On the Hunt for Fresh Book Blood

I went on another library excursion trip, even though I know there are at least a couple of books (fine several) still left on my shelves that I have yet to read. With my recent bout of bad book luck I’m feeling restless and like I need fresh book blood kicking around.

Totally ridiculous but book love knows no reason.

Anyway I was probably in the library for all of 10 minutes and managed to walk out of there with another six books, which got me thinking about how much more care I take when choosing books to purchase versus books I’m kidnapping from the library.

Whenever I go to the library, it’s usually on my lunch break which means that I need to walk over there, peruse, choose and walk back to my desk within the hour. That’s when I eat at my desk; if I have to hunt for food I have even less time. Does the time constraint mean that I think about it less? Knowing I have to be out of there in a certain amount of time, I read less deeply on the spot than I would if I had all the time in the world.

I think the timing does play a part in it: the amount of time I have to make my selections and the time I have to read them once I get them home. I know that over the next 3 weeks I need to read these six books so I made strategic choices based on this timeline. I saw at least three copies of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries while I was there but that book looks like a serious time commitment and I don’t think I have what it takes to get that back, read, in the next three weeks.

But let’s be honest: the bigger motivator is money. At the bookstore I’m more careful about my selections because I can’t always rationalize spending big bucks on a stack of books. OK that’s kind of a lie: I can’t justify it right now, with my wedding six weeks away (let me just take a second to throw up). In seven weeks, I’ll be totally fine with that again. Probably.

I’m just not as selective at the library. I am grabby at the library. As in Oh there’s Emily Giffen’s The One and Only, let me just quickly snatch that up. Oh! Friendship: A novel, that’s totally on my list! Let me just take that too before someone else can enjoy it. This really cuts down on the amount of time needed in the library. At a bookstore I’m definitely more careful, I even walk slower. I would never walk out of a bookstore with six books after 10 minutes. I might walk out with six books, but it would take a lot longer to make the right choices.


But man, I am really enjoying my library time these days. Will be even better when all the kids finally go back to school and it can be all mine again 😉


The (Temporary) End of My Library Run

For the first time in months, I have no library books in my possession.

This isn’t because I’ve fallen out of love with the library or anything like that. No, no. It’s because I’ve been so caught up in the library and all of the reading treasures housed within that I’ve been neglecting all of the beautiful books awaiting my attention in my own library!

As some of you may know, I’m currently under a self-imposed (and flexible) book ban. It’s not a permanent thing. I haven’t lost my mind and decided not to buy books ever again. I haven’t decided to categorize books as clutter. Nothing like that; I have a wedding to pay for and books ain’t cheap. So I started going to the library to save money. And instead of exercising anything remotely resembling bookish self restraint, I started taking home 7 or 8 books every few weeks.

But they have to be back at the library in a few weeks. So even though I could renew them (and occasionally I have), more often than not I just neglect all other books and read the library books.

Result: my own books are screaming for my attention.

I’m taking a hiatus from the library until I make a dent in some of my own book piles.

So what is awaiting my attention? Read on!

For Christmas I got four beautiful books and I’ve only read one of them so far (Burial Rites). Night Film by Marisha Pessl, The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial That Shocked A Country by Charlotte Gray and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt are all still waiting to be read (and hopefully loved). And yes, I realize that all the books I asked for for Christmas had to do with death. I’m probably less disturbed by that than I should be.

I buy classics because I love them and usually they are on some kind of sale. Mostly love but if I can get more books for the same amount of money, so much the better. But reading classics can be a commitment and I get distracted by shiny new reads a lot. War and Peace is still sitting on my shelf, waiting for round two. I’ve made an attempt at Nicholas Nickleby once as well (but as travel reading when it was so not appropriate travel reading) so that needs another go. And The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I loved The Age of Innocence and I know I will likely enjoy this one too but again – new and shiny.

Last year I read quite a lot of non-fiction. And yet? I didn’t get to all the non- fiction books that I bought. After I saw Lincoln last year, I meant to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals but I have yet to do so. I also have a book about Amsterdam that I impulsively bought because I always buy books about Amsterdam or the Netherlands when I see them as they are so rare. I’m in the middle of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel so that’s progress (so far it’s also insanely interesting and horrifying) but I have yet to crack From Splendor to Revolution, Julia P. Gelardi’s account of the Romanov women from 1847-1928. By all accounts, I will love this book. One of my very favourite biographies was Gelardi’s Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria.

So for now, although the library calls out to me with the promise of all kinds of undiscovered riches, I’m going to try and resist so that I can make my way through my own books.

But like I say, I’m pretty flexible with these things.


My Books Vs. Library Books

Sometimes I feel sorry for my books. Not because they aren’t all awesome (all of my books are awesome) but because I don’t re-read them all over and over.

I’ve recently been spending more time at the library, choosing piles of free books in favour of protecting my bank account from further hemorrhaging. I’m normally all about buying new books but I haven’t worked in 2 months (don’t worry, I start my new job this week! Yay me!) and book buying is an easy expense to eliminate. In theory. It was actually really hard to get out of the habit of walking out of bookstores without a pile of new books!

There’s a great library in my area so I started going there. Nothing beats the feeling of choosing as many books as you want to take home with you for FREE. It can be such a high (for book nerds like myself)!

But it kind of made me sad for my own books. I was looking over the library copy of Brideshead Revisited, marvelling at the amount of times it’s been checked out and (ostensibly) read. (Did you know that the marker dots on the bottom are how many times a book’s been checked out?) If you believe, as Carlos Ruiz Zafon and I do, that

Every book […] has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens

then it’s almost a crime not to read one’s books over and over. Libraries clearly understand the souls of books and open their doors to anyone to come in and help the books out.

But I? I selfishly hoard my books and display them after reading them once (with a few notable exceptions that I re-read often). That’s not to say that I never loan out my books. I do. And I get great joy from choosing volumes from my collection for other people, in the hopes that they will love them like I did. But that joy turns to anxiety when those books aren’t returned to me in a timely manner. There are two volumes in particular that I’m not sure I will ever get back and it makes me crazy!

Will those books be loved like they should be in their foster homes?

I’m sure they will. But book hoarder that I am, I want them back with me to look at and rearrange. But am I doing the books any favours? Would my books be happier as library books? Even at the risk that they will never be looked at a second time? Brideshead Revisited has been read over and over, but what about those books that aren’t? The ones that are doomed to stay on the shelves gathering dust? There are some pretty obscure books languishing on library shelves. They would definitely be better off sitting on my shelves in all their glory.

I guess it’s a toss up. No clear winner.

Except me really.


The Hour I First Believed

About half way through this book I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to make it to the end. It was so depressing and I almost wasn’t able to handle it. There didn’t seem to be any redeeming qualities about a book that made me feel so sad.

I have a friend that adores depressing books. One of her absolute favourites is Wally Lamb‘s I Know This Much Is True and her book club selection for us was A Fine Balance. But even she found The Hour I First Believed tough going.

But clearly this book had gotten under my skin because I read all 730 pages of it in 2 days. Twelve hours later I still can’t stop thinking about it. It struck me that this is what a book club book should be because there is so much about this book that I want to talk about with someone!

I thought this book was about the Columbine school shooting and the aftermath. I think I avoided it for a long time for this reason – not sure that I wanted to go down that path, thinking it might be along the same lines as We Need To Talk About Kevin, one of the most disturbing books I’ve probably ever read.

But while the catalyst for the majority of the book is the Columbine shooting, eventually you kind of forget about it (in terms of the book) because so much else happens as a result. Caelum, a teacher, and his wife Maureen, a nurse, move to Colorado from Connecticut to start over after infidelity almost tore their marriage apart. He takes a job teaching at Columbine and Maureen becomes the school nurse. When Caelum’s elderly aunt suffers a stroke in Connecticut, he goes back to be with her. Maureen spends one more day at the school before flying to join him. That last day happens to be April 20 1999. She ends up trapped in a cabinet in the library while the shooting spree happens and is completely devastated by it afterwards.


But she can’t snap out of it. She ends up suffering from a pretty severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and can barely handle every day life. They decide to move back to Connecticut, into the farmhouse that Caelum has been left upon the death of his aunt, try to put some distance between Maureen and what happened. My friend of the depressing reads said to me that she felt like the book was two different stories and they didn’t necessarily converge in any way. At first, I kind of agreed with her. All of a sudden we’re back with a 10 year old Caelum telling us about life on the farm, reading articles about the women’s prison that his great grandmother started running on the property, and delving more deeply into the traumatic alcoholism of Caelum’s father.

But there are so many themes running through this book that do make the two stories come together: idea of the quest of personal journey, the fallen woman motif, infidelity, a praying mantis keeps showing up at key moments in the book, faith runs through it all the time, and the idea that knowing one’s history can help one to connect the dots in the present.

See what I mean about book club potential? I took this book out from the library and now I’m sad that I have to return it.

Bottom line: I loved this book and will probably try and force lots of other people to read it too.


The Red House

What happens when you write a beautiful, touching, funny, poignant book? People have high expectations for any books that come after.

Such was the fate of Mark Haddon‘s The Red House, after the success of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I read the latter over Christmas so it’s still pretty fresh in my mind and also? I loved it.

I was really excited for The Red House (as you are when the author of a book you loved releases a new title), so when it was the first book I saw at the library, I happily tucked it under my arm as my first pick of the day.

The Red House is the story of a family vacation that might be more dysfunctional than yours! Richard and Angela are estranged siblings, and after the death of their mother, Richard decides that maybe it would be nice to vacation together and he rents a house in Wales for both of their families for a week.

Richard has recently married Louisa who, along with her own dirty little secrets, brings a willful bitch of a teenage daughter, Melissa, to the relationship. On the other side of the spectrum is Angela who has been married to Dominic for years but their relationship is a mess. Dominic has been laid off and feels like his life has no direction, while Angela feels all the pressure to be the breadwinner and is still dealing with something that happened 18 years ago. Their children, Alex, Daisy and Benjy each have their own things going on so that everyone is pretty disconnected from everyone else.

Have you ever heard of Hay-on-Wye? Just me then? The story takes place in the little Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye which just happens to be one of the places in the world that I most want to visit. It’s a town full of bookshops! More bookshops than anywhere else in the world! And they have a literary festival every year! So yeah, the story takes place here. Which I thought would be more exciting, but it really wasn’t. I still desperately want to go. I guess I just hoped that the town of bookshops would be more of an active setting. Maybe someone found a book there that changed their lives. You know, how books do.

Overall, The Red House was OK. I think it was a very honest portrayal of what it would be like to go on vacation with people in your family that you don’t know very well. It wasn’t particularly dramatic but it wasn’t overly exciting either. The one story that really stood out for me was the one involving Daisy, Angela and Dominic’s 16 year old daughter. She’s really struggling with who she is and her family isn’t making it any easier on her.

Not that anyone’s family ever makes anything easier on them.

I guess the problem with The Red House was that it wasn’t The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a very unfair thing to do to a book but we can never help ourselves on that count can we?


Book Sale

The other day I went to a Library Sale for the first time. This might surprise you considering how open I have been about the fact that I am a book hoarder. The truth is, I have no problem paying full price for a book. Book buying is my vice – I really don’t buy tons of other stuff. I almost never buy new clothes, or shoes or bags. I’m not a foodie or a concert goer. Nail polish and books – those are my weaknesses.

I’m basically a well-read hobo with shiny nails.

But the book sale! I’ve heard about these magical library book sales where the library divests itself of certain pieces of its majestic collection. But I’ve never been able to attend. Now? The one good thing about my new job is that it’s half a block away from the glorious Vancouver Public Library. So when I saw the banners up, declaring that the time had come for its Summer Book Sale, I wrote down the dates and started a countdown.

When the day came I recruited some friends to come along with me, during our lunch. There was a scary moment when, after I had declared my intention to shun the recently arrived sunshine for a book sale at the library, a co-worker told me that in times past there has always been a really long line to get in. I almost gave up, hating lines and not actually having that much time for a lunch break.

But I went. And I waited anxiously for my partners in crime to show and then I dragged them downstairs to the appointed book sale rooms and…waited in line.

But only for about 5 minutes, probably less. I’m a terrible judge of how much time has passed. Finally (I say finally because I was waiting for the book sale for days and days!) we were allowed in to roam free among all of the beautiful books laid out on tables. There were rows and rows of books, books in boxes under the tables, books all over trolleys and, in some cases, all over the floor. Fellow book lovers looking for a good deal were pawing through the books in the boxes on the floor, weaving their way around the kids with their selections who had plopped themselves down in the middle of everything to start reading and in the midst of it all, volunteers or librarians managing to maintain some semblance of calm in all that chaos.

Despite being pressed for time, I worked my way methodically through the room. Twice. I do not mess around in the presence of books. I was really surprised with how up to date and in good shape the books were. I assumed, when the library is selling off books, that they would all be really old and practically falling apart. I mean, some books on offer were going for 75 cents! The most expensive books were only $2.50 but they were lovely and in great shape and I left with 5 of them.

Which was actually a pretty modest haul for me. But I plan on going back for the Fall Sale in October.