Monthly Archives: October 2012

Arranging Books

The move is complete in the sense that nothing of mine is at the old place, and everything of mine is at the new place and I only have keys to this new place, so it must be home. My bookcases are now all assembled. Many of them have many books on the shelves. I’m trying to arrange books as I go, but also feel need to get rid of boxes and just dump books on any old shelf.

Sometimes organizing books is a lot of fun, but other times it is a slow and painstaking process. Should all my C.S. Lewis books go together? Or should the theological essays go in theology and the children’s books with all the other children’s books. (Yes, I have two shelves of children’s lit. No, I have not got any children or nieces or nephews.) I have a section called (in my head) “The Women.” Should women’s biographies go there too, or should they be with all the other bios? So many questions, so little shelf-space.

How do you organize your books? Size? Colour? Genre? Author?  


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For the Beauty of the Church

For the Beauty of the Church is a collection of essays, most from presentations given at a conference in Austin, Texas about casting a vision for arts in the church. The essays are by pastors and artists and people who are both artists and pastors. They are very interesting. I’ve been reading the book on the bus to work over the last two weeks as I am part of an ad hoc committee working on connecting services with the arts better at my current church. I think you should go out and find this book and read it even if you think art and church don’t belong in the same sentence — maybe especially if you think art and church don’t belong in the same sentence.

A couple of days ago I read an essay that listed seven dangers to avoid in integrating art into the church. Number 1 was Bad Art. Of course, what exactly constitutes Bad Art is a debatable issue isn’t it? I find a lot of “Christian” art falls into this category. It is derivative, kitschy, or produced by rank amateurs. But there is little encouragement of growth and maturity in art forms in the church. If there is only one take-away for me from this book, it is the reminder that art takes time, practice, and intentional effort. It isn’t something dashed off without training or development. It is work. And it is also the work of the church to promote beauty, something that good art does well.

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Audio Books While Packing

I’ve talked about audio books in this space before. I don’t think that listening to an audio book is the same thing as reading, but I will concede that listening allows one to access the content of books in a different way. As I’m cleaning and packing and culling and doing all the things associated with moving, I’ve been listening to an audio mystery, In the Bleak Mid-Winter by Julia Spencer-Fleming. This is the first book featuring Rev. Claire Fergusson, an Episcopal priest in a parish in a small town in up-state New York. The book involves parish politics as well as bodies and mysteries. I am quite enjoying it. I shall have to investigate the rest of the series once the move is over.

In conversations around decorating my new place my friends think I am overly concerned with bookshelves. I think they don’t quite get it. The living room is the library. In a library, the shelves are very important. The shelves need to be placed first, and other furniture around the shelves. Why? Because once a bookcase is anchored to the wall and filled, it isn’t going anywhere very quickly. Also, the most exciting thing about moving is having more shelves, and the chance to arrange and reorganize my books. This is Very Exciting.

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One Year Later

I published my first post on this blog 22 October, 2011, thus this is the last post of the current blogging year. I am pleased to note that the year has brought 4,782 hits to the blog, and 54 people who signed up to get an email when I post. This means some people read what I write. This is good. It is also a little frightening.

I started blogging for a few reasons, the primary one being to help me be more intentional and disciplined about writing. I’ve been writing intentionally, but I don’t know if it is always disciplined writing. What I post are essentially first drafts, which I then sometimes edit after I re-read them weeks later, or after someone notes errors in the comments. “Essentially first drafts” means I edit as I type — I’ve re-written the first two sentences in this paragraph two or three times already — but I don’t read the whole, or let it sit before I post. I’m not sure whether this is common blogging practice, or whether I’m a crazy person, or if I should stop with the first drafts and write somewhere else then cut and paste.

I’m still in the process of moving, which means that posts this week may be filled with the joys of packing books, the joys of unpacking books, the technical details of bookshelf placement, and how to tell when you have too many books. But can you ever have too many books? And on that note, I am off to continue cleaning in my new space. A rabbit used to live there. It left some little presents in some corners. Isn’t that nice?

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Familiar Books while Moving

As previously mentioned in this space, I am moving. While I think this is a good thing, it is an unsettling process to move. Moves involve culling books and possessions, encountering new people and situations, and adjusting one’s schedule and routines. While I’m not moving a huge distance (just over 3 km by any road route), there is a certain amount of chaos and instability in the process. In an attempt to keep some things in my world familiar, I’m my current read is a re-read. The book I chose to re-read for this move is Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, partially because I’d been thinking about it all summer. I’m not sure exactly why I was thinking about this book all summer long. Little snatches of the book kept popping into my head. It wasn’t always the same scene either. Haiku opens the book, so someone trying to write a poem would remind me of Bobby Shaftoe (really, that’s a character in the book) and his cultural exchange with Goto Dengo that began in a sushi bar. The book centres on code-breaking and information processing, and for some reason that kept coming into my head over the summer. The settings, cross-country drives, banking crises, all these made me think of Cryptonomicon. So I’m re-reading it.

I love re-reading this book as it has so many things, including theological references, in it that I haven’t seen yet. There is a lot in this one. Here is a theological reference I saw last night for the first time. Bobby Shaftoe meets his detachments chaplain while in a large meat locker (“the size and temperature of Greenland”) separating a frozen pig corpse from a frozen human corpse (long story):

They are all working away silently when a new voice interrupts. “Dear Lord,” the voice begins, as they all look up to see a man standing nearby, hands clasped prayerfully. His words, sacramentally condensed into an outward and visible cloud of steam, veil his face. His uniform and rank are obscured by an Army blanket thrown over his shoulders. He’d look like a camel-riding Holy Land prophet if he were not clean-shaven and wearing Rape Prevention Glasses.

That whole sacramentally condensed words part is great!

The last time I moved I re-read Girl Meets God. The time before that, it was The Bourne Identity. The first book I read in the apartment I moved into before that was a new book to me, Contact by Carl Sagan. It was a connection with my aerospace engineering past as I moved into my seminary and theological education future.

What books do you chose during unstable times?

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Movies before Books?

Sometimes a movie points me to a book. On the weekend I watched “The Hours” which I quite enjoyed. I know the movie is based on a book (The Hours by Michael Cunningham) which is based on a book (Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf). So many layers. Anyhow, I’ve read neither The Hours, nor Mrs. Dallowaybut now I’m much more likely to read both. I watched “Possession” before even realizing there was a book called Possession by A.S. Byatt, and now I think that is the Best Book Ever. The BBC serial adaptation of Pride and Prejudice helped me re-read the book by Jane Austen which I’d initially thought tedious. That book gets better every time I read it.

Which movies enhance your enjoyment of books or introduced you to books?


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Digital Backlists


The Guardian, fount of all sorts of interesting articles about books and reading, published a piece about the digital backlist by Anna Baddeley last week. Apparently publishers, realizing they have lots of possible e-books in the form of their backlist, have been digitizing these lists. The problem, one that I’ve lamented here, is that all marketing attention is focussed on new books, on the latest and so-called greatest. Baddeley describes this attention in the article:

An author’s latest is always “their best yet”, while every debut is heralded with messianic zeal. The side effect of this is that any book more than a year old seems dusty and irrelevant.

This blog celebrates backlist books, those that may seem dusty and irrelevant. (Of course sometimes I talk about new books because who can resist talking about J.K. Rowling!) Apparently these books are online, but can be difficult to find. Baddeley suggests that what we need is a new kind of online store for these books.

Amazon is great when you know what you’re looking for but hopeless for browsing. This is a problem for backlist titles, where readers might be in need of a chaperone. There is no category on the Kindle store for “interwar travel writing” or “1940s noir” or even “classic erotic fiction”. A gap in the market for a virtual “secondhand” bookshop?

As a person who works in a bricks-and-mortar shop, I can attest to the need people feel for chaperone’s when looking for books. I think what is actually needed is confidence and patience when looking for books. Many people have neither of these qualities. They are sure that there is some expert (usually they mistake bookshop staff for experts of this kind) who can instantly tell them which book will solve all their research/information/entertainment needs.

What I want when I walk into a second-hand or other bookshop is books that are arranged in some way, space and light enough to read the titles, and time to browse. The books need not be minutely categorized, but reasonably put into general areas (fiction/mystery/science fiction are one possible place to start) and then arranged within the section, usually by author’s last name. There needs to be space and light enough to see the books. One particularly crowded and messy secondhand bookshop that I frequent has great prices, but I only buy books from certain shelves which I can easily access and browse. It is better for browsing if there aren’t loads of people around, and browsing takes time.

I can’t imagine what a browse-friendly online shop of any kind would look like, especially a bookshop. Online shopping by its very nature seems to require some knowledge of what it is you are looking for. I am not at all a fan of buying things online for the very reason that you cannot browse and have a good look at a book to see if it is what you want. People sometimes don’t special order books in our shop because they really just want to have a look at the book before they buy it. What features might a browse-friendly online bookshop have?

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Another Reading List

I  found another list of books you must read. Cleverly, this is a personally adaptable list, and so almost everyone will read something in all the categories. It also has a really good reading chair picture which I will not replicate here. I will tell you about my 10 must-reads though, and you can figure out your own.

1. Every single book by your favourite author — I’ve got a few authors whose entire list I’ve read or am trying to read. These include P.D. James, Ian Rankin, Dorothy L. Sayers (even the translations of Dante, but those are still to be read).

2. The one that a friend recommends even though it’s in a genre you’ve never read — Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. These are mysteries with a twist, and the TV series True Blood is based on them. I don’t usually read vampire books but my friend the Street Pastor was quite enthusiastic about them, so I gave them a try. I’ve read the first five, but now I think I’m done.

3. The one by the debut novelist you aren’t familiar with.What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn. I saw a book review of this and went and got it based on the review. I seldom do this. It turned out to be a good read.

4. The books that mean something to your parents. I’ve read lots of books in this category, both fiction and non-fiction. I’ll stick with the fiction for now. For ADad, anything by Nevil Shute or Alaister MacLean. For AMom, I’ve got her old set of L.M. Alcott books in matching covers. I’ve also read them all. 1Mom is still passing me books. William Faulkner was an author I hadn’t read until she listed him as a favourite. Room we both thought spectacular.

5. At least one book that was written in another language (preferably a translated edition…unless you can speak the language. In that case, show off) — Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. It is the only Big Russian Novel I’ve read so far. People keep talking about Dostoyevsky, but I haven’t gone there yet.

6. The one with the really cool cover that caught your eye – The Firm by John Grisham. Really. I bought it because I liked the cover. I saw the cover everywhere because it was a bestseller, people were reading it, but the plain cover with the gold lettering caught my eye. There are others as well, but that is the one I clearly remember.

7. The one you found on a park bench/train carriage — I’ve not found a book in these locations yet, but I’ve found lots of freebies by the side of the road. Still in my to-be-read pile in the found category is A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews.

8. The one a struggling writer begs you to read — I can’t tell you about this one because it isn’t published yet, and the writer in question also begged me to keep it a secret. I’ll never tell.

9. The “adult” novel that was just ahead of your reading level when you were 13 — When I was about 13 I started reading Dorothy L. Sayers. I “get” her better now. I thought Gaudy Night was tedious then, I think anything but that now.

10. The Young Adult novel that one of your kids loved — I don’t have kids of my own, but other people’s kids recommended (and I read) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Hunger Games (and sequels) by Suzanne Collins, and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, though Snow Crash isn’t really a YA book. I taught high school and still work with youth, so I get a lot of recommendations in this category.

What books are on your personalized version of this list? Do tell.

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On not being a Christian alone

Recently I’ve heard, and heard of, more than one speaker at various Christian events claim that what people really need to do is just read the Bible, and not worry about commentary or other kinds of teaching. This view is not isolated to one particular group of Christians, but shows up at different times and places in different ways. I would argue that the claim is unbiblical as well as unhelpful. It is also illogical, but logic doesn’t seem to worry many speakers of any and all persuasions.

Let’s start with the logic. A speaker is generally teaching. He or she wishes the audience to think about the issues or ideas under discussion, and come to some conclusion about them. He or she usually thinks the audience would be better off if they came to the same conclusions that they hold themselves, though usually speakers may claim this is not the case. I am a teacher. Privately, most of the time, I think my students should think like me. Most of us, teachers or not, think the world would be a better place if everyone thought as we do. Thus, logically, a speaker is telling his or her audience to not worry about teaching and just to read the Bible without external commentary. What is the speaker doing? If they really thought that, they should sit down and be quiet.

Second, it is unbiblical. You cannot read any part of the Bible without seeing that there are people who teach others about God. Jesus was a teacher. Paul was a teacher. The prophets and priests taught people. There are teaching Psalms. Parents teach children, as evidenced by Proverbs. Teachers are everywhere, and though there are certainly false teachers, having zero teachers and everyone reading the Bible themselves is nowhere envisioned.

Third, it is unhelpful. One of the distinguishing marks of Christianity is the community of faith. As a Christian I am a member of the body of Christ, a community which extends through space and time. I am linked to Christians from the past and future, as well as Christians around the world who I have never met. To suggest that I would do better to read the Bible myself without consulting other members of the body of Christ is not at all helpful, and presents Christianity as an individual belief system rather than the vital connection of all of us to Christ and to one another. We live in an individualistic society, and need to work hard at Christian community, not be discouraged from it in any form.

You cannot be a Christian alone. It just doesn’t work. Read lots of books that other Christians write, even if you don’t agree with them. See that they love Jesus and are connected to you as fellow members of the body of Christ. Enjoy the messy diversity which is the Church.


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Water Hazards

Books and water don’t mix. Ebooks, paper books, if you add water to either, bad things will happen. I’ve never had a water-added experience with eBooks so far. The following stories are about paper books.

1. Clean reading. A couple of years ago I was house and dog sitting. On the weekend, I was looking forward to a quiet day with the dog and my book that I was very excited to have found at a used bookshop, The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. I also had to do laundry. I piled The Curse of Chalion on top of my laundry and went down two flights, loaded up the machine, then returned to the main floor for some couch time with the book and the dog. I couldn’t find the book. Most mysterious. Where could it possibly be? I did what I sometimes do when I can’t find things, retrace my steps. Went upstairs. I remembered putting the book on top of the laundry — OH NO! What if I put the book in the washer?? Ran down to the basement. Yup. There it was, in the front-loader washing machine going around with the clothes. I felt really smart. I posted a self-depreciating post on facebook and all my friends laughed at me. One of my friends was much more sympathetic after she realized it wasn’t a geeky theology book I’d accidentally put in the washer. Anyhow, I had other books to read that afternoon, and it turned out that TCoC lost its cover, but after drying (not in the dryer!) was ok to read that once. I’m still looking for a replacement copy, though, as I’d like to read it again.

2. Flushed reading. This past Friday I stopped at a shiny new service centre on my way north to camp for the long weekend. I took my current reading with me as I was planning to read and eat after I used the ladies. Inside the stall in the women’s washroom my book took a tumble and a couple of bounces later ended up in the (clean and unused) toilet. OH NO! I fished it out very quickly, laughed at the weird bounces that landed it there, and mopped at the cover with some toilet paper. It hadn’t gotten very wet because I was right there and grabbed it almost immediately. The bookmark did wick some water into the middle of the book. It turns out that the new high-powered hand blowers work really well on paper as well as hands. I dried the book off using the hand dryer (got some weird looks in the process) and all seemed fine when I sat down to read it a little later. I’m not sure that The Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies deserved to be flushed, but that is what really happened. It survived the ordeal much better than TCoC.

The moral of the story: books and water don’t mix. Don’t try this at home.

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