Readathon · stuff I read

24in48 Readathon July 2019: Wrapping up!

Heyo! 24in48 is over for another six months (womp womp) but it was a great Readathon for me. I didn’t read for 24 hours due to schedule (and sleep, rats) but I did read for just over 18 hours, finished five books, and read 1294 pages. Whee!

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The next 24in48 Readathon is scheduled for January 18-19, 2020! Follow their page for details and signups! Much love to unicorn-hosts Rachel, Kerry, and Kristen and their social media good fairies Sarah and Amanda!

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stuff I read

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon

39893600Summary from Goodreads:
A Wall Street Journal writer’s conversation-changing look at how reading aloud makes adults and children smarter, happier, healthier, more successful and more closely attached, even as technology pulls in the other direction.

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a bit of time into complex and powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. Grounded in the latest neuroscience and behavioral research, and drawing widely from literature, The Enchanted Hour explains the dazzling cognitive and social-emotional benefits that await children, whatever their class, nationality or family background. But it’s not just about bedtime stories for little kids: Reading aloud consoles, uplifts and invigorates at every age, deepening the intellectual lives and emotional well-being of teenagers and adults, too.

Meghan Cox Gurdon argues that this ancient practice is a fast-working antidote to the fractured attention spans, atomized families and unfulfilling ephemera of the tech era, helping to replenish what our devices are leaching away. For everyone, reading aloud engages the mind in complex narratives; for children, it’s an irreplaceable gift that builds vocabulary, fosters imagination, and kindles a lifelong appreciation of language, stories and pictures.

Bringing together the latest scientific research, practical tips, and reading recommendations, The Enchanted Hour will both charm and galvanize, inspiring readers to share this invaluable, life-altering tradition with the people they love most.

The Enchanted Hour is a very accessible book that makes the case for reading aloud to children (mostly children, but a few later chapters do talk about reading to adults) as both a way to give children a boost in school and to provide “together” time for a family. It is much less The Sky Is Falling!/hand-wringy than other recent books about the tech vs paper book divide. Gurdon brings together a lot of research and in person interviews (and some cute family anecdotes). Some of the recommendations do seem like they apply mainly to families with two caregivers and stable incomes. She also briefly discusses reading aloud to and among adults.

The Enchanted Hour is out tomorrow wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Book Love by Debbie Tung

39296114Summary from Goodreads:
Bookworms rejoice! These charming comics capture exactly what it feels like to be head-over-heels for hardcovers. And paperbacks! And ebooks! And bookstores! And libraries!

Book Love is a gift book of comics tailor-made for tea-sipping, spine-sniffing, book-hoarding bibliophiles. Debbie Tung’s comics are humorous and instantly recognizable—making readers laugh while precisely conveying the thoughts and habits of book nerds. Book Love is the ideal gift to let a book lover know they’re understood and appreciated.

Book Love is an adorably sweet little comic/graphic novel about what it’s like to be a reader and a lover of books and stories. None of the punchlines are particularly new but paired with Tung’s artwork it all becomes a warm fuzzy. And very “life-choice to live in a house with 2000+ books” affirming.

(Although I could do without the obligatory “ebooks vs paper books” riff FOR THE THOUSANDTH TIME because book formats have their merits.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

I remember reading about the Los Angeles Central Library fire in other books about libraries, chiefly Patience and Fortitude. The intriguing thing about the fire is that is was never solved – not in ignition and not in culprit, if indeed the fire was deliberately set. So I was really interested in Susan Orlean’s new book, titled The Library Book.

Now, The Library Book is three things:

  1. A reminiscence about books and reading and libraries and how Orlean had been a heavy library user as a child but grew out of it as an adult.
  2. A history of the development of the Los Angeles Central Library as an institution and what the library offers the Los Angeles area in the twenty-first century
  3. An account of the 1986 fire that gutted the Central Library and of the decidedly odd man suspected of setting the fire

Although there are some sections of the book that don’t flow together as well as they might due to the three different themes running through the book, I found Orlean’s work to be fun. The Library Book is a very readable and warm (haha) book from one library lovers to another. Orlean could have written a completely separate book about Harry Peak, the man arrested for setting the fire (never charged due to lack of evidence of arson, or even a conclusive ignition point for the fire – the building was so in need of modernization the fire could have started spontaneously). Peak is both a larger-than-life and an enigmatic character and as such is completely fascinating.

As a little bonus for library nerds, each chapter is headed by titles of several books and their associated call numbers (nerd catnip) pertaining to the subject of the chapter.

The Library Book is out October 16.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Great American Read: The Book of Books: Explore America’s 100 Best-Loved Novels

38255077Summary from Goodreads:
A blockbuster illustrated book that captures what Americans love to read, The Great American Read: The Book of Books is the gorgeously-produced companion book to PBS’s ambitious summer 2018 series.
What are America’s best-loved novels? PBS will launch The Great American Read series with a 2-hour special in May 2018 revealing America’s 100 best-loved novels, determined by a rigorous national survey. Subsequent episodes will air in September and October. Celebrities and everyday Americans will champion their favorite novel and in the finale in late October, America’s #1 best-loved novel will be revealed.
The Great American Read: The Book of Books will present all 100 novels with fascinating information about each book, author profiles, a snapshot of the novel’s social relevance, film or television adaptations, other books and writings by the author, and little-known facts. Also included are themed articles about banned books, the most influential book illustrators, reading recommendations, the best first-lines in literature, and more.
Beautifully designed with rare images of the original manuscripts, first-edition covers, rejection letters, and other ephemera, The Great American Read: The Book of Books is a must-have book for all booklovers.

I really enjoyed the kickoff episode for PBS’s Great American Read so I picked up the companion book a few weeks ago. This is a very pretty book about books (heyo, genre kryptonite) so definite four solid stars as a lovely object about books.

However, there is some unbelievably lazy-arsed copy-editing where captions are laid out wrong and some seriously convoluted sentences appear. Black Dog & Leventhal editor, I’m giving you the hairy eyeball on this one.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

37457057Summary from Goodreads:
Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown – Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover’s paradise? Well, almost … In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.

I’ve had my eye out for Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller ever since it pubbed in the U.K. – thanks Melville House for bringing it stateside.

I loved reading Bythell’s record of a year in his life as a bookseller in Wigtown in lowland Scotland. It’s more than just a daily record of the dumb customers or the problems Amazon/the Internet has brought to the business. It’s about being a part of a community, the history of the area, and also the melancholy of going out to value and/or buy the library of a person who has died or needs to move out of their home. That said, I massively enjoyed the snark Bythell doles out on the page (also, his shop assistant Nicky is goofballs in the most amazing way). We meet his American girlfriend Anna who commutes between Wigtown and London, his ever-enlarging cat Captain, the friend who organizes the book festival yet leaves his shoes (and assorted mess) all over Bythell’s flat in the most annoying way, and go fishing with Bythell and his dad. If you’re a book-lover, you have to read this.

(I hand-sold this to a customer as “Black Books in Scotland but mostly sober and he actually sells books.” Haha.)

The Diary of a Bookseller is out now.

Dear FTC: I got access to the digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss but I’ll definitely be buying a copy.

mini-review · stuff I read

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel

38502471Summary from Goodreads:
For so many people, reading isn’t just a hobby or a way to pass the time–it’s a lifestyle. Our books shape us, define us, enchant us, and even sometimes infuriate us. Our books are a part of who we are as people, and we can’t imagine life without them.

I’d Rather Be Reading is the perfect literary companion for everyone who feels that way. In this collection of charming and relatable reflections on the reading life, beloved blogger and author Anne Bogel leads readers to remember the book that first hooked them, the place where they first fell in love with reading, and all of the moments afterward that helped make them the reader they are today. Known as a reading tastemaker through her popular podcast What Should I Read Next?, Bogel invites book lovers into a community of like-minded people to discover new ways to approach literature, learn fascinating new things about books and publishing, and reflect on the role reading plays in their lives.

The perfect gift for the bibliophile in everyone’s life, I’d Rather Be Reading will command an honored place on the overstuffed bookshelves of any book lover.

A sweet (and very small) book about the love of books, reading, and the reading life. A book to keep in mind as a stocking stuffer for your favorite reader. I read almost the whole thing in the bath (don’t judge – Epsom soaks are most effective when very long).

Dear FTC: I bought a copy since there were no galleys to be had.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Victorian and the Romantic by Nell Stevens

36950013Summary from Goodreads:
History meets memoir in two irresistible true-life romances–one set in 19th century Rome, one in present-day Paris and London–linked by a bond between women writers a hundred years apart

In 1857, English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell completed her most famous work: the biography of her dear friend Charlotte Bronte. As publication loomed, Mrs. Gaskell was keen to escape the reviews. So, leaving her dull minister husband and dreary provincial city behind, she set off with her daughters to Rome. There she met a dazzling group of artists and writers, among them the American critic Charles Eliot Norton. Seventeen years her junior, Norton was her one true love. They could not be together–it would be an unthinkable breach of convention–but by his side and amidst that splendid circle, Mrs. Gaskell knew she had reached the “tip-top point of [her] life.”
In 2013, Nell Stevens is embarking on her PhD–about the community of artists and writers living in Rome in the mid-19th century–and falling head over heels for a soulful American screenwriter in another city. As her long-distance romance founders and her passion for academia never quite materializes, she is drawn to Mrs. Gaskell. Could this indomitable Victorian author rescue Nell’s pursuit of love, family and a writing career?
Lively, witty, and impossible to put down, The Victorian and the Romantic is a moving chronicle of two women each charting a way of life beyond the rules of her time.

I was interested in The Victorian and the Romantic because I liked Stevens’s previous work Bleaker House, a memoir of her summer in the Falklands while writing her thesis, and also the work of Elizabeth Gaskell (CranfordNorth and SouthWives and Daughters). Well, this is a fine book. The construction is probably more of an acquired taste. Stevens chose to use a combination of memoir and imaginative biography (biographical novella) combining Stevens’s work for her PhD about 19th century artists, her love for Gaskell’s work, and the unfulfilled love affair (?) between Gaskell and Charles Eliot Norton. The result is a strange hodge-podge of styles. The choice to use 2nd person narration for the Gaskell bio sections took a while to get used to and in the end I’m not sure it worked that well.

The Victorian and the Romantic is out August 7.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.