Category Archives: 09. 2021 Reading Journal

Merry Christmas and 2021 Wrap-Up

As of Christmas Eve Eve, I have read 178 books, which is 74 books more than my 2 books a week goal. According to Goodreads, my shortest book, The Innocence of Father Brown, was 88 pages long, while my longest, The Sunne in Splendour, was a whopping 1249 pages. The average length of my 2021 books was 339 pages. The most popular book I (re)read was The Hobbit, and the least popular was one of DSP reissues, The Creeping Jenny Mystery, from the Anthony Bathurst series. You can find my full list on the sidebar, under 2021 reading log.

My most memorable reads were:

I don’t have a lot of available bookish stats this year because I didn’t do nearly as good of a job tracking things like genre, format, author gender, NF/fiction, etc as I had intended. I would note that it’s interesting that I read much more fiction than non-fiction, but somehow almost half of my best books of the year (6 out of 14) were non-fiction: The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Barr, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, Square Haunting by Francesca Wade and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. What this is telling me is that I need to incorporate more non-fiction into my yearly reading, with a focus on choosing my subject matter wisely.

In terms of reading challenges, I did not do particularly well. I didn’t spend much time on my ongoing Classics Club challenge and while I probably completed at least half of the Back to the Classics challenge, I did such a lame job posting that I’m just going to call it a failure and move on. I like to start each year with an empty calendar page and a completely fresh start, without carryover from the year before.

There may be another post devoted to 2022 planning. Or there may not. In case there is not, I’m going to drop a few words about general plans for next year here.

Because I did change hosting services this year, and added some functionality to the blog, I’ve been waiting to incorporate some new reading features over here. Most importantly, I now have the ability to add books to a personal database, which will give me the ability to run much more robust monthly/yearly stats. I will be logging every book I read next year over here, regardless of whether it warrants a full review. I am hoping to do, at a minimum, monthly update posts.

In addition, I have been spending way too much time doom scrolling on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve decided to do a social media cleanse – I will be staying off of both sites between Christmas Eve and my birthday, on February 28. That’s a 2 month hiatus from Twitter politics and Facebook misinformation, which I desperately need. I have deleted both apps from my phone and logged out of the sites on my browser. I am allowing myself to continue on Instagram because I only follow quilt/fabric, cross stitch and book accounts on IG, which bring me joy as opposed to depressing the crap out of me.

I haven’t made any decisions about challenges or reading themes for next year. Generally, I’d like to read slightly less crime/mystery and more mid-century women’s fiction. I will definitely be reading at least a couple of books for Black History Month in February: something else from my James Baldwin anthology and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, which I have on hold at the library and which will hopefully be available right about that time (it’s projected at 9 weeks right now). If it doesn’t pop up in a timely fashion, I’ll buy it. I’ve also asked for a print copy of the 1619 Project for Christmas, and if that comes through, I’ll be reading that as well. I also want to add more short fiction to my reading diet, and I will finish the Willa Cather backlist this year.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday Post: 11.14.2021

I’m interrupting my normal Sunday Post routine to ask the following question:

What the actual fuck is happening in the United States?

I’m horrified at the overt attempts at book banning and historical white-washing that are being perpetuated and perpetrated right now in the U.S.

Texas, for example, is a hotbed of parental activism seeking to ban books:

In Austin, Texas, which is a curiously blue stronghold in a ruby red state, a parent is demanding that the police arrest the librarian, because Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evinson is on the shelves. According to Goodreads, Lawn Boy, which won the Alex Award in 2019:

For Mike Muñoz, a young Chicano living in Washington State, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work—and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew—he knows that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how?

Jonathan Evison takes the reader into the heart and mind of a young man on a journey to discover himself, a search to find the secret to achieving the American dream of happiness and prosperity. That’s the birthright for all Americans, isn’t it? If so, then what is Mike Muñoz’s problem? Though he tries time and again to get his foot on the first rung of that ladder to success, he can’t seem to get a break. But then things start to change for Mike, and after a raucous, jarring, and challenging trip, he finds he can finally see the future and his place in it. And it’s looking really good.

The book is available to be checked out by junior and senior aged students – 17 or 18 year olds, one to two years away from college. Imagine what they see when they open their internet browsers, and then ask yourself, are these parents delusional, dumb, disingenuous, or all three?

See: Leander Police Are Investigating Parent Complaints About Library Book

Representative Matt Worth, R-Ft. Worth, recently announced a probe of school libraries, demanding that they account for the presence of any of a list of 800 books, covering subjects including human sexuality and race on their shelves.

His list of titles includes bestsellers and award winners alike, from the 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates to last year’s book club favorites: “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall and Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”

In addition to these race-related titles,

Other listed books Krause wants school districts to account for are about teen pregnancy, abortion and homosexuality, including “LGBT Families” by Leanne K. Currie-McGhee, “The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to their Younger Selves” edited by Sarah Moon, and Michael J. Basso’s “The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality: An Essential Handbook for Today’s Teens and Parents.”

In an effort to completely break irony, Krause is a founding member of the Texas House “Freedom Caucus.” Apparently “freedom” only extends to majoritarian, white, Christian, heterosexual viewpoints in Texas.

See : Texas House committee to investigate school districts’ books on race and sexuality

But it’s not just Texas where this type of disturbing activism is on the rise. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have their own tiny reactionaries claiming the right to decide, not just what their children (many of whom aren’t even enrolled in public school, by the way) read, but what all children read. The issue may actually have won the Governorship of Virginia for the Republican candidate.

You can read more in this Washington Post article, or this LA Times article or this one or this one or this one.

These are really just a small smattering of the attempts to ban/suppress books written by authors of color and LGBTQ authors who want to present characters and viewpoints that supplement the majority, white, Christian, heterosexual characters and viewpoints that continue to be well-represented in school districts nationwide.

The fact that are afraid to expose their children to those viewpoints cannot and does not mean that they are entitled to impose their narrow, terrified perspective on the rest of us and our children, nor does it mean that they should be able to purge the world of that which they fear. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what this is – it’s fear.

These books are not pornography. A book that acknowledges the real world that our children are required to navigate, and that is all children: privileged and unprivileged; loved and unloved; safe and unsafe; white and of color; heterosexual and queer/LGBTQ+ – those books should be celebrated and not condemned. Books can be windows or they can be mirrors, depending upon the perspective of the reader. All children deserve to have their perspectives represented within the walls of their school libraries, and reactionary parents should be shamed and not empowered when they seek to control representation to only their children and only things with which they are comfortable.

Book banning never leads a society in a positive direction.

The Inspector Alleyn mysteries project

Since January, I’ve checked out & read several of the Inspector Alleyn mysteries. I’ve really enjoyed all of them, although some more than others, as is often the case. I’ve read enough of them now that it’s time to call them a “project” and put some organization behind it.

 

    1. A Man Lay Dead, 1934
    2. Enter a Murderer, 1935
    3. The Nursing Home Murder, 1935
    4. Death in Ecstasy, 1936
    5. Vintage Murder, 1937
    6. Artists in Crime, 1938 (currently reading)
    7. Death in a White Tie, 1938
    8. Overture to Death, 1939
    9. Death at the Bar, 1940
    10. Death of a Peer, 1940
    11. Death and the Dancing Footman, 1941
    12. Colour Scheme, 1943
    13. Died in the Wool, 1945
    14. Final Curtain, 1947
    15. A Wreath for Rivera, 1949
    16. Night at the Vulcan, 1951
    17. Spinsters in Jeopardy, 1953
    18. Scales of Justice, 1955
    19. Death of a Fool, 1957
    20. Singing in the Shrouds, 1958
    21. False Scent, 1959
    22. Hand in Glove, 1962
    23. Dead Water, 1963
    24. Killer Dolphin, 1966
    25. Clutch of Constables, 1968
    26. When in Rome, 1970
    27. Tied Up in Tinsel, 1972
    28. Black as He’s Painted, 1974
    29. Last Ditch, 1976
    30. Grave Mistake, 1978
    31. Photo Finish, 1980
    32. Light Thickens, 1982

I have actually read more than them than I had realized before making the list. I’m not reading them in any specific order the first time through, but I will likely read them in publication order as a reread project at some point.

Friday Reads 10.22.2021 and Fall Read-A-Thon

I’m well into each of these books, so I plan to finish them before I break into new read-a-thon possibilities.

He’d Rather Be Dead by George Bellairs: I’m at 37% of this one. I’ve been finding myself checking on the Inspector Littlejohn books from the KU library fairly frequently. Bellairs is a bit of a plodder, so they will never be my favorites, but I always enjoy hanging out with the Chief Inspector as he travels the byways of rural England, solving the crimes that stymie the local village constables. A few more and they will likely reach the status of legitimate comfort reads for me.

Night at the Vulcan by Ngaio Marsh: I am well over 50% into this book. This seems to be a typical Marsh, where she engages in some pretty deep character and plot work before the murder even occurs. Inspector Alleyn just showed up at about the 52% mark. This one is set in the world of the theater, as are a number of her books – three of which I’m reading as a bit of a sub-series this month. I’ve finished Death at the Dolphin and Final Curtain earlier this month.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson: This is a piece of non-fiction that covers basically the first year of Winston Churchill’s tenure as Prime Minister – the twelve-month period after Hitler’s invasion of Holland and Belgium, which includes the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. I am a slow non-fiction reader, and am at the 30% mark. This is also a library book – and non-fiction books are the ONLY books I ever have trouble finishing during my 21 day check out period. I have 12 days left on this one, so it may ultimately require that I renew it. I should probably just buy my non-fiction reads.

Now, let’s talk read-a-thon. I am not a read-a-thon purist – I have never in my life managed to read for 24 hours straight. Maybe once I retire, I’ll really do a dedicated RAT – send my husband away for the weekend & get to it. As it is, I have a 21 year old son who still lives at home, and a husband who enjoys weekend chat and social activities, so a full 24 hour period of uninterrupted reading is but a pipe dream for me (plus, I really do need to maintain a reasonably normal sleep schedule).

What I do like to do is focus on reading during these read-a-thon days. I typically try to get in at least 12 hours, and sometimes as many as 16 hours, of reading throughout the day. I turn off my television, put some classical music on Alexa, light some fall-inspired candles and cozy up for some solid blocks of reading time with both physical books and my kindle. I usually try to set a theme for my reading.

Since I will likely blast through my two mysteries within about the first two hours, I’ve settled on a theme of wartime England, which fits well with The Splendid and the Vile. I’m in the process of gathering a stack of books to fit that theme that I can drop in and out of as my mood dictates. These include:

Of course, there’s always the chance that I’ll jump ship to something completely different by tomorrow!

New look, new host, new library

ATVL has had a makeover, which wasn’t without its struggles. I recently decided to move to a new blog host, largely because of my unremitting hatred of the block editor (and block widgets, too, btw. No element of the new “block” system is immune from my loathing).

When I started looking around, I discovered that there is also a plugin that is specifically designed to allow book bloggers to maintain a book library on their own blog, which seemed like a really cool thing. If you’re interested, you can find out more here. The plugin isn’t very expensive, and now that I have learned how to use it, works a treat – however, one of the main reasons that I have a new look is because the theme I had been using for years (Hemingway) didn’t work with the new plugin. It broke all of my links.

The database also endlessly customizable – I was able to add a “project” field to my database that allows me to identify books read for my various reading projects. One of the coolest things about the plug-in is that it creates a review page, which functions as a sort of an index. It’s only useable on self-hosted blogs, but if you have one of those and are interested in hearing more about how it works, drop a question below. I’m really enjoying using it.

Also, as part of this migration, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to streamline my wordpress site dashboard. I’ve been holding onto a few old free sites that have limited content on them. I’m not good at keeping up on multiple blogs – I barely have the energy for this most of the time. I’ve decided to move all of my content – including old projects – onto this blog over the next few months. What that means is that readers who have been following me around the internet (and if you’ve been motivated enough to follow me around the internet, thank you for that) will probably see posts that you’ve seen before. My plan is to, eventually, delete all of my old blogs and just stick with this one. So, you’ll be seeing a greater variety of posts, including more modern fiction and, although my general theme of women writers from the 19th & 20th century will still be the bulk of the posts.

Thanks for hanging around!

Five Things I Loathe About the Block Editor

  1. I hate THE WHOLE DAMNED THING on principle. But, there are also specific things that I hate about it beyond its general suckitude.
  2. The fact that the only way to not start a new block every time I hit return is, apparently, to turn whatever I am trying to do into a list. Sometimes I don’t want bullets or numbers, though, but I still don’t want my post to have a goddamned extra space between lines. There is no way to fix this without getting some sort of a degree in coding.
  3. Working with images and trying to change their alignment. This often does not work. I have been trying to center the image in my last post for thirty minutes. Yeah, not happening. Now it is asymmetrical and it bugs me. With the classic editor, I just changed the HTML. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.
  4. I like to draft my posts on my google drive because of issues with site crashing. This screws up the formatting when I paste them into a post, and it is completely unfixable. THIS WAS NEVER A PROBLEM WITH THE CLASSIC EDITOR.
  5. In order to get the Classic Editor plugin, I have to upgrade my site. This is bullshit. I already pay for a domain name. I do not make money off of my blogging, nor do I want to. This is a hobby. It should be easy. It used to be easy. Before you assholes made us all accept your lame new editor.

The ONLY reason that I haven’t relocated to Blogger is because I am lazy and I actually hate it more. But dammit, did they bribe you to make your editor suck so that people would leave?

/rant

July Reading Plans

As always, a lot of my reading plans are informed by my GR groups – I moderate an Agatha Christie group that is reading all 66 of Christie’s full length novels in order of publication, as well as a vintage mystery (published in 1970 or before) side read. July has us reading Murder at the Vicarage (the first Marple!) and Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith In addition, I have a small private group that reads vintage fiction, and for 2021 we are doing a project that we are calling “authors-in-residence.” We have chosen two authors per quarter, and the group members who are participating select a book (or more, if they want) to read and discuss. We start a new quarter in July, and have selected Virginia Woolf and Philip Roth as our “authors-in-residence” for July, August & September. Finally, I will be rereading The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey for a different group, as well as The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler to fill a challenge.

Even with these plans, there is room for spontaneity. I am a couple of books behind on the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King, and started Riviera Gold last week. I’m partway through it and enjoying the name-checking of Gerald and Sarah Murphy. I read a wonderful piece of non-fiction about them years ago, Everybody Was So Young by Amanda Vaill, so peeking at a fictionalized version of life at the Villa American is a lot of fun for me. The most recent book, Castle Shade, is also my TBR for July, if I get to it.

There are a few series that I preorder, and read pretty immediately after the books drop – and the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths is one of them. Her most recent, The Night Hawks, was published in February, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. The Lady Darby series by Anna Lee Huber, is another favorite, and the newest installment – A Wicked Conceit – dropped on May 21. Soon, for both of those!

I’m going to be putting together a few posts to catch up on my Back to the Classics Challenge. I’ve finished some of the categories, but have been very dilatory about getting the posts up, and I need to figure out where I am at and what I still have to read.

June Recap

I read 15 books in June, which is a solid month for me. So far, I’m up to 80 books this year – I set a relatively low goal for myself of 104 books, which is 2 books per week. I typically read much more than that, and I expect to hit my goal around the end of July/beginning of August. This lets me relax without racing to meet a goal at the end of the year, which is what happens when I set 200 as my bookish goal.

It was a mystery intensive month, with all but two of my reads falling into that category – although it was probably the two non-mystery books that made the biggest impact on me.

First, I reread Sharon Kay Penman’s doorstopping blockbuster of a Richard III history, The Sunne in Splendour. I’m a long-time Penman fan, and her recent death was terribly sad. I’ve been meaning to reread the Welsh Princes trilogy, and this may well be just the motivation that I need to do it. I so enjoyed this book, and, as well, it was a buddy read with some wonderful GR friends, so we’ve been having a terrific discussion about it over there in a private group.

The second book that I would mention that was a highlight of the month for me was Travels with Charley by Steinbeck. I had big plans for a Steinbeck project this year, and they have largely fizzled, unfortunately. However, I did manage to check this out of the library and blew through it in a couple of days. It was a really great read, Steinbeck’s observations are so insightful, and reading this book in particular was a time capsule of a long-gone America.

One of my favorite quotes is this:

American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash—all of them—surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered with rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. This is not said in criticism of one system or the other but I do wonder whether there will come a time when we can no longer afford our wastefulness—chemical wastes in the rivers, metal wastes everywhere, and atomic wastes buried deep in the earth or sunk in sea.

Steinbeck could see us, and our future, with such painful clarity.

Other bits and pieces: I’m making my way through Ed McBain’s incredibly long-running 87th precinct series, and this month I read books 9 (‘Til Death) and 10 (King’s Ransom). They were both interesting installments. ‘Til Death was a little bit lighter, with Detective Steve Carella giving wedding night advice both to his younger sister (awkward) and the groom (more awkward?). King’s Ransom was an intriguing psychological novel that asks the question: would you bankrupt yourself to save someone else’s child? Both are short, punchy and quick, as seems to be true of the entire series.

I also read 3 old Nancy Drews. Occasionally I get into a mood where I want to revisit my childhood, and Nancy Drew is a way to do it. My library has most of them in ebook, so I check them out where the whim takes me and the nostalgia doesn’t cost me a dime.

Anyway, happy July!

Almost at the midpoint of the year

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost July – summer solstice has come and gone and we’re, again, on the downside of our trip around the sun. The weather in my neck of the woods – the Pacific Northwest – has been unbearably hot for the last couple of days. We were experiencing something called a “heat dome” which left Portland with the distinction of having a high temperature that is the highest of any major US city with the exception of Phoenix and Las Vegas.

This is pretty crazy for a place that is known for rain and mist and lush green spaces. Today is much better – although it’s still hot for June. We’re looking at a high of 93 degrees. To put that into perspective, yesterday the high was 115 degrees.

The last 15 months or so has brought with it one extreme event after another – first the pandemic, then historic wildfires that forced tens of thousands of people, including me, to evacuate their homes in suburban Portland for three days, then a once in a century ice storm that knocked out power for five days and brought the region to a standstill, and now this historic and overwhelming heat wave that shattered all of the past records by almost 10 degrees.

I think that this explains, at least in part, why I have been so adverse to the idea of just sitting down and writing a blog post. I’m not really in a reading slump, although nothing is appealing to me very strongly. I feel like I’m just going through the motions as a reader, not really engaging with any of the books.

I’m already 80 books into the year, and I haven’t written a single post. I’m tracking them on Goodreads, but that’s it. I feel like I’ve run out of things to say about the activity that has brought me more solace and pleasure over the years than just about any other. But this doesn’t make sense to me, so I’m going to try something different.

I know I can’t force it, but I am going to make time for blogging about books. I may or may not end up actually publishing the posts that I write, but I’m going to write them. I’m going to talk about what I’m reading, here or on Goodreads, more intentionally and thoughtfully. Because I think that will remind of me what I love about reading and how much it adds to my life and my perspective.

Ringing out 2020 and ringing in 2021

My final tally for 2020 stands at 203 books and 63,225 pages. When I initially set my Goodreads reading challenge, I chose 150 books as the goal for the year. Since 2013, there has only been one year – 2018 – when I read fewer than 150 books. That year clocked in at 134. Because of the early spring lockdowns, I met that 150 book goal in August, and upped it to 200.

Aside from the overall challenge, I didn’t participate in any specific reading challenges except for a small genre challenge in one of my GR groups. I don’t do a lot of tracking of my reading – every year I see people make awesome graphics about their yearly reading by things like publication year, male versus female authors, genre, etc., and I am always jealous. But, by the end of the year, the prospect is really too daunting to accomplish.

One thing that I did do this year, that has been really interesting, is that I’ve kept track of how much money I’ve saved by checking out books instead of buying them. I acquired a library card when the pandemic started and have been extensively using the electronic hold system to request ebooks – to the point that I have saved $568.81 by not buying a number of the books I read this year. This doesn’t even begin to account for the number of books that I checked out, decided I actually wasn’t interested in reading right away and returned them unread to be re-requested later, if the mood strikes me.

I have added a couple of challenges to the wheelhouse for 2021, most particularly the Back to the Classics challenge. But, aside from that, I intend to continue essentially as I have been doing: reading a lot of vintage fiction, a lot of golden age mysteries, checking out books (especially more recently published books) from the library, and reading as my fancy takes me. Fingers crossed that 2021 is a better year altogether than 2020, even if it means that I read fewer books!