Observation note 111:I’m an avid reader. I reached a personal milestone this weekend. I have read 2500 books since I started keeping my own digital reading records. Starting on WeRead from 2008, then migrating my data over to Goodreads in 2012 where I joined many of my other bookish friends (this probably coincides with my ceasing to post my reading choices on FB). This is the only social media platform I use consistently, facilitating nearly a decade and a half of record keeping – the habits of avid readers!
Diligently adding information to my digital reading record grew out of my readers’ advisory practices as a librarian. My access to my library records prior to using these book sites provided only a partial snapshot of my reading as it didn’t include the books I was buying and reading outside of the library. The books I found myself buying also informed me as to the biases in library collections.
Keeping track of my reading has always helped me in my workplace in understanding user behaviours and anticipating reading requirements, especially during my time as a team leader at the City of Sydney where I was coordinating up to 7 storytimes a week for the various childcare centres in Ultimo (separately from the children’s programming) which explains the “library-storytime” tag (143 books) where I was assessing picture books for performance suitability. But even once I stopped working in libraries, I couldn’t stop the record keeping. You can take the librarian out of the library, and all that.
Now for some statistics: My year for the most books read was in 2012 – 365 books. My year for the least books read was 2013 – 26 books. The years I spent studying deeply impacted my book reading outputs, especially as many of those years I was working in two jobs, along with studying, along with general family and home responsibilities. Reading opportunities in those years became treats and luxuries, though the list would be off the scales if I was able to count journal articles on GoodReads!
I have approximately 580 subject tags “shelves”, though my early records don’t have many tags, my later ones are rich with description – this practice emerged as the digital world became more sophisticated. Folksonomic categorisation rather than taxonomic predetermined ordering systems FTW! My highest read genre is romance fiction (814), picture books (599), non-fiction (589). I love that along standard tags such as “graphic novel” (64 books), “historical fiction” (86 books), I get to created my own descriptors and some of the more esoteric ones are “bat shit crazy” (10 books), “fake name trickery” (23 books), “yeeha cowboy” (27 books) and “hatch-back hero” (a pathetic 2 books). I even have a “vassiliki” tag for books with characters who have my name (5 books).
Reading Note 46:Furious fury. For the record, my 2500th book was Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. Added to my TBR in March 2019. It’s on the obfuscation of women from data collection and its deep life and historic impacts. It made me incredibly angry at the extent that womens’ lives continue to be marginalised from health, education, road safety, employment and every day life opportunities. Men continue to be the default at the expense of women’s lives. I think this book should be a must read for everyone, especially policy and decision makers.
Occasionally I write not-so-shallow articles. This week my essay The Library Agrafa was published in The Aleph Review a Pakistani journal for creative expression. Here is an excerpt:
This story was anathema to me. It lacked the necessary romance and love that I would read about in the novels that I would buy from the newsagency on my way home from the one-room children’s library, arms laden with books borrowed and books bought. Romance to me was a meeting of two people who share a feeling of intimacy, desire, a visceral connection. Marrying for a business transaction, the joining of two large herds, lacked spark, lacked the necessary frisson of a dramatic coming together.
May has been a challenging month with very little pleasure reading. Once again, I am using SuperWendy’s TBR challenge theme for May “Tales of Old” to guide my post.
Observation 103: Same old same old back to being busy busy. Between running workshops for the road safety organisation that I work for (hmmmm – did I mention this weird and out-of-the-ordinary new career move???? I don’t teach driving LOL I instruct on the affect of emotions/moods on driving decisions), I have been teaching a citizenship and communications subject at the university, and I was a tad preoccupied with the Federal election (well….how could I not be happy with the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – he is my local member, he is not a right-wing misogynistic theocratic liar, and his first visit as the new PM was to Marrickville Library, the cultural heart of the community. He did not go to the pub or to a church but instead went to the most inclusive public space dedicated to keeping people informed. I think this speaks volumes as to the evolved role of 21st century libraries as secular, participatory and social meeting places for the exchange of public knowledge but it also speaks volumes to the new approach our change of government is heralding). All this busy-ness has meant that I have not read any books or magazines or anything at all close to pleasure reading. Even my viewing is nearly at zero – a bit of Mike Myers’ The Pentavarate (meh), a couple of Season 2 episodes of Bridgerton (hooked but waiting to binge-watch the rest), and I could only get through 20 minutes of Senior Year (Rebel Wilson can only play one character, right?).
Observation 104: Tales of Mould. Sydney (and much of the East coast of Australia) has been deluged in a La Nina. There have been devastating floods across the state, especially in the north at Lismore, and on the outskirts of Sydney. I don’t know anyone who has not had some sort of water damage, either from leaks, mud, but mostly the mould that is growing everywhere. As I am allergic to mould, I am knocking myself out with fans and heaters trying to keep the house dry, but it has been hopeless. Clothes have mould, shoes have mould, couches have mould everywhere. Some I have washed and treated, others I have happily discarded. It doesn’t help that my kitchen has had water leaks. Every time it rains, I put out towels and blankets to soak up the water. On the worst day we had over 20 leaks. The walls are stained and so is my ceiling. I can’t fault our insurance company who ensured we weren’t in danger but any repairs understandably have to wait while more urgent cases are dealt with. But the absolutely worst discovery of all, was finding my books in the sunroom/study have mould shot throughout them. Devastatingly, I threw out over 400 books. I may have cried.
Reading Note 44: My Book Grief. Like so many avid readers, I tend to keep my books, especially those which hold meaning and significance for me. Shelved throughout my home, they give me comfort. Many were gifts. Many I have read and reread and rereread and travelled with and slept with and swatted with and marked with and just relished in the memories they gave me. Some were gifts and others were inherited, inscribed by myself, by friends, by my parents-in-law. Many were read to my sons who pawed over them, sucked on them, chewed on them, drew on them, read on them. Hours and hours, days, months, years and decades of my reading life – novels, true stories, comics, travel guides. All marked with mould. They were too far damaged to keep especially with the impact they could have on my asthma. They are all now in the recycling bin. Here are just some photos to memorialise my book grief:
A Truman Capote Reader: I remember my older sister buying this book. We shared a bedroom at the time and we kept our books in this large white bookcase with glass sliding doors one of which was broken. In the same week she bought this book, she was given a second copy which she told me I could have. I remember starting with Breakfast at Tiffany’s as I had seen the movie. I then read through all the rest of the short stories, I have only vague recollections of them, with the exception of Capote writing about Marilyn Monroe
Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Hot Chocolate: I can’t recall who recommended I read this book but I know that it was well before the 1992 movie was released. Take note that the book has its original title, its later editions (and the movie) being called Like Water for Chocolate. I always was annoyed at this change in the title. The recipe in the book is all about using water rather than milk for hot chocolate. This recipe intrigued me as my Θείο Νικολάκη (Uncle Nikolaki) made hot chocolate in his coffee house in my mum’s village in this way.
A.C. Weisbecker’s Cosmic Banditos: This was a library discovery. The collection librarian where I worked was a total book snob and would snort if I suggested he purchase any romances but he was 100% on board for buying kitsch, weird, absurdist novels for me when I would find them reviewed in the international trade publications. I was deeply amused by Cosmic Banditos and its premise of a band of drug runners in Columbia having stolen a physics professor’s suitcase. They discover his textbook manuscript which they proceed to read and then debate over quantum physics and the meaning of life. I bought this copy for myself, and years later found out that the book had a cult readership having failed in bookshops but having taken off in US army barracks once Weisbecker sent his remainder copies to troops. At least, this is what I recall – it has been thirty years so I am happy to be corrected.
Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife: I’m quite sure that I first saw this book being reserved, borrowed, returned at the library where I worked on the circulation desk every Sunday while I wrote HTML code for the district “virtual library” website in 2002-2005. These were pre-web2.0 days and I was writing and coordinating content for this site, an early iteration of work-from-home with the first manager of the project which was slammed by the manager who took over. She was infuriated that I coded at home and insisted I sat in a library office to do the exact same thing. Sound familiar??? Anyway, these were book-slump, reading desert years when I had babies and I read nothing at all. Between running from this job to my TAFE library educator job (community college for the non-Australian readers), and taking care of my sons, reading was a past pleasure until, one day, I have no idea what compelled me, I sat down and read The Time Traveller’s Wife in the one sitting. I started some time after lunch and I finished it at 3am. It was the first novel I read in 7 years and it was enough to fire me up again, starting me on a book binge that propelled me into further study.
Gary Larson’s The Far Side: These Far Side anthologies belong to my husband who is forever amused by Gary Larson especially the cow comics. Absurd and anthropomorphised animals going about having human lives, Larson’s quirky and gentle humour held such an appeal for both of us, and both these books were early dip-in-and-out reads for us, though I don’t think we had done so for over a decade.
Spalding Gray’s Monster in a Box: As a young uni student in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I depended on cheap and free movies for much of my entertainment. One place I would frequent was the long ago shut down Valhalla movie theatre, halfway down Glebe Point Road in Glebe. I would go and watch cheap pics there all the time, often on my own, and often with no knowledge of what I was going to watch. On such a day, I sat down in the Valhalla, and on the screen came a talking head, ruminating on love, life and himself. A one-and-a-half hour documentary that sent me into indie bookshops in search of Gray’s books.
Tama Janowitz’s American Dad: I loved Janowitz’s books. I know I had read all of them, but I only own one. The pity is, that as much as I recall loving her books, I do not recall anything about them. The sense of the book is greater than the story it told.
Hugh Lunn’s Over the Top With Jim: An Australian journalists childhood memoir, I remember loving Lunn’s writing style. At a time when Australia was venerating Clive James’s childhood memoirs (which were ok but a tad boring in comparison to his TV show at that time), Lunn shined gently for those who wanted someone who actually liked and lived in Australia rather than Clive’s Aussie who has escaped Australia reflections. I also threw out Clive James’s books but I didn’t take photos of them.
Amanda Filipacci’s Nude Men: Though I enjoyed it at the time, I think that this book can’t have aged well. I recall a messed up sex scene and I am too scared to revisit the book for a reread. Not all favourites need to be reread, right?
Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary: No, I will never reread this book. But I wanted the symbolism of it on my shelf. The book that shifted so much understanding of women back in the nineties.
Various classics: I threw out many tattered, moist classics. I guess I should be upset but knowing that I can download digital copies free from Project Gutenberg or buy cheap new copies, I wasn’t really fussed. I’m much more upset about the out-of-print books I had to throw out.
Reading Note 45: Four decades of reading life. There were so many other books that I didn’t photograph that have now been sent for pulping. Children’s books, with Where’s Wally being thrown away alongside Babette Cole, Roald Dahl, Nick Sharrat, fairy tale retellings and so many others. All my travel guides from my carefree intrepid years. Those tomes with dog-eared and tattered pages. Some water stains. Some oily stains. The occasional food and coffee stains. Pen marks and highlighters, some sticky post-it notes, my trips around Europe, the shops I chose, the accomodation I chose. These books showed my reading life trajectory, my fleeting interests, my impulse buys, my keeper buys with their marginalia, these books showing my life route, my travel maps. It saddens me that I had to throw them out. I did not feel the same grief when I discarded my old e-reader.
Oddly enough, though all these mould ridden books sat side-by-side with my Mills-&-Boon collection, it was the other books that were affected. Fortuitously, all but 5 of the romances were fine. Not even a spot of mould. A lot to be said for good paper stock.
My shelves are now bare. I’ve cleaned them with vinegar and detergent as I have not been able to find oil of cloves anywhere. Now to decide what I can risk putting on these shelves.
I’m popping in to let you all know that I will be doing a short reading at Storytime for the Apocalypse. Described by its wonderful host Dr Tilly Hinton as “your monthly respite from all the complexities of life” and “that stories and community are the ballast we need when life gets rough”.
I have been grateful for her calm resolve in organising these readings since the pandemic began. I have been absent from my blog as I have found the world’s struggle with the outbreak of Covid-19 deeply upsetting. I spent the first two months completely unfocused and anxious about the situation at hand. This storytime has been a balm for me especially as it has Tilly’s thoughtful and kind touch in the way it is organised and presented. I feel honoured that I am on the guestlist for the next session where I am doing a reading alongside Dr Wade Kelly, Eames Demetrios, Richard Sanderson and Chris Schwartz.
I am going to combine SuperWendy’s TBR topic with my Reading Notes this month. Hopefully this works well enough that I can repeat it through the year. The topic is Short Shorts here are some are various books I have been reading including one romance novel.
Reading Note 13:Home inspiration. I read through two interior decorating books in succession that had been languishing in the library TBR for only a month. Both heavy, hard back books printed on substantial paper stock. The sort of design books that costs a lot and you are loathe to put in any discard pile for years to come.
The first I looked at was The Kinfolk Home – an offshoot from the magazine by the same name, it purports to support the “Slow” movement. It was definitely slow. So slow that I got bored of both the pictures and the stories of the families that lived in these homes. I am Marie Kondo’s nightmare, I am not a minimalist. I believe that design lovers are now referring to people like myself as being “maximalists”.I love vibrant colour and a home filled with books and curios, art and bibelots reflecting the life adventures of the occupants. Which is the opposite of what this book contains. All beige, grey, linen and black. Perhaps the slow movement requires homes to be uncluttered so as to encourage contemplation. I found no joy in the sleek interiors but I certainly can understand that someone who has the opposite approach to my own desire for home aesthetics would love this book.
In contrast, Little Big Rooms: New Nurseries and Rooms to Play In was delightful and full of colour and deep understanding of how a home works when young children need to feel that they are completely in the home, and not an adjunct design that could at any time disrupt an adult space. Even though my own children are now (young – ahem) adults, there were elements of young children’s play design that reflected how I used our own home space when they were little, albeit with a much tinier budget. I loved this book.
Reading Note 14: Quasi rural romance. I praised Penelope Janu quite a lot last year. In December I read On The Right Track which has the hero from In at the Deep End’s hero’s twin brother.. I enjoyed this book espite my deep dislike of horse racing. The book isn’t as rural as the book cover lets on. I liked the movement between the Southern Highlands and the Eastern suburbs of Sydney. But I do like my story telling a bit tighter than most standard novels, and though it was well done, I found that the storyline on the 25 year old crime that may have been committed that the international-man-of-mystery-spy hero was investigating through the whole book dragged on just a tad. And there was just such overriding sadness in this book especially with the complex (and thankfully unresolved and unapologetic) mother who had rejected the heroine Golden at birth with her grandfather raising her. I also liked heroine Golden’s lovely relationship with her sister.
Observation 53: Sunday Librarian no more. I have resigned from my library job. This took months (and could I say years) of contemplation. 2019 had sickness find both my husband and me this year. Tiredness, illness and the need to complete studying have led my decision. Having worked 11 of the last 18 years as a regular (weekly with the exception of annual and sick leave) Sunday Librarian across 3 different employers, I am now looking for a Monday – Friday job. I have paid my dues in LibraryLand and no longer can bear sacrificing every weekend. I don’t mind if I am asked to do a rotation of one in four, or one in three but I cannot take on weekend work as my standard weekly contracted hours again. In light of the work that women do, I have willingly taken on these roles because it helped facilitate my family’s decision to do tag-team parenting as well as supporting my study regime. But it is now time for future thinking and my future involves weekends not working. Considering that the majority of public library work that is advertised these days have a Monday-Sunday clause, I am not sure if my future includes public libraries. Watch this space.
Reading Note 15: David Sedaris. Last night I saw David Sedaris do a reading of his essays and diary entries at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney. I am long a fangirl of both Sedaris, and the theatre which holds such special memories for me as it was one of Sydney’s two Greek cinemas back in the 1970s and 1980s. Sedaris was, as ever, funny and erudite – his observances so sharp, his loyalty to his family, his wry love of his boyfriend Hugh, his love of jokes – I just lapped it all up. I especially love that he does book signings where he sits for hours talking to people. Two hours of waiting in line, John and I were 4th from the end, when we finally got to speak with him. He signed our books, I gave him my Greek cinema trivia (to which he was surprised) and then he offered me the remnants of his T-bone steak for my dogs. I hesitated for a moment before turning him down. I may be a fangirl, but I draw the line at taking an author’s food remnants home with me.
Reading Note 16: Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. I will do this book a disservice and just describe it as incredible and seminal writing that is necessary reading for all Australians and anyone who is interested in the colonial systems of displacing and misrepresenting the knowledge practices of first nations people. I am only half way through the audiobook for now, but I also mean to return to the print version which also has illustrations and photographs. Hopefully, I will write more about it next month.
I still have a way-high TBR. However, I don’t believe that the reading pile can every be completely read.
It has been a while since I have written about my reading, so here are some reading notes from this year’s reading selections with a particular bent towards settings. Just be warned, there are spoilers galore.
Reading Note 8: Tropes in cities. I really love a surprise baby trope as well as a one-night-stand-turn-up-to-your-new-job-to-discover-you-have-already-slept-with-your-new-boss trope. So icky in real life, so absurdly compelling in fiction. The Bachelor’s Baby Surprise is my first Teri Wilson book and I loved her writing style. The premise of the book is that heroine Evangeline Holly goes directly from a bad break up to a one-night stand with Ryan Wilde – a man who has just been voted the hottest bachelor in New York City. Though she gives him the brush off after their hook-up, six weeks later she finds herself employed as a sommelier at the hotel he jointly runs with his cousin. Continue reading →
As SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge topic for this month is Series, I have decided to list a series of reading notes on romances and other reading that has been sitting on my TBR shelf for many months.
Reading Note 1: Impulse Reading. There is too much impulse reading in the world. Just because a book is a new release, or has just hit the bestsellers list, this is no reason to dive straight into reading it. Sometimes, a book needs to wait. This is why I love SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge. I don’t think of books that have been on my TBR as languishing, as much as they are maturing while I get to them. There are many books that I have read long after their publishing date that have not aged well due to their time on the TBR, or due to the long wait until I have come to the end of a reservations list. I have become accustomed to waiting for books. As a librarian, I never feel that I can read a book that has reservations on it before the actual borrowers who have been waiting in line. This inevitably means that I need to wait until the reservation list diminishes (not a particularly easy thing). I also do not like the pressure of reading to a deadline. This also means that I miss the review flood, and I often find myself writing about books long after they have been released. The subsequent notes are all of books that have been waiting on my shelves, or that I have waited for patiently through library reservations.
Reading Note 2:Cry laugh. Over the years, I have found myself moving further and further away from reading male authors. They don’t appeal to me. I love my fiction to be filled with heartfelt emotion and somehow – and this will be a gross generalisation – men’s novels feel cold and observant, removed from the joy and exhilaration of emotional writing that I love reading. The authors whose works I have tried to read in the past year seem to be more about how clever they are as a writer rather than how well they can tell a story and I feel as though I am being talked down to as a reader. Is this the author as mansplainer perhaps? The exception though is David Sedaris. His writing fills me with emotions. I don’t know if it is partly due to our shared 2nd generation Greek diaspora experiences, his absurd sense of life, elves, language, family and Summer. All contribute to my love for his writing. After 42 weeks on reserve, I finally got Sedaris’s Calypso on audiobook from the library. The first time I listened to Sedaris on audiobook, I was laughing so hard that I had to pull over from driving as I couldn’t see the road from my tears. With Calypso, I had to pull over and park the car as once again, I was crying. But this time, it was in sorrow. Sedaris’s slow revealing of his sister Tiffany’s life and suicide and his own relationship with her, cut me deeply. Calypso. Such an innocuous story in his series of essays of life unravelling with his surviving four siblings. To quote him upon discovering the turtle he would feed was being fed by many others: Continue reading →
Earlier in the year, I thought that doing a PhD, working in 2 casual jobs as well as doing home-family things wasn’t enough so I enrolled my self in a 6 week MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered through Warwick University by FutureLearn called Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing. The course was on how reading can be a balm, a salve for a variety of mental health problems. Each week addressed a different condition – stress, bereavement, trauma, heartbreak, depression and ageing. The hosts Jonathan Bates and Dr Paula Bates interviewed famous people like Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen as well as not-so famous people (well to me anyway – they might just be UK famous) and there were also set readings (which were not compulsory). Most of the readings were poetry or excerpts so these were easy to get through. Continue reading →
I took Julia Quinn’s The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy to my bookclub meeting on the weekend and it caused a huge argument between myself and another member of the group. When she saw my book she was all: I can tell from the shape of the book that it is a throwaway read; there is nothing to learn from romance; You read it, it’s there, it’s fun but don’t try to tell me that it has the depths of Kundera etc, etc. I’m paraphrasing here. This was from a closecloseclose friend with whom I regularly argue on many issues that affect our lives. I also think she was deliberately riling me as she knows that I jump to the bait or as my dad would say Πεταγεσαι σαν πορδος απ᾽το βρακη/You jump like a fart from undies. It was fun seeing other people around us unsure as to how to react to our shouting. I won’t go into my response or her counter-responses here, (except to say – how can you judge a book purely by its shape? ‘Tis the content not the container!) however, I LOVE and ADORE that it was not the discussion of other reading choices but the reading of romance that brought shouting and dissension. There were fists being shaken to the skies and the thumping of tables and turned heads from all around. If we had white gloves with us, there would have been a duel challenge! The cafe owners, thankfully, did not intervene.
Does it really matter which cover and shape I read?
I don’t think enough people get riled up enough over books to have pistols-at-dawn moments. I think this is what I love about some reading arguments (both online and offline). People getting angry over books. People being incensed by what others read, how they read, and where they find meaning. I certainly get incredibly angry at marginalising reading interests, judgmental statements about people’s reading choices, at assumptions of people having a lesser intelligence either because they do not enjoy reading or cannot read, and my blood absolutely boils when reader shaming is bandied about.
A big disappointment for me several years ago was seeing reading evangelist Neil Gaiman talk to a room full of librarians about the power of reading. I had read the transcript several months earlier and in my head I had a powerful, expressive voice driving home the importance of reading. Watching the video, I was crestfallen (and a tad bored). It was all very English and dignified, it was a measured speech completely lacking in any emotion. Some may say that this is how professional, mature people behave when delivering a speech to a room full of other professionals (and they might actually be right). Continue reading →
Every day and throughout the year, I spend a substantial amount of my time reading about reading. From scholarly articles to academic books to chronicles of reading and reading memoirs. I am going to post a series of short observations on the books (and the occasional articles) that I have been reading particularly reflecting on the presence (or lack thereof) of romance fiction, and on how I feel my perceptions of reading aline with the authors.
In my final post in this On Reading reflections, I explore The Shelf in which Phyllis Rose decides upon reading every book on a specific fiction shelf (LEQ-LES) in the New York Society Library (NYSL) allowing the library’s arbitrary alphabetised ordering principle (such as I discussed in my last post) to dictate her choices. I really like the sub sub heading of Adventures in Extreme Reading. Extreme reading, I assumed for the risks the reader takes in serendipitous choice of a shelf that could introduce all manner of wild ideas to the reader. For if this is extreme reading then librarianship by default becomes an extreme profession, one which allows us to venture into readerships unphased and fearless. I also think that this concept of extreme reading is one that we in the library profession take for granted as we have our regulars who often tackle shelves without documenting their progress. Continue reading →