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I think you’re supposed to nest before a baby is born, but I seem to have become afflicted with the urge many weeks post partum.  Perhaps it’s the extended time I’m spending staring at things I don’t normally see, or the fact that there are now four people living in what is a small house.  I can always blame it on hormones too, I suppose.  Regardless of the root cause, I suddenly feel the need to clean, simplify and purge.  The first place I always start is my bookshelves.  We have at least one in every room.  We have books stacked everywhere there isn’t a bookshelf, including the back of the toilet. I even currently have a bookshelf in a closet. 

My nephew came by the other day and he said “Have you read all these books?”

I looked at him and smugly answered “Almost all of them, yes.” I may have even puffed myself up a little.   Later, when I was frothing-at-the-mouth annoyed that I have no room to put anything (you know, like another small person and all her paraphernalia), I thought, not so smugly, “You did this to yourself.” 

I had finally realized something.  Reading by its nature, is a solitary activity.  You can’t really share it with anyone else.  Therefore the only external expression of having read is a house full of books.  A house full of books you have already read. That seems crazy right?  Yes, it does.  While I re-read my favorites (A River Runs Through It, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and my favorite romance novel the title of which I will not disclose, although I will tell you that ‘peacock’ is in that title), I simply don’t have time to re-read most of the books I have acquired.  Otherwise I would never be able to read anything new.  So why keep them? 

The answer is complicated but for me it comes down to one thing.  A prolific reader (and yes, this is a generalization which may prove to be only specific to me) keeps them so that when someone comes to your home they can be impressed by the physical manifestation of your reading prowess.  Additionally, the right books on display may even indicate to such visitor that you are way smart.  They will be duly intimidated and full of admiration. “Look at Jess,” they will think “She has two copies of To Kill a Mockingbird [true story].  What, one for everyday wear and one for special occasions?  She must be a literary rockstar!”  Simply put, visitors like my nephew are the reason. 

Oh, but the problem is that there is a massage parlor full of rubs here.  Number one:  Generally speaking, the people who read the most are the most introverted.  Time that others spend at parties at other events, they spend curled up on the couch with a book.  Which stands to reason they likely have fewer people to actually come to their house to see their extensive libraries.  This, of course, defeats the purpose.  If a library is full and there is no one there to see it, is it still impressive?  Perhaps. Personally I never have anyone over who isn’t family or close friends.  They don’t find me smart or intimidating.

Number two, anyone who is not a reader will not be sufficiently impressed with your book overflow, as my friend’s husband, a man who has a tv in every room, once illustrated.  “This is the only tv you have?” he asked, pointing to my 19″ model with a built-in VCR. “What do you do, read?”

Number three, anyone who is a reader will not be sufficiently impressed with your book overflow, seeing as they have one of their own.  Perhaps they will see some of their favorites among your titles.  Perhaps they will see something new they like and want to borrow.  But sure enough, they will have a suggestion (or ten) of their own to add, which might in fact, make you feel less impressive, since you haven’t read it(them).  At that point, the Sisyphean nature of your book collecting will rear its ugly head.

All of which, made it quite easy for me (mostly) to pack up many dozens of titles and donate them to the library, whose collection is now a mite more impressive than it used to be.  Leaving me with enough room to liberate the closet bookshelf.  But while there are gaps on my shelves, the big psychological gap needs filling.  How will anyone know what and how much I’ve read?  How will I get my external validation?  Technology has the answer, fortunately:  Where you can show off what you are reading and what you have read.  All without taking up any physical space whatsoever.  Genius.  And with the Facebook app, you can be sure that all your friends know how impressive a reader you really are.

Now, what to do with my pathological book buying. . .stay tuned for Part 2.

The books read at a certain age, for me between 10 and 13 years old, can be permanently stamped on your psyche.  I became a real reader at this age, with the loving and supportive help of two very literary teachers. Interestingly these fine ladies, upon retirement, took jobs at the local library.  I can’t think of a better suited job for either of them, seeing as they introduced me to my own love of reading. 

As a young girl I read everything I could get my hands on (sound familiar?) and read at the speed of lightning (again, any surprises there?).  In my opinion reading begets reading.  It’s The Neverending Story come to life – as soon as you finish one there is another hovering in the wings.  You don’t want to stop, you might missing the next adventure.  This is also the place in my life where reading became how I made sense of the world.  When you are a young adult, navigating the confusing new currents of adolescence, processing the end of childhood and the anticipating the looming seriousness of the world of adults, fantasy has special something to offer.  At a time when you feel most impotent and insignificant, confused and lost, stories of seemingly ordinary kids doing extraordinary things is a welcome escape.  Who can forget poor Wart, who doesn’t even know that underneath all those skinny limbs and dirty clothes he’s a KING!  It doesn’t get any better.

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I feel sorry for Ms. Morgenstern.  What, you say, that’s crazy!  She got an almost obscene advance for her very first novel  with nary a writing credit to her name.  The movie rights have already been sold (were sold before the book was published) to the makers of the Twilight movies.  Rumor has it Harry Potter’s simply magical David Heyman will produce.  What’s to feel sorry for?

Two reasons: 

A) According to the Wall St. Journal, publishers, book sellers, movie producers, marketing gurus everywhere, and (not incidentally) readers, all think that The Night Circus will be the next  Harry Potter!


B) I’ve read 49 pages of  Night Circus.  It’s not Harry Potter.

Hold up, wait a minute (put a little boom in it. . .).  This is not a bad thing.  Or a good thing.  It’s just, well, a different thing. 

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 I was in a chain bookstore the other day and walked through the YA section, as is my wont, when I saw this heading on a shelf  – “YA Paranormal Romance.”  Well, it’s been quite a while, but I’m pretty sure that all teenage romance is paranormal, so it seems to me a bit redundant.  We can probably thank, for lack of a better word, the Twi-hards for this.  Anything dealing with vampires, werewolves, dragons, and zombies is hip right now, as long as it involves some heavy sighing from lovelorn girls and the breathtakingly beautiful young men who inspire such, ahem, expiration (that’s one chock-full, respiratory metaphor right there).

Aprilynne Pike has her own version of this, but hers is about fairies.  This would be a hard sell if not for her ingenious vision of fairies – they are actually plants, not little flying humanoids like Tinkerbell.  They are human sized, they have human habits and they are – male and female – exceptionally beautiful.  Sounds like a winner for sure. 

There are some obvious parallels between Ms. Pike’s books and the Twilight series, which is to say that all teenage romances are the same formula – girl meets boy and likes boy a lot, girl meets other boy and also likes him a lot.  Boy fights boy over girl.  Sexual tension ensues.  Only now there are the added bonuses – someone gets bitten, someone shape shifts, someone tries really hard not to eat his girlfriend.   But the Laurel Series in many (many) ways are not even in the same category as those vampire books.

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If you’re going to write a book about Beefeaters in the tower of London, it doesn’t hurt to be named Stuart.  For the uninitiated, Stuart is the illustrious (infamous?) last name of James I of England (son of Mary Queen of Scots).  And even though the author is likely no relation (she makes absolutely no such claims) it lends a certainly legitimacy to her story.

Which is funny because I really did believe everything she wrote in this book, though the rational side of my brain kept reminding me, as the title drives home (der, it’s “a novel”).  Her snippets of Tower “history” were just kooky enough to be true.  The scientist in me is eager to go read a history of the tower to check, but the reader in me wants to let sleeping ravens lie.

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 As regular readers of this blog know, I’m contrary about a lot of things, but particularly when my ‘non reading’ friends recommend a book.  I resist, I balk, I dig in my heels until either one of two things happens a) someone literally puts the book in my hands and says “READ IT!” or b) a ‘real’ reading friend recommends it.  If neither of these two things happen I simple become of those people who appear behind the times, but is secretly sitting smugly and patting myself on the back for not following the crowd.  Of course, as I’ve acknowledged before, this kind of thinking is potentially dangerous, since I would miss some amazing reading.   And really, who am I to judge what other people are reading?  At least people still are reading, even if it is on an e-reader (don’t get me started there. . .).  Sometimes, like now, when I’m too tired and dazed to concentrate, easy reading, good reading, fun reading is exactly what is needed.

Like the rest of the world I’d been hearing about Sarah’s Key everywhere.  Lots of people I knew had read it and were lauding it, but these were all the same people who read Water for Elephants (full disclosure, I read that too, but in hardcover, before everyone was mad about it and before that Twilight guy made a movie of it).  My mother, the mother-of-all-readers, brought it over and put it on my shelf without so much as a comment (apparently option c to get me to read something).   I found it after I spent three days enthralled with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and needed some fiction.  However I wouldn’t call this book, a story about the Holocaust, easy nor fun, but it was in so many aspects, very very good.

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 I’ve gotten on my soapbox before about how high school English ruins reading for kids.  And be forewarned, here we go again.   But before I begin, I just want you to read this:

“This was the tree, and it seemed to me standing there to resemble those men, the giants of your childhood, whom you encounter years later and find that they are not merely smaller in relation to your growth, but that they are absolutely smaller, shrunken by age.  In this double demotion the old giants have become pigmies while you were looking the other way.”

I have one question.  How the HELL does anyone expect a 16-year-old to understand that?

The fact is, course, that they can’t.  They’re sixteen, mere emotional fetuses.  They read John Knowles beautiful words, but they don’t digest them.  They hear but they don’t listen (isn’t that typical teenager behavior?). They don’t get what this book is really about, which is deeply sad, because there is so, so much to “get.”

I know this, because I was asked to read this book when I was sixteen and I even I, a practically professional reader, almost forgot about the third protagonist – the war.  What I remember most was wondering idly which of the boys I would have liked to date (Finny of course!).   In that way I am (or rather, as I like to think, was) no better than the scads of Twi-hards in their Team Jacob and Team Edward tshirts.

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I have this self-imposed rule that you don’t buy a book with the movie photo on the cover.  I’ve broken this rule twice – once for A River Runs Through It (the one with a silhouette of Brad Pitt), and a few weeks ago for Shutter Island (which, I’ll admit, I bought at the grocery store – I’ve really purchased books everywhere). 

It also goes against my general beliefs that one should not read a book after seeing a movie, but after many years of wanting to do this and stopping myself I finally relented (it’s my own rule after all).   I really like Dennis Lehane’s books and though I hate most Martin Scorsese films (yes, even the ones with Leo in them), I wanted to see this movie because the author himself said he really enjoyed it.  After seeing it I was so intrigued by how it would play out in print form.  It was an impulse buy at the checkout line, pure and simple.

So in the interest of alleviating some cognitive dissonance (how’s that for a psychological term?) I decided to change this rule too.  My new rule:  it’s acceptable to buy the movie version of the book – only if it’s a trade paperback. 

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Jesse and I like to think we appreciate each other all the time (though as a middle child i often feel underappreciated), but even so we’re really excited that it’s that time of year again!  Book blogger appreciation week is almost here.   It’s a time when we can appreciate other book bloggers and the general fun and geekiness that is book blogging in general.  We both encourage you to check out the BBAW website  for more information.

Jesse and I have registered our humble little blog for two categories – Most Eclectic Blog and Best Written Blog.  Our favorite posts below will be presented to the judges.

Best Eclectic Blog

Peter and The Sword of Mercy
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
A New Mom’s Guide to Reading
Odd and The Frost Giants

Best Written Blog

Peter and The Sword of Mercy
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
A New Mom’s Guide to Reading
Odd and The Frost Giants

Wish us luck and check out some of the (other) amazing blogs participating in this year’s BBAW!

“I’m not a Starcatcher anymore, James.  I’m a mother of three and the wife of a prominent barrister who does not approve of talk of starstuff and evil creatures and the like.  Childhood fantasies, he calls them.”

These are the words of Molly Darling, nee Molly Aster, a hero in the previous Peter installment, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon.  Now, I’m not here to disparage wives and mothers, especially now that I’m both of those things.  But I reserve the right to mock a formerly powerful girl who not only worries about, but abides by what her uptight, self-righteous husband “approves” of.

Thankfully the lady doth protest too much and by the beginning of the next chapter has embroiled herself in the dangerous adventure that threads through the book.

But Wendy, she’s another story.

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