I would love to spend three months eating my way through Rome, sampling every gelato place I can find. I didn't really like the section set in India. Spending months in a hot, spartan ashram learning how to reach a trascendtal state isn't my cup of tea.

On the whole, though, I enjoyed the book, often laughing out loud.

My first book entry

Several years ago there was an article in the New Yorker about a man who read a book a week for a whole year, and I thought to myself, "I bet I could do that." Then I came to my senses and realized that while I read a lot, reading 52 books while raising two kids (this was pre-Campbell, obviously), freelancing, volunteering and keeping up with the house was probably a bit ambitious. So I decided to go for 26 books in a year. I journaled my reading over at my old blog. It was an interesting exercise, both the reading and the journaling. If you're interested, check out the book lists for 2004 and 2005. I was going to cut and paste the journals here, since my old Web site is pretty much defunct, but the entries were just too long.

This past week I was tagged by Barb with questions about books, and it got me thinking about my reading habits. I decided that maybe it was time to start a new reading journal. So now I'll be posting about the books I read here. And if you have any recommendations on good read, I'd love to hear about them.