7

Why I buy non-fiction

A couple of weeks ago, on a post about monthly library usage, Buried in Print left a comment about buying versus borrowing non-fiction that I’ve been pondering ever since.

The exchange ended with the question: Have you always bought more NF than fiction, or has it become a habit over time?

And I’ve been thinking about this ever since, about my relationship to non-fiction versus fiction, why I’m drawn to one over the other when I buy books, why it’s important to me to buy non-fiction but I almost never take it out from the library.

book-stack

A few times a year, I go through my collection and purge. Physical books obviously take up space and when you have as many as I do, it gets out of hand quickly. There are some books that I read that I just don’t love and I don’t mind giving them away to make space for some that I might fall for. And even though I donate books a couple of times a year, almost none of those books are ever non-fiction.

Still, I own a lot of books (I have forgone formal dining space in the apartment in favour of setting up a library). Once I started earning my own money, it became important to me to buy books. That has mostly remained true over time. I do go to the library fairly regularly, in an effort to keep the numbers of books I own down somewhat.

But given the choice to buy or borrow non-fiction? I will pretty well choose ‘buy’ every time. I impulsively buy non-fiction in a way that just doesn’t happen with fiction. Partly, this is because I have been haunted by non-fiction titles that I walked away from once only to spend months and years trying to find it again. So now? I just buy the book.

And partly, it’s because when I was a kid, I dreamed about one day having the kind of library that could be used as reference for school work. It seemed like an insane luxury not to have to troll the baby internet for knowledge, not have to physically go to the library. And that’s not to say that there were no books in my house – there were. Just not on the kinds of things I needed for my homework.

It’s important to me to buy non-fiction because I like being surrounded by history, politics, feminist voices, biographies and the kinds of books that are labelled as social science. I like being able to look something up when I want to, to look at pictures of things that happened a hundred years ago.

When I’ve not been able to afford to buy books, I’ve used the library a lot. And I always end up reading amazing non-fiction books that I then have to give back. And as is so often the case, those books haunt me as I realize that finding them to buy is no simple thing.

So buying non-fiction was a habit born of a childish desire to learn everything, to have that knowledge on hand when I needed it, for this introvert to be able to stay at home and have access to the information I need.

Of course, one could argue that the internet and smartphones have made this desire obsolete. But you all know that there is no way that I would ever trade my books for the internet.

Especially my non-fiction titles.

13

Comfort Reading

Well. Here we are.

I don’t have much to say right now. I’m still struggling to make sense of what actually happened. And I know that a lot of you are feeling the same way.

I don’t live in the States, but I live in the world. And these results are just the latest in a global trend of the far right trading on fear and hatred to take control.

I don’t have words of wisdom for you. I can’t make this OK. Not today.

But I can offer you some comfort through books. This is a month dedicated to non-fiction reading but I haven’t been able to read much of it in the last 24 hours.

In case there are others looking for comfort reads, I offer you a list of books that have always made me feel better. Here’s hoping that any of these can soothe some of the heartbreak.

Harry Potter. An entire series dedicated to the eradication of hatred, predicated on the magic of the power of love. Get thee to Hogwarts.

Anything by Maeve Binchy. Her books are all about how hard work can right the ship. Her characters heal, change their lives, move forward because of the support of the people they love and a strong work ethic.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Find refuge in this book meant to offer hope to those who are struggling in a myriad of ways. Let Sugar’s empathy show you that all is not lost.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Ove hates the world. No one follows the rules and he doesn’t see the point in anything. But then he accidentally opens his door to a family across the street and his heart breaks wide open. You’ll cry but it will be cathartic.

The Humans by Matt Haig. The story of how an alien learns to be human. The most important takeaway? Love’s the thing that matters most.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It’ll take a while but Jean Valjean is probably the best character in all of literature. He is obsessed with doing the right thing, no matter what.

Anything by Jane Austen, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and/or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. These books brought comfort to soldiers fighting in WWI and WWII. Seems like they’d have something to offer today.

Most of all, look after yourselves. Eat cake, watch movies, hug your pets, love your kids, and:

ellen

9

Lake Reads – Weak Sauce edition

lake reads

You know what that means! Time for another edition of “here are the books I’m dragging with me to the lake!”

I suspect that this time will be different – we’re only going up for a few days, and more people are coming with, including 2 little boys.

Regardless of how much time I will have to actually read, I would never want to be in a situation where I had nothing to read. I’m still bringing options! Whether I will get through any of these is anyone’s guess, but these are the books that will be making the trip this time:

Cecilia by Frances Burney – I’ve been limping along recently, trying to keep up with the Summer of Cecilia hosted by Laura @ Reading in Bed. I’m more than halfway though so if I just make some kind of effort, I should be able to get back on track!

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani. If I do get some time to sit and read in the sun, I feel like a book about Golden Age movie stars will be perfect.

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel. I read the first few pages of this book about privileged white people who lose all their money – it took place at their summer home. I’ve also heard that the characters in this one are fun to hate. Reading about despicable people in a beautiful place? One of my favourite things.

The Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger. I just re-watched The Devil Wears Prada. It’s been too long since I read something by Lauren Weisberger (we probably should just forget Revenge Wears Prada ever happened, ok?). I was dragged to Costco with the promise of a book, this was the one I picked (also, I had already read most of the books on offer. Get your sh*t together, Costco!)

Feels like a weak list doesn’t it? I’ll probably sneak something else in last minute but I really don’t think it’ll be reading productive time this trip.

Enjoy the last days of summer, friends! See you on the other (scheduled, September) side!

11

Lake Reads: BC Day Edition

 

lake reads

Look at what I did! Learning and growing, guys.

As my shiny new graphic may have indicated, I’m off for another long weekend at the lake. This time around is a little different – my sister, Audrey of Aud Thoughts, is coming with! I’m sure for a lot of people, the addition of an extra person would mean that less reading would occur. But Audrey and I are the kind of sisters that will just read together. I suspect Holly and Amanda at Gun in Act One are similar.

But you didn’t come here to hear about sister reading (did you?). You want to know what I’ve brought with me to the lake, right? I have some good ones coming with me! Right now, I’m reading one of these.

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight. You may recall that I LOVED Reconstructing Amelia. Her second book, Where They Found Her, was just OK for me. The Outliers is our book club book – apparently this is the first in a trilogy. Wylie gets a text from her best friend Cassie, ‘Please Wylie, I need your help.’ This is the first Wylie has heard from Cassie in over a week so of course she’s going to do what she needs to to help her friend.

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. This one is described as Emma set in Modern Asia so that’s really all I need. Amanda read it recently and said it was more serious than she expected it to be but I guess now I’m prepared for that!

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin. First of all, this woman’s name is Wednesday and I can totally get behind that. This book, an anthropological look at the insanity that is the Upper East Side, sounds gossipy and snotty and great. I’d been meaning to read this one for a while and when I walked into Chapters the other day, the paperback was on for $15. Yes, please.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. Guys, this is the last of Moriarty’s books that I have to read! Once I read this, I will have read ALL of her books and have to wait for her to write something new. (I read Truly Madly Guilty and it was amazing. Totally maintaining the Moriarty Standard of Excellence). Sophie’s perfect boyfriend is going to propose but on the day he’s going to do it, she ends the relationship and breaks his heart. A year later, he’s  married to someone else and Sophie wonders if he’s the one that got away. Listen – it might not sound like your cup of tea but when Liane Moriarty is at the helm, a straight forward story becomes so much more.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes. Anyone else feeling like they need a hit of Downton? This book from the show’s creator is set in the 1840s but begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. It all starts at the Duchess of Richmond’s infamous ball and I am here for it.

The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler. Guys, I can’t get enough of this series. Kepler has become one of my favourite Scandinavian crime writers. After this one, I still have Stalker to go. This one tells the tale of a gruesome and strange murder in a home for teenaged girls. Joona Linna returns to find out what happened. Lake rule: you must always bring crime fiction.

The Hopefuls is also coming up with us because Audrey has requested it. And! For the first time ever, my husband wants to read a book that I recommended. I’m not supposed to make a big deal out of it or he won’t read it… (The book is Dark Matter)

Hope you have some good reads on deck this weekend!

outisde

 

 

 

12

Library ghettoes

I started reading Beatriz Williams for the first time this year. I bought A Hundred Summers and the next time I went to the library, I thought I would go ahead and pick up another one of her books.

When I got to the W section, I couldn’t find any of her books. I assumed that she was incredibly popular and all of her books were currently out. The next time I was in the library, I did the same thing. Still, none of her books were there. I decided to use the computer to see what was going on and learned that Beatriz Williams’ books are considered Romance books and have their own section.

The problem, for me, is that I’ve long held Romance novels to be the domain of silver haired golden girls. I couldn’t just roll up to the Romance section and have other people see me searching the shelves for a book to read! I strolled past, like I was just passing through, and quickly dipped down to pick one up – luckily the Ws fell at the end of the row.

sneaky

Me, sneaking into the Romance section

I’ve since returned a couple of times (for more) and every time I get the same feeling. I actually stopped and checked out some of the authors the other day and realized that I had looked for some of these authors in the past but never found them because I never go to the Romance section.

And this got me thinking: why the hell is there a romance section? And how are these decisions made? Jane Fallon, Jane Green and Sophie Kinsella are not Romance but Nora Roberts and Beatriz Williams are?

What about Danielle Steele? I’ve definitely seen her books in the regular fiction section.

The thing is, there are probably loads of readers that have never read work by authors they might really enjoy because they’ve been relegated to this Romance ghetto. I used to bypass the crime fiction/mystery section for the same reason. I thought that those books were only for old people (why am I so ageist?!) and gave them a pass until I started reading Agatha Christie several years ago. Crime fiction is still fiction. Romance novels are still fiction. Fantasy is still fiction.

Graphic novels – those can have their own section, that’s totally fine.

Why can’t they all live together in one big fiction section?

If you know the actual reason, please tell me!

10

A gift from the library: Dietland

I went to the library to return some books and couldn’t resist taking a quick peek to see what might strike my fancy (I never can).

Good thing I did – Dietland by Sarai Walker and Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye were just sitting there waiting for me to take them home. I expected long waitlists for these gems.

I started with Dietland.

dietland

This book is complex, so let’s let Goodreads give us the synopsis:

Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin.

Then, when a mysterious woman starts following her, Plum finds herself falling down a rabbit hole and into an underground community of women who live life on their own terms. There Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with her past, her doubts, and the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerrilla group called “Jennifer” begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.

I. Loved. This. Book.

I’ve been in the mood for some kicks heroines lately and while Plum Kettle might not fit the bill at first glance, I assure you she really, really does. I love that Plum was on a journey to be her true self. I love that she was nurtured and taught and given a swift kick in the ass by other kickass women. I love that there were almost no men in this novel. I love how Walker takes on the diet industry and shows her readers that being fat doesn’t mean being unhappy, that it doesn’t make you less worthy, that you can live a whole life anyway. I love that Plum starts taking on people who stare at her, who make vile comments, refusing to let them wound her with their assholery.

Plum has a lot of work to do to be happy in her own skin and we get to go along for the journey. And while Plum is working on herself, there is this whole other, completely unexpected storyline of a feminist guerrilla group taking on a world that treats women like disposable sex objects.

This little book (just 307 pages in hardcover) refuses to be what you think it should be. It is subversive and angry and a big f*ck you to anyone who dismisses it. Its message of body-positivity was what I was hoping to get from 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. There were points where I pumped my fist reading it and other times when I hugged it close. Moments like this:

From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad man who might get us. We’re terrified of being raped, abused, even killed by the bad man, but the problem is, you can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones, so you have to be wary of them all. We’re told not to go out by ourselves at night, not to dress a certain way, not to talk to male strangers, not to lead men on. We take self-defense classes, keep our doors locked, carry pepper spray and rape whistles. The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood. Isn’t that a form of terrorism?

Yes. It is.

This book is the antidote I was looking for for the hard, necessary, work of having read things like Missoula and The Luckiest Girl Alive.

I’m returning it to the library soon and hope that it finds it’s way into the hands of someone who is looking to see that it’s ok just to be your own kickass self, extra pounds and all.

 

22

The Tsundoku Chronicles: Moving Edition

My husband and I are in the process of hopefully moving. We’ve been in our place for nearly six years and it feels like it’s time for a change. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that we’re partially motivated by the needs of our German Shepherd who seems to be craving personal outdoor space like he never did before.  But you know, when your dog is a family member, you accommodate.

You’d think that, with the looming spectre of packing up all my books and moving them, I’d be a little more hesitant to buy more books, but there, you’d be wrong.

See, I had a birthday not that long ago. And when I have a birthday I get gift cards to buy books and I’m incapable of saving them for very long.

Also, spring is a ridiculously great time for new titles AND discounted book as stores gear up for summer titles.

Here then, a reckoning of some of the books I have lying around the house that I haven’t read.

The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie. This is the second in a promised trilogy. The first looked at a group of sisters who were all the mistresses of Louis XV and this one features the next group, including the Marquise de Pompadour. I made the mistake of loaning this to my sister and a friend and now both are waiting for me to read the second one so they can read it too. The third one will be out at the end of the year.

Ritual by Mo Hayder. This is the 3rd in the Jack Caffrey series which is proving to be seriously messed up. There was some open-endedness with the end of the second book and I’m looking forward to finding out what happened but I also need to be in the right headspace. Luckily, I borrowed this from a friend (along with The Nightmare by Lars Keplar and The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, so good) so if I read it soon, I can return it and not have to pack it.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousefzai. I started reading the Foreward in the bookstore and became completely invested, so I bought it. I have yet to read it.

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. I meant to read this before Canada Reads started but obviously didn’t get to it. I even leant it to a friend so she could finish it and return the Speed Read to the library. There’s something preventing me from reading this even though, by all account it’s wonderful. And I always love Hill’s books.

Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan. This book has won all the awards, including the Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize for Nonfiction, and the BC National Award for Canadian Non-fiction. I bought it when it first came out in hardcover (it’s now available in paperback) and I still haven’t read it! By all accounts, Stalin adored his daughter and I so want to read about this other side of a monster who was responsible for the deaths and disappearances of millions of people.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. I loved The Humans and I love Matt Haig on twitter. He’s been so open about his own struggles with mental illness and I admire him so much for being such a tireless advocate for those sharing his struggle. He wrote this book for himself but it seems like anyone that reads it gets so much out of it. I have wanted to read this for as long as it’s been available and I still haven’t.

Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman. Seems like there’s a non-fiction theme going on doesn’t it? It took me a long time to think about the woman behind Jane Eyre. When I read Syrie James’ book about the Brontes I became interested in them as women for the first time. I was so excited about this biography and it sits on the shelf, gathering dust!

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. This is my book club book and I always have to time the reading of our picks properly, so I don’t forget the details before we meet. Our date’s been set for Cinco de Mayo so I do really need to read this soon.

She’s Not There by Joy Fielding. This is one of those books that I know I will devour in an afternoon under the right conditions. Why have I not dipped into it yet?

The Lost Prince by Selden Edwards. So I bought this book (discounted) months and months ago and actually started reading it once. Then I realized that it was the second in a series and you really did need to read the first to understand what the hell was going on. I have yet to find the first book.

Did I mention that I went to the library last week??

I’m the worst.