Books Lately

So I have been trying not to buy too many books lately.

I know.  Who am I and what am I even thinking?

Possibly that I own a lot of books.  That I own a lot of books I haven't read.  That I own a lot of books I haven't read and am really excited to read.  So why am I buying more?

Why does any book lover buy more books?  Because they are there.  Because book blogs are just online enablers.  Because buying books can always make a bad day better and a good day great.  Because you can never have too many books.  Because I am old enough to still get a thrill out of the fact that I can easily purchase online books that I used to comb used book stores for.

I think I just talked myself into buying more books.

The three books in the photo are the only ones I have bought for myself in recent...weeks.  Let's go with weeks.  I have bought a few books for my kids because the book buying ban does not apply to them.  They know I will almost always be willing to buy books they request.  The Samuel Pepys biography was slipped into an order of science fiction books for my son.  If you can place a book order for your child and not include something for yourself then you are a stronger person than I am.  I read Claire Tomalin's biography of Jane Austen recently and someone on Instagram suggested this book by her as well.  She said that she didn't know she was interested in Samuel Pepys until she started reading this.  I actually tried reading his diaries as a teenager and found them a bit challenging.  This book seemed a good way to start with him again.

The Peabody Sisters is a book I picked up off the library sale rack.  I had never heard of it but the cover says it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize so that seemed a decent recommendation.  It is a biography of three sisters who apparently had a huge influence on the great thinkers of their day, men such as Emerson, Horace Mann, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The third book is 'Over Here" the GIs in Wartime Britain by Juliet Gardiner.  My fascination with wartime Britain continues.  I read a book recently that had a chapter or so on the GIs and their impact on British life.  I thought it would be interesting to read a bit more about them.  I have read a few other books by Juliet Gardiner and they have been very well done.

So, only three books.  That isn't too bad, is it?

The Art Of Listening

I went to lunch with an old friend last week.  We have been friends for over twenty-five years and she is probably the closest friend I have.  We don't see each other very often anymore.  We used to live near each other and do the same volunteer work but now we are doing good if we get together once or twice a year.  It was a great lunch. We talked for over two hours straight without taking a breath and probably irritated everyone around us in the restaurant because the more involved in our conversation we got the more animated we got.  At one point she quoted something I had told her years ago that I hadn't remembered.  I laughed and said that was the reason I kept her around.  She said, "that's right, because I actually listen when you talk."

The point of this slightly boring story is that she was right.  We are friends because she listens when I talk.  And hopefully, because I listen when she talks.  That sounds obvious and silly but it isn't.  Listening is a lost art.

We live in a world of sound bites (that looks wrong but I looked it up and it isn't bytes) and endless streams of information and constant chatter.  We are inundated with sound but we have forgotten how to listen. We are constantly communicating with each other but, all too often, we are not conversing with each other.  We talk at each other instead of to each other.  I am not advocating a boycott of modern-day technology and a return to the old days of leisurely conversation though that does have its appeal.  Modern-day communication can be hugely beneficial.  I am advocating a return to the art of conversation and a rediscovery of the skill of listening.

Listening really is a skill.  It is all too easy to scroll through Twitter while our child is talking, to plan what we are going to say in response before our fellow conversationalist is done speaking, to speak to our own agenda instead of letting the conversation lead us.  We need to look up from our phones and our screens and our own little world and interact with the people around us.  The keyword there is interact.  Even when people do talk to others they do not always have a conversation.  They put the phones down but they are still talking at others instead of participating in the give and take of a true conversation.  We need to ask questions.  We need to listen to the answers.  We need to let a conversation meander and go where it will.  We need to allow for lulls in the conversation because out of those lulls sometimes come the things that really matter.

We need to listen because listening shows we care.  We need to listen because then we will remember.  We need to listen because then we learn. We need to listen because that makes us a good friend.

We need to listen because then, despite twenty-five years and all the changes life brings, the friendship will still be strong.

A Girl And Her Doll (With A Few Books)

We took our daughter to the American Girl store this weekend.  We have been promising to go for about five million years and something always comes up.  This time we actually made it.  The picture isn't that great because it was so sunny I couldn't see the screen so I just aimed my phone in the right general direction and this is what I ended up with. She looks happy, doesn't she?

If you have never been to the American Girl store then just imagine two floors of dolls and clothes and accessories.  Add in a cafe, a doll hair salon, and many, many fathers standing on the edges of the store with the slightly long-suffering look of men who are being good fathers but who don't quite know how they ended up in this world of girl stuff and who are, sometimes unsuccessfully, resisting the urge to pull out their phones and escape for a bit.

My daughter loves it.  She is not a super girly type girl but there is something about these dolls that just really appeals to her.  I think it is that the dolls are girls, not babies, and you can buy clothes and accessories to fit your interests.  So my daughter has a pet for her doll (yes, really) and sports outfits for her, and clothes she would wear herself.  There are also historical character dolls with books to go along with them but my daughter doesn't have one of those.  I have picked up many of the books at thrift shops though.

I like it because it is nice to see girls being little girls and not trying to be grown-ups.  There were lots of girls of widely varying ages, many of them older than my daughter.  They were all wildly excited and just being their age.  I like kids to be kids.  Of course, it is ridiculously expensive but we don't go very often so we will have time to pay off that second mortgage.

Something I find interesting is that my daughter tends to tie her reading into whatever she has been doing lately.  So when we went to the zoo last month she spent a week or so reading Thornton Burgess books and other animal stories.  This week she is reading books that involve dolls in the story.  First, she pulled out A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett but she has read it so many times she practically has it memorized.  Then she read the Raggedy Ann and Andy stories by Johnny Gruelle.  I loved those when I was little.  The idea of dolls having their own lives when people weren't around was thrilling to me.  For a long time, I was convinced my dolls came to life and had adventures when I was out of the house and I would always check to see if they were in different positions when I got home.  Next, she read The Racketty-Packetty House by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  It is the story of two dollhouses and the dolls who live in them.  I never read it as a child but I found it for free on my Kindle and my daughter has loved it since she was tiny and I first read it to her.  Right now she is reading Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden.  It is the story of a lonely little girl and the two little Japanese dolls that are sent to her as a gift.  The girl decides to make a Japanese house for them and in the process, learns to be happy again herself.  I read it as a child but only remember it vaguely.  I am going to have to read it when she is done.

She finished Miss Happiness and Miss Flower while I was writing this.  She has requested that we go to the library tomorrow because she thought of another book, Two Are Better Than One by Carol Ryrie Brink.  I believe there are two pocket-sized dolls in the story and the best friends pass them back and forth.  I don't remember much more but I read that when I was young as well.

Do you have any recommendations for books that involve dolls as a large part of the storyline?  I am running out of ideas and she keeps asking for more.

Do you ever match your books to the activities in your life?

Things That Make Me Happy

Cone flowers

These flowers.  These flowers make me happy.  My gardens are a mess.  They are full of weeds and overgrown.  They really need to be taken apart and redone.  I am slowly working at it but at my current rate of progress, they will be done when I am 185.  However, that does not prevent some gorgeous flowers from blooming amongst the weeds.  From a distance it even looks like I am quite the gardener, just don't get too close or the weeds will give me away.

Fudgsicles.  Fudgsicles also make me happy.  They taste like childhood and summer.  When the weeds get to be too much I eat a fudgsicle and all is right with the world.  Fudgsicles remind me of walking down to the corner store on steaming hot days and buying treats for the whole family.  Though Popsicles were bigger then. Remember twin pops?  If there was only one of a favorite flavor left you had to carefully split it in half and share it with a sibling.  I don't think they make twin pops anymore, do they?  Children these days are missing out.

I found a stash of costume jewelry in the attic.  My daughter and I had fun looking through it.  I gave her a pair of earrings which thrilled her.  I am glad I saved the jewelry.  Styles do cycle, don't they? You know you are getting older when everyone is excited about the latest fashion and you just look at it and remember your teenage years.

My kids played Scrabble with me the other night.  It was an interesting game because my son has no patience for anyone who takes a long time to come up with a word.  He thinks you should put down the first word you see.  So really, we played speed Scrabble.  It was challenging in a whole different way and strangely enjoyable.  There was none of that sitting around while someone looks for the best possible word.  You just put something down and move on.  I actually kind of recommend it.

It has been fun to watch my son revert to his childhood and get so excited while playing Pokemon Go on his phone.  There is nothing like watching an almost 16-year-old practically bounce with excitement after catching a Charmander. Parenting provides strange pieces of esoteric knowledge.  Imagine, I actually know what a Charmander is.  Do you?

Planning vacations also makes me happy.  I have to clarify here, these are not vacations I am actually likely to take.  I just enjoy dreaming and planning.  Right now I want to go to Iceland.  It looks so beautiful.  I also want to go to Scotland.  And Norway.  You can tell it is summer and the heat bothers me.  All my travel dreams involve chillier locations.

What has made you happy lately?

Book Expectations

woodland path

This week has been a bit iffy.  One sick child, two broken lawnmowers (rider and push mower) three trips to the grocery store, or was it four?  It did have a few bright spots. A trip to visit my grandmother that turned into an impromptu family reunion because so many family members had the same idea.  A dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant.  Too many ice cream sundaes.

I did finally have some time to read.  I read less in the summer.  The kids are off school which makes life strangely busier and the weather is nicer so we do more in the evenings.  In the winter I just curl up with a blanket and a book.  In the summer I am much more likely to be outside instead.   This week I managed to finish the fourth book in the Lymond Chronicles.  Is everyone sick of hearing about my progress through these books?  I am sorry but they are almost all I have been reading lately.  I did have to take a break after finishing Pawn in Frankincense though.  It was just so traumatic.  I read something a bit easier with a bit less death.  I also abandoned a mystery when I was halfway through.  There was nothing wrong with it, I just didn't care who did it and that isn't good when you are reading a mystery.

I find, in recent years, I expect more out of a book.  I used to read pretty indiscriminately.  It wasn't that I couldn't tell the difference between a wonderful book and an okay one, it was more that I was willing to devour any and all books.  Lately, I don't have the patience for the just okay books.  I don't mean I always read deep and heavy books, after all I love Georgette Heyer and she is pure fluff.  But she is well-written, captivating fluff and I think that is the difference.  If the book doesn't pull me in completely I don't have a desire to continue it.

I think that possibly reading blogs and blogging has something to do with that.  I have encountered so many fantastic authors that I would have never heard of otherwise.  Before, I mainly found new authors by stumbling across them in the library.  That is a bit hit or miss and, since the library in the town I currently live in is pretty abysmal, it had been a while since I had come across a new author that I really loved.  Most of my old favorites, Angela Thirkell, Dorothy Sayers, Mary Stewart, were from years ago when the library I went to was much more comprehensive.  I had gotten used to reading whatever I could find, whether it was great or not, because that was all there was.  Then I discovered book blogs and became a bit obsessed with tracking down all the books I was reading about.  I fell in love with Persephone books and authors like Mollie Panter-Downes and I rediscovered some I had read years ago and forgotten about like Barbara Pym.  I recaptured that old feeling of loving a book.

It can be compared to someone who eats a lot of fast food.  Maybe they get used to those burgers and even kind of like them.  They are quick, and convenient and fill a need.  But then they start eating home-cooked food and suddenly those fast food burgers don't taste as good anymore.  Some books are just fast food books and that can be okay but sometimes, once you have started them, you find yourself pushing them aside like that unfinished fast-food burger that tasted good for the first few bites but is then unappealing.

I am not sure I am explaining myself very well but I am finding it interesting that books I might have basically enjoyed years ago are not capturing my interest lately.  Do you find something similar that has happened to your reading interests?

To Reread Or Not To Reread

This past weekend we went to visit my grandmother.  I try to visit regularly but it has been a while since the whole family has made it in to see her.  This time I brought my laptop so I could show her the pictures from our trip to London back in April.  She used to love to travel and was very into photography before she had her stroke so I thought she would enjoy seeing the pictures.  I was right, she did enjoy it but finally, after about the five millionth picture of a bookshop she looked at me and asked "but what do you do with all these books?  You buy them and read them, but what then?  Do you just give them away?"  She was confused by my choice to buy souvenirs that I would not hold onto, that I would just give away again.  I explained to her that I would keep the books but she found that just as baffling.  Why would I keep a book I had already read?

Now, my grandma is a reader.  She has always had a stack of library books on her end table and she trades books with my aunt.  She is a reader but she doesn't own books.  There are no jam-packed bookshelves, no old favorites that she goes back to again and again.  Once she has read a book she is done with it.  I suppose there are many people who look at books that way but I am the exact opposite.

If I love a book I want to read it over and over.  I want to submerge myself in the story and get to know the characters better on a second reading.  I want to notice details and connections I missed the first time through.  I simply want to revel in knowing what is going to happen and in anticipating my favorite parts.

As I have gotten older and the internet has made more and more books easily accessible I don't reread quite as often.  Some days, however, only an old favorite will do.  I want to sit in the attic and munch on apples with Jo March. I want to walk to Netherfield Park with Elizabeth Bennett.  I want to dance at a ball in Regency times.  I want my old friends to comfort and soothe me.

Some books I have read so often that I can recite whole sections of them.  As a teenager, I memorized an entire swathe of Pride and Prejudice.  My dad occasionally still makes me recite it just to see if I can.  What can I say, we are a family that is easily amused.  Despite those feats of memorization, I don't have the best memory.  Wording I particularly enjoy may stick in my head but whole plot points manage to evaporate.  Maybe that is a reason why I don't mind rereading books.  There is always going to be something I don't remember and sometimes that is something vital like who the murderer is.  I suppose it is a bit of a contradiction.  I remember and love books but at the same time, I don't always remember them clearly.  I think I am grateful for that.  I can reread books and somehow they are still brand new.

The two books I have read most often are probably Little Women and Pride and Prejudice. I am not sure how often I have read them, I wish I had kept track of my reading when I was younger.  It must be twenty times at least but honestly, I am just guessing.  It could be more.  I read them a few times a year for years and years on end. To read them again is like coming home.

Even when I read a book for the first time and I really love it, I also know that I will probably love it more the second or third time around.  The first time I am galloping through, caught up in the story, desperate to get to the end to find out what happens.  The subsequent times I slow down and notice more.  I sink into the story instead of skating on the surface.  I love to reread.

My grandmother also asked why I had to go all the way to England to buy books.  I am just a baffling grandchild.

Are you a rereader?  What book have you reread most often?

Life Lately

Life lately has been very full of children, children who are off school for the summer and alternate between wanting to do everything right now and wanting to do nothing at all.

Life lately has been full of children who are constantly hungry.  If they are gone for the day at school they can't eat all the food in the house.  They are home.  They eat it all.  And they leave the dishes on the counter.  We are working on that.  Well, I am.  They are proving remarkably obtuse.

Life lately has been full of The Lymond Chronicles.  Yes, still.  I am on book four and I have reached the point where I am ignoring everything else including the books I have requested from the library.  The constant feeding of hungry children is interfering with my reading time.  The nerve of those kids.

Life lately has been full of summer food.  Fruit salad, hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, too much ice cream, corn on the cob.

Life lately has involved my, probably doomed, attempt to become a runner.  I never run.  I hate running.  I have suddenly decided to take up running.  It is very confusing.  What is even more confusing is that I am finding it strangely satisfying.

Life lately has involved writing blog posts I am not sure I will ever publish.  I might, it is just a bit scary.  The writing was cathartic though.

Life lately has involved realizing that my daughter is growing up and I am not sure what to do about it.  Where is my bright, sunny little girl and what am I supposed to do with this changeling who cries at the drop of a hat?

Life lately has seen me sitting by the pool chatting to my dad while my daughter swims.  He is retired now so we see a lot more of him.  It is nice.

Life lately has meant I have had to continually talk myself out of buying books.  I keep seeing fantastic recommendations on blogs and I want them but I can't buy all the books all the time.  Feel free to convince me otherwise.

Life lately has seen my son accidentally getting the exact same haircut he had when he was five.  He isn't very good at describing what he wants so he ended up with a very short cut.  He hates it but it makes me smile because every time I look at him I see my little boy instead of the 6'1'' giant he has turned into.

Life lately has meant I made plans with one of my oldest, best friends to meet for lunch.  We live a ways away from each other and this doesn't happen very often.  It makes me happy and I can't wait.

What has life lately been like for you?