Category Archives: Rantings

On Traveling with Books

Anchor 2010

I made the most important decision of my upcoming trip to Spain a few days ago- what book to bring. I go most places with a book in my bag. Heaven forbid you are caught somewhere with nothing to read. I think I have nightmares involving that scenario. So, I leave for Spain on Wednesday and tucked in my carry-on bag will be The Angel’s Game by my newest literary obsession Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It is the prequel to my favorite book of all time The Shadow of the Wind. It is set in Barcelona so I felt it was quite appropriate for the trip. It took me a long time though to decide. I also considered a few other books as well. For a while I had D.H. Lawrence‘s Women in Love in my mind but having never read The Rainbow I felt it was a bad choice. Then I shifted to wanting to bring a Neil Gaiman novel. I absolutely fell for American Gods (find my review here) so I thought he would be great to bring along. I read the back of all the novels I had on my shelf and decided he wasn’t quite right for my trip. Finally, a bulb went off over my head. I had purchased The Angel’s Game about a month ago and stuck it under my coffee table since I ran out of room on my bookshelves. It would be perfect. It has the right tone and I feel that since I know all the characters already I can jump in and out of it very easily. Whether or not I get a chance to finish it will not matter. I will certainly enjoy the detailed descriptions of Barcelona during the early half of the century. Maybe I’ll actually be able to visit some of the places he describes. I’m not entirely sure that where he discusses is real but maybe, just maybe.

What do you like to read on a trip? Do you plan for it like I do? Or is it just last minute? What was the last book you read on vacation? Or do you leave the books at home?

See you later, see you soon.

On the Read-In at Bogart’s

 

 

 

I am doing a bit of shameless self-promotion this week. Sometimes it must be done. I read an article a few weeks ago about how to keep a small bookstore thriving. One of the many suggestions was to host literary events. I decided a read-in would be perfect for our little shop. You’ll have to sign in and sign out including which book you are going to read. After reading for at least 1 hour you’ll receive a coupon for a free USED book. You can immediately choose one to take with you or take the coupon to use at a later date. I am really looking forward to seeing how many people come out to read. I set up an event page on Bogart’s facebook which you can find here. Please sign up and make it out if you can! Also, feel free to invite as many people as you wish. Let’s make this a really big deal.

Have you ever participated in a read-in before? Or any literary event? Tell me all about it!

See you later, see you soon.

On Non-fiction books

My favorite book on the mind

I think my obsession with non fiction began with biographies and histories but has since grown since I have matured. When I was younger I would go to the library to find biographies on the people that I was learning about in school. I believe this little habit came from the fact that my parents always took us to historical sites as kids so I grew up always loving to learn about people and places in depth. I also always got a book when we’d visit places so a good amount of my biographies came from visiting important places. For example, when we visited Ford’s Theater when I was 12 I got a biography of Lincoln. Or upon visiting Civil War battle sites (something my father was particularly fond of doing) I’d get a book that traced the battle from its causes to its outcomes. I loved these books. I was a history nerd in school because of them. When I was a senior in high school I took the AP history class and was the only person to pass the AP exam. (In a side note, the kid that grew up to become a history teacher did not pass. We were not friendly and I took great delight in rubbing his nose in it. HA!) My love of biographies eventually led to other things as well.

When I was in high school I broke my collar bone and had to spend my gym period doing other things. Being the “library girl” had its advantages at this point because instead of writing essays on gym related topics (what in god’s name could THAT have entailed?) I was given permission to “help” the librarians. Instead, I was able to sit in the library and read as much as I liked. It was then that I stumbled upon my great love for science books. I was reading a biography on the greatest scientist to ever live- Einstein! At the end it had a listing of further reading books that included Einstein’s book on relativity. I gobbled it up. I was hooked for life. It was exactly what I was looking for at that time in my life. Real, concrete discussions on the way that the whole damn universe works. Not the bullshit explanations that my catholic upbringing had fed to me for so many years. From the universe I moved to my current obsession which is far more complicated than the universe- the mind. If you have a similar interest do find it in your power to pick up anything written by Steven Pinker. The book you see above The Stuff of Thought is the first I read and still my favorite. I stumbled upon it by accident while I was wasting time in my university bookstore in between classes. I have read most of his other works as well bu this one stays as one of my favorite books of all time.

How do you feel about non-fiction? Do you stick to fiction? Do you stick to one genre in particular? If you read non-fiction, what topic interests you the most? Why did you pick up non-fiction?

See you later, see you soon.

On Why I Love Books

Borders will always be special to me– even if they had no soul

As I mentioned before on my bio page I have been thoroughly obsessed with books ever since I was a child. I have a very distinct memory of walking into a Border’s Bookstore for the first time and being amazed that I could own these books. I grew up in a very small town with no bookstores at all. But my parents were book people so we would take the 45 minute drive up to the closest book warehouse when I was younger. The earliest memory I have of going into a bookshop is at age 12 when I bought Angus, Things and Full Frontal Snogging because it sounded awesome instead of being recommended by the Scholastic Corporation. I read the whole series after that. It was funny and cool and not what my librarian would have stocked in our very tiny school library. You see, the vast majority of my reading came from my school library and while they tried very hard to have a wide variety a lot fell through the cracks. They were far more concerned with having the right academic research volumes than the latest Young Adult novels. Of course when I was able to drive I could make regular pilgrimages to my local county library to get a larger selection.

However, there is nothing quite like having your own library to choose from. So despite the weird smell and brightly buzzing fluorescent lights I loved Border’s Books most of all. I mean, they no longer exist so that should be proof enough of how truly awful they are. Not that Barnes & Noble Books is all that improved but at least they attempt to have some atmosphere. But to this book starved mind Border’s was a hub of intellectualism. I could get any fresh crisp new book that I wanted. It wasn’t until I was old enough to travel to Philadelphia and scour their small selection of independent bookshops that I realized how cheap and garish the new printings of books were. I remember what it was like to hold a printing of a classic book from the 60s or 70s. I would marvel at how beautiful and detailed the cover art was and thought how I had never seen anything like it on a new printing.

Don’t get me wrong- what matters the most to me are the words contained within that cover, not the actual cover. My real obsession stems from the world that books take me too. I become completely enraptured by a great novel. The world falls away and there is very little that can distract me. Take me to a rock concert and I could sit quietly with a book and never hear a sound. They envelop me in a place of magic and safety all at once. I can be placed in the middle of a great battle yet feel as though nothing could ever touch me. That is truly the best thing about being a reader and I think most will have to agree. We love nothing more than getting lost in the pages whether it is bound in this decade or any other. 

What about the rest of you? Why do you love books so much? What is it that draws us to them and makes us readers for life? Do you have specific editions or just whatever you are able to locate for a good price?

See you later, see you soon.

On Underlining and Highlighting

Do you underline or highlight?

A few months ago one of my favorite bookish websites Bookriot.com ran a feature in their “Our Reading Lives” segment on writing in books. In it, guest contributor Paul Montgomery of iFanboy.com wrote about his inability to mark his own books. His fear was based on the idea that upon his death people would cull information about him from these highlighted pages and interpret him horribly, horribly wrong. When we mark our books we are leaving a bit of ourselves in the pages which can be intimidating. As Montgomery fears, “Because what if I write the wrong thing?” However, I think that there is no such thing. Often I have found notes in books that make me laugh out loud with their obvious observations or ridiculous interpretations. But it’s all worth reading for me. I like touching the past in some way. Who cares if the last person to read it was a dunce? In the end you just make the connection of reading the same book, whether it was last owned by Harold Bloom or Joe Schmoe.

The whole point of writing in my books is that it reminds me of the human element of reading. We read books alone but in this way we can share the experience.  As an avid collector of used books one of my favorite things is to read any old notes that the previous owner left. I especially adore a good inscription on the front flyleaf. I make it a point to write a note in any book that I give as a gift and I cherish any book given to me with a note in it. I want to make those connections from across time. I usually give books as gifts to all my friends and family so I have written a lot of inscriptions over the years, from the sentimental to “Red Sox suck”. Hopefully, many years from now some stranger will pick it up and it will make them laugh or maybe even cry. If they are anything like me they will try to conjure an image of giver or recipient. Or a happy accident will make sure that they have the same name as me or they are giving the same book to their own family member. We will have shared a special moment without ever meeting face to face. 

What about you? Do you share the same fears as Paul Montgomery? Or are you as fearless as I am? Do you underline in ink or use a highlighter? 

On Investment Books

Longfellow’s Divine Comedy Looking Lovely in the Sunshine

Two of my most prized possessions were purchased at the same place around the same time. It was a small antique store run by two sisters that was right down the street from me. It was called Things Remembered. It has since closed down but I insist that they had the best selection at the best price of any antique store I’ve ever been in, and I go to a lot of them. I had found plenty of treasures in the many rooms of that over sized building over the years but two were especially important to me. The first is an antique necklace made of several strands of white and purple beads that I wear nearly everyday. I love purple. Obsessed, really. Most of my closet is filled with a variety of shades and tones of purple so when I found this necklace it was love at first sight. Though, I can not remember how much I paid for it but I am sure I got my money’s worth by now, some 6 years later. The other is a set of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri as translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was printed in 1876 bound in green leather with gold lettering. They are beautiful and I can still remember how they looked in the sunlight of the front room. It was priced out of my range but I had a good rapport with the owner by then so I approached her with a deal. The asking price was $50 but she agreed on $30. So, I walked out with the three huge volumes in my arms and a huge smile on my face.

I had a plan for those books. They would sit on my shelf for many years making me look like a genius and after a while I would sell them for thousands. I was around 20 at the time of the purchase and I was convinced that old books generated that kind of money just because they are old. Of course I am older and wiser so I know that is not necessarily true. In fact, I did my research and I believe my set is worth about $150. More than I paid but not quite the thousands that I had in mind. After doing research at Bogart’s for all the books that get donated I have a better idea of what types of books are of any worth or not. These are probably just mail ordered volumes that the wealthy would set on their shelves to show off their money and education. They’re nothing special. But a few features make them more desirable- namely the popularity of the title and the good condition of the books.

However, I no longer wish to sell them. They mean too much to me to let them go for any price. I realized how silly of an idea that it was to buy them as an investment but now I appreciate them for a different reason. They represent a moment in time in my life but they also symbolize every year that they were in existence. I can feel the weight of history trapped between the covers. I look at them as a moment in time when books were printed with the utmost care and the best materials. In an age of digital books and shoddily made paperbacks it feels nice to hold a book made with such love. These were made to last a long time and will do so in my company for many years. 

What are your investment books? Do you have a collection? What is the most amount of money you spent on a book? Feel free to send a picture of your favorite antique book.

See you later, see you soon.

On Bookshelves

One of my two living room bookshelves

A few months ago I tried to run a contest in which people would post pictures of their bookshelves and the most interesting layout would win a gift certificate. It did not go over well. The above picture is my admission and I only received one other set of pictures. I was keenly disappointed. Not only because my AWESOME,WONDERFUL, FABULOUS idea had been ignored, but also because I was curious as all hell to see other people’s bookshelves. I can’t claim credit for the idea completely as the inspiration came from seeing famous people’s libraries in a variety of places. First, I had seen a book called Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books while shopping in a little bookshop in Philly. Then, a few weeks later I saw a series of blogs dedicated to old and new photographs of people in their libraries. I just loved the idea. For as readers are we not defined by our bookshelves? I certainly feel that way. And I do not mean how much you spent on them or if they are perfectly alphabetized. But rather, where we decide to display them and what we consider worthy of space on our shelves. I especially loved that the book included some up close shots so that you could read the spines. I recognized some of my own favorites on those shelves. It was amazing that nearly all the homes had books in a plethora of rooms. Not just one dedicated library like there used to be. Now, books are decorations.

Up close of one of my bookshelves

A good friend of mine made that observation a few days ago and it got my mind turning again about that failed contest. Like I said, a lot of my motivation for the contest was shear curiosity. We sell dozens and dozens of books everyday and I wanted to know where they end up. I take books very personally and I was hoping to recognize some of my old friends on the shelves of our customers. Maybe wave hello through the computer screen and know that they are safe. Ok, maybe not actually wave, but metaphorically say, “I’m glad you found a home.” That is one of the things I love as a bookseller. I get to put books into people’s hands and homes. I always get to see the book in hand but very rarely in home and I thought this would be a great opportunity. Alas, no one else wanted to let me into their homes.

Maybe if I just leave it for fun I can get some more people to join me. So you’ve seen mine, show me yours! Add a photo or two of your most representative books up on their shelves. Indulge my curiosity!

On Graphic Novels

Persepolis

This argument begins about two years ago while in my Senior Literature course at Rowan University. My beloved professor assigned Persepolis and I think he still regrets it many years later. We were all graduating senior literature students so we were supposed to be able to control the conversation ourselves and focus it on parsing every sentence for meaning. It did not take long for the debate to just deteriorate into half the class decrying the use of graphic novels as legitimate literature. The other half unabashedly defending them as equally important to the literary world just in a new and different way. They seem to forget that the novel was only recently embraced as the primary mode of philosophizing. It was merely mindless medieval romances but grew to importance and slowly became included in serious academic studies. My comrades and I were arguing that soon graphic novels would have to be included.

I studied art before I became a literature major. I understand how powerful an image can be. In Persepolis there is a particularly moving image that is so simple but Satrapi conveys a variety of emotions with just one simple blacked out box. It comes after the discussion of her favorite uncle being taken away by the government never to return. Sometimes words can diminish a moment and that little black box said more than pages of sentimental words could ever attempt. The other students did not see it that way. They claimed that using cartoons to express an emotion is dumbing down literature and therefore ruining us as a culture. All I have to say is: “That’s ignorant.”  Visual art existed long before the written word as art. I just do not understand how you can separate the two mediums just because they are using cartoons instead of realistic renderings. How is it any different than the works of modern artists like Keith Haring or even Andy Warhol. Both of whom use very simple images to convey deeper messages. Did these two artists dumb down art? Or did they take in a new and necessary direction? I think the better argument is made for the latter.

So, how do you feel about graphic novels? Are they important to the literary lexicon or just childish rubbish best left to super heroes? For me, they are an important step in both art and literature. I hope that they can be added to a curriculum soon. And thank you Professor Plourde for including a graphic novel and allowing us to yell and stamp our feet without interruption. I will always be indebted to you for not admonishing me for calling that girl that I could not stand narrow minded. It felt so great.

On “Someday Books”

A Rage to Live looking gigantic among other books

What exactly is a “someday book”? For the purposes of this article, it means a book that is so overwhelming in size and content that it sits on a very high shelf and waits. It is the book that has to wait for your life to slow down. It is the book that you just do not have the time in your life to commit to reading it. Sometimes it is something that has been on your To Be Read list for a long time and you finally managed to find it in a bookstore. Or, it is a suggested read from a friend or another book. Now, it just sits in your To Be Read pile, patiently.

That book for me is A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton by Mary S. Lovell. Even the title is a mouthful. It came on a recommended reading list at the end of The Bookman’s Promise by one of  my favorite mystery writers, John Dunning. I had only recently discovered Dunning at Bogart’s and was reading his books at a record pace. I read all 5 Cliff Janeway novels that are currently out in a mere handful of days. I was enthralled. In this particular adventure, he discusses at length some fictional lost diaries of Richard Burton that are so intriguing. By the end I was desperate to learn more about this fascinating historical figure. I am an avid biography reader so when I saw the title that also included his lovely wife that he was madly in love with, I knew I had to get it. Imagine my surprise when not 3 days later it was sitting on a pile of recently donated books when I opened the bookstore one morning. I nearly cried. It was fate! It was destiny! It was the biggest book I’ve ever seen that was not textbook related! So, I took my prize home and set it on the shelf. There it remains for some long distant time when I have the energy and time to devote to it.

There are many other “someday books” in my head but this one stares at me from its shelf, mocking my flighty attention. I will get to it eventually. I know I will. I have managed to get through some very dense biographies including Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe and a cultural biography on Walt Whitman by David S. Reynolds called Walt Whitman’s America. Each was intense and very long but I enjoyed them immensely. I know I will feel the same about A Rage to Live in the end but the size has intimidated me into placing it in that unknown “someday” category. What books do you add to your “someday” book list? Are they thick like mine? Or are they just too philosophically hermetic? What makes us put these books on a far off timeline? Let’s discuss!

See you later, see you soon.

On Current Literature

I have only recently gotten back into reading current literature. I spent so many of my college years reading the classics that I failed to pick up the new releases. I dubbed them beneath me since I was reading the truly great works of art. I filled my head with all the “important” writers from the Western and American canon, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf. I was living and breathing classics. I turned my nose up at all the contemporary authors- believing them to be redundant since all the great themes of life had been so thoroughly explored by the greats. What a snob, I know. I am so glad I came back to them.

When I was a teenager I soaked up what would be considered current at the time. I remember going to the bookstore and buying The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I fell in love with that cast of characters because I felt like they mirrored my life. That’s what I missed the most in reading the classics because they were from a different time. No amount of footnotes or time lines could truly sum up a moment in history. There are just some phrases that we can’t understand because the minutiae of life gets lost from generation to generation. I am currently reading Middlemarch for the book club that I run and, trust me, it gets lost in translation sometimes. I am pretty certain that I miss some of the satire because the lives of these 19th century is so different from my 21st century existence. The larger themes remain intact but the small attacks on the daily lives of people does not hold up across time and we should not expect it to.

The first current, or relatively current, author that I picked up in recent years is John Dunning. I was drawn in by the title of the first book, Booked to Die. His mysteries are so intriguing and exciting. The first was published in 1992 and have come out every few years since. I read the first and consequently bought out the rest of the collection. They deal with an ex-cop-turned-rare-book-dealer, Cliff Janeway and I can read them in a few short hours. But the twist is shocking and the crimes updated. While I love Edgar Allan Poe some of his crimes are quite out of date. I mean, an orangutan? Forensic science has made most of his “crimes” a little absurd. Oh, who am I kidding? They’re totally absurd.

Another author who saved me is John Green. I just finished The Fault in Our Stars a few weeks ago and I loved every word of it. It was as beautiful as anything written by Marquez or Fitzgerald. I was as moved by its tale of loss and love as any Shakespearean drama. However, it affected me in a different way since the language and setting were so realistic to me. I feel very removed from some of the tragedy in the classics because I could never live them. The world that Green creates is filled with technology and slang that I am very connected to. While I love Marquez or Fitzgerald, the love stories that they describe never feel tangible in the way that the story of Hazel and Augustus felt, even if I have never been sick or loved someone that was. Though, I suspect much of that success is due to the nearly flawless prose of John Green, but that is a post for another day.

So, I will always read the classics. I will always love the writers that created them. When I make suggestions a lot will still be classics. However, do not be surprised if a lot of what I review is more current. I am just getting back to my time period and it feels so good.

Tell me how you feel the classics fit into your life in the comments below. Maybe I’m alone in this but I suspect many feel the same way about our beloved classic writers.

See you later, see you soon.