On writing The Library Agrafa

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.

You can read the whole essay at this link: https://www.thealephreview.com/post/the-library-agrafa

Continue reading

Book with one word title!!!!

I’m taking a break from my notes today so that I can take part in Wendy The Super Librarian’s TBR challenge – and she is Super. I know because I have met her. Anyway, I usually don’t even look at the monthly challenge until the day due for posting as I like being relaxed and not feeling any pressure to read in a specific way. This usually works for me as there is either a close link or a tenuous link. However, this month’s challenge is to read a Book With One Word Title. There is no way that I could find a book or even essay I had read this month with a One Word Title.

So I thought, how hard could this be. I’ll just quickly read an ebook.

I go to my library cards, I search for romance books and firstly there were slim pickings. I mean SLIM. The statewide system seemed to have only 80 titles under the keyword search for “romance”. There were about 5 one word titles but they were only 500 pages. Yeah but nah.

I got agitated. So I moved on. I went to my local library. There were a lot more books but once again, there were few with only one word titles, and absolutely none with a low word count.

I got agitated. So I moved on. I thought I’d check the YA books. I found a few with one word titles but they were all ALL overly long. 400 pages plus. Publishers – take note. Teenagers and young adults are ALL studying. Who has time for 400 page novels. I say bring back the Sweet Dream length teen romances. Bring back the Paul Zindel, S E Hinton, Judy Blume teen novels of the late 20th century. Short and fast. Easy and quick. Over and done with in an afternoon so you can pass them around to your friends in a short week. None of these ridiculous doorstopper tomes.

I got agitated and moved to my bookshelves. I found all my Charlotte Lambs with One Word Titles. Desire. Heartbreaker. Temptation. Crescendo. Fever. I chose to read Scandalous. It’s only 180 pages. I can do this. However, I was starting at 6pm and interruptions and dinner time and phone calls kept me from progressing beyond a chapter.

I got agitated and gave up. I ate my dinner and my son suggested we watch Superstore.

Superstore. One Word Title!

Sure. I’m far behind as I only started watching the series a month ago. I’m halfway through Season 2. TBR tick!!!

We start watching the episode we were up to and it is the Valentine’s episode! JACKPOT!

For those that don’t know, the show is like a Walmart but it is called Cloud 9. The premise of the episode was that the main characters Amy (a staffer played by America Ferrera), Jonah (another staffer played by Ben Fledman who looks like he is the love child of Scott Baio and Scott Baio) and Glenn (the store manager played by Mark McKinney) get so caught up with Valentine’s Day fever they accidently overstep boundaries. Nothing romantic between the main characters so I guess it is going against the Valentine’s Day Trope that says that “characters face romantic challenges or break new ground on episodes that revolve around Valentine’s Day”. There was a sweet moment between character Mateo and his (secret) boyfriend Jeff. And there was the end of day destruction of all the Valentine’s merchandise by Amy and Ben who smash all the hearts and eat all the chocolates. Even though Amy is married (though her marriage is on the rocks), it is totally obvious that she and Jonah will be getting it on at some point in the series. The spark is there. They are fun to watch together. Visually, they are just like Joanie Loves Chachi but WAY BETTER.

I really enjoy this show

Best laid plans and Nature: Observation Note 68 and Reading Note 28

Observation note 68: The best laid plans of mice and men. Today, I ended up returning three books to the library that I had borrowed twice, each time for a three month period (this is inclusive of two automatic renewals). I managed to read Vivian Gornick’s Unfinished Business (see Reading Notes 17-21), however I returned Gornick’s Fierce Attachments as well as Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking without even starting them. I still have an overdue book – I am half way through Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman in the City and I am going to try to finish it tonight and return it tomorrow. Thankfully, my library system doesn’t have overdue fines and to allay any worry warts, if the book had been recalled for a reservation I would return it unfinished. However, it is overdue only because time has run out. It is just going to sit on the shelf until I feel a decent amount of time has passed and I can reborrow it. Though I am enjoying Vivian Gornick’s writing so much that I might even go out and buy a copy instead. As for Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, I kept it on hold as I was trying to finish all three Gornick books before I started it. I had seen Solnit’s name pop up here and there over the years – from Twitter mentions to mansplaining stories to Goodreads listing as well as references in other books.

Reading Note 28: Nature. I have very little interest in going walking/trekking/rambling through the bush/countryside/forest/[insert here your environmental Nirvana]. I embrace my love for city walking and the urban environment. I’m of the opinion that for the environment to stay intact, we should keep far far far away from it. I don’t need to experience nature myself to value it and my endeavour to preserve it is by not setting foot int it. Treading lightly by not treading at all. That said, I do love reading about environmental adventures. Perhaps it is born out of my childhood reading of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi and L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I happily read about other people’s travels through nature’s best which is what makes Kathryn Aalto’s collection of women in nature biographies so great. Kathryn Aalto includes Rebecca Solnit in her book Writing Wild: Women poets, ramblers, and mavericks who shape how we see the natural world. This is an excellent book of essays focusing on women who have written about nature over the past couple of centuries and their unique perspectives. 25 essays of about 6-8 pages focusing on each woman’s oeuvre was written in such an engaging way that I found myself going down rabbit holes to search online maps and animal and flower names, further researching each author, either finding the 19th century author’s work either on Project Gutenberg, the Poetry Foundation, or simply reserving library copies of the contemporary authors’ works (hello Rebecca Solnit!!!!). This book serves as a gateway to further explorations of the body of women scientists, novelists, conservationists, poets and more all writing about nature, the changes that have occurred over the centuries, the ecological impact of the industrial and modern ages, and the engagement with the urban and rural landscape. I just loved this book.Though I borrowed this book from the library, I will definitely be buying my own copy. It is a keeper.

Environment, eavesdropping and quiet: Observation Notes 65-67

Observation note 65: Environmental Coffee. In October of 2019, I saw a short news snippet on how Italy’s coffee culture differs from Australia in that it doesn’t create as much rubbish. This is because people sit down for their coffee rather than have take-aways. So I have made a concerted effort ever since to make time to sit down for my coffee. Since then, I have only bought three take-away coffees. If I can’t make time to sit down, I just don’t bother. I know that keep cups are an option but I can taste the plastic in them. I also like the sit down. 10-15 minutes a day forcing me to think about my next step, my next action, my next read or my next piece of writing. Of course, considering that the majority of 2020 was spent in lockdown, I really missed having cafe coffee. It does differ from home coffee even if you have invested in a $400 coffee machine to make excellent coffees at home. My lockdown, homemade coffees were wonderful, of course. I was grateful for all of them especially as they were all made for me by my husband. We got into the habit of taking our coffees onto our front verandah even if it was mostly quiet with sparse foot traffic going past. Occasionally, we’d chat with friends or neighbours, or my sister would walk past and we would have a very loud, socially distanced conversation.

Observation note 66: Eavesdropping. One of the benefits of only sitting down in a coffee shop is being able to listen in to other people’s conversations. The other day, as I was quietly sipping my coffee, pretending to be writing on my laptop, I could hear two young men having a catch up. One of them was talking about his break up with his girlfriend and he said that he was “a conscious narcissist” and that he didn’t want to spend any time pandering to a woman’s needs when he just wanted someone to take care of his needs. Suffice to say, he was a total bore, even if he did effusively appreciate the delicate blue-flowered teapot his chai was served up in. At another table, a group of women were busy planning archive acquisitions for their workplace. Only one was taking notes as the other two discussed dates and possible collaborators for projects. The day before, while I tucked into my bulgar wheat crepe with rose water poached pears, the woman next to me was discussing the merits of the picture books she was reading with the barista who was taking a break from his work. Ahead of me, a couple were working out their child’s pick up schedule. All this was done in hushed tones. No-one was particularly talking loudly (dammit!). I had to strain to listen in. It was a task to overhear their conversations over the buzz of the coffee grinder and the staff seeing to other people’s needs.

Observation note 67: What is quiet. The other day, while I sheltering from the cold at the library (see Observation Note 63), I found the “Quiet” room to read my book. There were a few other people in the room and everyone was totally quiet. However, just like the coffee shop, there was ambient noise. Primarily from staff who were answering their users questions. When I was working as a librarian, I was always keenly aware of how contradictory librarians were to their library “brand” (I really hate that word). The quiet room’s door was propped open, so the staff discussion could be heard, the children’s storytime cheers were carrying from the other end of the room, and the sitar player sitting outside of the library was clearly audible. What was lacking though, were conversations between people that I could listen in on, trying to get a glimpse into their life. The elderly gentlemen in search of the Choice magazine so he could read up on washing machine reviews was disappointingly boring. So I left. I went back to the coffee shop. I needed to overhear more stories.

Cold, browsing and cults: Observation Notes 62-63 and Reading Note 26

Observation note 62: Brrrrr. I was not dressed for the frigid cold today. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was clad. I had thick cotton tights, a long sleeve top, a tunic, a jacket, socks, shoes and a thick scarf. However, today called for fleece lined tights, wool-lined boots, a thick, triple layered long coat and perhaps a woollen hat with those droopy ear coverings. As I had none of these items, instead of walking around Newcastle, I spent a large part of my day eavesdropping into conversations in coffee shops, admiring the current exhibitions at the art gallery and finding the warmest and quietest corner in the library.

Observation Note 63: Browsing. As I knew that I was only going to be in the library for a few hours, I browsed the shelves looking for something short to read. This is despite carrying in my backpack my current book on the go – the storytelling is always greener on the other side. I am convinced that this is behaviour typical of avid readers. I went by the thickness of book spines and found that I rejected nearly all the books in the library as being too long to read. I couldn’t find any poetry that appealed to me, I had read all the interior design books on offer, and there weren’t any 2021 Mills & Boons on the shelf. As an aside, the library’s non-fiction section is genrefied and I found Susan Orlean’s The Library Book in True Crime which surprised me. True Crime??? I mean, Orleans is investigating a fire but I would have gone with History myself. I like the surprise of other people’s categorisations.

After a short librarianlicious while, I finally found the graphic novel section. Jackpot!

Reading Note 26: Cult. I ended up spending the morning reading Marianne Boucher’s Talking to Strangers: A memoir of my escape from a cult . This is the story of how, in 1980, while she was only 18, Boucher became a member of a religious cult in Los Angeles. Boucher’s retelling of the brainwashing she was subjected to, her mother’s measured and calm response in safely extricating her daughter from the cult, and Boucher’s continued struggle with her sense of herself, her terrifying experiences and her responses to other people was steeped with intensity. Graphic novel memoirs are one of my favourite (sub)genres and this one certainly was a gripping read.

Tropes, Fire, Empire: Reading Notes 8-12

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

Faceplants, Photographs and the Library Kool-Aid: Observation Notes 18-30

Every few months, I will post a series of observations that I have collected during that time.  I work 4 days a week, study 2 days a week and faceplant every Saturday so it has taken me a while to write . It is unrelated to my previous Observations post. 

Note 18: Mum. My mum was ill for most of 2018. The first half of the year she was constantly in hospital, so in the second half of the year we were all on edge. She wasn’t ill enough to return to hospital, however pneumonia in octogenarians is quite serious. As mum says, every other funeral she attends is due to older people succumbing to pneumonia.

Note 19: Photographs and Mum. I would spend the occasional weekend with my mum, whenever my sister who lives with her was away, as I didn’t want to leave her alone. Mum would just cough uncontrollably for the majority of the time that I was with her. The more she coughed, the more she became distressed. To distract her, I would pull out her albums. Her photographs have aged over the years, but going through them calmed her coughing. She would tell me of her friends, her aunts, the young children in the photos. Continue reading

Library fine by me

I’m a shocking borrower. I am completely unreliable. I forget to renew my books, I forget my due dates, I am constantly late and I am forever paying overdue fines. I like to consider my overdue fines to be my annual donation to the betterment of the local library of which I am a patron.

A few months ago, my mum finally convinced my sisters and me to clean out her garage. This was a mammoth task. I threw out huge, and I mean HUGE amounts of my high school assignments and notes that I stored away over quarter of a century ago. I was impressed by my calligraphy, by my writing style but none of it deserved being kept. Except for this overdue notice:

Overdue Notice

Oh yes! The notice is on embossed paper! I feel so special! Digital overdues can’t compete. There is no mistakening my habitual nature. Here is another one:

Another overdue!

This one is not fancy. It must have only been a first notice. Every time I have overdues I have an excuse as to why I have been late:

– I forgot.

– I didn’t check my mail.

– I lost the due date slip.

– One book slipped under the driver’s seat when I was driving all 45 loans back to the library and the other 44 were on time (well, make that 38 because 6 were from a previous visit).

– My sister borrowed my books and we fought so I couldn’t ask her to return it because a stand off is a freakin’ stand off.

The point is though, that I always return the books. Always. And yes I accrue overdues which I always pay without complaint. A few weeks ago I paid $66. Yep. That is 6 romances just in that one overdue. This time my excuse was that I went away on holiday, lost my charger so I was offgrid for 4 days during which time my overdue notice arrived but I didn’t look at my email until my 13+ items had accrued at $1 a day. I know. A bit “dog ate my homework” but it is true. These overdues were from my uni library which is much more expensive than my local library. Continue reading

On Reading: The Shelf

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.

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading

by Phyllis Rose

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014

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