Tag Archives: books

Friday nights are for books and cheap wine

Last Friday night, I took the bus downtown, and when the friendly bus driver asked where I was headed, I told him I was going to the library. He said “That’s how you’re spending your Friday night? At the library?!” But you know what? Hell yes, I was. Also it was a licensed, 19+ event, and glasses of wine were five dollars. FIVE DOLLARS. Where else can you get a glass of wine – and it wasn’t even plonk – for five dollars? Nowhere, that’s where. Plus a lovely spread of cheese and crackers, Roma pizza (I firmly believe there is a bylaw that states you cannot host a party in Hamilton without at least one Roma pizza in attendance) and then a table of desserts. COME ON. Best deal in town, honestly.

And while the wine was very attractively-priced, we were also there for the reveal of the Hamilton Reads One Book One Community choice for this year, and for the lovely Jane Urquhart, who read from her new book A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through 50 Objects.

I will admit to being skeptical of the entire concept of A Number of Things, because there is this tendency, among Canadians, to focus only on the stereotypes when compiling lists of “Canadian” things. Toques and moose and hockey, amirite? And I still haven’t read the book, so I’m withholding judgement, but from what Jane read on Friday night, I feel I might be pleasantly surprised by the insight and depth of research, by the thoughtful inclusion of important, culturally significant objects, as well as some of the ones that may more generally spring to mind. I mean, she’s Jane Urquhart, after all. I suppose I needn’t have worried.

Worries aside, the entire evening was a delight. A packed house, standing room only for books and authors on a Friday night? Hamilton, you never disappoint. And of course, the big reveal of Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People as the choice for Hamilton’s One Book One Community!

HPL has organized a season of programming designed around the OBOC pick, and there are some amazing events lined up. I’m not sure the details are available online yet, but you can pick up this little booklet and make your plans for the fall. There’s even a series of workshops by me! Pretty sure I’ll have a lot more to say about those later this summer. Other than, you know, “Eeeeeeeee! I’m running some writing workshops, you guys!” I promise, ok?

HPL staff were also there to offer book talks for those who were interested, and listening to two book talks meant you were eligible to be entered into a draw. 12 tote bags with books were up for grabs, as well as a large bucket o’ books. I didn’t win, but my friend Jessica won one of the tote bags, which made an already great night even better.

Finally, HPL is also running, for I believe the first time EVER, an Adult Summer Reading Club! It will surprise virtually no one that I consistently OWNED at summer reading club as a kid, and over the years I’ve wistfully watched from afar as other library systems began advertising their own adult versions, so I’m happy HPL is finally on board! Grab your card at any library branch, or download from the website, and print your own.

So to recap, wine and cheese, door prizes and authors, book talks and cupcakes. And all for just 10 bucks. Friday nights at the library? Absolutely, and let’s do it again soon.

Love your library system, folks. Hamilton truly has one of the best.










The Noise of Time

IMG_6943I read The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes over the course of about a week. It’s a smallish book, coming in at around 200 pages. I could have read it faster, perhaps in two or three days, but from the very first pages, I knew it was a book I wanted to savour.


The novel opens with Dmitri Shostakovich waiting by the lift in his apartment building. A few nights before, Stalin had attended a performance of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, a well respected, popular, and internationally renowned opera. He and his cronies left after the third act. Shostakovich had also been in the audience, and later picked up a copy of Pravda to read the denunciation of his up until then beloved opera entitled “Muddle Instead of Music.”


Composers are used to bad reviews, of course. All artists are. They are used to criticism of their art, and used to people not understanding their intentions or their vision. But a bad review under Stalin was not simply a bad review. On page 26, Barnes writes of the Muddle Instead of Music review:


“There were three phrases which aimed not just at his theoretical misguidedness but at his very person. “The composer apparently never considered the problem of what the Soviet audience looks for and expects in music.” That was enough to take away his membership in the Union of Composers. “The danger of this trend to Soviet music is clear.” That was enough to take away his ability to compose and perform. And finally: “It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly.” That was enough to take away his life.”


Such was life for writers, composers, dancers, actors, any type of artist at all under Stalin. In The Noise of Time, Julian Barnes focuses on the life of Shostakovich, and does a remarkable job eliciting and evoking this era in Soviet history, and a society that didn’t know how not to be afraid.


The novel – and at times it was difficult to remember I was reading a novel and not an actual biography – is lyric and wry, funny and heartbreaking, often surreal, and always beautiful. It is also immensely quotable. Barnes has a gift for conveying feelings and ideas in very few, yet perfectly chosen words, causing me to stop and contemplate before resuming reading. In fact, I flagged over 30 lines, paragraphs, and sometimes even entire pages as potential quotes. Definitely too many to include in a short review, but enough to make me return to the book often, to read the passages again for their sheer beauty, their compact power. The novel’s structure adds to its beauty as well, with paragraphs that are short and succinct. These punchy paragraphs are not without impact. In fact, they trigger a sense of urgency in the writing; quickening the pace at times, and at other points in the story slowing the action down. Much like a composer or a conductor controls the way the orchestra plays music and therefore the way the audience hears it, Barnes is an expert in controlling the way the book is consumed by the reader. The result is lyrical, contemplative, and beautiful.


Back to the lift.

After the performance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Muddle Instead of Music, Shostakovich remained by the lift, night after night. On hearing it ascend, and preparing for the worst, there was relief when the doors opened and it was a merely a neighbour returning home:


“Words were never exchanged because words were dangerous. It was just possible that he looked like a man humiliatingly thrown out by his wife, night after night; or a man who indecisively kept walking out on his wife, night after night, and then returning. But it was probable he looked exactly what he was: a man, like hundreds of others across the city, waiting, night after night, for arrest.”


To me, to any of us sitting comfortably in a country that has never known a dictator, never known revolution or the fear of arrest for no other reason than your beliefs are no longer in line with those of the Party, it is extremely difficult to imagine how people not only lived under Stalin’s Great Terror, but continued to create. Music, poetry, theatre, novels, opera. Art not only thrived, it flourished. Some of the most incredible writing and music of all time came out of the Soviet Union under Stalin. This is mind boggling and fascinating, and is a testament to the power of the human spirit, and to the power of art itself.


Lenin said “Art belongs to the People.” Barnes writes,


“Art belongs to everybody and nobody. Art belongs to all time and no time. Art belongs to those who create it and those who savour it. Art no more belongs to the People and the Party than it once belonged to the aristocracy and the patron. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time. Art does not exist for art’s sake: it exists for people’s sake. But which people and who defines them? He always thought of his own art as anti-aristocratic. Did he write, as his detractors maintained, for a bourgeois cosmopolitan elite? No. Did he write, as his detractors wanted him to, for the Donbass miner weary from his shift and in need of a soothing pick-me-up? No. He wrote music for everyone and no one. He wrote music for those who best appreciated the music he wrote, regardless of social origin. He wrote music for the ears that could hear. And he knew, therefore, that all true definitions of art are circular, and all untrue definitions of art ascribe it to a specific function.”

The Noise of Time is exquisite, and is currently among my top 5 reads for 2016 so far. I own a copy, and am happy to lend it. I will even remove the 3 dozen post-it note flags for you, so you can insert your own. Because you will definitely want to.

Bookish and more – sunny Friday edition!

If you’ve noticed, I’ve been really bad in tagging my posts of late.  As in I haven’t been tagging them.  I did come late to the tagging game, which I think I might have mentioned.  I have my reasons for not liking to tag posts, and it has to do with the fact that if I don’t have a predefined set of subject classifications already designed for me to choose from, I am hesitant to create one of my own, in case I – at some poing along the way – decide I don’t like this particular set of tags, and want to change them up.

I realize this is blindingly stupid to most people, but I think some of the library types out there might feel me on this one.  Maybe?  Maybe not.  Anyway.  The UIG + tagging posts = Fail.  Does it matter?  Probably not, but I’m trying to make a conscious effort to go through and tag older posts and attempt to properly tag my current efforts, especially the ones where books, movies, other things are discussed.  It’s just good form, and I like to be able to search other blogs by tag, so I’m going to really try.  As I said, I have an aversion to assigning tags to posts, but I’m working on it.  It would have been nice, when I started this blog, for someone to come along and say “Hey, here’s your subject classification parameters – blog about the following topics, and tag them thusly!”  But that’s bananas, right?  Although, if you think I’m on to something and you have a set of tags you want to assign to me?  I’d be all over that, I’m just putting it out there.

Okay, on to the good stuff!  It’s Friday and it’s gorgeous out there, blogfriends, so let’s talk about some books and stuff.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.  The story of the Bigtree clan and the inevitable decline of their alligator wrestling dynasty after the death of their world-famous wife/mother.  Seriously, they had me at alligator wrestling.  The writing in this book so evoked the swampy everglades of Florida that I sometimes felt clammy and mosquito bitten just reading it.  Really funny at times and extremely sad and horrific at others. 

Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter.  This is a slim little book that I mentioned last post, and it was a fast-paced and very enjoyable read.  WWI veteran Henry Bright hears the voice of an angel on the battlefields of France, the angel follows him back to America and has him do his will, to save Bright’s only son, supposedly The Future King of Heaven.  Beautifully written, which is not surprising from an author who also writes some pretty beautiful songs.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  Another book set in a steamy and tropical swampy area – this time the Amazon.  Pharmaceutical researcher sent to track down one of their scientists at a remote research facility, to learn what happened to cause the death of her colleague.  Ethics and morality are called into question, and the book had a sort of Heart of Darkness feel about it to me.  Venturing down the river to locate Kurtz, or in this case, the elusive Dr. Swenson.

And in music news, it would seem that the women of this awesome band are back together, recording new material and maybe even touring!  So if you’re about to go crazy still living here, just get your friends together and dance, dance dance – to one of the best urban summertime videos of all time. 

Happy weekend, blogfriends!

Best of-ing, 2010 style

There are only 3 days left in this year.  Three.  I for one am holding my breath, waiting for it to end.  I really just want to ensure that the remainder of this year does not fuck with me.  Seriously.  So it’s looking good, with just around 72 hours left.  And while 2010 was probably the shittiest year on record – for me, anyway – there were some highlights.  I read some excellent books, discovered some great new music and saw some killer live shows.  All which I will document for your end-of-the-year reading pleasure.

Books:  The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer – this one probably goes on record as my favourite book of the year.  I know I raved about it in an earlier post, so I won’t get into too much here, but I loved this book so much for its story and for its sheer beauty.  You should read it. 

Captivity by Deborah Noyes is another one I read this year that really stayed with me.  Those are the best books, are they not?  The ones that cause you to think about them days or even weeks after you finish. 

All the Living by C.E. Morgan.  This book was just over 200 pages, but that the author was able to convey so much beauty and pain and landscape in such a short work is really quite incredible.  Loved it.

Bloodroot by Amy Greene was stunning, and was yet another book that I had a hard time getting out of my mind once I’d read it.  Beautiful, lyrical and bright, and at the same time dark and horrifying, I don’t know that I’ve read anything quite like this before. 

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum.  I really loved this book for the history, the interesting facts behind the development of forensics as a science and also for the crazy shit that went down in NYC during this time.  So awesome.

Music:  The Sadies, Darker Circles.  Fantastic album from one of the best and hardest working Canadian bands ever.

The Black Keys, Brothers.  Hell to the yeah.  I came to this album pretty late in the year, even though it was on my “to purchase” list for months.  But, better late than never, and it truly did not disappoint. 

The Revivalists, Vital Signs.  Here is a band that I got to hear via a Paste Magazine sampler CD, and once I ripped it to my iPod and found myself replaying the song “Not Turn Away” over and over and over, I bought the album.  Absolutely fantastic, and I would bet the farm that they are a damn fine live band too.  So in case you’re reading this, members of The Revivalists PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD COME TO CANADA!  *ahem*  No, really.  Love you guys.

Live Music :  With everything that went down this spring, I have to say that 2010 didn’t see the UIG attending as many live shows as usual.  However, the ones that I did see stand out in a pretty big way.

White Cowbell Oklahoma at Casbah in Hamilton was the first show I saw in 2010, and what a way to start the year.  Damn fine music and a killer show.  See my post from last January for full details.

Blue Rodeo at Massey Hall in Toronto marked the first time I’d ever seen this band at MH and it was fantastic.  We had front row seats and were the first two people dancing up at the stage when Jim invited everyone up.  Magic.

Illusion Avenue, assorted gigs in the Hammer.  You have likely not heard of these guys, and that’s ok.  They’re pretty new.  And young.  In fact their bass player?  Is my kid.  The Musician is in this band with 3 other local dudes – no one is older than 15.  And yet?  They fucking kill it every time.  They write their own songs and they do some wicked, well-chosen cover songs.  They are all extremely talented musicians and everyone who sees them has their mind blown by the sheer awesomeness.  I might be biased.  Or, I might just be really, really proud of my boy.  Either way, whatev.  They’re good.  Not just “good for their age”.  They are good-good.  And seeing them kick it in the clubs around town has been such a highlight for me in a year where nothing really good seemed to happen. 

TV:  We don’t tend to watch an awful lot of TV.  This isn’t some sort of smug testament to our intellect, mind you.  It’s mostly because we spend our weeknights at the dojo during primetime, and we don’t have one of those fancy schmancy PVR thangs.  Actually until recently our TV didn’t even have a remote, so see?  We’ll get there eventually.  Now, having said that, one of the shows we did rearrange our schedules to watch as it happened was Lost.  And god help me if I didn’t freaking love that show, and yes I cried when Jin and Sun died and yes I cried at the end and yes we talked about the ending for days and days afterwards, just trying to get our heads around it.  I miss that show, I really do. 

Dexter, Seasons 3 & 4 on DVD.  So here is another show that blows my mind every episode, and while we don’t get to see it unfold like everyone else, I’m counting these two seasons for 2010 because we just could not get enough of it.  Season 4 especially was fucking brilliant and the season finale just about killed me.  Seriously.  Can’t wait for Season 5, and I have heard that it’s on board for a 6th season too, which makes me really happy. 

So there you have it.  The UIG’s “best ofs” for 2010.  Oh, and 2010?  You can’t get out of my life fast enough.  It’s not me, it’s you.  Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out, k?  And as for you, 2011.  I have really high hopes for you not fucking with me and my family.  Can we please agree on that from the start?  Cos I’d really appreciate that.

Who knew?

When there is a book ready for me to pick up at my public library, the system sends me a message.  This is what is waiting for me:

You might have to click to enlarge it. 

Men.  Such an epidemic.*

In other news, so long November, don’t let the NaBloPoMo door hit your ass on the way out!  Actually, I’m kidding.  Daily November blogging was actually pretty fun and not as stressful as I remember from previous years, which is pretty awesome, right?  So we’ll have to do it again real soon.  Like next November.  That’s soon enough.

*actual book title is Emerging epidemics: the menace of new infections. Aren’t you glad I’m probably not likely to be at one of your holiday parties?

In which I ask Jessa Crispin to marry me

Or, at the very least, get drunk with me.

This.  Hearted.  A thousand times.  Thank you.

More book love!

More of what I’ve been reading:

Captivity by Deborah Noyes – I read most of this while on vacation, and really enjoyed it.  Very well-written and with a lot of elements I like in a story, including characters who haunt you (so appropriate, should you read the book) long after you’ve finished reading it. 

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – This one I just finished, and I thought it was excellent.  Lots of characters and often a bit hard to keep track of who is who and how their lives are intertwined and mingled, plus the story jumps back and forth between eras.  But don’t let that stop you! 

**Before I continue, can I just say that I am fully aware that I am a terrible book reviewer.  I often can’t seem to get past the “It were good” when discussing a book, and for someone who talks as much as I do in real life, it’s kind of odd.  So can we just say that rather than give a synopsis of the book and list its strengths and weaknesses and alla that, that I am going to just give you my impressions in a sort of rating system from excellent through meh right down to downright hated and I’ll never get those hours back?  Okay, good.  Moving on…

The Same River Twice by Ted Mooney is one that stands firmly in the “meh leaning toward good” realm.  I enjoyed the story but I found I cared less and less about the characters as the story went on, and somewhere around 3/4 of the way through I got tired of the language as well. 

That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life by Ana Homayoun.  What can I say?  It’s back-to-school time, people.  And disorganized boys?  I haz them.


Throwin’ the books at you

Do you abide by any summer reading policies or subscribe to any book list-type things?  If you are headed to the beach, do you search for a book that has been labelled a good “beach read”?  Lots of people do, and in the months leading up to summer, there are loads of these types of lists around.  I almost always check them out, and once in awhile a few titles catch my eye, but having said that, I don’t usually go in for sticking with a list, and I certainly don’t have a specific genre or type of book that I read during summer holidays.

I have friends with a strict “chick lit only” summer reading policy – the light and frothy type, that you can devour in an afternoon, lounging in a lawn chair, sipping a cocktail and wearing a big floppy hat.  Then I know other people who use the lazy days of summer to read up on things that interest them, the sorts of books they maybe don’t have time for during the regular year, but once vacation arrives, they can spend days reading about golf or gardening or what have you.  I’m always interested by what people like to read or what they think is appropriate or inappropriate for certain seasons or times of year, so to kick things off I’m going to start by giving you the details of my latest reads. 

I just finished:  Drood by Dan Simmons and The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.  Both of them in hardcover, both of them GIGANTIC.  Drood tops the scales at a whopping 784 pages and The Invisible Bridge a mere 624.  So “light” reading?  Hardly.  And, even the story lines of both were both pretty heavy. (see what I did there?)  Of the two though?  Hands down I recommend The Invisible Bridge.  With Drood I felt ripped off, that I’d slogged through all those pages (and it really was a slog for a lot of it – wow) for pretty much a meh kind of ending.  The Invisible Bridge just kept getting better and better, right through to an appropriately satisfying ending, and with a whole lot of beautiful writing in between.  Loved that book. 

Currently I am reading Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar and really enjoying it.  If you can, you know, enjoy the story of an extremely awkward, middle-aged woman with odd delusions and quite possibly a descent into madness (although I haven’t read very far yet).  Then, on the back burner I have Libba Bray’s Going Bovine which intrigued me.  And also, the cover shows a cow, standing upright, holding a garden gnome under it’s arm (leg?).  Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?

So what are you planning to read this summer?

What your reading material says about you. Or, why you may not want to sit beside me on the bus.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve been doing a lot of reading.  Nothing earth-shattering, I know.  And as I said the other day, it’s not exactly a hobby, it’s just something I do.  For a very long time, I didn’t read much at all.  This might come as a shock to those who know what I do for a living, because there is some fantasy about people who work in libraries that they read all day.  And while some librarians may do a lot of reading of books as part of their job (I am thinking mostly of librarians who do a lot of readers’ advisory, maybe childrens’ librarians too, although perhaps not at all and maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about and therefore perpetuating the myth, I don’t know…) I’ve never held a library job where that was a requirement.  Policies and procedures?  I read a lot of those.  Articles on different aspects of my job or jobs I wanted to do?  Yup.  Research into alternate ways to offer reference services, etc.?  Tons.  But not a lot of books.  And certainly not thte types of books that likely come to mind when one thinks of a librarian reading books at their desk.  (because you should know that when you tell people you work in a library, they sometimes get that misty, faraway look in their eyes imagining how great it would be to, you know, sit at a desk and read the Twilight series all day every day, because that is what a lot of people think librarians do.)

Anyway, when I was young, I read all the time.  When The Genealogist and I tell our kids how much we read as children and how we would spend entire rainy days just reading, they don’t believe us.  Or, they might actually believe us, but they find it extremely sad that the only thing we could possibly do on a rainy day was to read.  No 24-hour kids’ television, we remind them.  No video and computer games, no instant messaging, no internet whatsoever.  No phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury…. *ahem*

Anyway, The Artist and The Musician, they are readers, they like books, they always have.  They probably wouldn’t spend an entire day reading, not when there are so many other distractions in their world, but they do enjoy it.  And they have very different tastes.  The Artist.  For the most part, he is way into comic books, kids’ magazines like Owl and Chickadee and fantasy stories with knights and dragons, robots and aliens, things like that.  He likes stuff about nature, but it’s the fantasy stuff that he really seems to love.  The Musician, well he’s more of a realist.  It’s the books with real people telling their stories that excite him.  He enjoys the Dear Canada series, and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, (both fictitious, of course, but with a certain amount of  “hey, someone wrote this”) and books about his favourite musicians and rockstars.  His favourites when he was little and just learning to read were books about trucks, planes and ships.  It’s amazing to watch the two of them in a library or bookstore, and see where they go.  It’s not unusual, of course, they are very different people, but if reading tastes are indicative of personality, then those two are spot on.  The Artist is the dreamer, imagining the possibilities.  The Musician is the guy who wants the facts and the proof.

It will be interesting to see if their tastes shift or merge or change completely as they get older.  I know mine certainly did.  I was a total fiction lover from a very early age, I didn’t have much use for anything that wasn’t a mystery or an adventure or a thriller.  Non-fiction stuff was for school, and maybe it just seemed like too much work.  Of course, as school went on, more and more non-fiction stuff was added to my repertoire, and by the time I hit university, I was reading so much school stuff that I didn’t have time for anything else, really.  And then after uni, it was difficult to pick up a book and not analyze the shit out of it, so for the most part, I chose not to.  Instead, I devoted myself to ridiculous amounts of TV, because that was something I just didn’t seem to have time for previously and it kind of rocked not to have to write essays and do presentations and just, you know, research everything.

Eventually though?  I needed to read again.  I needed the analysis, and the process, and I needed to think and so I started reading.  But what to read?  A lot of fiction left me bored and uninterested.  But did I want to get back into reading history?  I tried on a lot of different genres and wore a lot of different reader hats initially, and when people asked me “Read any good books lately?” I could honestly say that I had, but most of the time when I told them what I was reading, they had no clue what I was talking about.

See, the thing is,  I read weird books.  I do.  I don’t really subscribe to any “type” of reading material.  If it sounds interesting, I’ll read it.  I don’t pay attention to Oprah and her book club ideas.  I don’t belong to a book club.  I don’t watch the talk shows to  see the latest author tours  or go out and devour everything on the Canada Reads list (Especially not this year.  Seriously, what was up with that list?).  I get a lot of my reading ideas from blogs like Largehearted Boy and Bookslut (linkage to the right, yo) and I sometimes get ideas from radio programs like The Sunday Edition (hosted by my supersmart imaginary boyfriend Michael Enright) or Eleanor Wachtel’s excellent Writers & Company.  In short, I rarely read books that other people I know are reading, which leaves me out of many a girls’ weekend conversation.  “No, I haven’t read Eat, pray, love. I’m sorry, I can’t comment.  But!  Have you read Breathers: a Zombie’s Lament? No?  Oh.  What about Metropole or The End of Mr. Y?  Oh.  Okay.  Hey, your glass is empty, let me get you some more wine…”  See?  Fantastic books, all of them.  But no one knows about them.

And I’m not trying to be all snobby-snobbity about my reading choices.  People read lots of different things, and there is no one type of book or genre that is better than another, it’s what captures your interest that is important.  And I know there are loads of people out there who have read these books I just mentioned (Goodreads tells me so), it’s just that among the people I interact with daily – friends and work colleagues, etc. I am a bit of a literary outcast. 

Which brings me to the book I am currently reading, the excellent Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius by Colin Dickey.  I am loving this book, and have read close to 200 pages in 2 days, that’s how fascinating it is.  I mostly read it waiting for, and riding on the bus to and from work every day.  Which probably explains why I usually have a seat to myself, and most people at the bus stop give me a pretty wide berth.  But anyway.  Again, it’s a book I heard about on the radio – specifically The Current.  The host was interviewing the author, and it sounded intriguing to me, so I reserved the book at the library.  Had I missed the radio program, I doubt I’d have ever heard about this book.  And I think that’s what’s exciting about these sorts of serendipitous findings.  I mean, sometimes I hear about a book that I think I’d like and it turns out I don’t.  But a lot of what I’ve been reading just comes from a passing mention on a blog, or a snippet of an interview with an author, and I think that is really an amazing way to get book recommendations.  There is so much out there, and if you just limit yourself to one type of book, one genre or select your reading material based on one booklist or one person’s ideas of what’s good to read, you just miss out.

And so, what’s next on my “to-read” list?  Well, I have two in the queue: The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum and Wicked Plants: a Book of Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart

These ones?  Just might get me banned from public transit entirely.

Find the cost of reading

I mentioned a few posts ago that I did a hella lot of reading this past year.  Just threw some books at myself to see what would stick and many of them actually did which was cool.  Everything I read this year, from cookbooks to novels to non-fiction books came from my local public library system.  Every. Single. Book.  Now I have read the articles that talk about library usage being up, way up, across the board clearly as a result of the recession that has gripped our world, and while I suppose indirectly this had something to do with me using the resources of the library, that wasn’t entirely it.  It’s mostly that I don’t really want to own books.  I blogged about this at my old blog a couple of years ago, so for anyone reading who frequented the previous blog, don’t worry, I am not about to rehash.  Much.

I love books to absolute death, but I find it difficult to buy them, partly because they take up a lot of space and partly because I rarely (if ever) reread books, so unless we are talking cookbooks that I might refer to more than once, or a reference book or something similar, I’m just not interested in owning it.  The space thing is the biggest issue for me.  We live in a very old house with exactly two closets, both of which are oddly shaped, because they are on either side of the (crazily steep) staircase that leads to the attic.  Neither are hugely functional as a result, so we need to have furniture to house our belongings.  This takes up, as you can imagine, much of the precious floor/wall space in our house, so to store and display other things like books (and DVDs, CDs, games etc. which I am also loathe to buy) becomes a challenge.

It’s especially difficult, because I am a tactile person.  I love unwrapping new CDs, I love opening them and reading liner notes; I love the feel and smell of a new book, the weight of paper and the way the cover feels.  So it’s hard to separate the two sides of me, and continue to maintain a relatively clutter-free lifestyle.  But, I download music (legally, of course) and I borrow books from the library.  I try to get the boys to rent videogames first, to see if they like them enough to want to purchase.  I spend countless hours trying to purge toys and games from their room, and give away much of what is no longer used.  It’s uphill work, people.  And I know I’m not the only one in this boat.

So in order to counteract the stuff takeover of my life, I made the decision to read only books from the library just over a year ago.  I was always an avid library user during elementary and high school, and then throughout university I practically lived in one.  When the boys were little, we did a lot of library visiting, summer reading club reading, and spent a good amount of time parked at the little tables and chairs of our local branch.  So what happened?  Well, I started working full time and no longer was able to spend an afternoon with the kids at the ‘brary.  Sure, they’re open Saturdays (and some branches even Sundays) but weekends became my two days to get everything done that I could no longer do during the week on account of my new job.  I missed it for sure, and I really missed taking the boys there and watching them gather armfuls of books and comics and bring them to the circulation desk armed with their very own library card and sign them out.  Do I sound like an old person pining for those simpler times?  Yeah, it’s kind of what I was going for.

Anyway, so missing the library visits.  But discovering that I am able to, due to the magic of the interwebs, log in to my library account and click on book titles I like and then request that they be sent to the branch 5 minutes down the street from my work.  This?  Huge.  While I did love wandering the stacks and all, I would often come away frustrated and with nothing to read, because that awesome sounding book I heard on Metro Morning yesterday?  Yeah, can’t remember the title or the author.  Or, even if I did know what I was looking for, there is always the “we don’t have that title at this branch, but we can certainly bring it in for you!” which is beyond helpful, but not so useful when I want to read something right now.  So now!  NOW, I can read a blog or an article recommending a fantastic book, go to the library’s website, search for it and click reserve to have it sent to any branch I want.  And in a couple of days I get a pleasant email telling me my items are ready for pickup.  Sure sometimes the library doesn’t own the book at all, and sometimes the book has a bazillion requests and my request is number bazillion and one, but it’s a super awesome system and I sometimes even feel badly for taking advantage of it.  I mean I know it’s all good and everything, and it’s there to be used…but I have been known to place a request on a book that is physically at the library branch I am about to go to, just so that it will be ready and waiting for me when I get there.  I realize I have no shame. 

So.  Lots of reading, no buying of books.  And because I am a geek, I have been trying to estimate how much money I have saved over the course of the past year or so by only reading library books.  I spent the better part of my lunch hours last week searching for tools to help with just that.  There are websites that tell you to use your library to save money, but very few that say “you read 64 books this year and therefore saved X dollars!”  Except for the Massachusetts Library Association.  Those people have got it going on, blogfriends.  You want to know what you’re not spending by using the library?  Download their spreadsheet and calculate what you save every single time you use the library.  It’s sheer genius, it is.  And I wish I’d found it earlier.  One of the things I would love to see in my library’s most excellent cataloguing system is the ability to see what you’ve checked out over the course of a month or a year or whatever.  I have discovered Goodreads (I know, so late to the party on that) which allows me to keep track, and if I go strictly by the number of books on there (I purposely have kept it to books I have read recently) I have read 51 books.  I believe I own 3 of the books on the list, which I read just outside of my one-year cutoff when I started keeping track.  So, 48 books borrowed and read.  If I had purchased all of these books, the grand total would be somewhere around (according to the spreadsheet) $672.00.  And that doesn’t even take into account the kids’ books and the cookbooks and the DVDs I’ve borrowed.  That is a serious chunk of change, right there. 

So I’m not here to preach, people.  Everyone knows it’s good to read, and everyone knows that libraries are cool, but if buying books is your thing, and you can do it, then by all means continue to buy books.   I am just putting it out there that this system works like magic for me, because it’s just what I need.  Books shouldn’t be a luxury, and thanks to libraries, they don’t have to be. 

Also, totally going to try to justify that $672 savings into a nice little netbook for myself.