Bookish Miscellany at the Change of Seasons

Happy Summer! (Err…northern hemisphere… 🙂 ) It even feels like summer around here–after a nice mostly cool-to-slightly-warm spring, the first day of summer opened with hot, humid weather, and today is even hotter. I’m not too keen on hot (especially humid) weather, but a little bit to remind us it IS summer is okay. But just a little. It’s perfect weather for lounging on the screen porch with a cold drink, jazz standards playing in the background and a book in hand. (Except I cheat–I don’t care for iced tea so I’m still drinking the hot stuff. NPR reassures me I’m not crazy!) I’m a bit in-between books at the moment so I thought it was high time to play catch-up instead.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post when I open up my dashboard and the visuals have all changed–nothing major, just a bit of re-imaging by WordPress. Apparently it’s been two months–I guess I should officially admit to being in a blogging slump. Plenty of reading, on the other hand. Now with the change of seasons, though, I’m feeling more interested in blogs than I’ve been in a while. Maybe with this official start of summer my brain is expecting more free-time like all those school-teachers/students I’m slightly jealous of. Or maybe the weight of a backlog of books to talk about is just catching up to me.

As a way of easing myself back into this blogging thing, I thought I’d share some of the bookish odds ‘n ends from the last few months. (Click pics for larger versions)

January 28, 2013 marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, an event marked by British Royal Mail with the issue of a set of stamps inspired by each of Austen’s six major novels. I can’t recall where I saw the preorder posted, but waaay back in January I ordered a first day set which included the Steventon postmark. It also seems a good time to mention that I received Emma: An Annotated Edition as a gift (um–can’t remember when exactly, maybe Christmas?) in the past few months. I have three of these annotated volumes now–I really need to start reading them, they’re so pretty just to look at. Maybe for Adam’s Austen in August event?

(And yes, that’s my subtle announcement that I’m planning on participating this summer!)

Look, more books! Which is a tale of two bookstores. I no longer consider myself to have a local bookstore. Yes, there might be a big Books-A-Million nearby, but after my last visit I’m not going back. They’re so pressured by corporate to sell the discount cards (because the cards are mostly profit to the company, and only benefit the user if they buy a LOT of books) that it ruins the shopping experience. The last time I was there the wait in line was twice as long as it needed to be and the salesclerk wouldn’t shut up about the [adj.] card even after I told him, curtly, to just ring the transaction up. So, The Wizard of Oz, Les Misérables, and 2666, consider yourself privileged–you are the last books I will buy from that particular chain. Which makes me very sad. I love a good bookstore, and there isn’t another new books bookstore in the county left, that I know of.

A few months later, however, I found myself in a small town about 45 minutes to the west. A college town with a lovely, independent bookstore. Not very big, but decently sized, and with a very good selection, including a nice selection of local authors. It’s a bit too far to go just on the spur-of-the-moment or if I want a particular book, but for the drop-in-and-browse, perfect. I found a collection of early Jeeves & Wooster (as well as unrelated characters) stories and an absolutely lovey, if a little pricy, garden book. I have a weakness for lovely garden books, even though I don’t garden myself.

Which leaves the Book Darts. I recall, way, way back when Book Riot first started one of their early “Book Fetish” columns mentioned these. I kept in the back of my mind, and as a first paycheck reward ordered some. They don’t know me from Eve, so no kickback here, but I love these little darts. The design is so well thought-out that they slide easily onto the page while still holding the place perfectly. My only problem? I only have 75 and since I use them where I used to use sticky-notes in my reading, I can easily run out. (I mark passages as I’m reading and then go back later to copy them down.)

Blog Plans

In terms of bloggish-related things, my last post was a sign-up for a summer challenge to read books in other languages. So far, a big fat FAIL on my part, but I’m planning to get to that on my vacation in two weeks.

Thanks to my big blogging slump I’ve read four books that I haven’t written about yet. Soon, hopefully–before I forget any more about them than I already have. At least the reading’s been good!

A New Project?

I’m tentatively considering a project for the second half of the year or so. At this point I’m not sure if I want to commit myself to it or not (and if I do, it would likely account for only some of my reading). I’m also not sure if I should open it up to others, as I’m not really sure there would be any interest–it’s kind of a specialized project. Here’s the idea though: reading books by local-to-me authors (living or deceased, ideally not-so-well-known) or about local people/events. If it became a larger group, I’m thinking that each reader would read local-to-them. I live in Ohio, USA, so that’s my local–and I already have some reading ideas. (Feel free to offer suggestions, actually–even if I don’t do this project this year, it will happen sometime.) Regardless, it would be very flexible.  If you’re interested, do let me know–it might be the push I need to get a project together that I do want to tackle.

Of course, then there’s all the reading goals I made at the first of the year. The only one that’s on track is reading 26 books this year! That’s okay; ultimately my goals are mostly guidelines so that I don’t forget what I want to read eventually. I was looking over my TBR challenge list a bit ago and reminded that I really want to get to some of these soon. Good thing I’m not in a reading slump!

Now the promise: I have four books to blog about–I hereby promise to post on the first no later than the last day of June. (Teaser–it will be one of my bookish weaknesses!)

An Afternoon Out

It was an unexpected snowfall.

Now, this may mean nothing more than I forgot to check the weather forecast. Regardless, I was surprised to wake to a sight unusually rare this winter: the ground and trees coated in fresh snow. I looked outside and thought that perhaps it would be an excellent day to curl up with a book and a cup of hot chocolate in front of the (gas) fire, the weather a perfect excuse for staying in.

Instead I went out. Despite the snow, the temperatures were above freezing, the roads fairly clear, and the bookstore beckoned.
The closest Barnes & Nobel is roughly 50 minutes away. With other options closer, I’ve never been in one, but the temptation to visit a new-to-me bookstore when opportunity arose overcame my inclination to spend the day in, and I was rewarded by finally—finally—finding a copy of Wives and Daughters. The War and Peace below is much more common but I’ve been eying it for a while. My venture out of doors was rewarded.

Of course, my sluggish reading pace this past week didn’t deserve reward. I’ve somehow managed to take to heart of late Douglas Adams’ statement, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Only the library renewals have been acknowledged, and so I have a pile of books I need to would like to finish this week. As most of them are Shakespeare related, I would also need to post on them by Friday if I wish to include them for Allie’s readalong. I suppose I post this here as a warning, that if all goes to plan— although it most surely won’t, such is life—I may have an uncharacteristic number of posts this week. I will try, as this is Venice reading month, and I surely wish to return, in spirit if not person. (No, not person just now: it’s so cold this week the canals are beginning to freeze over.)

Best of reading to all; the books beckon.

Books, Pizza, Pasta

It seems to be the thing to show off the new enhancements to our TBR piles, and not wanting to disappoint, I have some pretty pictures. Or at least not quite blurry pictures. There were only two books I really wanted for Christmas this year and, happily, both were waiting under the tree.

For the second year in a row, Harvard University Press has issued a new annotated edition of one of Jane Austen’s works, this year Persuasion. They are beautiful hardcover editions, with plenty of pictures as well as the notes. Persuasion includes some of the illustrations from early editions of the work, as well as maps and paintings. Although I still haven’t read last year’s Pride and Prejudice (maybe 2012?), these editions are so beautiful just to look at that I’m hoping all six of Austen’s major novels get the same treatment.

My other new book is less to read and more to use. Yum!

I have the previous two bread books by Hertzberg and François (Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day & Healthy Bread in Five Mintues a Day) and love making the breads and other treats they offer (soft pretzels! doughnuts!). I’ve already tried their Pizza Margherita from their website (LOVE) and can’t wait to try some of the other varieties. (American-style, Chicago-style, whole wheat, etc., etc.) With their refrigerator-dough method it is incredibly easy and quick to make a pizza dinner—just a little planning required.

I may also be a bit excessively excited that the recipes have already been converted to weights so that I don’t have to do any conversions myself. Yes, I’ve always used the US system of measurement, but once I started using a kitchen scale to weigh out ingredients, I discovered how much faster it is rather than fussing with volumes. Their previous book provides a standard table of conversions in the “tips” section, but this one provides them for all the recipes, with the math already done.

Since I’m already on the topic of food: my new hand-crank pasta maker!

I tried pasta a couple times this summer, and although mixing it up isn’t too difficult (it does take practice), I found rolling out the dough to be VERY hard on my hands. Hopefully this will solve that problem and fresh pasta will be as easy as fresh bread. Also, I may have geeked out a bit over the fact that this was a) made in Italy and b) the instructions come in over 10 languages! Fun!

Musings on Times Past and Present

In 2003 I spent a semester in Florence, Italy. Although I was there through my University’s own program, we were housed in apartments scattered throughout the city rather than in one primary location. This offered the natural opportunity to visit different neighborhoods and to patronize many different shops. Italy was still filled with all the little specialty shops that once populated even small cities of the US. Although there were larger supermercati for grocery shopping, if you so wished, I saw none of the behemoth “supercenter” type stores so common here. Indeed, even with supermercati large and small, the specialty food shops still seemed to thrive. Bread shops and vegetable stands, pasta shops and meat shops. Then of course, all the other stores: art stores (a must in Florence!), stationary stores, kitchen stores, music stores, chocolate stores, luggage stores, art galleries, touristy stores. One of my favorites, Il Plastico, was a store dedicated solely to architectural model-building supplies.

And there were bookstores. One full of textbooks for American students. Another for tourists, with art and travel texts. Italian chain stores, multistory, but only housing books–art books, cookbooks, travel books, local books, architecture books, literary books, original-language books. Used bookstores, stacks overflowing in unrestrained, unorganized glory. Book stands on the street. Museum stores, prominently featuring catalogues and artist biographies.

I don’t know what the really big cities in the US are like, but in my hometown, a smallish city, little specialty stores are all but gone. The downtown is hollowed out, storefronts empty and abandoned or filled by government or social services agencies. A few fortunate blocks are filled with artists’ galleries and restaurants. The “specialty” stores meanwhile are massive, well away from downtown, in  suburban shopping districts accessible only by motorized transport.

And the only bookstore is closing.

Most of the old independents are gone, shuttered by competition from large chains and online stores. Only a few used paperback stores remained to compete with the local Borders, which, for all the faults of helping push the independents out, remained well-stocked and well-used, consistently placing as one of the chain’s top sellers.

I admit to a  bit of pique with those who pooh-pooh the closing of the nation’s second largest book chain. It strikes me as a bit self-serving: Borders did nothing for me, so why should I care? But there are those thousands who will be unemployed, thrust out into an unforgiving economy. And perhaps not just from Borders, but from the publishing houses as well. There are the soon-to-be-empty lease-spaces, black marks on their developments. The lucky owners will find quality tenants. Others will almost certainly sit empty; this economy seems short on risk-takers. There are the consumers: not everyone lives in a large metropolitan area with a multitude of choices, not everyone wants to (or may be able to) order books online.

Locally, I hold out a bit of hope–without any other chain bookstores nearby, and with a typically busy Borders, it seems possible that another chain may see an opportunity. I have also just learned of a newish independent the next town over, although I’ve yet to visit.

However. Borders IS having a bit of a sale on. And I don’t know when I might get to visit a large bookstore again. And I may have a bit of a weakness for bookstore sales. And I may have been restraining myself a bit too much earlier this year….

The following is representative of three trips. (Oops.)

  • The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook
  • The Essential Pasta Cookbook (full disclosure–I bought this a couple months ago on clearance, but it seemed a good time to share it with its companion)

  • Aesop – The Complete Fables
  • Anonymous – The Arabian Nights (vol. 1-3) – this is the 2010 translation by Malcolm and Ursula Lyons. I was actually looking for the Husain Haddawy translation, but this is what they had, and it was at least a new translation rather than the questionable Victorian translations. And if it has more stories than the “definitive” text, I guess I was just tempted by all those additional stories to read…
  • Louisa May Alcott – Little Men – for some reason I had both Little Women and Jo’s Boys, but not this one. The set is now complete.
  • George Eliot – Middlemarch – I’ve never read any Eliot, and this was one of the lovely Penguin cloth-bond editions.
  • Virgil – The Aeneid – Robert Fagles translation

  • Anonymous – Njal’s Saga – this and the following came up in the book list research I did early this year for Middle Ages texts. I still need to post that list/project, but now at least I have two more of the books on hand!
  • Anonymous – The Nibelungenlied
  • Sophocles – The Three Theban Plays: Antigone; Oedipus the King; Oedipus at Colonus – Robert Fagles translation
  • Elizabeth Gaskell – Sylvia’s Lovers – always glad to add another Gaskell, but still can’t seem to find Wives and Daughters
  • Mark Twain – Pudd’nhead Wilson
  • Mark Twain – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • An Oresteia: Agamemnon by Aiskhylos; Elektra by Sophokles; Orestes by Euripides – Anne Carson translation, about which I have heard very good things

Err…I think I may have to go on a book buying ban. It’s a good thing that the store shelves were starting to get a little disorganized and that I didn’t find some of the other books I was looking for. Now if only I knew where to put these!

Another Week, Another Month

A double tulip - but doesn't it look like a miniature peony?

I can’t believe it’s the end of April already! For that matter, I can’t believe that we ever entered April. This I might have to possibly attribute to the chilly weather we’ve endured well into spring this year. It’s been just warm enough for the bulbs to open up, at least when the sun is out, but we’ve only had a handful of days warm enough to sit outside. I’m not exactly an out-of-doors person, but after being stuck indoors a good part of the winter, between snow storms and ice storms, I’m getting a bit antsy to at least sit and read outside.

Or even study outside. This last week saw almost no literary reading, although I did manage about 20 pages of Conversation in the Cathedral. I actually read quite a bit of other things, it just happened that most of it was study material. Exhilarating. If I had the discipline, I would just drop all other things and charge through these tests as quickly as possible (I can set my own schedule for when I take them) so that I could then get to the reading I actually want to do.

In more exciting news, I am way behind the times in showing off my latest literary acquisition:

I won Tess (my choice from the Penguin cloth-bound selection) from Allie as part of a mini-challenge during the recent Read-a-thon. Thank you so much, Allie! It has been at least 10 years since I’ve read any Hardy, although I did see an adaptation of this on PBS a year or two ago, and I am looking forward to this one.

It won’t be this coming week, though. As usual, I have a looming library deadline, and I’ve maxed out renewals, so Conversation in the Cathedral will be taking precedence over other “fun” reading this week. (This, incidentally, is why I have difficulty reading from my own shelves. No deadlines.)  I would also like to start the other book I have out from the library (How to Read Literature Like a Professor) if I have time. And maybe, just maybe, I will return to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. And you? Any exciting reading planned for this week?