A Summer thing that I’m doing

If Laura @ Reading in Bed is like “hey, come read this mammoth book with me this summer” I seem to be unable to say no. This summer, she is hosting a read-a-long of War and Peace!

If you’ve always meant to read it but haven’t found a reason to, maybe this is your reason? This read-a-long is geared towards Tolstoy newbs, so don’t be intimidated. There’s totally still time to join – reading officially started July 1st! Check out Laura’s blog post for the schedule to get started.

Before we start to get into the nitty-gritty reading, Laura set up a short little book tag to introduce ourselves. So here we go:

  1. Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace?

Sure have. I even wrote about how that went (spoiler: not good). I haven’t ever finished it though!

  1. What edition and translation are you reading?

Vintage Pevear & Volokhonsy translation, physical book only (I already regret this, mofo is heavy!)

  1. How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc)?

It’s funny, even though I read most of it that one time, not much! I clearly retained almost nothing and even the 70 or so pages I’ve read this weekend, haven’t made much of an impression on me.

  1. How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I am doing absolutely nothing? Maybe the more that I get into it, the more I will want to learn about the War and Peace universe. For now, I’m content to just read it.

  1. What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

Finally getting it actually read all the way through! This book has haunted me for years because I couldn’t finish it. And then of course, the bragging rights that come with having actually read War and Peace. I look forward to the days of casually dropping into conversation my having read War and Peace (like an a-hole).

  1. What are you intimidated by?

The sheer length of this book! I do appreciate the schedule – I’m hoping that breaking it up will make it more manageable. I’m also having a hard time keeping the characters and their relationships straight…

  1. Do you think it’s okay to skip the “war” parts?

No, but if it gets really boring, I just might. I remember that I was actually pretty invested in some of the war parts the first time I tried to read this. And I totally skipped like 80 pages of farming in Anna Karenina and I feel really OK about it.

There we have it. All set to finally read this monster. Anyone else joining in? Thanks to Laura for hosting!


I’m in Book Buying Rehab

You know how, in the past, I have imposed book bans on myself in an attempt to stop spending so much money in bookstores and read the books I already own?

Yesterday my other half put me on a book buying ban.

To be fair, in recent weeks my book habit has completely spiraled out of control. I can barely function on a day where I don’t go and throw down some money for my next hit. And it’s not like I have more time to read the ones that I already have. I just can’t stop. There are so many great books out there right now! These poor books were probably so excited to come home with me, looking forward to the moment when I jumped into their stories, eagerly anticipating the chance to share their magic with me.

And what did I do? I pushed them aside in favour of another book that caught my eye. A book that I felt was more important than the others, in that moment.

On my kitchen table there are at least 10 books that I’ve brought home with me in the last two weeks or so. Those are the books that I haven’t even shelved yet. That’s in addition to the stack of 5 on my bedside table and all the others that continue to sit on my bookshelves unloved and unread.

On my birthday, we went to the bookstore (obviously) and I came out with: The Count of Monte Cristo, which is my friend’s favourite book and I’ve always meant to read it; Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight because it mentioned Gone Girl on the cover and if something says it’s like Gone Girl, game over, you’re mine; Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin because this is the second Inspector Rebus book and it was the first time I’d seen it.

Then I got a gift certificate to the bookstore from a friend for my birthday (who knows and loves me so well) and I can’t hold onto that for any period of time so back I went. That time I was good. I only picked up Eva Stachniak’s Empress of the Night because I was going to see her at an event at the library that week; and Frog Music by Emma Donoghue because I took this quiz on Buzzfeed which told me that this was the book I was meant to read this spring.book pile

I don’t even remember when I picked up Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman but it’s been on my list for forever so I’m glad I could read it tomorrow if I wanted to. I’d been waiting for Paris: A Novel by Edward Rutherfurd to show up in paperback and when it did: mine. We’d talked about my frustration at discovering that Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman should have followed The Redeemer, not The Devil’s Star but I hadn’t managed to find it. Until a few days ago.

Then two nights ago we were in Costco and you know what happens there. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (look at me reading more YA fiction!) and The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell were in my hands before I even realized it. I almost brought home Jimmy Carter’s A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power but I knew I was already pushing my luck.

And all of those are in addition to the books I already had to read at home. Night Film, Claire Tomlin’s Charles Dickens biography, a biography of Princess Louise, War and Peace, Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley and A Winter’s Tale are all still sitting at home waiting for me.

Did I mention that I got my sister to lend me The Bone Season?

I’m out of control. I need some book rehab.


Wishful Reading: Cold Weather Edition

We’ve been pretty smug out here on the West Coast this winter. What with our beautiful sunny mild days. Strolling in the sunshine, I have definitely seen some guys walking around in shorts. Seems like while the rest of North America was barricading themselves in the house with piles of blankets and warm beverages, we’ve been sipping our lattes beachside.

But that all changed this week when we were hit with our own version of extreme cold weather. Last night it hit -8.3 degrees, a record breaking cold. And I know, believe me, I know that this isn’t cold the way everyone else experiences it blah blah blah. We’re from the West Coast OK? This is madness and I’m not totally sure we’ll survive it. Also? Everywhere else it’s a dry cold, it’s a wet cold here and that gets into your bones.

Despite the fact that I have to work, which seriously cuts into my reading time, cold weather does make rather excellent reading weather. I mean, what are you going to do instead? Go outside!?

So here, a list of books I’d rather be curled up with, fireside, covered in a blanket with my dog next to me and a cup of tea within arms’ reach:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Bronte books are always super moody anyway so why not curl up with one taking place in swirling winds? You’ll burrow deeper in your blankets and be so toasty and warm. Plus, the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester? That’ll keep you warm.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. You’re not going anywhere are you? Might as well stay home and make some headway through this beast of a book. Think about how accomplished you will be when you rejoin civilization all “When I was snowed in? Oh I just finished off War and Peace” like it’s no big deal. The same could be said for Les Miserables really. Or The Goldfinch if you prefer your books more modern.

Anything by Agatha Christie. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more satisfying than reading about a murder in some charming English locale on a cold, cold day. Seriously, try it. Tell me I’m wrong (I’m not).

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy. The cover of the copy I own has a fireplace on it – it’s basically meant to be read in cold weather. Plus anytime you read anything by Maeve Binchy it’s like putting on an old, warm sweater or giving yourself a literary hug. You basically owe it to yourself to read Maeve Binchy when the weather is cold.

From Splendor to Revolution: The Romanov Women from 1847-1928 by Julia P. Gelardi because I think that cold weather would be conducive to reading about Russian royals. You can marvel at the fact that everyone was cold all the time while you turn up the heat or source another blanket. Plus, mammoth non-fiction is always better when you have the time to really sink your teeth into it.

How about you? What’s your go-to cold weather read?



A Bookish Dilemma

Like a lot of book lovers, I have a TBR list. With so many great, hilarious, touching, brilliant, cozy and heartwarming reads out there, it can be hard to remember them all when you’re standing in a bookstore or a library trying to narrow down which you’re bringing home.

The downside to keeping a TBR list (and I have one in my purse, one at home, one on Goodreads and one on The Savvy Reader’s 50 Book Pledge site…oh, and here) is that one can become kind of a slave to it.

You find yourself in the library and instead of enjoying the experience of being surrounded by thousands of books that you can take home (for free! Makes me happy every time), you find yourself consulting your list to see which books you’ve been meaning to read.

All this emphasis on new titles or books that you’ve been meaning to read can take one away from one of life’s great joys: rereading books you already loved.

Right now I’m struggling with this. I have piles and piles of books at home that are begging for my attention. A lot of them have been generously loaned by people and I feel it’s my responsibility to honour this munificence by returning them, read, in a timely manner.

My own books that I haven’t read I’m less concerned about because well – they’re mine. They will get read one day. But I’ve also developed this renewed love of going to the library and I just have one more book to get through before I can go back and get a new pile.

But with the looming start of fall I find myself craving the familiar. I’ve recently reread a number of Jane Austen’s books except for Emma so that’s a reasonable place to start. I got almost all the way through War and Peace before my efforts were derailed due to a publishing oversight (will I ever shut up about that? Not likely) and fall weather seems the perfect time to give that another go. Fall is much more appropriate for serious reading. Sunshine and Russian literature doesn’t seem to work quite as well as Russian literature and cold, heavy rain, and if I wait til the holidays I might just be too depressed to even make an effort.

But let’s be honest here. What I really want is a return visit to Hogwarts. I want to go back and be there when Harry learns he’s a wizard, when he meets Ron and Hermione, when he discovers he’s actually quite good at flying on a broom, that Quidditch is a thing.

I’m not ashamed of being nearly 30 (sh*t I’m nearly 30 – this is the first time I’ve actually admitted that) and nursing a deep and abiding love for Harry Potter ok? I own that loud and proud. Those books are brilliant and I will totally fight you if you say otherwise.

So what’s holding me back from re-experiencing the wizarding world? There are seven books. Re-reading all the books (and really, what’s the point in doing this half-assed?) is a serious time commitment. And with all these other books piling up around me, do I really have the time?

Would you do it?


Big Books

I’m making my way through another big book. This time it’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Which actually looks worse than it is. It’s a massive, very heavy hardcover absolutely crammed full of information. But while the page numbers run well past 900, once you factor in all the notes and the bibliography, it’s only 700 pages of actual reading.

The same could not be said for Les Miserables, because my copy did not have any notes. I read all 1202 of those pages.

Because I have a goal of the amount of books that I read every year, I tend to shy away from tackling really big books. The thinking is that taking time on those books will hurt my chances of achieving my goal. (One year I was one book short of my goal and I was super sad about it.) I clearly also have terrible memories of taking 3 weeks to get through Daniel Deronda.

But I digress.

I’ve been working at 2 very intimidating looking books in a fairly short amount of time and, as we’re all aware, people like to comment on reading material. Especially if they also fancy themselves readers (I’m afraid that I have a rather lofty impression of what actually constitutes a reader). Aside from the “whoa that’s a big book” comments, what I’m hearing most often is that they would never read a book that big.

And I’m left wondering why that is?

Don’t you ever finish with a book and wish that there was more to it? Big books have more!

Don’t you ever feel like maybe the book was wrapped up too quickly, like they ran out of space? Big books do not do that. They wrap up perfectly in their own sweet time.

You could argue that big books are heavier and you don’t want to lug them around. I’d be inclined to agree with you today – Far From the Tree is a heavy mofo. But with ereaders as popular as they are, there’s no reason for you not to attempt to read War and Peace (there shouldn’t be any pages missing anyway) or Anna Karenina or Middlemarch.

Are long books always classics? No – there are plenty of recent books that are long too. I just can’t think of any… biographies can be long! The Queen Mother’s biography was massive. But then, she did live until she was 102 so that was a lot of life to cover. I know that you can get a 3-volume biography of Winston Churchill as well. But that’s broken up into sections.

What’s my point here?

Don’t be afraid of long books! Sometimes they are the very best ones.


War and Peace – An Abrupt End

Picture this. You have finally decided to dust off the copy of War and Peace that has been reproachfully sitting on your bookshelf for over a year. You are excited to finally tackle this behemoth of literature and look forward to speeding through and smugly telling everyone “oh, I’m just reading War and Peace.”

It turns out to be a lot more difficult to slog through this ‘masterpiece’ than you thought it would be. You’ve read Dickens and Eliot and Thackeray without any trouble. Anna Karenina, that other Tolstoy epic, provided you with hours of enjoyment, despite the tragic nature of the work. You push on, determined to finish it (especially since you’ve told everyone you know that you’re reading it and it would be so embarrassing to admit defeat).

You drag it with you on a business trip, doggedly hoping that you will be able to at least make a large dent in it when you are waiting on any number of flights to get you home. You read it on the bus, on the couch, before bed, outside, inside, on cloudy days and sunny ones – any time you have a spare minute you try to get another page, chapter, section finished.

You’ve finally cracked 900 pages. Then 950. You reach 968 and flip ahead to see how many pages you have left to finish the chapter.

And then you notice it. Page 968 should be followed by 969. This turning point scene in an empty Moscow should carry on. Instead, 968 is followed by 1017. It’s not a page numbering error – page 1017 is some kind of ball with some Countess glittering in diamonds.

Your copy of War and Peace is defective!

This is what happened to me. Like any self-respecting reader in the 21st Century I went on Facebook and Twitter to complain about it. And then I emailed the Publisher (Oxford University Press) to demand that they do something to fix it.

I’m Canadian though so that went more like “Hi, sorry to bother you but my book is broken and I’m hoping you may be able to fix it?”

That was last week and I have yet to receive an answer. So far not even a “the system thanks you for your email which will be read never.”

I would take it back to the store where I bought it, but it’s a) beat to hell, b) I have no receipt since c) I bought it last year and d) I’m pretty sure that this isn’t the bookstore’s problem, rather the publisher.

But I haven’t heard anything from them. So I’m left with one option: take it out of the library, read the missing section, and return to my copy to finish it. The silver lining here is that the library is sure to make some sort of “bad-ass reader” notation on my account when I take War and Peace out and return it, read, a couple of days later.


UPDATE: The lovely people at Oxford University Press are totally sending me a new copy of War and Peace with all the pages! The power of social media folks.


War and Peace and I

War and Peace has been sitting on my bookshelf taunting me for over a year. I bought it in a moment of book club induced smugness, convinced that War and Peace and I were going to spend magical quality time on the couch together getting better acquainted. I had visions of a cozy blanket, roaring fire, stormy weather outside and hot chocolate inside.

I don’t even like when the fireplace is on (it’s gas and the place is so small that it heats everything up so much that a blanket isn’t even necessary and come on! That’s the whole point of reading) and when exactly did I envision myself having all of this time available to me?


But I finally had enough of looking at that smug spine and so I found myself lugging Tolstoy’s great work with me everywhere. My version of War and Peace is 1308 pages. There are longer versions out there but this one is pretty heavy.

I haven’t finished it yet – I’m about 400 pages in after reading it for just over 2 weeks.  I know right? Slothful reading.

So here’s the thing with War and Peace: you need to spend time with it. Lots and lots of uninterrupted time to get to know (and keep straight) all the Kuragins, Bolkonskys and Rostovs. I like to think that I dedicate a fair amount of my daily life to reading. There is the hour to and from work each day – 2 hours of quality reading time right?

With a hefty tome like War and Peace? No. I didn’t take into account the fact that, leaving for work at 6.25, makes me sleepy. And War and Peace can be slumber inducing if you aren’t paying attention.  Same with before-bed reading. War and Peace is just as likely to guide me into a peaceful slumber (and carpal tunnel) as it is keeping me up long enough to get anywhere with it.

But I finally managed to squeeze in some quality time when my job sent me on a site visit for some meetings. Two hours in the airplane without any of the transit distractions, in the middle of the day when I was wide awake – this is exactly what War and Peace and I needed.

I’m still not far enough into it to offer any sage words of wisdom or my opinion on the work as a whole, but I’m getting there. Finally. I think that War and Peace and I are going to end up coming to a workable arrangement, whereby I devote all large chunks of spare time to it and it blows my mind with awesome.

That’s the hope anyway.

Have you read it? Did your neck hurt this much?


Shelf Log

I think we have established that I am a book hoarder. I cannot help myself. But looking at my bookshelf, seeing all the lovely titles that I had yet to crack, I imposed a book ban on myself. I was not allowed to buy any more books until I had read the ones I already had.

(Notice how we’re using the past tense?)

But then I went to Costco and these 3 books were already on my list and they were cheap so I bought those. And since then, I may have bought a couple more. But most of them have been on my list so it’s like I already had them anyway, but now I actually have them.

You know?

In an effort to curb my insanity, I thought that if I was honest about what is actually on my shelf right now and could see it in black and white it might help to curb my bookish appetite.

Actually it will probably fill me with pride – look at all the excellent books I have chosen! But we’re going to try anyway. In no particular order:

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. Have you ever been to Madame Tussauds? Any one of them – they have them in London, New York, Vegas and Amsterdam. I’ve been to the one in Amsterdam (and I’m dying to go to the one in Vegas when I go next month) and I’ve never had so much fun in a museum before. The pictures are hilarious. Turns out that Madame Tussaud was a real person. I don’t think that I knew this. But whatevs. I saw this book and I had to have it. And now I do. And one day I’ll read it too.

In this, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, I clearly felt like I needed to flesh out my Dickens’ section a little. I already had Great ExpectationsA Christmas Carol and Hard Times (I think I must have at least another one from my time at school but I cannot think of it at the moment) but this is not enough. I still want to get my hands on the biography that was released last year (good thing it’s my birthday soon) but I recently picked up Nicholas Nickleby and then! A Tale of Two Cities without the Oprah’s Book Club thing on it! Success! (I try really hard never to collect books that have anything to do with Oprah. Ever)Once I actually read them I will feel even more superior to you.

The Kennedy Women by Laurence Leamer is languishing on my shelf for reasons unknown. I love biographies about women, The Kennedy Women should be at the top of my list. The same day I picked up this gem, I grabbed the companion: The Kennedy Men. And I actually read that one. Every time I gravitate towards it, I get distracted by something shiny. But I know once I actually crack this one, I’m going to love it.

Catch-22 has been on my list for a long long time. And I had it in my hand to buy it when I came across Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor and bought it instead. What would convince me to put down such an important work in favour of something with such an unimaginative title? Um, apparently this book was so slutty that it had to be banned in some places when it was published in 1944. Basically, Amber has to prostitute herself to stay alive in 17th century England. And Barbara Taylor Bradford did the introduction and she’s all I loved this book when I was a teenager. If Barbara Taylor Bradford says that it’s a “genuine page turner” and a “smashing read” who are we to argue? It’s heavy though – nearly 1000 pages. I think that’s going to be next.

I was on my way to my book club and had some time to kill so naturally I wandered into a bookstore unsupervised. And I was on my way to book club so I was feeling pretty smug and brilliant. And what do the smug literati buy when they are in a bookstore? War and Peace, naturally. So more than a year later, it’s still sitting on my shelf. I really really really do want to read it. So badly. But every time I get there, something else, easier, shorter, something that will help me get to my book reading goal, gets in the way. One day though, me and Tolstoy? We’re going to make this happen.

That might be it. I fear it isn’t. But these are the ones that I can come up with off the top of my head. What would you read next?


64 out of 65

It’s the second to last day of 2011 and I did not reach my goal of reading 65 books this year and am unlikely to achieve it with errands to run tomorrow before a New Years’ Eve party.

I’m not going to lie – I’m bummed. Last year when I reached my 75 books read goal it felt good. And my timing was so perfect that I finished the final book on December 31st. I finished book #64 this morning (The Sisters Brothers) and searched my shelves in vain for something that might be read in less than 24 hours.


Instead of celebrating my accomplishment, I will reflect on what it was like for me this year to try and read 65 books.

In one word? Stressful.

My other half pointed out fairly early in the process that 65 books seemed like a lofty goal and when I said that I had managed to read 75 in 2010 he quickly pointed out that I had been unemployed for about 4 months in 2010, during which time I was easily reading 4 books a week. The glory days. Aside from having no money and the stress of searching for a job.

This year, I was constantly calculating where I was in the process, what percentage of book goal I had achieved, looking at some books, less for the merit in terms of story telling or interest and purely for page count and quick-readability. I counted The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a 54 page novella and Peter Pan, a hardly challenging children’s play, among my books because they padded my stats.

I left off reading magazines because they interfered with my book stats and War and Peace is still sitting on my shelf, untouched, because I knew that one would take me ages and I had already made the serious error in choosing to read Daniel Deronda, a beast of a George Eliot book that took me the better part of 2 months to plow through.

My point is that this is no way to read. I’m not sorry that I read any of those books. I loved reading them. But at some points I was more worried about reaching my goal than I was concerned with what I was reading. And for a lover of reading and books, this is no way to be.

I will still have a goal for 2012. But it will be far more reasonable and achievable so that when I’m in the right frame of mind, I will pick up War and Peace and read it and enjoy it.

On an unrelated note, I realize that I have, once again, been horribly remiss in posting about any of the books that I have read. This is partly, once again, because I was a slave to George R. R. Martin’s genius and partly due to holiday induced laziness. But I am going to be working on a series of catch up posts that will be published over the coming days to try and make up for some of that.