Tag Archives: 52 Sundays of Bookish Bliss

[TSS] Bookish Bliss: The pleasures of late-night reading

I know. It wasn’t that long ago I posted about my quest to become a morning person. And I’m still on that quest. Just getting a little sidetracked, that’s all.

This past month, I’ve been really self-indulgent when it comes to my reading, giving myself permission to read late into the night. It’s been a while since I’ve done that, and I’m here now to say, yes, it is indeed a bookish bliss, one of the very guilty but oh so gratifying pleasures of reading.

I read 13 books in February, and much of that has been due to late-night reading. Around here, it’s the best time to read: everyone else is fast asleep, there are no interruptions, and even Twitter and Facebook are relatively quiet. And very few emails come in during those early morning hours, too.

I know early morning hours can be like that too, but to be honest, in the mornings, when it’s bright and sunny as Toronto winter mornings can be sometimes, I feel like I should be doing something productive, rather than reading.

So, I’ve been settling into a routine of opening up my current book at around midnight, glass of wine in one hand, snack-that-goes-with-wine in the other, and enjoying a rather bookishly blissful two to three hours of solid reading time.

I can’t keep doing this, I know. For one thing, I haven’t been waking up any later, so I’m starting to feel a little sleep deprived.

The other thing is, I’ve started reading Stephen King’s Pet Sematary for the #gangstercats readalong, and something tells me it’s probably a book I don’t want to be reading in the dead hours of the night, all by my lonesome on the couch with everyone else fast asleep.

On the other hand, I’m planning on balancing the horror with some lighter reading, like Helene Hanff’s The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which is included in 84 Charing Cross, a middle grade fantasy I’m reading for a book tour called The Camelot Kids and Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens.

So maybe I can be self-indulgent for a little longer, as long as I remember to read Pet Sematary when it’s nice and bright out, and when the witching hour strikes, reach for a non-witchy type book!

Do you enjoy reading late into the night?

[TSS] Bookish Bliss: A new book by a favourite author (Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning)

There’s nothing like the excitement of a new book by a favourite author. No matter what the book is about, you can be pretty sure you’ll be in for a good time.

My list of favourite authors is a mutable, ever-changing beast of a list. But there are some authors who will likely be on it permanently. Neil Gaiman is one. Stephen King is another. J.K. Rowling – and wouldn’t it be something if she wrote another children’s fantasy series? Newer additions to the favourites list include Tana French, Laini Taylor and Justin Cronin. Other writers on the list (P.L. Travers, Elizabeth Peters, L.M. Montgomery, Madeleine L’Engle, Roald Dahl, Reginald Hill) are, unfortunately, no longer here with us.

Over the past few days, I’ve been indulging in the bookish bliss of reading a new book by a favourite author: I just finished Neil Gaiman’s latest, the short story collection Trigger Warning, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

trigger warning by neil gaiman

In any short story collection, there’s usually some unevenness. Some stories will be better than others – yes, even when they’re all written by your favourite author!

I enjoyed all of the stories and poems in Trigger Warning, but of course I had some clear favourites:

“The Thing About Cassandra” about a boy’s imaginary girlfriend.

“The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains”, which is a reread for me. It’s appeared in a previous anthology, Stories, but while I do have that anthology, I don’t think that’s where I read it initially. It might actually have been somewhere online …

“Orange” – I loved the questionnaire format and how Gaiman was able to tell the story so well using that format.

“The Case of Death and Honey” – a Sherlock Holmes story, and another reread, as it had originally appeared in A Study in Sherlock.

“Nothing O’Clock”, a Doctor Who short story. Need I say more?

“The Sleeper and the Spindle”, because I love how Gaiman portrayed the queen.

And finally, “The Black Dog”, because it’s a Shadow short story. In the introduction Gaiman says:

There is one last [Shadow] story to be told, about what happens to Shadow when he reaches London. And then, if he survives that, it will be time to send him back to America. So much has changed, after all, since he went away.

I can hardly wait until he tells that last short story! Hopefully it will mean that’s when Gaiman intends to start writing the sequel to American Gods!

Have you indulged in a new book by a favourite author lately?

[TSS] Bookish Bliss: Marginalia

The title of this post is a little misleading. I don’t actually know that marginalia is “bookish bliss”, because I have yet to indulge myself. It’s just that I really want to find out what it’s like, so I’m writing this post as a way of giving myself permission.

To, you know … write in books.

Kirchhofer_Wahrheit_und_Dichtung_016Kirchhofer Wahrheit und Dichtung 016” by Melchior Kirchhofer – scan from original book. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve never written in books. Not even when I was an English major in university and writing in the books I had to read for my classes probably would have been helpful when it came time to write those essays. And not even when I was in law school, when we had volumes and volumes of material to wade through.

I took notes, instead, on looseleaf paper. Lots and lots of notes, lots and lots of pages of looseleaf. I still have most of the books from my English courses (not the law school books, though – those are long gone). And none of the notes. When I look at those books on my shelves, I can’t help but think how much more interesting they’d be if I had written my notes in their margins.

What’s the allure of marginalia? In this New Yorker piece, Lauren Collins notes “Marginalia are the original comments section.” There’s definitely something to that.

Marginlia permits us to participate more fully in the reading of a book. Reading is often seen as a passive experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Over at Salon, Laura Miller writes,

“Marginalia is a blow struck against the idea that reading is a one-way process, that readers simply open their minds and the great, unmediated thoughts of the author pour in. In reality, reading is always a collaboration between reader and author, and even the basic act of underlining a passage represents a moment in the individual, unrepeatable experience that one person had with one book on one particular day.”

In a piece in The Millions which showcased the marginalia he made in the books he read in 2010, critic Sam Anderson has this to say about marginalia:

The writing I enjoy doing most, every year, is marginalia: spontaneous bursts of pure, private response to whatever book happens to be in front of me. It’s the most intimate, complete, and honest form of criticism possible — not the big wide-angle aerial shot you get from an official review essay, but a moment-by-moment record of what a book actually feels like to the actively reading brain.

His 2012 marginalia can be seen here.

I like the idea of having a conversation with the author as I’m reading his or her book, turning reading into more of an interactive experience. I already have these thoughts in my head as I’m reading, but I lose so much by not jotting them down. I do copy out passages and write down my reactions to them in a commonplace book, but there’s something about writing in the margins of a book that sounds so intimate and immediate.

So now all I need to do is give myself permission to write in a book. I’ve done worse to books – I’ve altered them as art projects, slopped gesso over them, stuck acrylic medium between pictures to make thicker canvases for paint. But those were all books I didn’t want to read. Writing in a book I do want to read? A part of me feels like its a form of sacrilege. I need to keep in mind what Mortimer Adler says in his classic How to Read a Book:

Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it — which comes to the same thing — is by writing in it.

Do you write in the books that you read? Tell me more about your marginalia habit, if you have one!

{TSS} Bookish Bliss: Adding to Mt. TBR

Although I like to complain about the size of my TBR stacks – the physical one, the digital ones (ebook and audiobook) and the library one – I really do like adding yet another book to my to-read lists.

Having a lot of books in my TBR stacks is just so comfortable, if you know what I mean. So many books! Which means I’ll always have an interesting book to read.

Last year, when I wasn’t online as much, one of my favourite things to do when I could find time was to go through the lists of new physical books, ebooks and audiobooks on my library’s site, and either put things on hold or save them to Evernote so I could put a hold on them later. (This was necessary or I’d end up hitting my holds limit. Not to mention hauling home way too many books from the library than I could possibly read in the time I’d have them out.)

This year, I haven’t had to go through any of my library’s lists. Now that I’m back to reading book blogs again, I am constantly adding new books to my TBR. And every time I do, it’s like I’ve found a little bit of treasure.

I do need to keep a record of who/what post lead me to add a book to my to-read piles, so I know who to blame thank for each book. Right now, I’m counting on my memory, which really isn’t such a good thing. I’ve been thinking of developing some sort of system (I’m all about systems this year) using Evernote or Todoist, since I use both these apps a lot. I wish, though, that I could just whip up an IFTTT recipe that would automatically add a link to a spreadsheet every time I put a hold on a book or add one to my cart or to my wishlist!

It’s reassuring in a way to know that the state of Mt. TBR will always be teetering, no matter how many books I diligently get through …

Do you find yourself adding titles to your TBR stacks every time you go blog hopping? And do you have a system for keeping track of which blog post enticed you to add which book to your lists?

[TSS] Bookish Bliss: Buying Bookish Gifts That Are Hits

I can’t help it. I love to give books almost as much as I like to receive them. So every Christmas, I end up buying at least one or two books for everyone on my list. And since some of the people receiving the gifts are non-readers (like my daughter), it can be hit and miss.

This year, though, I’m patting myself on the back. Because I picked some bookish gifts that turned out to be hits on the receiving end!

First up: my daughter Hayley. Hayley’s a filmmaker, and she’s far more into visual stuff than she is into reading. Two years ago I gave her Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, because I’d read it earlier that year and I loved it (plus I cried a lot while reading it). Definitely a fail, unfortunately. She tried reading it, but it just wasn’t her. Last year, I tried again with Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, another book I’d loved. I thought this one would be a hit, because Hayley’s big on diversity, and Park, one of the main characters, is half-Asian. But I don’t think she’s gotten around to reading it yet.

This year, I got smart. I bought her all graphic novels – she’s particularly fond of Batman. And I’m definitely on the right track, because the day after Christmas, she told me how much she liked this book:

the shadow hero

The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, features The Green Turtle, the first Asian American superhero. Hayley had finished it by Boxing Day – definitely a hit!

Next up: Dylan, my eleven-year-old. He prefers graphic novels to regular books too.

Sisters

Earlier this year I’d gotten a copy of Smile by Raina Telgemeier from the library, and he’d seen it lying around, picked it up and loved it. So this year I bought him both Smile and Sisters. On Christmas Day, right before bed, he said, “Wow! Sisters is SUCH a good book.”

Yes! Another hit!

This last gift, for my son Sean, qualifies as a quasi-hit, I think. Usually it’s easy to get Sean books, as he likes a lot of the same thriller/action books I do. Last year, for example, I got him Dr. Sleep, N0S4A2 and the Jack Reacher novel Never Go Back (he’s read most of the Jack Reacher books), and all of them were hits with him. This year, though, I didn’t think Revival would be a good fit for him, and I’d started listening to the most recent Jack Reacher, Personal, and I didn’t really like it as much as previous ones in the series.

The Martian

So I ended up getting Sean, among other books, The Martian, by Andy Weir, because I’d simply LOVED this book (I listened to the audio version and it was just so very, very good). Sean hasn’t started reading it yet, but one of his good friends is absolutely thrilled that I gave Sean this book – his friend has been trying to get him to read it for months now. When Sean told him I’d given it to him for Christmas, he wanted my phone number so he could text me “thank you”. So I think that counts as a quasi-hit!

2.5 hits is pretty good, I think …

Do you buy books as gifts? Do you find your bookish gifts are big hits, or not really much of a hit at all?

[TSS] Bookish Bliss: Christmas Mysteries

Now that I actually have a bit of time to savour the holidays, I’ve been thinking about Christmas reads. Earlier this month, Ruth Anderson from Booktalk blogged about Christmas mysteries for Becca’s Holiday Extravaganza series, and I was so intrigued by the idea of reading Christmas-y mystery short stories, I promptly requested both books Ruth talked about from the library.

Photo 2014-12-21, 5 02 16 PM

They arrived earlier this week, and I’m excited that I will actually have the time to dip into them over the holidays!

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries is a more recent compilation edited by Otto Penzler. Looking through the table of contents, the stories are organized in the following groups:

  • a traditional little Christmas
  • a funny little Christmas
  • a Sherlockian little Christmas
  • a pulpy little Christmas
  • an uncanny little Christmas
  • a scary little Christmas
  • a surprising little Christmas
  • a modern little Christmas
  • a puzzling little Christmas
  • a classic little Christmas

It contains 59 short stories all together, so there’s lots of selection. The first short story I’ll be reading from The Big Book of Christmas is Rex Stout’s “Christmas Party”. it’s a Nero Wolfe story, and it will be fun to head into the holidays with Nero and Archie.

Murder for Christmas, edited by Thomas Godfrey, is an older collection – my copy from the library is copyright 1982 – and it looks like it’s out of print, so check your library for this one (and it looks like there are lots of used copies available). Out of the 26 stories in this collection, 12 of them also appear in The Big Book of Christmas. The first short story I’ll probably read from Murder for Christmas is “Mr. Big”, by Woody Allen – I think it will be fun to read a Christmas mystery by Woody Allen!

Have you read either of these short story collections? Will you be doing any Christmas-y or holiday reading?

[TSS] Bookish Bliss: When a Book Has All the Right Ingredients

I’ve been reading 14, by Peter Clines, in audio and really really enjoying it. It’s got so many of the ingredients that make me pick up a book in the first place, and it’s now carrying out its initial promise of having the right ingredients.

14

It’s also been making me think about certain “ingredients” in a book that will almost always send me into anticipatory bookish bliss.

Of course, I need the book to be well-written and the author has to have the skill to make the characters come alive. That’s a given, for any book that I read. But there are certain things that really have the “wow factor” for me. It doesn’t necessarily mean a book with some or even all of these elements will be a great read, but these are all things that will make me pick up the book in the first place and read it:

  1. A team. I really really like it when there’s a good supporting team for the protagonist. I tend to stay away from most “lone wolf” books, because the dynamics of working within a team – with all the drama that can go with it, too – help make a story come alive for me. I think the only “lone wolf” books I’ve enjoyed are Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, and that’s mostly because Reacher is more or less invincible and there are times when I really need an invincible hero. And Reacher doesn’t always lone wolf it – my favourite Reacher book is Bad Luck and Trouble, and of course it’s because in this one, Reacher has a team of sorts.
  2. Cinderella/underdog. I am a sucker for the Cinderella or underdog story. This particular taste of mine extends to movies as well. There is nothing I like better than cheering on someone who’s not supposed to be able to do it, someone everyone else says doesn’t have quite the chops for doing what needs to be done.
  3. A mystery. By this I don’t mean the book has to be a mystery, although I do enjoy reading mysteries. But I like there to be an unknown that is slowly revealed to the reader (and the protagonist) as the story moves along. I’m not really a big fan of romances where the romance is the main plot, for example, but throw in a good mystery of some sort and suddenly the book becomes more palatable to me.
  4. Diverse characters. I don’t read nearly enough books which feature non-white characters in larger roles. For me, a novel that’s populated by a more diverse cast of characters feels more real. It better reflects the multicultural world in which I live. And by diverse, I mean more than just bit parts like the Korean storekeeper who gets robbed or the elderly black woman who lives down the hall. Unless, of course, the storekeeper or the elderly woman are a lot more involved in the plot then their stereotypes tend to be.
  5. Strange and unusual maps. I don’t know what it is about maps, but they seem very magical to me. I love books where maps play a central role (although I can’t think of any right now, but I know I’ve read them). When I’m reading a book blurb and there’s clearly a strange  and unusual map involved, chances are good the book’s going on my to-read list.
  6. An ancient book. This is much like my fascination with maps. I really like it when an ancient book shows up in the plot. I just have this feeling, yes, this is going to be a good read, because there’s an ancient book involved. Even more so if it’s a grimoire. Of course, it’s not always (or even usually!) the case that the story will be good, but I forever live in the hope that an ancient book signals a great read.
  7. Numbers. Numbers are another thing that feel magical to me. Numbers in fiction can pop up in a number of guises, and I like them all. Codes, coding, patterns, math, chess, numbers with hidden meanings, equations – I love them all. Remember the TV show Numb3rs? One of my absolute favourite shows of all time.

I’m loving 14 and guess what? It’s got numbers 1, 3, 4 and 7 in it. Not to mention all the Scooby Doo references. (Which, now that I think about it, should probably be on my list too.)

On the flip side, there are certain things which have the power to turn me off a book instantly.

  1. Weak female main characters.  Unfortunately, this usually can’t be determined anymore just by reading a book’s synopsis. You can have a female character who’s, oh, I don’t know, battled malaria in impoverished countries, or graduated with a Ph.D in biology from Harvard, but it’s only  as you’re reading that you discover these are only trappings with which the author is dressing the character, and have absolutely no impact on how the character acts. When I encounter this while I’m reading, it makes it really easy for me to put down the book and never remember to get back to it. The Toronto Star recently published this article about a business school assignment which featured a ditzy female business student who needs her fiancé’s help to determine which compensation package she should accept. The scenario featured in the assignment is almost laughably absurd but sadly, stuff like this doesn’t just appear in the occasional business school assignment, it continues to show up in novels as well. 
  2. Main character is framed. And must clear his or her name. While on the run. From both the cops and the bad guys. I don’t know what it is with me and this scenario, but I really don’t like it. I guess it was well-done in The Fugitive, but whenever I see this type of plot, I put the book down. (I won’t even watch it if it turns up in a favourite television series – I’ll just skip that episode.) I’m not saying I’d never read a book like this, but it would have to have a really original idea driving it first. I know there’ve been lots of great reads centering around this particular story line, but for some reason, I just don’t like it.
  3. Main character, who works on the side of professional law enforcement, always ends up personally targeted by the bad guy. I’m fine with an occasional helping of this – I mean, it does make for more thrills and excitement –  but there are some mystery and suspense series out there where this happens almost all the time. So every single time the protagonist gets a case, blink and before you know what hit you, she’s opening her front door and there’s a dead skunk in a box with a “you are next” message waiting on her front doorstep (and I’m saying “she” and “her” because – have you noticed? – this kind of thing tends to happen more often to female main characters). The problem with this kind of situation, used constantly and injudiciously, is that it really pulls me out of the story. I start thinking, boy, if this happens all the time to real-life female professionals involved in law enforcement, they really need increased danger pay. The ones that manage to survive, that is.

So there you go. These are the kinds of things that will either make me grab a book, or drop it. What about you? Are there any particular story ingredients you really love, or really hate, to see in a book?