Welcome 2020!

Happy New Year! Sitting here in NE Ohio, I know that it’s already 2020 in parts of the world – a rapidly growing list. This turn of year makes me happy; I’ve long had a fondness for even number years (and the repetition of “20” is particularly pleasing to my brain). Every new year brings with it a chance to reflect on what’s passed, an opportunity to create new plans for the path forward (that new leaf of a new year), and the hope of an unknown, blank slate. (Though in these often troubled, turbulent times, I am not blind to the reality that the new year could also usher in less optimistic options. I prefer to hope for and act to bring better.)

While we didn’t have a white Christmas this year, as I sit here typing, it seems we will have a white New Years—the snow is softly falling and cars are already covered in a fine layer. It seems appropriate; snow often brings with it a sense of newness. I look forward to curling up with a fresh new book tomorrow, starting the new year on literary note.

But what of 2019?

I had goals for the year, and although the blogging fell by the wayside, I never stopped reading.

  • I managed 29 books for the year, short of my goal of 36. Interestingly, I read 19 of those in the second half. There are various reasons why, including which books I read when, but I suspect I simply spent more time reading in the least 6 months than in the first (more time off work in the time frame helps!).
  • Seven of the books—and some of the best—I read this year, were non-fiction. This is down by (1) from 2018; I may have to reconsider my mental image of myself as “not a non-fiction reader.”
  • I also read a novel completely in Spanish for the first time ever! Sure, it was a kid’s book that I’d previously read in the original English (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, translated as Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal), but I read the entire thing and understood it, learning some new words along the way. I hope to build on this success going forward; after all there’s a small stack of books on my shelf in the original Spanish.
  • Other than that, I only read two works in translation this year—and they were also the oldest books I read, Iliad and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (Interestingly, also both poems.) Iliad I struggled with, finding it very slow, but Sir Gawain I quite enjoyed: if I hadn’t been trying feverishly to finish three other books this past week, I probably would have reread it for the Christmas season. (Which I guess technically doesn’t end until the 6th of January, so there’s still time!)
  • Both books were read for my Classics Club list, as was House of Mirth, which also doubled as one of the two readalong titles that I read. (Both hosted by Cleo of Classical Carousel.) Alas, I only just finished House of Mirth, two weeks late, and I never wrote anything (though I finished it on time) for The Four Loves (C.S. Lewis). However, regardless of my level of participation/lateness, I always find readalongs great for pushing me to read books that I might not get to otherwise.
  • Most of the books I read this year were by women: I count 20 books written or co-written by a woman and 11 written or co-written by a man. (Two books I read had a M/F author combo.) This only represents about 14 different female authors—I read a lot of books by the same authors!
  • I also read a lot of books from the past decade, including two from 2019, which skews my reading “younger” that it might typically be. This is in part because most of the nonfiction I read was from the last few years. But also because I decided to toss all other plans aside and read both sequels to Crazy Rich Asians (so much fun!) and books 2-4 of the Comeron Strike series (when’s the next one out?!). Unsurprisingly, mysteries turned out to be the second-largest category for my reading this year (six), after non-fiction.
  • Although the bulk of my reading was by US authors—far and away, with 16 different writers—I did travel  a bit, with books set in Canada; Ancient Troy (Turkey); Scotland; London; as well as hotspot hopping with the characters of China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, most notably Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

In the end, I finished the year with several new favorites (listed in order read):

  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – Anonymous – I really need to read more Medieval lit.
  • Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates – which as Toni Morrison is quoted as saying, should be required reading. I want to read more of Coates’ writing.
  • The Comoran Strike series – Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) – I simply enjoy these so much.
  • How to Do Nothing – Jenny Odell – A very thought-provoking extended meditation on resisting the “attention economy” of social and traditional media.
  • The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton – it took me a while to get into it, but definitely a finely drawn portrait of a specific time and social milieu.

What I did NOT do this year was complete any of my challenges/goals. Only three books for Adam’s TBR Challenge and five for Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge. And the only book I posted about at all for either was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Oops.

So what does this all mean for 2020?

Just keep reading. Specifically, average 5 hours of reading time a week. (It doesn’t sound like a lot when you know a week is 168 hours, but based on everything else on my schedule, is realistic. And better than nothing.) And write about anything I might read for Classics Club or readalongs.

That’s it. My only hard and fast goal/challenge for 2020.

Sure, I have other ideas of what I might read. Tentative plans. More mysteries. Some Shakespeare, I think. Some books I’d like to clear off my shelves. And of course, I’d like to join in on readalongs that catch my eye:

  • Cleo has a The Odyssey readalong planned for April-May.
  • I’m also tempted by a March-April readalong of One Hundred Years of Solitude planned by Ruth and Silvia (it would be a reread, if I join in).
  • Richard is hosting “Argentine Literature of Doom,” which fortunately just means read something Argentinian (see his post for the “doom” explanation). I’m planning to join in so that I finally read Jorge Luis Borge’s Ficciones (in English).

I’ve also signed up for Erica’s Reading Classics Books Challenge, but it’s designed to be low-stress and fun, so honestly, I’m hoping it acts more as a way to choose which book I’m reading next rather than a challenge to conquer. The first book for it will be my Classics Club spin title, Far from the Madding Crowd.

But as the old year turns to new, I’ll be starting here, with a small library stack tying in to my 2019 reading – more mysteries and non-fiction. A good place to start, I think.

What are your 2020 plans?

Oikan ayns Bethlehem (The Babe in Bethlehem)

Pen and Ink drawing of The Nativity with the Dream of Joseph
The Nativity with the Dream of Joseph c. 1527/30? Parmigianino (Italian, 1503-1540), Cleveland Museum of Art

Nish lhisagh shin yn feailley shoh
Y reayll lesh creeaghyn glen
Ayns cooinaghtyn jeh Yeesey Chreest
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Daag Eh cooyrtn sollys E Ayr
Goaill er yn dooghys ain
Ruggit jeh Moidyn ghlen gyn chron
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Eisht ainleyn Niau ren boggey ghoaill
Haink lesh ny naightyn hooin
Ginsh jeh Saualtagh ruggiy jiu
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Nagh mooar yn insblid as y ghraih
V’ayns Yeesey Chreest yn Eayn
Tra ghow Eh er cummey Harvaant
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Now keep we this festival,
With purest hearts,
In honor of Christ:
The Babe in Bethlehem

He left his Father’s palace,
Taking on our human form,
Born of the pure Virgin,
The Babe in Bethlehem.

Then the angels rejoiced
And brought us tidings –
A savoir born today,
The Babe in Bethlehem.

How great the humility and love,
Which was in Jesus Christ the Lamb,
When He took the form of his Servant,
The Babe in Bethlehem.

Wishing a Merry Christmas to You and Yours!

~Amanda

Musings on the Start of a Season

I was bent over a potter’s wheel yesterday, inscribing my initials and the year on a pot (Vase? Cup? Curio that just sits in a box or gathers dust in the corner for years? To be determined…) when I realized that my brain still hasn’t really caught up to the reality that this year is 2019. Which means next year is 2020, a number that somehow seems important, even if only for its neat repetition. It’s odd this flow of time, how dates can both seem so near and so distant. I was trying to remember when I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories” and had to flip through my “books read” lists all the way to 2012. Twenty twelve! Surely it can’t have been that long—I still remember it well. In contrast, I have read several books in the past year, where turning the final page, it’s felt as if it was years ago when I started the books—not in a negative way, but rather a feeling brought about by the growth and changes in the characters that made me somehow feel as if I had grown and changed as well. A strange sensation, one that usually requires me to put some space between one book and the next.

And real time seems fickle as well, somehow. Days that pass by too quickly while weeks stretch on forever, time playing games with us, taunting, teasing.

I didn’t realize I’d gone nearly a month since last posting. But it makes sense—how many weekends has writing blog posts pushed to the bottom of the to-do list of late? Even on my recent “staycation” there was always something that seemed of more interest.

It’s a fine line. To stay “busy” enough that I feel I’m making progress on all my many (many – I perhaps need to develop a more limited focus…sigh) projects, but not so much as to be overwhelmed. To have something to look forward to that unexciting time might pass, but to embrace the current moment that the desired event might stretch out forever.

Some days I think I’ve found it. It was a fine—wonderfully full without being overwhelming—weekend even without today’s (US Memorial Day) holiday off. Of critical importance for me is shuffling the “must dos” to early in the day that they might be out-of-the-way so that it feels as if much more time is open for the things of interest. A hard lesson for a life-long procrastinator to learn.

Oddly enough, despite my fondness for timing to deadlines, I’ve finished my current Classics Club spin read already. (Fingers crossed I get my act together enough to post on it by Friday!) It’s been an excellent reading month, in fact—after months of finishing nothing, I finished three other books and started another two.

And at long last I finished my sweater as well. Started over a year ago (March 2018), this one fits best yet…but I’m not eager to pick up any new projects with seams for a while! Besides, summer—and summer weather fast approaches, when reading is a more suitable pastime. I envision lazy afternoons on the back screened porch, lemonade in one hand and book in another. I have a tentative “hope to read” list for the coming months. It’s unrealistically long, of course, but it’s time to make some progress on the TBR list and the library pile.

Then of course there’s Cleo’s readalong. Encouraged by my May progress, I’ve signed up to join in on her June journey through C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves.  It’s sitting here beside me; perhaps I will get started this afternoon. Or perhaps I’ll pick up the mystery immediately beneath it. Or any one of the various books scattered around, tempting me to their pages and the stories within.

This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer and so it seems to mark the start of a new season of limitless possibilities—here’s hoping it brings many good ones!

A Little Catch Up

It is December 26th. I’d say that I’m not sure how it is December 26th already except I happen to know how very busy–or perhaps “full” is the better word–2018 has been. There’s been so much going on–bookish and otherwise–that I thought I’d play a little catch-up before my end-of-year and challenge sign-up posts start going up.

I could blame work of course, but other than a couple evening meetings (public meetings – Board of Zoning Appeals, interesting things those…if only they didn’t start so late!), work hours have been reasonable. Nope, it’s everything else keeping me busy–but fun busy.

Allen Art Museum Courtyard

There was the day trip to Oberlin to see the Allen Art Museum and the Weltzheimer/Johnson House (latter by Frank Lloyd Wright). The art museum is a true gem of a museum–part of Oberlin College, it’s completely free and has a little bit of everything–sculpture, painting, ceramics; Americas, Europe, Asia; ancient to contemporary. When I was there, the current exhibits included a digital media piece (projected on 4k TVs) and a series of hand-painted scrolls, both by Asian artists, that I found fascinating meditations on the human impact on our environment.

Fall Decor at Stan Hwyet

Another day trip, much later in the fall, to the Hocking Hills region. I’d never been there before, and although dismayed by the cavalier attitude of too many towards nature (let’s tromp all over the place in the name of the “perfect” picture for social media), it was a lovely day. And a lovely chance to continue to play with my camera’s manual settings. I keep looking over my photos and finding faults, but if you can’t find areas to improve in your own work, you never will get better. Of course, learning the manual settings on the camera leads to learning more about (and therefore spending time on) post-processing. Always something new to learn!

Hocking Hills Falls

And then there’s reading. I’ve been reading too much to write about anything, I’m afraid (although I did find one write-up in my drafts that needs posted). I’d still like to do proper write-ups for a couple, but some brief thoughts on some of the others:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling (1999, Britain) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling (2000, Britain)

I’ve been making my way through a reread of the Harry Potter series. (Currently in the middle of Order of the Phoenix, optimistically hoping to finish by year’s end.) I haven’t quite put my finger on why, but I do find much of the series comfort reads (well, not Order of the Phoenix–I despise Dolores Umbridge too much).

Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs With Any Camera – Bryan Peterson (4th Ed., 2016, US)

I’ve only been brave enough to dare to play with aperture/shutter speed because of this book. A coworker highly recommended it, and if you have a fancy camera and want to move past the “automatic” settings, I highly recommend it as well. (However, “any” is a bit of a misnomer – you do have to have manual mode!)

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think – Laura Vanderkam (2011, US), Great at Work: How Top Performers Work Less and Achieve More – Morten Hansen (2018, US), and Off the Clock – Laura Vanderkam (2018, US)

I spent a lot of time reading about time management and related issues this summer. I’ve spent a lot of time overwhelmed by the “to do” list this year, and hoped these would help. I would say…the Vanderkam books did. Mostly because her books are really about adjusting your outlook rather than trying to squeeze more time out of life. Really, when I stop and consider how much time I really have, and where it goes, I have LOTS of free time, I just need to use it well. Nothing wrong with the Hansen book, it just wasn’t that revealing to me. However, reading it in combination with Vanderkam was fascinating. Hansen organized very careful studies to discover what makes a great performer in the work environment. So the focus was on work (rather than all aspects of life) and, specifically, performance. And while he started from the observation that top performers don’t necessarily work tons of hours, he wasn’t focused on time management. Yet, his studies often came to the same or nearly same conclusions as Vanderkam does via her analysis of existing time-use surveys. Completely different approaches–and focuses–leading to some of the same thoughts.

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan (2013, US)

Saw the film, enjoyed the film, so I had to read the book. I was a bit surprised to discover how faithful to the book the film actually was (necessary simplification of characters and plot to keep it manageable aside.) So enjoyable, and frankly, it was a delight to read something lighter than so many of the other books I read this year. I was also delighted by the inclusion of so many words/phrases from other languages – apparently a representation of the “Singlish” spoken by many Singaporeans. I’m tentatively planning to read the other books in the series in the coming year.

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith [J.K. Rowling](2013, Britain)

I’ve been wanting to try out the Cormoran Strike books for a while and finally decided to stop waiting. I forget, sometimes, how much I enjoy a good mystery, and I did really enjoy this (err…as much as one should enjoy a murder mystery). I managed to fail to stop myself reading the end before I was halfway through, so I didn’t have the opportunity to guess the solution, but instead got to enjoy seeing how the groundwork was laid for Strike to arrive at the solution. My only complaint was that I would have liked to see more of the character of Robin–maybe in the later novels?

My Plain Jane – Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows (2018, US) and Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater (2009, US)

It’s funny, I never read any YA when I was that age…though I suppose there’s a lot more now than then. But I’m an equal-opportunity reader, so… My Plain Jane is a fluffy retelling of Jane Eyre – a retelling where Victorian England is plagued by ghosts and Jane Eyre happens to be one of the few who can see them. And a retelling where Charlotte Brontë is a character, not the author. Delightful and clearly written by a trio of women who love the original. (Now I kinda want to reread Jane Eyre myself, but I’m trying to focus on new-to-me books for the moment.) Shiver, on the other hand, was less delightful. It is definitely one of Stiefvater’s early novels, and not nearly as enjoyable for me as her more recent efforts. I think a case, in part, of not being the target audience for this one.

Hey, just like that, I’m feeling a bit more caught up! Always a good feeling.

Happy reading!

Rejoice and be Merry

Christmas Wreath
Rejoice and be merry in songs and in mirth!
O praise our redeemer, all mortals on earth!
For this is the birthday of Jesus our King,
Who brought us salvation, His praises we’ll sing!

A heavenly vision appeared in the sky;
Vast numbers of angles the shepherds did spy,
Proclaiming the birthday of Jesus our King,
Who brought us salvation, his praises we’ll sing!

Likewise a bright star in the sky did appear,
Which led the wise men from the east to draw near;
They found the Messiah, sweet Jesus our King,
Who brought us salvation, his praises we’ll sing!

And when they were come, they their treasures unfold,
And unto him offered myrrh, incense, and gold.
So blessed forever be Jesus our King,
Who brought us salvation, His praises we’ll sing!

Rejoice and be merry in songs and in mirth!
O praise our redeemer, all mortals on earth!
For this is the birthday of Jesus our King,
Who brought us salvation, his praises we’ll sing!

(English Traditional)

Wishing a very Merry Christmas to You and Yours!

~ Amanda ~

The First of Fall?

Autumn Bouquet

And so it is September.

Very technically, the change of seasons, from summer to autumn, isn’t for another few weeks, but once we reach September, in my mind it is here–school has resumed (for those still living by its seasonal schedules); the light is both less and of a different (different, not better or worse) quality; the autumn harvest starts to come in, apples and squash and pumpkins; footballs (of the American variety) are starting to tumble through the air. So much says that a change is afoot.

And it’s finally starting to feel like autumn is just around the corner; since yesterday, it’s been cool and rainy (very rainy – hello tropical storm Gordon remnants). Although, only last weekend it seemed as if summer should never end, so hot and humid it was once again. And the forecast promises more heat and sun soon.

I’m tempted to say, “where has the summer gone,” though in reality I know quite well. It’s gone to work and other busyness. August is a little more mysterious – I know the workload wasn’t as heavy as earlier this year, and my evenings weren’t as full, yet it feels like it vanished quicker than it should.

Cleveland Musuem of Art Atrium - Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors

I did indulge in a rare moment of spontaneity to take the opportunity to visit the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art (there through the end of the month, before moving to Atlanta, I believe). It’s a very hard ticket to get, but a coworker had a spare, so I found myself at the museum on a Tuesday morning, taking wonderful advantage of both a lovely day and my employer’s wonderful flex-time policy.

Work-wise, I also participated in a round-table discussion about pay equity in architecture. It was really interesting to me, hearing the different experiences and perspectives of women (and a few men) of various ages and experiences. There was a definite emphasis on “know your worth,” but there was also discussion – what do you do if you find out you aren’t being paid fairly? It’s one of those sorts of discussions where you don’t necessarily come out of it with answers, but I think a number of tips were shared for how to advocate for yourself. And the point was also made: compensation is about respect–if you are underpaid, it shows a lack of respect.

But as far as reading…August was not such a good month. I only finished two books, one of which was primarily read in July. And neither was my Classics Spin book. I guess this is in part the consequence of being in the middle of one real doorstop (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell), which although quite enjoyable is taking its time. Similarly, the Spin selection, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, although not really that long (about 400 pages in my edition), is not a fast-paced book. I find that reading about one chapter in a sitting is about right, and of course I haven’t been able to get to it every day. I really want to get both books finishes this month, though.

Ideally, I’d read even more than that, though looking at my schedule of plans for the rest of the month, that’s over-optimistic. But with the coming of the fall season I’m feeling myself pulled towards some “seasonal” reading – I’d like to get to The Woman in White this year (it’s on my TBR Challenge list after all), and it’s feeling like the right time of year for The Farm (Louis Bromfield). Plus I’d love to sink into some quick-paced mysteries–I started the year with Agatha Christie and have been hankering for more who-done-its ever since. But these plans are probably all for October. But I always like to have goals – something to reach for, something to push me.

And you, any seasonal reading plans?

Holmes County Trail - View of trail and farm fields

Slipping into Summer

It’s the last day of a long weekend, Memorial Day here in the US, the unofficial but traditional start of summer. And it truly feels like a summer day: hot, muggy, oppressive sunshine (90F/32C, currently 40% humidity, which is actually an improvement from the 80% humidity earlier). But it’s perfect weather for lemonade and a book. Summer always seems to be when my reading (though maybe not my blogging–hoping to do better this year!) picks up. It’s simply too hot to do anything else.

Actually, the reading’s been going very well this year–I’ve started and finished twelve books already, and am partway through another six. (Very unusual for me to be reading so many at once…) The current/soon to be current book pile:

Summer book stack

True some of these are for/related to work. (But that dosen’t mean I’m not enjoying them anyways!) We’ve actually decided to try a work book club, so I read the intro and first chapter of Blink on Saturday. It’s fascinating so far, and I’m excited to read the rest.

But even before entering the hot, lazy summer months, it’s been reading season. I’ve been crazy busy this spring (last week, for instance, I didn’t get home from work until after 8:00 on Monday and had another really fun work-adjacent event Tuesday evening that had me home even later), but if there’s been a moment to squeeze in some reading, I have. Last winter (2017), I listened to the audiobook of 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think, and it really changed the way I think about time. I’ve been willing to add more to my schedule because I’ve seen that I can, and following author Laura Vanderkam’s blog and seeing how many books she’s managed to squeeze into her busy schedule provided the needed inspiration to kick-start my 2018 reading. I’m on pace for the best reading year since I started the blog. Now…to just catch up on the blog writing. Especially for the 2018 TBR challenge; I’ve read four books for it, but only blogged one so far. I guess it’s just easier to find a few minutes here and there for reading (five minutes at lunch, ten before bed), but I always feel like I need a chunk of time to get my thoughts down in a coherent form. Maybe something to work on?

I’ve been thinking about what I’m looking forward to this summer–since it’s not the hot weather–and besides reading, there’s always a few things I enjoy. Fireworks. Lemonade. Ice cream–so much ice cream! (There’s a wonderful little shop about a 7 minute walk from the office that we love to go to on a mid-afternoon for a treat.) Watching the fireflies dance around the yards after dark. Summer holidays. Bike rides. Rain storms. There’s also a major art event planned for the Cleveland-Akron area this summer that I am tentatively planning to visit (at least parts).

And all the reading.

I’ve decided not to do any summer-long events, though if any interesting single-month event crops up, I might opt in. But mostly I want to make it through the current reads, and my pre-order of Off the Clock (Laura Vanderkam) arrives tomorrow, plus I’d like to keep plugging away at my Harry Potter rereads (so much fun!) and my TBR list. I’m toying with the idea of adding some detective fiction, although that might make better autumn reading. Definitely saving The Woman in White for fall. But with all the non-fiction in the stack, I definitely need some more “fun” reads for summer. Maybe another fantasy…

Any exciting summer (or winter) reading/other plans for you?

Happy reading!