Monthly Archives: June 2012

Half-way Through 2012

Six months of 2012 are over as of tonight. It is time for a little year-so-far in reading reflection. I pointed out in January that I set vague goals for the year. Of the vague goals listed in that January post, I am happy to report that I am on track with the whole at least 10 books/month thing. I’m not sure what my non-fiction ratio is at this point, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t 1/3 books. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries, and I was slowed down in the non-fiction department by a book of philosophy, specifically epistemology, that took me a long time to read. I discussed my slow speed in reading this work with the Norwegian. We decided that there are just some books that are too dense to read quickly, and that is ok. It may be frustratingly slow, but there is really nothing you can do about it. I’m done that book now, though, so maybe the non-fiction reading will pick up. We’ll see.

I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries because those are my preferred brain candy. This means that I’ve been working hard at other things, so when it comes to reading for fun, I want the brain candy. Whodunits are just the thing. I’ve discovered a new author that I like, Deborah Crombie, so I’m busy reading through her back list. I also found a new series by Ann Granger with a character I like a lot, Fran Varady, so I plan to find more from that series. I’ll probably find some science fiction for the summer as well. I’ve got some in my to-be-read piles but they haven’t quite made it into the Read-Right-Now pile.

In my head there are a few books I want to read: IQ84, The Help, Light in August, and a few others that are a bit more literary. I imagine I’ll run out of patience for the mysteries sometime in the next month and need something a little more substantial then.

In the non-fiction department, I’ve got lots to choose from. Of course I’ve got my rotating theological reading for my hour in the morning with coffee. I think I should probably rotate a memoir or so into my relaxing reading pile. Plus I’ve got a book to help me figure out how to be a better introvert, and one to officially discover my strengths with a trademarked and pass-coded method.

The book that has stuck with me the most so far this year is A Scientific Romance by Ronald Wright. I think that I’ll probably finally read The Time Machine because of Wright, plus another book on time and theology that Wright referenced in A Scientific Romance. It is always interesting when reading a novel to find a reference to an obscure book that you have in your to-be-read pile. Does it mean I am interested in time and time travel on multiple levels? Or is it just odd?

What is on your summer reading list? And what is your book of the year so far?


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New List of 100 Books!

Courtesy of the Playwright, here is a list of the top 100 children’s books as listed by real readers polled by the School Library Journal. True confessions: I’ve read fewer than half of these, but many have been published since I was in the target age category. I was very pleased by the top five. I think that is a great top five. I really like the inclusion of From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I love that book, then and now. I found a used copy a couple of years ago and passed it on to a younger reader so that she wouldn’t miss it.
The poll conducted by the SLJ to compile this list asked people to list their top ten children’s chapter books. I am a bit removed in time from this kind of reading, though I do occasionally get some good tips on newer books in this category, so this list reflects some more recent reading as well as remembered favourites. Here are my top ten, though the order may shift from day to day.
1. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. For me this is all about finding family origins. It was also the first Narnia book I read, thus still a sentimental favourite.
2. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Mystery, an in-charge oldest sister and living in a museum. Totally awesome.
3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Read as an adult. The first time I read the book, a random young woman (10 or 11 years old) in a coffee shop informed me that it was a very good book. I agreed.
4. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I started carrying a notebook and haven’t stopped.
5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Couldn’t bring myself to see the movie, I wanted to keep my own mental pictures.
6. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This was my favourite of the Little House books. I re-read them all, but this one especially.
7. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Found a paperback copy of this in adult life and think I still have it tucked away on my shelf. Survival and adventures in the woods.
8. The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton. I don’t think there are any Blyton books on the list from SLJ but she was never widely available in North America. I think I liked the adventure series the best of hers. I used to read during school lessons, book hidden under my desk. This was one of the books I read in that furtive way. I did read it more than once, but once was in class. Can’t remember if I got caught with this one though. I had the thing down to an art, listening just enough to answer questions when asked. I think it annoyed my teachers…
9. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. A Fantasy series that showed me that there was more to the fantasy universe than Lewis and Tolkien. This whole series is good. I blazed through them in about a day, then re-read them.
10. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. I just read this in the last year, but it makes my top 10. Double-plus good as my friend The Constant Reader told me when she recommended it.
What are your top ten?


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Best Question Yet

Over in the UK, Jen Campbell has been collecting Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops. All of us bookshop workers have our stories about customer oddities. This week though, I had a great question from a customer. I really enjoyed talking with him and figuring out what he was looking for. He asked me for a story book by a famous author from Canada. I was a bit mystified. He wasn’t sure that famous was the word he was looking for — English was a bit of a struggle for him. Famous was correct — he explained that he wanted a book by a famous Canadian author, better yet from Toronto, but he didn’t know who they were. “Like Shakespeare,” he said. “Ah,” I said. “Well, I can tell you who I think is like Shakespeare but not everyone will agree.” This seemed fine.

Off we went to the only Margaret Atwood book in the store. Remember, I work in a theological bookshop. Literature is not our speciality. We do stock The Year of the Flood, though, mostly because some Old Testament instructors (myself included) have used it in courses. I assured the young man that the book was indeed a story, and not too difficult. He told me he found Wuthering Heights difficult when he read it in university in Japan. I told him I hadn’t read WH as I don’t find it appealing. (English majors may now start wailing and bemoaning my education.)

I asked him why he was looking for this book, was it to help him with studying English? No, it was to help him to get to know about Canada and Toronto. “Hmm.” I said. “This book is about the future, and may not be what you are looking for.” I gave him a bit of paper with Margaret Atwood Cat’s Eye and Michael Ondaatje In the Skin of a Lion written on it. He did buy The Year of the Flood as I sent him off in search of other famous Canadian authors who write about Toronto. I hope he enjoys it. And the others too, if he finds them.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to think which other Canadian author is most like Shakespeare. If not Atwood, who? Do tell me what you think.

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In February, I saw an interesting article on the way we talk about books on the internet. Lev Grossman amusingly discusses the non-criteria by which books – and possibly other works of art – are judged.

The more I try to figure out how to talk about books well, with criteria, and explain what I mean, sometimes the more difficult the whole thing is. What is bad writing other than non-grammatical writing? Are there times when my grumpiness means I can’t read something well? Or are there times when I’m in such a good mood everything is good writing?

What criteria do you use to say whether a book is good or bad when you read it?

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Cool (On Words and Their Use)

Yesterday and today there were substantial discounts on books at the bookshop where I work. I picked up a book I’d had my eye on for some time: Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. I read the introductory material and ten pages of the first chapter on the bus ride home yesterday. I’m hooked. McEntyre’s point is that language matters. It is a life-giving resource, but we can mis-use it. McEntyre wants us to be active in preserving and restoring language, using words with care and precision, not tossing them out as though they were worthless. In the first ten pages (all I’ve read remember) McEntyre decries the over-use, and so degradation, of words including wonderful, great, fantastic, incredible, and awesome. McEntrye most regrets the mis-use of awesome, as did my father, who often said “Only God is awesome.” Now, though, saying God is awesome doesn’t have the same ring as it once did. Is God awesome like those shoes you just bought, or like the dinner you ate at that new restaurant, or like the new song you really enjoyed on the radio? No. But since we use awesome for all those occasions, we make the comparison. Awesome has lost its particular nuance.

I stopped reading after McEntyre’s list of (great, wonderful) hyperbolic words we over-use because I thought about my dad and his reflections on the mis/over-use of awesome. Then I tried to think of more words that I might misuse or overuse in my own particular dialect. (Do all of us have our own particular ways of speaking? Can we call that a dialect? Probably not. There, I’ve already misused a word!) I came up with “cool” as a word I use without reference to its dictionary definition, and in fact, I probably don’t use “cool” to speak of temperature at all.

I thought of two ways I use the word “cool.” First, it can mean “I understand you, have no objections to what you have said, and in fact like what you have proposed.” Example conversation: Friend to me – “Let’s go to Alternative Grounds for iced coffee.” Me to friend – “Ok, cool.” Second, cool can mean “I really like this object or person, he/she/it is interesting and fun.” Example: I download iAnnotate, like what it does, and describe the app as So. Cool. I don’t think I use cool to mean anything else. If I’m talking about the weather, I’ll say it is not warm, or chilly, or cold. I’ll say a bit cold not cool. I’ll say that hot water or coffee has cooled off, but I won’t say the coffee is too cool to drink. It is too cold to drink. I’ve lost the temperature reference of “cool” in my world of words. Hmmm. This is interesting.

What words do you over- or mis-use?


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Maps and Books

There is an academic study of maps in fantasy novels coming out in January 2013. So. Cool. I LOVE maps in books. If a book has a good map in the front, it might be a reason I buy it. Maps were part of what hooked me on Narnia back in the day. Maps are important, not just in fantasy novels, but also in mystery novels. Sometimes the map can be the plan of a house, or of a building where the murder took place. I do get very irritated if the text of the book and the map don’t match up. Someone messed up something. This happened once in a mystery book I read. I think it put me off the author.

To be fair, I also like maps not in books. I prefer paper maps to digital maps, though the maps online are pretty cool and I do use them a lot. But paper maps have a bigger scope. You can spread them out and get an overview by standing back, then not loose that sense of the whole when you look at details. That is what I don’t like about online maps, though I’m getting used to them.

I’ve started combining online maps and reading. I’m just beginning to e-Read, as I’ve mentioned before. I borrowed an e-Book from the public library and there was a map in it! Yay, a map. BUT, I couldn’t zoom in on the map. I could see that the map existed, but the scale in the EPUB format was just too small to read. Irritating. But with a sweep of the fingers, I was in my map program and Pouf! a map of the area of London, the setting for the murder mystery was before me. I went back and forth between the book and the map program a lot. This worked because this particular author used a real neighbourhood in London as her setting. It doesn’t work if the (unreadable) map at the beginning of an epub is not of a real-world place. I hope that this non-zoom thing doesn’t become an issue in future e-reads.

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Talking about books

I had dinner with the Playwright last night. We sat on a patio, drank dark beer, and discussed many things. One of the things we usually talk about is books. We went to a bookshop when we finished dinner, and that was when we started talking about books. This is slightly unusual — usually books come up sooner in our discussions. Oh wait, a Henri Nouwen book came up at dinner as a side bar to the conversation. Usually our book talks begin with “What are you reading?” and it doesn’t matter who asks the question. The other person answers and some discussion of that book follows. This leads to other books previously read, or a discussion of books both of us have read. It is all very pleasant. The Playwright has an MA in English Lit, and I do not, so she has a different reading view than I do. I *think* I tend to be more forgiving in initial assessments of books and writing styles, but it could also be that we look for different things in our reading. Tonight our longer discussion was about The Hunger Games trilogy, where I’ve only read book 1 and the Playwright has read them all.

What am I reading? Currently I’m reading Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. There’s a huge waiting list for IQ84 at the library, so I decided to try Murakami’s backlist first. I like the book so far. There are some stylistic things that bug me. The translator uses sentence fragments a little too frequently for me. I am not a fan. These are the kind of sentence fragments that I find when marking papers, the kind that students don’t realize are incomplete sentences. I think the translator knew what he/she was doing, but I’m still a tiny bit irritated. Of course, the fragmentation could faithfully reflect something that is there in the original. I don’t read Japanese, thus cannot tell.

I’ve just finished a couple of mystery books by Deborah Crombie in the Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid series. The two I read are from much earlier in the series. I quite like the books. The first one I read had no body in evidence for a really long time. I began to think no one would be murdered in this murder mystery! I rather liked that. I’m now in search of all the books that came before the two I read, which were A Finer End and Kissed A Sad Goodbye.

What are you reading?


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Connections between books

I just finished The Retribution by Val McDermid. It is a mystery featuring Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, recurring characters in 7 of McDermid’s mystery books. This book followed up on an earlier Hill/Jordan mystery, The Wire in the Blood, the first McDermid book I ever read. It hooked me on this series, and on McDermid’s work more generally. I was amazed that she killed off a key character in Wire. Now in The Retribution the killer Hill, Jordan, et. al. caught in Wire escapes from prison and sets out to revenge himself on Hill, Jordan, and others he thinks have betrayed him. It is a bit of a wild ride. I quite enjoyed the ride. I might have to go back and re-read Wire in the Blood because it is good, and because it has been a while.

I wasn’t expecting the connection between Retribution and Wire, but was quite pleased by it. I like it when authors bring in characters or use settings from other books, even when they aren’t in the same “series.” Of course one expects the overlap in books in the same series (though the degree of overlap can vary widely even in a series), but it is nice when it happens in places that are not quite expected. The author has an imaginary world, and populates it with characters who show up in each other’s space from time to time. McDermid does this in some of her other books. Characters or situations make a drive-by or background appearance. John Grisham also did it in some of his earlier books — the FBI director was the same in Pelican Brief and The Firm. Those are the two I can think of off the top of my head. Do you know an author who re-uses background characters or situations in different books, not in the same series?

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Exciting times in reading academic articles

I am doing sermon prep for tomorrow. (Yes, I’m a preacher from time to time.) Because of the way my week currently works, the bulk of the serious sermon prep gets done on Friday and Saturday. Yesterday I did a lot of work on my (new) iPad, because I wanted to see what I could do with it for this kind of work. I loved being able to access journal articles via the university library system — but was disappointed in the inability of any of the pdf readers I had to adequately annotate these articles. I finally decided to purchase iAnnotate, which a friend recommended to me very highly. Love. It.

I’ve only used it for about half an hour, but iAnnotate is fantastic. This makes me excited to read all the pdfs of academic articles I’ve got lurking in my to-be-read folders. The program synchs with Dropbox pretty seamlessly as far as I can tell. (I’m also relatively new to Dropbox and all its possibilities.) And the ease of picking up tools to make notes or highlight things is great! This has also opened my eyes to the possibility that I shouldn’t only go for “free” programs on the iPad. I’m reading recommendations pretty carefully, and would prefer the ability to try something out for free, but I think I’m going to be investing in some apps to make the iPad a really good tool for writing and working.

(I gotta say that I don’t really like the WordPress app so far.)

Back to sermon prep. Psalm 105: History 101.

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When do you stop reading?

This has been a week of questions. Here’s another. What might make you stop reading a book? Do you stop for moral reasons? Because it isn’t interesting? Because it is badly written? And what is the tipping point? What makes you say No, I’m just not going to finish this book despite the time I’ve already invested in it. Is there a tipping point the other way, where you’ve invested so much in the book that you are going to plow through until the end?

Usually if I stop reading something it is because something else has come up that is more pressing or more interesting. I might find a book heavy going and put it down for a break with the intent to go back to it, but then sometimes I never do. I seldom stop reading a book decisively, that is, without intending to pick it up agains someday. I’ve managed to get through some books that are poorly written and in the end uninteresting. But if I find those qualities in a book, it means I’m not going back to that author again (see my notes on Lev Grossman).

I’m actually a little more interested in the question of whether anyone stops reading for moral reasons. Is there something in a book, some level of violence maybe, that compels you to stop reading because of the book’s immoral tone? My dad would stop reading a book because of moral issues, and I saw him actually trash at least one book. I’m not sure exactly what his tipping point was in books. I read most of the novels he kept in the house (Nevil Shute & Alistair MacLean were his favourite authors), but didn’t get to read the ones thrown away, so had no comparison point. What is your tipping point, if any, on the moral scale?

Are there other reasons you might stop reading a book? Do tell. I’m interested.


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