Life in Literature

All right, I’ll bite. I was so charmed by Meg‘s post (here) that I couldn’t resist. Without further ado: my life in titles of books I’ve read this year.

I am: A Difficult Woman (Bike Snob would have been a good second choice)

I feel: Almost Somewhere

I currently live in: Houston: It’s Worth It

If I could go anywhere, I would go: Down the River to Mountains of Light

My favorite form of transportation is: Racing Through the Dark (darkness optional)

My best friends are: Bad Luck and Trouble

My friends and I are: Dream Team

The weather is: Fire on the Mountain

My favorite time of day is: Jeeves in the Morning, Before the Rain

To me, life is: The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic

I fear: Death of a Valentine

The best advice I could give: Touch

Thought for the day: Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, Hayduke Lives!

How I would like to die: Walking It Off, To the Last Breath

My soul’s present condition: Personality, Prehistory and Place

I’m featured on Scene of the Blog!

I am flattered to be featured in a great fun meme over at Kittling: Books today!

Scene of the Blog is a series in which Cathy displays photos of bloggers’ spaces where they read and write. I think she has a great concept here: it’s interesting to think about where we do our work, and so many bloggers have really lovely spaces. You can see *my* reading and writing homes here – and see the instructions within that post for more Scene of the Blog posts. Oh yes, before you ask – of COURSE the dogs are pictured. :)

Thanks again, Cathy! What fun!

2011: A Year in Review

Well! I have tended to appreciate other bloggers’ wrap-up posts, so I thought I’d join in. This was my first full calendar year of blogging (I began in October 2010) and I definitely read more books this year than I have in a number of years, maybe ever. Although I’ve always been a big reader, this year was exceptional for several reasons: working in a library filled with tempting books; blogging about them; discovering audiobooks for my commute; and taking on a book review gig with Shelf Awareness, to name a few. (See some of my SA book reviews here.) I read 139 books this year.

Here are a few statistics…

  • 17% were nonfiction
  • 46% were by female authors
  • a whopping 63 of the 115 novels I read were mysteries; 10 were historical fiction and 11 were classics, the rest a smattering of short stories, drama, poetry, romance, fantasy, and “other.”
  • 38 were 100-300 pages; 80 were 300-500; 15 were over 500 pages, and 6 were under 100. Husband asked how many pages I read this year, so for his sake we’ll estimate, using the midpoint of the ranges (which may throw us way off but what the heck), and say I “read” some 50,580 pages this year! (keeping in mind that some were listened to and not read…)
  • 31 books, or 22%, were audiobooks – look what good use I made of my commute/driving/gym time!
  • 60% of the books I read came from the library! the vast majority came from the library where I work, with just a few coming from the Houston Public Library. another 24% came from publishers for review, leaving only a combined 22 books that came from my personal collection, books I was loaned, books I purchased, or (those treasured few) books I was given as gifts.

What fun.

Of these, I did of course have favorites… you can refer back to my premature Best of 2011 post of December 1, to which I’ve since added 11/22/63 and The Home-Maker, for an unwieldy list of 22 (!) books I loved this year. What can I say, I’m full of gushings. In honor of this Year in Review post, I have culled it down (painfully) to my Favorite 11 Books of 2011 (thanks Thomas for the idea, and for sending me two (!) of the books on the list*):

Whew! That’s a year! I see other bloggers discussing reading goals for 2012, and I don’t really have any to contribute… I think I’m going to pass on reading challenges this year. (You may recall that of the three I signed up for in 2011, I completed two and quit the third. I also participated in several readalongs: the Maisie Dobbs series, Gone With the Wind, and Their Eyes Were Watching God.) If anything, I’m most tempted by the TBR Double Dare (to read only books already on my TBR shelves from now til April 1…!), because my house is so full of books I want to read that I feel like I’ll never get to them all! But even if I didn’t encounter new books through my job that I want to read and probably should so I can talk with patrons about them, there’s my book review gig, which I love. So. No challenges. If anything, I’d like to make a dent in my TBR shelves at home; and part of that dent-making may come in the form of giving books away unread. Sigh.

My real reading goal in 2012 is to continue to read a diverse selection of new and old books; to continue blogging; and most importantly of all, to continue enjoying it. The day that reading feels like work will be a sad day, and the day I need to take a break; here’s to not finding that day in 2012!

Do you have reading goals this year? What challenges have you signed up for? (Don’t twist my arm…!) Did you do a year-end post that I may have missed? Please do share!

The Versatile Blogger Award

I would like to thank TBM, of The 50 Year Project, for thinking of me for the Versatile Blogger Award!

This is kind of a fun way to receive the award, since TBM would have been one of my top choices for it in return. I enjoy the travel photos combined with books and movies.

Here are the instructions:

  1. Nominate 10-15 fellow bloggers
  2. Inform the bloggers of their nomination
  3. Share 7 random things about yourself
  4. Thank the blogger who nominated you
  5. Add the Versatile Blogger Award Pic on your blog post

In nominating other bloggers, I’d like to be very low-pressure about the chain-letter-style requirement to keep passing it on; not all bloggers are interested in that, which is totally cool as far as I’m concerned. I will go ahead and name some other blogs that I feel are deserving – take the compliment! And pass it on if you like, but only if you like. No pressure.

So here are seven randoms facts about me:

  1. I am afraid of roller coasters and driving fast. But I do some things other people find frightening, like racing on the velodrome and mountain biking.
  2. I usually dress my pasta with salad dressing instead of red sauce. Weird, right?
  3. I like little dogs better than big ones.
  4. I never learned how to walk in high heels.
  5. I rode my bicycle to my wedding, as did Husband and my parents and the majority of our guests.
  6. I’m a morning person.
  7. And because it’s been the focus of my life lately: I recently had knee surgery and can’t wait to get better and get back on my bike!

And here are some blogs I enjoy for their versatility:

  • My R and R is actually a tumblr so I don’t know if that counts precisely, but I’m making this award my own. :)
  • Coffee and a Book Chick blogs about books (what can I say, we lean that way here at pagesofjulia) but life & personal things as well, and I like the new “A Walk About Town” meme.
  • My Porch does some great book blogging, and social commentary, and I never get sick of seeing pictures of Lucy (Thomas’s dog).
  • TERRIBLEMINDS does some book blogging, more writer’s blogging, social commentary, plenty of curse words on all subjects, and lately blogs about his baby sometimes too – I don’t always get excited over reading about people’s babies, but he’s so delightfully irreverent about it all.
  • write meg! blogs about reading, writing, and life.
  • books i done read is too hilarious to miss, ’nuff said.
  • cakes, tea and dreams is a displaced Texan who blogs about books as well as life’s small but important details.
  • The Feminist Texican [Reads] focuses on books addressing feminism, gender issues, and Mexican-American/border/cultural topics, but also an interesting range of subjects beyond that; I’m always interested to see what book-I’ve-not-heard-of-before she’s going to cover next.
  • useless beauty is another hilarious blog, purportedly covering quilting/knitting/crafting stuff, but in actuality just a hilarious look at many aspects of life in Cambridge (which turns out to be surprisingly foreign to this Houston girl. or maybe that’s not surprising at all?).
  • So Far From Heaven is definitely well-described by the word “versatile” – go check him out.
  • Finally – not that she needs my accolades – who could forget The Bloggess? Also laugh-out-loud funny.

Thanks again, TBM! Keep up the good work, yourself!

Happy Blogoversary to ME!

Hey y’all! I just wanted to say… it’s been a year since I started blogging here, and I’ve had a ball. I’ve read & reviewed some 100-odd books, and written over 400 posts. I have had many friendly visitors and commenters and encouragers! And I’ve learned a great deal. So here I am, a year in, and… I’m going to keep doing this. :) Thank you so much for stopping by, for commenting, for reading, and for being out there. Fellow bloggers, you have set such examples for me and helped me become a better blogger myself. Meme hosts, thanks for including me! Good times! Here’s to another year!

presents in the mail!

What great fun! I got presents in the mail this week! There is some irony here: I came across a post many months ago in which Thomas of My Porch observed, as a thing that puzzles him:

Mailbox Mondays. Who is sending all of these books? Is there an international directory of mailing addresses that I don’t have access to? I don’t necessarily want to get books, but I sometimes want to send books. But I feel like sending books unsolicited would seem a little creepy. How does one ask for an address without seeming to be a stalker?

This resonated with me because I, too, had always wondered where all these books come from. Since then, I’ve begun reviewing books for Shelf Awareness, which means they send me books in the mail frequently. But! Here’s the irony. My first personally-sent, gifted books from a fellow blogger have come from Thomas himself! You may recall that my wonderful two little dogs won Thomas’s Best Picture of a Pet Reading Brookner contest (yay). Well, I got books!

Thank you so much, Thomas, for not only sending me these two books that I am very interested in getting into, but also hand-selecting them for me! I asked nicely to have my reading horizons broadened, with a hint regarding Barbara Pym, and Thomas has chosen for me: Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle (what an interesting title, what on earth??) and The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield. I believe the latter is the one he mentioned as “a Persephone title, but unfortunately not in the Persephone edition” – although it is a Cassandra edition, which makes it a women’s-name-edition, for whatever that’s worth. Of the former, Thomas wrote me that “not many (if any) write about it, but I really liked it.” Thomas, I will be pleased to be one of not many to write about it. :) I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it terribly soon because I’m rather reading-busy right now, but I do have a vacation coming up! (We’re headed to the Florida Keys because I hurt my knee so we can’t do the intended mountain biking trip in Colorado. Thus, more reading time.) So, reviews of both of these books are to come on this blog, if not absolutelyrightnow. And I feel like such a lucky girl to have these books personally selected for me. Again, Thomas, many thanks.

the WSJ-YA uproar to which I am late

I had a patron approach me in the library to ask my feelings on this issue.

The background is… more than a month ago, the Wall Street journal published this article by Meghan Cox Gurdon, which immediately became a huge deal. I would encourage you to go read it, because that’s the best way to know what it says, but in a nutshell, this children’s-book-reviewer lady notes an increase in “darkness” in young adult (YA) literature, and comments that darkness is not good for our young adults. While she has some supporters, there was overwhelming indignation among bookish/literary/librarianlike internet dwellers. They have mostly said, in a dark world, kids can actually benefit from reading about situations that are like those they are facing. Also, you shouldn’t censor. The author of the original, offending article has since published, also in the WSJ, a rebuttal.

I resisted entering the fracas, mostly because I feel my opinion is unnecessary (because I’ve read some other excellent responses) and because I don’t feel terribly well-qualified to have an Important Opinion, not being a YA librarian or really much of a reader of YA. Even when I was a YA. But on the other hand, this blog rather exists for the publication of my Not Very Important Opinions, and so I’ll throw it out there.

So. I had a patron approach me here in my (definitively adult) library and ask for my thoughts. I tried to tell her why I’m not qualified to have one but she pushed. So, I told her I agree with those opinions that say, children in rough positions need to read about said rough positions. The cited instances of “darkness” include stories about rape, prostitution, violence in general, poverty, and cutting (self-mutilation). Young people living these situations are in a position to benefit from having them handled wisely in literature, and I appreciate that such things are available. My patron turned out to be (as I understood her position) arguing that children living in darkness need to read about light – happier, brighter situations – to which I say, sure! Great! Let them read that stuff, too! She proceeded to argue that there is too much dark and not enough light; the proportions are wrong; at which point I have to beg off, because my very limited knowledge of current YA doesn’t allow me to debate this point. I don’t know the proportions, quite frankly. I support the idea of diverse options, for sure – in all things, in fact. (For example, there should be more than two political parties in our electoral system.) Lots of options, please. But if you prefer for your YA to read only happier, lighter books, I don’t think that should necessarily limit others – who might be interested in those “darker” ones – in their access to those choices.

I have to take issue with one of Gurdon’s conceptions (from the original article).

In the book trade, [guiding what young people read] is known as “banning.” In the parenting trade, however, we call this “judgment” or “taste.”

I’m afraid she’s confused about “banning.” Or maybe she’s just being imprecise in the phrase, “guiding what young people read.” There are several ways in which parents, guardians, or whoever can guide what young people read. For example, they can pay attention to what their children read, and direct those choices. The Maryland mother whose personal experience begins Gurdon’s article was doing just this. She wasn’t banning anything; she was exhibiting judgment and taste, and guiding her daughter’s reading choices. This is the kind of guidance I recommend; I encourage parents who are concerned about what their children read to pay attention to what their children read, and limit it as they find appropriate. Banning, on the other hand, is what parents and various community members attempt when they submit complaints to public libraries (for example) requesting that certain books be pulled off the shelves. I am in favor of “judgment” and “taste” – I may not agree with yours, but that’s fine as long as your judgment applies only to your child. I am against “banning,” which involves limiting other people‘s access to books. See the difference? Banning is not synonymous with parenting.

I don’t think rape or cutting in books leads to rape or cutting in life. I think it has the potential to offer some relief or catharsis or therapy. Certainly some children don’t need therapy for these traumas; absolutely Gurdon is correct that not all teens are rape victims, thank goodness! But I’m not sure that reading about even those traumas that are outside their experience isn’t necessarily instructive and good, too. (I wasn’t involved in teen violence or gangs, but still found S.E. Hinton’s oft-cited The Outsiders amazing; it was one of my favorite books.) I won’t push these books on your child, certainly, but I fail to see how the availability of these options is a bad thing. Again, I’m all for more options. If I accept my patron’s thesis that there is too much dark and not enough light in YA today, then by all means, let there be more light, in the interest of a multiplicity of options.

But, the vampires I could take or leave, actually.

A Blog Award

I won something! First of all, I would like to thank Alexis over at Bunny Ears & Bat Wings for this honor. No, YOU’RE sweet, Alexis!

This award comes with a few light-duty instructions for its recipients:

  • First, thank (and link to) the person who sent you the award. (Thanks again, Alexis!)
  • Next, share seven randoms thoughts about yourself.

    I had twenty-something hamsters when I was a kid.

    I played soccer starting at age 5 or so, through college.

    I’ve always wanted to travel to Greece.

    I used to work as a bicycle messenger.

    I would love to go back to school and study and learn… forever.

    Even though I’m mostly a mountain biker these days, the clean, sharp lines of a track bike are still my favorite aesthetic. Not a hipster fixie, mind you, but a classic track-racing bike.

    Husband and I spent last Thanksgiving in Belgium just because our favorite band was playing in the same small town as my favorite beer bar. (Or this one could just read: I’m a lucky woman!)

  • Thirdly: pass this award along to 15 blogs you admire.

    Now, I know some people are too busy to deal with these awards. If one of my favorite blogs falls into this category (and I’m sure some do), please just take the compliment and move on! I’m not trying to chain-letter you, but I do want to recognize the blogs I am most impressed by. Please check these folks out…

    Stuck In A Book
    Book Journey
    My Porch
    TERRIBLEMINDS
    books i done read
    cakes, tea and dreams
    The Feminist Texican [Reads]
    useless beauty

  • Contact these bloggers to let them know about their award.
    Coming right up!

my target audience

Yet again, Sheila at Book Journey gives me something good to write about. This is another topic that I was just ready to write on! Thanks Sheila.

Her post from last Monday was Who Do You Write Your Book Reviews For?, and it’s a good question. She says that she was turned off, at first, at the idea of blogging just for the sake of other bloggers. It sounds like she felt it was stagnating, for the same books to make the rounds of the same bloggers; where’s the difference she hoped to make? I can sympathize, although I do think that the non-blogging public is listening, too.

So it’s a good question: who do we write for? I started my blog mostly as a way to keep track of what I’ve read and what I thought about it, with my library patrons in mind. I think I considered briefly advertising it here at the library, as a reader’s advisory service, but that idea went out the window pretty quickly. This isn’t a library blog; it’s my personal reading blog. I enjoy having visitors from all walks of life (vocations, locations…) and I really enjoy just writing about books and my personal thoughts; my audience is whoever it turns out to be. I originally just conceived of it as a tool to record my reading for me! But I love the idea that I might help someone else make decisions about what to read or what not to read (what might be suited to one’s tastes). And to the extent that I write about the events in my personal life, it’s also a way to keep friends and family up to date. I enjoy writing and this helps me to develop my “voice” and keep it honed. An all-purpose blog, perhaps.

What about you? Why do you blog, and who do you see as your target audience?

working the network

Today’s theme post, as hosted by Armchair BEA, is my favorite book blogs and bloggers. This is kind of an easy one to write! You can see my blogroll over to the right –> and down a bit, but just above it you can see my *faves*! I’ll just give a quick description of each.

books i done read, by Raych, is mostly a book-review blog. I love Raych’s voice: she’s very funny and conversational and feels like someone I could hang out and laugh with. She reads a very diverse array of books: children’s or YA, classics, romance, fantasy-ish, nonfiction, all kinds of things. She exposes me to things I’d never have known about otherwise, and she makes me giggle.

Book Journey is hosted by Sheila, who is very prolific; I think she averages close to two posts a day! She reviews a great many books and a great many audiobooks, too, and she’s very down-to-earth. I like that she includes personal details, too; it makes her feel like a friend, rather than a headless book-review machine.

Stuck in a Book is a thoughtful British blog by Simon, who focuses more on quiet, British and/or women’s fiction and a bibliophile’s choice of nonfiction. He writes about the emotions a book evokes and quotes representative passages.

On a different note, TERRIBLEMINDS is another thing entirely. It’s not really a book blog at all. Chuck Wendig, freelance penmonkey, is a writer who apparently can’t get enough of writing, because he blogs daily, mostly about the hows and whys of writing for a living – something pretty foreign to me, but I find him very entertaining. Caution! This blog is R-rated for language and sexual content and all kinds of disturbing concepts, but he’s great fun if you’re up for it.

write meg! is another writerly blog, but she’s pretty heavy on the book reviews, too. Meg writes about her private life and travels and personal reflections some, which I appreciate (and I often find I can identify with her) as well as her reflective book reviews.

The Feminist Texican appeals to me for reasons that perhaps should be obvious: we have quite a few things in common. I like her feminist slant on the books she chooses to read as well as the lens through which she reviews them (although she’s not militant about it; it doesn’t take over) and I love Frida Kahlo, too. :)

cakes, tea and dreams by Katie is about books and also about Katie’s life in Boston as a displaced Texan. Perhaps that’s part of why I identify with her voice. I like her book reviews but I like the other stuff at least as well.

Well, there’s a short list for you of blogs I enjoy; some are more purely bookish than others but we’re all whole people, right? Not just bookies? (Is that blasphemy?) I tend to like at least a touch of the personal in the blogs I follow.

Thank you all for your lovely blogs. :)

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