On Annotating, Underlining, Dog Earing, and Loving My Books

Welcome to another Wednesday where I share with you a controversial opinion as my weekly Bookish Thought. This week I want to talk to you about the rebellious act of writing in my own books. 

As a Librarian I know I should be anti annotations, anti underlining. I should cringe at dogeared pages. Except I’m a special collections librarian, and the museum I work for cares deeply about the stories behind our objects. That includes our books. We have children’s books covered in crayon and design texts with the margins full of notes. When it comes down to it I find the books that have been changed to be more interesting, more personal. 

However I also underline my own books. I translate foreign phrases in the margins so I don’t have to look up the same information on a reread. I make notes about themes, and jot down thoughts in the blank spaces between lines or at the bottom of the page. I also dog ear. Usually the dog earring is to point me back to a phrase or paragraph that I found particularly moving. In that case the phrase will be underlined or bracketed, depending on length. 

I have poetry collections that look like oragami from marking the poems that resonated with me. 

And I think this is all okay.

I often times see readers posting on twitter, facebook, insta, basically everywhere showing articles about book art and screaming. It is always the same. “HOW COULD YOU DESTROY A BOOK,” “THIS PHYSICALLY HURTS ME,” “YOU MUST BE SATAN.” I am always a little shook by this. I understand strong feelings, but is this really the hill you want to die on? I always run through the same few thoughts. 

  1. I also appreciate book art. Books today are not made to last. Their binding is traditionally more glue based than sewn and it makes them next to impossible to repair when a signature comes loose. 
  2. Please give books a second life. Make them into hiding places for treasures or turn their pages into art, cards, or bookmarks. There is no shame in creating something from an overloved book that is already falling apart or from one that has already found its way to a secondhand sale. 
  3. Being a book purist is one thing – love your hardbacks, your special editions, refuse ebooks or audio. However, don’t force your opinions on others. 
  4. You do not have a psychic connection to the book in question. You are not in real pain because someone tore a sheet or made a mark on a page. Everyone needs to calm down.  

Now I’m not here to shame the book purists. I get it. Books are pretty. There is something amazing about a new book that is free from scuff marks with a fresh off the printer smell. Except life is messy. I’m messy. I can’t do notes on post its. I don’t want to keep a second notebook for jotting down my thoughts. I sure as hell do not want to have to leave a bookmark every place I find a good quote. So my books will still be loved, and for me that love involves pens and pencils, crimped pages and less than pristine dust jackets. 

Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

About 2 years ago, due to serendipity or a kindle sale I discovered Madeline Miller. I’m sure that as you clicked on this review you assume I am talking about Circe. No, I first came upon Ms. Miller’s Song of Achilles a bit late. I stayed up late. I fell in love, not just with Miller’s words, but with Patroclus and Achilles. It was the start of my love affair with retold Greek Mythology. Of course this meant I read Circe immediately upon its release. In the last 2 years have been a lovely trip from Troy to Aeaea and beyond. 

I love Millers work so much that I recommend them to all of my reader friends. So when a new close friend was looking for some books I sand Circe’s praise loud and proud. It helped that Madeline Miller will be in our area for an event in the next month. So my friend jumped in…and then the texts started. Texts that reminded me of the fantastic writing I loved and the characters that jumped off the pages. 

So of course I needed to reread Circe. 

Somehow I think I loved it more the second time. 

Circe, for those of you who missed the boat, is the story of the Nymph/Witch/Titan/Daughter of Helios who ends up banished to an island for her witchcraft. Those of you who are up on your mythology may remember Circe from her part in the Odyssey turning men into pigs and sleeping with Odysseus. Her story is timeless and complex

Circe excels at slowness. Being immortal Circe experiences years like we experience minutes. Her story is one of growth, but slow growth. It is relatable while also being full of monsters, gods, and witchcraft. In truth, most of Miller’s women get a glow up. Penelope is a strong woman when we see her. Pasiphaë and Medea make short appearances to connect Circe’s universe to the greater world, and in doing so makes me long for spin off stories for each. 

It is so easy to fall into the world of Aeaea and gods and mortals. Circe’s is a story that can transport you. It is also a story about a woman coming into her own. Just go read Circe. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

New Year, Same Me, and Bridget Jones

There are few things that remind me of January. The weather is always hit or miss. The holidays are over and there is a bit of listlessness that comes from knowing no matter the amount of snow, it will be too dark and cold to do anything outside until March. Each year I waffle on resolutions. I’ve given up generic “lose weight, work out more” promises with goals to eat cleaner, spend less money at restaurants, and to enjoy new experiences. 

Every year when I sit down to write these resolutions I think of Bridget Jones. True, her story isn’t just about new years plans gone arway, but they do make me think. Bridget’s year is still hugely impactful, even if she doesn’t drink less or lose weight. She learns about herself even if she still goes out with some fuckwits. She grows as a person, and of course Mark Darcy likes her just the way she is. 

I was thinking of this as I made my resolutions – or goals for the year. So far our household has already fallen off the eat at home January bandwagon. Healthy meals have been replaced with all of the carbs I can stick in my mouth. No sweets for the start of the year? Nope. Cracked last weekend. 

But so far 2 things have remained consistent. 1. New experiences are happening. They may not always be positive (hello small grease fire!) but they are real and happening all the time. 2. I keep reading. 

At the start of the year I set a goodreads goal for 45 books. More than the 40 I aimed for last year, but still under the 70 I managed to read. I try to set achievable book goals that don’t low bar my abilities, but also don’t make reading or blogging a chore. 45 books is a lot in a year that is already featuring many trips, minor emergencies, and weddings. It is also one that I still think is doable. It will remain the only metric I really track for 2020. I’ll occasionally glance at the pop sugar challenge, or any other number of reading challenges set out to help me read more diversely, but really I can do that myself. And at the end of the day I am a reader no matter what, no matter the books, the amount, or the authors. 

So I’ll chalk up my new laissez faire attitude to Ms Jones and her life lessons. I’ll get where I’m going, and have a hell of a time along the way.

On Loving a Genre but Hating the Trends

A few weeks ago I was at a Barnes and Noble with a good friend. Being my friend, he let me talk books for a while before pursuing his own interests. One of the first things we can upon was a historical fiction table display. 

Jackpot. 

Despite the content of this blog I am a huge historical fiction nerd. I can handle Fantasy, may occasionally dabble in Sci-Fi, Mysteries and Thrillers are okay. Historical Fiction is my escapism. I love medieval fiction from around Europe, America from almost any age. I’m pretty open to most places in time. Except one.

I cannot read World War II fiction. 

Not anymore. 

It isn’t that I haven’t tried these stories. I’ve read dozens. I’ve even loved some. However there is something to be said about WWII books, and it is that they are universally sad. The facts of the war never change, and the stories being put out today are almost always about lesser known or entirely fictional people during that time. No new insight into the politics of the situation, no new message. Just a lot of “people were really resilient in the face of extreme awfulness.” 

Part of my love with Historical Fiction as a genre is that I get to learn something new, either from the text in front of me, or due to curiosity sparked by it. I don’t get that with this World War II trend. I’ve read the history books, learned about the important players, and watched the very long Ken Burns Documentary. I’ve cried over The Diary of Anne Frank and felt impossibly small in a world that could let such awful things happen. 

I am by no means a scholar of the late 1930’s and 40’s, but I know enough to get by. That knowledge, for now, is enough for me. 

So when I was at Barnes and Noble and saw this Historical Fiction display my heart dropped. Within seconds I could see what it truly was – a table for World War II stories. I pointed at all of the titles I had heard of before, and it was quite a lot. All about World War II, mostly about France, as we seem to have moved away from Poland and the horrors of the Holocaust and into the trend of French Distruction over the last few years. The books that weren’t readily known to me also wound up being about the same era. On a table of 50 books only 3 were about another place or time. 

So I am left here pursuing goodreads and looking at my own backlog. If I want to continue to enjoy the type of escapism I get from historical fiction it feels like I’ll have to look, well, to the past. Gregory doesn’t appear to be coming out with any more Tudor novels, and while there are a few good revolutionary war titles a year, they are often now geared at a YA audience. Not that this is inherently bad, it just also takes away the deep dive I crave. 

Review: Yellow House by Sarah Broom

There are few places were history, food, and culture can collide in a way that becomes something more than the sum of its parts. New Orleans, I believe, is one of those places. 

NOLA remains one of my favorite places to visit. Subsequently I’ve found myself drawn to works about the Big Easy. 

So last summer when NPR and ever other national book reviewing entities started singing the praises of Yellow House I took note. 

A memoir that was also an untold history of part of New Orleans: New Orleans East. A part of the city that is forgotten by tourists and locals alike. I bought it immediately. I read about 30 pages. 

Then I set it down for a few months. 

This process is repeated for about six months. Sometimes I would stick with the book for a week, sometimes a few days. I caved and bought the audiobook when it became available because while I found Broom’s story infinitely fascinating I also found it so fam packed with history – family and city, that my eyes could only take so much of it at a time.

Broom’s history is intricately tied up with the house she was raised in, and with her families overarching stories. Sometimes her 11 siblings, various cousins, aunts, and a slew of other relatives make parts of Yellow House difficult to follow. However the emotional impact that the scope of her large family imprints on the entirety of Yellow House is clear to see. Broom’s life would never have been the same if she wasn’t the youngest of so many siblings, and the eventual effects of Katrina would feel different if her once close family didn’t end up scattered to the wind. 

Yellow House is the type of story that feels timeless. Even reading it the year of its release I could tell this would be an important work, one that will help expand the mythos of New Orleans.

Tomes, Murakami, and Carbs 

Winter in Michigan is very gray. It is cold. It is long. It is dark when I leave for work and when I get home. I spend a lot of time in comfy clothes, hiding under blankets and waiting for spring. 

I’m not trying to wish spring away but also would really like to go on long walks in my neighborhood, tend my garden, and not curse everytime I leave my house in the morning when I feel the cold air. 

I try to find ways to occupy my time that are more than Netflix or making very tasty pastries. New Year’s Resolutions are real. Here at the Woodring Estate we are making an effort to eat healthier, consume less sugar, and to be more active. 

I am also making an effort to read more. Not that my 70 books in 2019 was anything to sneeze at, but I find that when it is cold and dark all I want to do is watch something very mediocre and nap. Focusing on books can be hard, but also it is the best time for me to dive into the tomes on my shelf. 

The rest of my year is a little crazy. My boyfriend and I like to travel. We have a ton of other obligations. No matter how often we say “things will slow down soon” they do not, in fact, slow down. 

Except in January. January we take time to recover. We sleep more. Do less. Complain about the amount of produce in the house that demands to be eaten before it goes bad. 

In January there is time. So in January, despite all of my internal instincts, I pick up large books. This year I am still making my way through the Outlander series. In years past I have done American Gods, Anna Karenina,  and a variety of other large classics. I have a lot of good memories about reading large books in bed, snug and warm. 

My favorite of these memories center around 1Q84. Several years ago, when Murakami was just a name on countless must read lists I had no idea what I would be getting myself into. I also didn’t know that I could finish a book so long without losing steam, without losing joy or interest or investment. Usually when I slog through Tolstoy or Hugo there is a bit of determination. It is a pride factor that only exists for me with classic titles. They make me feel more legit in my career. It is weird. Ignore my complexes.

1Q84 was different. It was long, about 1200 pages. It was complex. It was new. It had some buzz, but was like the blogosphere darlings you see today. I picked it up because I wanted to prove I could read something long. To this day my experience with 1Q84 has had zero impact on my ability to provide readers advisory, to talk to friends about books, to do anything other than smile kindly at a memory. 

So while I sit down with another tome I hope I will have a similar experience. But big books are a lot of work. Holding a 800 pager can be a bit of an arm work out. I am pretty sure I’m going to need some carbs.

Carbs in the form of beer bread. A soft treat sweetened with honey, very buttery, with just a taste of my favorite beer. The recipe is simple. It is good underbaked, overbaked, right out of the oven, two days later, or really any time. Top with a little extra honey, jam, or butter and enjoy as you drop crumbs on your latest literary white whale.

Ingredients 

3 cups flour

½ cup honey

1 tbsp baking powder

1 bottle beer, your choice 

½ cup salted butter, cut into tablespoons

Steps:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9 inch loaf pan. 

Mix together first 4 ingredients until a sticky dough forms. Place dough into loaf plan and use a spatula to even. Top with the pads of butter. Bake for 45 minutes. 

Let cool for as long as your carb craving stomach can handle. Enjoy

Reclaiming my Time: DNFing Books

I’m an unapologetic DNFer of books. I have zero problem setting a book aside if it isn’t catching my attention, is trite, is poorly written, or for any other reason. 

I see a lot of posts, tweets, and grams about people struggling with the idea of not finishing a book they start. I always read them with a bit of amazement. 

Sure, I don’t start books expecting not to finish them. I don’t pay good money to buy a novel hoping it’ll suck and end up on my bookshelf like a red mark of poor decision making. I want all the books I try to read to be good, to speak to me, to mean something.

But not all books can be that to all people. That’s okay. It’s okay that I couldn’t get through Where the Crawdads Sing, even though the rest of the universe seems to love it. It’s okay that I don’t like Jane Eyre, or that some of my most anticipated books of the last year left me feeling hallow, and languished on my shelf until I officially moved on. 

My time is important. Now more so than ever. With a full time job, a needy pupper, and a variety of other social obligations there is not enough time in the day to do everything I would like. That means I certainly do not have time for bad books. 

I do understand the other side of the DNF argument. There is something to be said about finishing what you started. Being a closer would be great, but alas, I am not one.  I also don’t feel any sort of reading debt to an author just because I now have their book in my posession. In fact, I probably bought the book. I’m the one that will be out both money and time if I push through with finishing a book. Also, do you really think authors want people hate finishing books and the posting reviews onlines?

I, for one, would rather find myself on a DNF list than with a bunch of 1 star reviews on goodreads with raging readings posting all of their least favorite moments. 

I will say I do not condone putting down books without giving them a real shot. I shoot for between 30 and 50 pages for shorter books and closer to 100 for anything over 500 pages. I know slow burns are a real thing, and want to give all writers a chance to captivate my attention.

But after that if the writing isn’t right I’m going to reclaim my time.