Tag Archives: book thoughts

[TSS] Reducing My Stacks of Books: Ideas Needed

One of the things my husband and I have been planning is downsizing our home once our daughter is in university next year; when that happens, it will be just my husband and I, and our six-year-old, and our current house is really too big for just the three of us.

So we’ve decided to use the next eighteen months or so to get rid of all the clutter, and decide on the things we really need, versus stuff that, well, we don’t really need!

At the top of the list are my books. I have so many books, and aside from the to-be-read ones, there are only certain ones that I really want to keep. So I’ve been trying to figure out the best ways to get rid of some of my books. Since many of them are beloved-but-not-quite-keeper status, I’d like to see them go out to a good home.

Our local library doesn’t accept book donations; apparently it costs them more in terms of labor to go through donated books and catalogue them, so they simply don’t accept donations. So that idea is out.

I’ve only come up with one idea so far: box up the books I don’t want anymore and list them on Craigslist for $5 or $10 per box. Lots of titles in each, but no swapping between boxes.

But I’d also like to give some of my books away. We have a lot of younger children’s picture books, for example, that our youngest has outgrown, and it would be nice to see them go to a good home.

In the past, we’d give books away to Goodwill, but I’d like to give my books to places where the books would actually get used, rather than used only if they get sold.

I could really use a blog-based brainstorming session around this problem – if you have any ideas or suggestions, please leave me a comment!

Saturday Randomness: Halloween, NaNoWriMo, Twitter, Food and Comments

Happy Halloween to everyone who celebrates Halloween! It looks very windy outside my office window right now – hopefully the wind will die down before all the trick-or-treaters hit the sidewalks tonight.

I’m feeling a little random today (have you noticed I get this way at least once a week?) So I thought I’d throw all my scattered bookish and non-bookish thoughts together into a post for today.

First, Some Halloween Pumpkin Awesomeness

New Moon and Yoda pumpkins

Twilight fans, wouldn’t you just LOVE to have this New Moon pumpkin standing outside your front door? I’m rather partial to the Yoda pumpkin myself.

There are many more incredible pumpkin carvings here!

NaNoWriMo Starts TOMORROW!

Yes, that’s worth some caps. And I am so behind – I’d planned to get some work deadlines tucked away before November 1st, and now I have one day to get at least one finished (the best laid plans, and all that …).

And when it comes to my NaNoWriMo novel, well, let’s just say “unprepared” is the word that comes to mind. I don’t even know what the names of two of my three main characters are.

Luckily, Twitter came to my aid. This morning, I met @CarmenRenee, who sent me a link to this great article on succeeding with NaNoWriMo. I felt much calmer after reading the article. I might end up at the starting line calling my two characters Thing 1 and Thing 2, and you know what? I’m okay with that. Truly. If it gets me writing the approximately 1700 words I’m aiming for tomorrow, well, that works for me!

And Speaking of Twitter

I’ve decided that Twitter + #NaNoWriMo = Writers’ Watercooler/Cocktail Party/Awesome or What (take your pick). Writing my NaNoWriMo novel this year will not be an isolated experience, and I’m looking forward to taking part in the community feeling as I write (or after I write).

I have also been on Twitter much more now that I’m using Evernote. I hadn’t really been going on Twitter all that much when I was on my iPhone, mainly because one of the things I like most about Twitter are the links I come across, and it was just too frustrating for me to see a great link that would be useful for the future (I’m a link packrat), and have to get out of my Tweetdeck app and email the link to myself.

But now with Evernote, I just send a quick DM (direct message) to the special account Evernote has set up specifically for this kind of thing, and the tweet gets saved. So quick, so easy!

My Husband Has Become a Blogging Machine (Or, What I’ve Been Dining On This Week)

I mentioned recently that my husband has taken over blogging at our food blog, Muse in the Kitchen (after a year of persuading on my part, I might add). And he’s loving it! My job is to edit and format his posts (he insists he’s not a good writer, but he is. He just has his own style, that’s all) and add my two thoughts in at the end of each post.

Unlike me, Ward is not a procrastinator. And since he cooks at least one or two recipes five nights of the week (the other two nights he’s teaching classes at his dojo) he’s got a lot of blog posts in the works. Every time I log on, there are three or four new draft blog posts waiting for me to edit (at least, it seems that way!)

Here’s the latest good stuff we’ve been eating this week:

Spicy Spiral Bread: perfect for the lunchbox, and it’s got a great vegetarian bean filling!

Green Tea Cheesecake: this was an unusual and not-too-sweet dessert that we served at our dinner party last Saturday (the night of the Readathon)

Grilled Sesame Baby Bok Choy: one of the first recipes Ward created, this is our “go-to” dish when we want a quick and easy vegetable entrée

Asian Marinated Flank Steak: another go-to recipe of ours, Ward tinkered with a Martha Stewart recipe and came up with this delicious and very easy flank steak

Grilled Shark and Bakes: I wasn’t here for this one, which is actually the reason Ward made it (I don’t really like shark). I can vouch for the fact that the “bakes” (grilled) are delicious, though!

Comments and Commenting

I’ve been so busy doing things (well, thinking about doing things, I guess) to get ready for my very busy November that I haven’t had a chance to respond to comments here, or to go visiting all the wonderful blogs in my Google Reader.

So I just wanted to end with a huge thank you to every one of you who’ve stopped by this week to read my ramblings! You’re what makes all this blogging stuff fun!

What are you up to this Halloween? And how’s your November shaping up? If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, are you raring to go, or feeling unprepared?

Getting Organized: Keeping Track of Links and Book Recommendations

I’ve always been envious of bloggers who seem to so easily keep track of who recommended a book they’ve just read and reviewed. At one point, I was using the Zotero plugin for Firefox to keep track of blog posts that introduced me to books which were added to my TBR, but eventually I had so many bookmarks accumulated, it became overwhelming.

But today, as I looked at my resolve to face a month of upcoming deadlines with ease, I decided it would be very handy to get my online life organized. Zotero is a fabulous plugin, but it’s mainly a tool for researchers (by the way, if you’re a student writing your thesis or research papers and you use Firefox, you really should check it out – it helps you to collect, manage and cite your research sources).

So I decided to look at other Firefox add-ons, one thing lead to another, and I discovered Evernote.


Have you ever wanted something very specific to help you do something, then turned around and found the exact thing you were hoping for – and, to top it all off, it’s free? I get very excited and very happy when that happens, and I think it happened today when I discovered Evernote.

Here’s how I’m going to use Evernote to get my online life organized:

Tracking Book Recommendations

It will be handy for a lot of the things I’ll be doing online over the next few months, but it is, in particular, the answer to my “how on earth am I going to track who recommended what book to me?” dilemma.

My problem, you see, is that often I’ll read about a book, and decide to add it to my TBR pile, but by the time I get around to reading it, many, many months will usually have passed by. It’s only rarely that I remember who recommended a book. Yet, the majority of my reads these days are books that I discovered on other blogs. And when I talk about them here on MsBookish, I’d really like to be able to give credit for the find to the blogger whose post lead me to the book in the first place.

With Evernote, I can quickly add a web clipping of the title of a book to my Evernote account. Then, six months later, I just go to my “Books” notebook and search for the title and voila! there’s the URL of the blogger to whom I owe my latest great read!

I love that I can do this so easily. There’s a little bookmarklet that you drag to your bookmarks toolbar (in Firefox – if you’re using IE you have to right click your mouse, unfortunately). One click and away you go! And because my account is online (and also on my desktop – there’s a desktop install that syncs with your online account if you’d like), I can use it whether I’m on my desktop or on my netbook.

Instant Library List

The other thing I really like about Evernote is that there’s an iPhone app, which I’ve just downloaded. I’ve created another notebook (“Library”) and I’m planning to use it to add titles and call numbers of books that are available at my local library.

I can’t put a request for a book if it’s not checked out at my local branch, and my library website’s “list” feature doesn’t, for some reason, include the call numbers, not even when you print out your list, and not even though you can actually choose to sort by the call numbers!

Up until now, I’d been typing in titles and call numbers into a list app in my iPhone – not the most efficient or fastest way of doing things, but at least I always had my library list with me. Now, though, I won’t have to manually type anything in. I can just copy and paste titles and call numbers of books from my library’s website into notes on Evernote, and see all of this information on my iPhone!

Yes, I am a book geek. I love that I can now do this so easily.

Twitter Links

I’m on my iPhone a lot – even when I’m at home, if I’m away from my desktop PC, I’m usually online via my iPhone. On my desktop and netbook, I use Seesmic Desktop to access my Twitter account, but they haven’t released an iPhone app yet, so on my iPhone, I use Tweetdeck’s iPhone app. Which means I can’t sync between my desktop and my iPhone. So when someone tweets something interesting, (for example, a link to a giveaway that would be handy for my giveaway post on Sundays), I have to email the tweet to myself.

It’s cumbersome.

But Evernote lets me send tweets I want to save to my Evernote account! Very fabulous. Very easy.

I’m Aiming for “Easy and Effortless” in November

It’s the only way I’ll be able to handle all those deadlines. And things just got a whole lot easier and more effortless, I think!

I can already think of several more ways Evernote will come in handy (like sharing recipe finds with my husband so he can cook delicious stuff and blog about it). But I suspect my ideas are only the tip of the iceberg.

Are you using Evernote? I’d love to hear ways you’ve been using it. What other online or desktop tools do you use to help you stay organized with your blogging and your life?

Some Saturday Ramblings

It feels like a “lost” week around here in a way. Monday was a holiday here (not that it matters much to me work-wise since I work when I have a deadline and take time off when I don’t, but there’s the not-minor matter of not having to get up with the kids in the morning as they get ready for school!)

Add to that the head cold I had for three days, which unfortunately came back yesterday and really, it feels like all I’ve done this week is loll around in the grip of cold medication that makes me drowsy.

Reading …

I did manage to get through a nice chunk of The Likeness, by Tana French. I’ve mentioned before that, for some reason, this novel hasn’t hooked me the way In The Woods did. I finally felt really engrossed at around page 189. I’m now very near the end, but (and it might just be because I’ve been under the weather) I don’t find myself racing through to see what happens. In fact, the book has sat on the coffee table, open to the page where I last left it, for the past two days.

I did much better with the audio version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – I’m getting close to the end, and I just started listening earlier this week. (It generally takes me longer to listen to an audiobook because I only listen when I’m exercising, cleaning the kitchen and for an hour before bed.)

While I’ve reread the first three Harry Potter books a few times, I realized as I was listening to this one that this is my first reread of it. There were several things I’d forgotten, and one thing I was pleased to rediscover was that (tiny spoiler here, for those of you who haven’t read this one or seen the movie), unlike the movie, it wasn’t Cho who ratted everyone out. I hadn’t realized that the movie had parted ways with the book there (which goes to show how much of the book I’d forgotten by the time I saw the movie!).

Writing …

I’d meant to spend this week doing up character sketch thingies for my NaNoWriMo novel, but never lifted even a finger in that direction. I did, however, find a very handy set of free Excel worksheets right before I came down with that head cold. I’ll only be using the character worksheet, but for those of you who like to plot first, The Novel Planning Excel Workbook might come in handy (you can see all the worksheets in the novel here, but you need to go here to download it).

When I was writing NANTUCKET, I ended up taking a file folder and writing down all my secondary characters in it, because I found myself wasting a lot of time trying to remember names, especially the names of the more minor characters. I think using the character worksheet will really be helpful.

Fitness Challenge

I haven’t done that well this week with the challenge, logging in only two miles, on the day when I was feeling better. I was supposed to do another 1.5 miles yesterday, but kept postponing it, and then that head cold came back again. I really should get on the treadmill today, but I’m still feeling tired.

Ah … discipline. Nope. I don’t have it, not for fitness, anyway!

The Food Blog

Earlier this week, I posted about our Thanksgiving dinner this past weekend; I also mentioned that I was hoping my husband would start blogging at our food blog, Muse in the Kitchen, because I have been doing a terrible job of keeping it up-to-date.

The thing is, while I do love to eat, it’s Ward who’s really passionate about the cooking and the recipes. He’ll be so thrilled about discovering a new technique that creates a much better result, while I’ll be like, “okay, that’s wonderful, is it okay if we dig in now?”

So guess what? He wrote his first post at Muse in the Kitchen the same day I wrote about our Thanksgiving dinner! You can check it out here: 30-Minute Homemade Pasta.

Since that first post, he’s also written several more posts. And today he told me he’s having a great time blogging! My job with the food blog now is very much like my job in the kitchen. During prep time, I play the role of sous chef; at the blog, I do a bit of reformatting.

Life feels pretty near perfect right now …

My Favorite Book Hooks

Word Lily recently had a post about the things that make her want to pick up that book – “book hooks”. Coming up with a list sounded like such fun, so I thought I’d give it a try, too.

Off the top of my head, here are 20 things that will make me pick up a book:

1. magic in our world, preferably with wizards

2. a bookstore (the cozier it sounds, the better)

3. food

4. art

5. a mystery

6. psychic powers

7. a Cinderella angle

8. an underdog

9. a library

10. a museum

11. detectives (I especially like a team)

12. very smart kids

13. computer whizzes

14. ghosts

15. artifacts

16. self-discovery

17. hidden talents

18. codes/ciphers

19. Arthur/Merlin. Preferably now rather than the past.

20. strange quirks

I usually like a combination of these hooks, but if a book has at least one, I’m sure to pick it up and take a closer look. If you haven’t read Word Lily’s post yet, check it out – she’s got a great list of book hooks up.

What about you? Are there any specific hooks that virtually guarantee you’ll give a book a closer look?

Saturday Thoughts

I haven’t done a Saturday “this is what’s going on with me” post for ages, so I figured it was about time. And after this week, I actually might be posting something like this regularly on Saturday – because starting next Saturday, I’ll have more time.

The Big List of Book Giveaways

Why will I have more time?

Tomorrow will be my last “Big List of Book Giveaways” post for The Sunday Salon. I will still be posting a giveaways list on Sundays, but after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to change the theme of the list and focus only on giveaways that are open worldwide. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, ever since I read this post at J. Kaye’s book blog, where she mentions that Bookworming in the 21st Century posts Link a Contest Thursday every Thursday, and it’s so easy – if you have a giveaway, you just enter it into her Mr. Linky.

The Big List of Book Giveaways post had gotten to the point where it took up a big chunk of my Saturdays, but I’d been reluctant to give it up because it seems to be so helpful to everyone. Reading through the comments I’ve gotten, I saw that a lot of people liked the fact that I state whether a giveaway is open worldwide or not. So it makes sense to me to narrow down the focus to just international book giveaways – hopefully the list will continue to be helpful for everyone (since everyone can enter), and I get to take back some of my Saturdays!

I’m A Cheerleader for the October Read-a-thon!

I never know what I’m going to be doing on any given day until that day comes (in addition to being a moody reader, I also like to adjust my life around whatever I happen to feel like doing at the moment). So, while the idea of participating in the October Read-a-thon is so tempting, I know myself well enough to know it’s probably not a good idea.

Cheerleading, on the other hand? I can do that! So I’ve signed up to be a cheerleader for the October Read-a-thon, and am in the process of dusting off my Twitter and commenting pom poms. I will try to follow the lead of that great Read-a-thon cheerleader, Beth Fish Reads, whose impressive cheering performance during the April Read-a-thon was really what inspired me to sign up to cheer this time around.

If you’d like to participate in the Read-a-thon, or want to give cheerleading a try, just head on over to Dewey’s Read-a-thon.

100-Mile (160.1 km) Fitness Challenge

Fitness Challenge I’ve been noticing that I seem to have gotten, um, a bit more rounded, shall we say, over the past six months. With both the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts approaching, now seems like a good time to start running again.

Synchronicity struck – I was over at Amanda’s The Zen Leaf and she mentioned she was signing up for the 100-Mile Fitness Challenge. Perfect! So I’ve signed up, too, and hope this is the motivation I need to get running again. I’ve been noticing that my thighs feel sore after I go upstairs – I truly feel like I’m climbing the stairs, like they were some big huge mountain. Not to mention that out-of-breath feeling. So it really is time to do something about it.

My treadmill gives me Canadian distances, so for me, the challenge will be, roughly, 160.1 km over the next three months It turns out my treadmill gives me miles, not kilometres!. And I’m probably going to start out by walking first. I’ve got a ton of audiobooks waiting to accompany me, so my challenge posts will actually be bookish!

So, What’s Up With NANTUCKET?

I haven’t written anything about my progress with NANTUCKET because I haven’t made any progress with it since the last time I posted about it. I know – it’s a very sorry state of affairs. I still have three scenes to write, after which I can say, “I did it! It’s finished!”

You’d think it would be easy to get motivated to write those final scenes, but I have a small confession to make. NANTUCKET has always been my “practice” novel. After not having written anything for so long, I needed to show myself that I could do it. Since I wanted to use that first book to get myself back into writing, I decided to use one of my good ideas, and not one of the ideas about which I am really passionate.

And it’s worked, too. I have been able to write regularly, consistently, even when inspiration seemed far off. I have sat at the keyboard and invited my muse, rather than waiting on the sidelines for my muse to show up first (she never does, I’ve noticed).

But I haven’t felt inspired to write the ending, and worse, I haven’t been sitting down, so the muse hasn’t appeared.

I’m going to finish this manuscript though. I have to, because I’m itching to start the prep work for my NaNoWriMo novel (code name WAVERLEY), and I’m using this itch as an incentive to finish NANTUCKET. And I’m looking forward to pulling that first draft out of a drawer six weeks later and seeing how it reads, too.

So this is my long-winded way of saying, yes, I’ll be writing that “I’m Finished!” post soon.

Currently Reading

I am about a quarter of the way into Tana French’s The Likeness, and while I’ve been enjoying it, I got tempted out of the book when I picked up a copy of The Lost Art of Gratitude, the latest Isabel Dalhousie novel by Alexander McCall Smith. I haven’t been able to resist dipping into it, and I’ve quite enjoyed the handful of pages I’ve read so far.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why I like the Isabel Dalhousie series so much. It’s certainly not for the mystery, because it’s definitely not the mystery that drives each of these books. I think it’s because I like how Isabel Dalhousie’s mind works, how, as a philosopher, she is always going off on these strange thought tangents all the time. She’s just so interesting, intelligent and self-aware.

I also like the fact that she’s an older woman in a stable relationship with a younger man. Many of my friends are in similar relationships, but I’ve noticed that this kind of relationship never shows up much in fiction. McCall Smith does a good job with it, I think.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. What about you? What have you been up to this week?

Allergies, Lots of Reading, and Finishing a DNF

tissuebox4c After looking forward to The Word on the Street all week, we all ended up missing the entire event. On Saturday, with the colder weather and the rain, allergies began hitting us – not the tiny-sniffle type of allergies, but full blown sinus-pressure, drippy nose (you wanted to hear that one, didn’t you?), cough and non-stop sneezing type of allergies.

My older son, who, ironically, seems to have constant low-grade hayfever during late summer and early fall, was the only one who remained unaffected.

By the time Sunday rolled around, all my husband and I wanted to do was lie on the sofa with hot lemon tea and a box of tissues each.

The good news, though (I do love that there’s always good news): I ended up finishing up three books over the weekend, all of which I really enjoyed. Add to these books the handful of books I read earlier in September that I also enjoyed, and I can definitely say September turned out to be quite a good month for me, reading-wise.

I’ll be writing up reviews for most of this week, so stay tuned.

The Mystery of the Third LucretiaThere’s one book that I started a couple of weeks ago that I haven’t been feeling like picking up again to finish. It’s The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, by Susan Runholt. I thought it would be a did-not-finish for me, because I haven’t been able to really get back into it.

I can’t think of any reason why I’m not that interested in it, though, after reading about two-thirds of it already: it’s a well-written novel, with a fun and smart teenage protagonist and what looks to be quite a clever mystery. The author does have a tendency to overuse the gothic “if I’d only known” foreshadowing device (it’s a personal thing with me – I tend to think that even once is too often – and she doesn’t use those exact words, but there’s a lot of “as it turns out, this was a really bad decision, but we didn’t know it at the time”), but I’ve overlooked it in other books easily enough; I don’t like “if I’d only known”, but it’s not enough to make me stop reading a book.

I am so enamored of Blue Balliett’s middle grade art mystery series (I wrote a couple of reviews back when I first started MsBookish – I raved about The Calder Game here and enthused about The Wright 3 here); The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, another art mystery but with teen protagonists, is really a natural read for me.

Since I can’t put my finger on anything about the book that’s putting me off, I’ve decided to finish it tonight. I’ve already read so much of it, after all. Plus, it’s gotten so many good reviews, and I’m pretty sure I added it to my TBR because I’d seen a good review of it in one of the book blogs I follow.

On the theory that, for once, I’d hate to miss out because of my reading mood, I figure I might as well give it another go.

Have you ever done this – thought that a book was a DNF for you, but decided after a while to pick it up again and finish it anyway? It rarely happens to me, but then again, I don’t often read that far into a book before thinking, this one isn’t for me.

The Me-and-My-Books Relationship

Molly at My Cozy Book Nook has a great post about why she writes in books. I myself don’t tend to mark-up books as I’m reading them, but it’s not because I feel any sort of taboo about writing in a book; I just never think about doing it.

One interesting result of participating in the recent BBAW reading meme is that I want very much to remember to occasionally write in a book now. I’m one of those people who actually likes to find books at used bookstores that have been marked up – it’s like getting two enjoyable things for the price of one.

Molly’s post is really wonderful, giving readers an insight into why she writes in books, what books she does write in, and how she does it. In her BBAW reading meme post, she also gives a link to Mortimer Adler’s essay, “How to Mark a Book” (link goes to a pdf file).

After reading Molly’s post, I got to thinking about my own relationship with books. From an outsider’s perspective, I suspect I look like I have quite the cavalier attitude when it comes to my own books.

I dogear like crazy, unless I happen to have the opportunity to read a book through from beginning to end in one sitting. I have no compunction about breaking the spine of a book that otherwise stubbornly refuses to shift into a more comfortable-feeling position in my hands. And I’m a snacking reader. I grew up munching on apples as I read (I can remember feeling quite fond of Ariadne Oliver, the apple-eating mystery writer who shows up occasionally in Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels).

Note: If you’ve lent me a book, though, not to worry – I only do this kind of thing to my own books. Honest.

The books in my house that are the most comfortably-used-looking also tend to be the most well-loved. A crease in the spine means I’ve read the book; several creases? I loved it. Fold lines in page corners are reminders of when I had to put the book down; they also mean I intended to pick it up again. I like comfortably used books the same way I love old wood furniture, whose lines and markings suggest so much more – a history of every day events, impressed into the wood as time marches by.

The tactile feel of a book, its pristine pages, that new book smell – all of that is lovely (there’s nothing much better than wandering around a bookstore, picking up books, feeling their newness, the smoothness of their covers). But when I look at a book I’m about to read, I’m never really seeing its cover, its bulk, its physical aspects. Instead, I see the story, one that might (or might not) grab hold of me and take me along on a gorgeous, glorious ride.

The anticipation! Each one just might very well be that next truly magical read.

I’m also very fond of giving away books when I’ve finished reading them. If I think you’d like a book I’ve read, you’re not going to be able to leave my place without that book in your hands. I never keep track of who I lend my books to, so when friends come over with a book I’ve lent them previously, it’s like an unexpected surprise.

Of course, if I really do want a book back, I say that, too. But usually it doesn’t matter one way or the other to me.

There’s no pressure to read it, either. Since I usually don’t remember who I’ve lent a book to, you’re not about to get a phone call or email from me saying, “Well? Was I right or was I right? Didn’t you just LOVE it?”

I kind of figure if the book’s meant for you, you’ll love it. If not, you won’t. Neither will I cross your name off my friendship list if we don’t share the same taste in books.

Mind you, none of what I’ve said above applies to my art books and other “coffee-table” type books, or to non-fiction. Non-fiction books are my reference library, so I need to keep them on hand. And big glossy colourful books get the museum treatment around here. I like to pour over them, and revel in the colour and feel of the pages, and yes, sniff appreciatively that new-book smell that never seems to fade. And I keep them, rather than lending them out.

What about you? What kind of relationship do you have with your books?

Living at the Library

I just got back from a morning at the library, and enjoyed myself so thoroughly, I’m wondering why I don’t do this more often.

Actually, this time was a first for me. I’m a very efficient user of my library’s hold system, so normally I just dash in to grab a new book on hold, and then out again.

Today, though, I had so many books in my TBR pile at home that I didn’t have any urge to browse through the fiction aisles. I also had a stack of craft books that I wanted to check out (we’re homeschooling our youngest and I’m in charge of Art and Creativity); I’d researched them the night before so it was a matter of finding the exact titles on the shelf.

My intention had been to browse leisurely through the library and then walk home. But I was loaded down with all those kids’ craft books, and feeling rather lazy. My husband was going to be heading out to pick up my daughter from a workshop she attended this morning; I reasoned that I could just hang around the library and on his way back he could pick me up.

So, for the first time ever, I headed to the nonfiction section, and started grabbing various interesting-looking books on art, gardening and home decorating; titles that I never have time to read, and which are always so heavy I never like the idea of lugging them home.

I sat at a table next to big plate glass windows overlooking a ravine, and browsed through all sorts of eye candy – and I had a great time! I feel refreshed (and raring to re-decorate my house) and relaxed. And yes, I need to do this again – I’m thinking once a week would be nice. In fact, sitting there in that lovely corner by the window, I felt like I could live at the library.

What about you? Do you find yourself spending leisurely time at the library? Or are you usually like me, dashing in and out to grab the latest hold?

Learning to Read

Do you remember learning to read?

My own experience was a very special one. In order to share it with you, I will have to take you back to my own beginnings.

I was born in Pasadena, California, to an actress mother and an actor father. They were both Asian, and Hollywood wasn’t exactly filled with choice roles for Asians. It didn’t bother my mother at all; acting was something her father had pushed her to do and she had never enjoyed it.

My father, though, had come to America with dreams of making it big. He took to drinking to deal with things. And as it turned out, he was a violent drunk.

Before I turned one, my mother knew she had to leave him. So she and I returned back to her father’s home in Hong Kong. Her father had disinherited her when she married my father, but she was permitted to return home as long as it was without him.

My grandfather was a wealthy man. In Hong Kong we lived in a mansion of a house, with several floors and a rooftop deck. There were house servants, cooks, chauffeurs, and of course, the a-mahs, or nannies, who helped my mother look after me. I remember sitting with my mother in the back of one of our many big black cars, laughing at things the driver would tell me; I remember afternoon teas with my mother at fancy hotels; I remember my mother buying me gigantic lollipops with colorful swirly patterns.

When I was four, my mother remarried. She could have stayed in my grandfather’s good graces by marrying one of the several men he’d picked out for her, men who didn’t mind that she was a divorcée with a child. She could have chosen a life of luxury by marrying a wealthy rancher from Arizona, a suitor who had been quite persistent. Instead, she chose to marry my stepfather, a penniless student from a poor family who was ten years her junior.

She was, once again, disinherited.

The three of us emigrated to Canada. We spent some time moving around, staying with different people while waiting for our immigration papers to be granted. But my mother was pregnant with my sister, and we needed a home. Without immigrant status, there were very few jobs available to my stepfather.

Eventually we all ended up on a migrant farm in rural British Columbia. The other farm laborers, all of them Chinese, lived in a bunk house where they each had a room. Because my stepfather had a family – by this time, my little sister had been born – we got to live in a large, draughty cold barn that had been converted into almost livable conditions.

Another problem was rearing its ugly head, though. I had turned five, and would soon have to enter school. Without landed immigrant status, I couldn’t enrol in the public school system. Not only did we not have the money to pay for a private school, there wasn’t one within driving distance of the farm where we lived.

So the decision was made to send me to rural Indiana, where my aunt lived with her American husband. Because I was a U.S. citizen, I would be able to attend school there.

My mother and stepfather scraped together enough for my plane fare. I was five when I took my first airplane ride on my own.

Looking back now, from the perspective of an adult, I know that my aunt was lonely and unhappy. She was still very young, barely out of childhood herself, and she had left behind a life of privilege and fun, a city lifestyle, to marry the man that she loved and live in a small Indiana town. How like a stranger in a strange land she must have felt.

But to me, she was just this very stern person, the person who insisted on cutting my hair to a short boy-style cut because she found it too hard to detangle after washing; the one who told me, when I stepped off the plane, that while I was there, I was not permitted to speak Chinese, as I had to learn to always speak English; the one who told me not to be silly when I expressed fear of the little dog she and my uncle had brought in the car with them.

My uncle was a blonde giant of a man who smiled and laughed a lot. He was gentle and kind. I remember helping him wash his car while he sang along to the rock music blaring from the car radio, sitting on his shoulders for the Fourth of July parade, opening presents at Christmas with him beside me.

One time, I watched something on television that scared me, and I woke up in the middle of the night, terrified. It was my uncle who came out and comforted me. He stayed with me until I was able to drift back to sleep.

And all the while, I was a five-year-old child who missed her mother terribly.

Before I had left Canada, my mother had given me a gift: a thick, hardcover Disney book with a shiny red cover that was filled with lots of short stories.

Because I had arrived in the summer, before school started, for the first little while I was more or less left to my own devices. I pored over that book every day. When I held it in my hands, and turned its pages, it was almost like I could feel my mother’s presence. By some mysterious motherly magic, she had imbued that book with her love, and I knew it.

Day after day, I turned those pages, looking at the big chunks of text, marveling at the colorful pictures. Feeling my mother beside me the whole time.

And then one day, I was reading. I don’t know how I got from not reading to reading; all I know is, one day I looked at the text, and it wasn’t just funny squiggles anymore. All those letters had come together, and together, they were telling me a story.

I don’t think I realized how significant a moment it was. I never told anyone. I suspect my aunt and uncle probably thought I was already a reader, since I spent all my time with that big red book.

I guess it’s no wonder I love books so much. Not only did that big red book make me feel closer to my mother, it also took me into a magical world where, for as long as the text continued, I was somewhere else, and not a sad little girl who missed her mother so much.

I don’t have that big red book anymore. Eventually, my mother and stepfather did get our immigration papers, and I was able to go back home to them. But we were still poor, and we moved many, many times. The book was lost during one of those moves.

But it really doesn’t matter. Sometimes, the intangible can be far more valuable than the tangible. I may not be able to physically hold that big red book in my hands anymore, but it will always be there for me, in my heart.