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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:  www.goodreads.com.  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.

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Forgive me, readers, for two things.  One, for being absent for so long, and two, for being self-indulgent and explaining away my absence.  Humor me, it’s relevant (sort of).

Toward the end of the summer I took a new job and simultaneously, somehow, and totally on purpose, I found myself knocked up (no oops there, but I do wonder at my timing). So between the working, the throwing up, the commuting, the being exhausted and the studying for the MBA which suddenly seems much less important, I haven’t had time to crack a book for enjoyment since.

This, I have discovered, is a very unhealthy place for me to be.  My body is having a hard enough time keeping down food (like some women, I’ve lost weight in my first trimester).  This is no time for my soul also to be lacking in (literary) nourishment.

This baby may not end up being a reader, though with nature (on both sides) and nurture (on all sides) I don’t see how that will be possible.  Regardless of how he or she turns out, it will not be from lack of a steady diet of stories.

Starting now.

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Cover ImageAmmon Shea is a total nerd. 

Best of all, he’s not ashamed of it.  He embraces his quirky (to some, but not to me) hobby of reading dictionaries (not to mention his voracious reading habits in general).  Not only that, he takes it all to a new level by reading the OED cover to cover (or rather – covers to covers). 

I applaud his humor, his wit and his self-deprecation because I love a good nerd, especially a self aware one.

I find books like Reading the OED completely and unabashedly undeniable. My only problem with them is that I wished I had written them, but these guys beat me to it!  A.J. Jacobs’ The Know It All is one of my favorite books (of ALL TIME).  I even found David Plotz’s Blogging the Bible an irresistible read (and I’m an atheist!).  Shea calls the OED his Everest.  He’s reading it because it’s there (which I would venture to guess is also why Jacobs and Plotz attempted their arguably insane reading mountains). I empathize with that kind of thinking. 

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I’ve been reading like crazy lately, so it seems strange that I haven’t had time to blog.  It looks like I haven’t done anything, if I assume that anyone’s actually reading this.  I may have been quiet, but I was cranking through some serious bookage these past weeks.  Unlike the industry, which seems to think that summer reading is more prolific, winter is, for me, the best time to stay inside and warm, snuggle up with some good stories (besides I hate sand in my books).

Here’s a quick summary to keep you posted:

I’m not a huge fan of what may be called Chick Lit, but I did read two books lately which could be considered as such.  One is a charming little fantasy novel called Garden Spells.  Though it probably borrows too heavily from Like Water for Chocolate and often seems to be a new rendition of the terrible movie Simple Irresistible,  it is a cute read, worth it if you borrow it from the library or from a friend (sorry, I gave mine away already).    The other, is a deceptively simple novel called The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.  I read this book in an afternoon and enjoyed this story of two sisters and a granddaughter.  The Esme of the title resurfaces into society after 61 years in a mental institution, but it’s not about her reintroduction to the world, it’s about delving into the past to see how she got there in the first place.  The desultory ramblings of her sister, well within the iron fist of Alzheimer’s, adds the necessary counter opinion.  This book is good in the reading, but where it hits you is later, when you’ve put it down and tried to move on.  It just won’t leave you. I found myself thinking about the implications of this books for weeks afterward.  Is that what reviewers mean by “haunting?”

In retrospect it seems I was trying to cleanse all that estrogen by picking up Dennis Lehane next.  He’s someone I summarily dismissed for many years because he’s so popular and well, I’ve seen the movies.  But Sacred and A Drink Before the War were all the fun of watching a movie without the $10.00 ticket fee (or Sean Penn’s ugly mug).  Lehane obviously writes in a certain genre, with movie dialogue, but I can embrace a good PI story, especially one set in my home state. 

Finally I picked up Anna Quindlen.  I just finished her book Good Dog.  Stay. and of course bawled my eyes out when the dog dies (I didn’t ruin it for you, of course it’s coming).  I’ve decided I want her career of writing small books that capture people’s emotions.  How Reading Changed My Life isn’t so much about how it changed her life as how it forged her life.  In this Anna and I have much in common.  We’re both that girl who would rather squish into an over-sized armchair with a book about far off place, then squashed into a plane seat on our way to said faraway place.   She’s the kind of reader I was and am and will be and it’s good to know that there are more of us in the world.

Cover ImageCover ImageTruly obsessive readers (i.e. people like me) have been known, on occasion, to read two books at once.  There are really only two successful ways to do this a) you can read two completely different books (one nonfiction and one fiction is a good idea) or b) you can read two books that complement each other, but only if one requires less “work” than the other.  This past week, in an attempt to fill the Harry Potter void, I chose option b and I picked my two books carefully – Reading like a Writer and The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.

Books about books (or about reading) are the sole realm of serious bibliophiles.  Readers wandering into Barnes and Noble or mindlessly exploring Amazon.com aren’t intrigued by these titles.  More often than not, they can’t even find them.  My favorite independent book store appreciates this small subset of readers and has a shelf entirely for us (entitled, obviously – Books about Books), but that’s unusual.  There are no book clubs for these kinds of books and even if there was, there is no cool way to tell someone you’re reading a book about reading (believe me, I tried this morning. Fortunately I outed myself to a fellow enthusiast), unless in the context of a class assignment (which, though it’s an adequate explanation and will save you some face, precludes it being “cool”)

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Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading

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