Browsings – Michael Dirda (2015)

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A glorious and exuberant tour of a life steeped in books, Michael Dirda’s Browsings is a balm for the literary soul. Enough of such hyperbole, I say. But this was a good book, and Dirda is like having a very literate friend who seems to have read just about everything. Any time you read some Dirda, your TBR list is going to lengthen with books and authors who you didn’t even know existed.

Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize winning book review columnist who has written for a lot of elite pubs (including WaPo and NYT). He has a Ph.D. in comparative literature (including Mediaeval poetry) and yet writes in an inclusive yet scholarly manner. Not having an enormous background in Mediaeval poetry (and similar), I must own up to not being familiar with about half of the titles that he writes about, but he writes about these books in such an accessible way that you don’t mind. I think this is quite an achievement – that someone with such an academic background can make poets of the Middle Ages seem appealing is not for the faint-hearted.

“None of us, of course, will ever read all the books we’d like, but we can still make a stab at it. Why deny yourself all that pleasure? So look around tonight or this weekend, see what catches your fancy on the bookshelf, at the library, or in the bookstore; maybe try something a little unusual, a little different, and then don’t stop. Do it again, with a new book or an old author the following week. Go on – be bold, be insatiable, be restlessly unashamedly promiscuous…”

This book is a collection of a year’s worth of book review columns that Dirda had put together for The American Scholar, and ranges across every kind of book there is. Having a Ph.D. from Cornell, Dirda has taught literature at the university level, including one about the “Boy’s Own” kind of adventure books from 1860-1930, a few of which look appealing. (To see the type of books that he suggests for interested readers, see my review of The 39 Steps by John Buchan [1915] here.)

I may be going overboard in my gushing his praise, but I loved this read and I think you may as well. Don’t be put off if you’re not well grounded in long-forgotten esoteric titles – this will be happy hunting ground for you, I promise. Enjoy!

General Catch-Up…

catch_upEvery now and then, I like to do a general round-up post about what’s going on in my life. It’s a nice break to write about something else other than books and reading, and it helps me keep my life on track when I can see it as an overview. So – this post is one of those posts.

The weekend was so RAINY. I know, rain may be more common in your part of the world, but I happen to live in a semi-arid environment (almost a desert/scrub-land sort of world), and so rain does not come often. It tends to be rainy in May, but apart from that month, there’s not much precipitation coming from the sky.

So, guess what? It rained for almost a full two days over the weekend. It must have been a couple of inches, and it was pretty steady throughout, with occasional minutes of heavier rain. Normally, I love and adore rain, but since we have brought Nova (a young German Shepherd) home, we’ve learned that she is one of the biggest fans of rain and mud in the entire canine world. If there’s mud or filthy water or puddles, you can almost double-dog* guarantee that she will be in with all four paws for most of the time. I’m all for having a good time, but Nova? You need to wipe your paws when you come in the house. Muddy footprints *everywhere* and on our clothes from when she jumps up to say hi, and so the house has been FILTHY. Sigh.

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This isn’t Nova, but it well could be.

This rainy weather also meant that there were some good reading moments at my usual hangouts, and this was great. Got to get some reading and writing done (no ‘rithmatic though :-)), and I found this to be really satisfying. The past weekend had been spent completely re-organizing my bathroom cabinets and some of my bedroom drawers which has meant that some of this weekend was spent walking around admiring my now really tidy storage. (Am I the only person who does this?) The reorganization was one of the more satisfying ways to spend my time, and I managed to get rid of two shopping bags of bathroom junk which has freed up a ton of space now. Aaaah. Bliss to open the cabinets and see lots of empty space and what has remained now corralled in storage containers…

(One thing I’ve learned about organizing is that those canvas over-the-door shoe hangers are magnificent for storing bits and pieces apart from shoes.)

Reading has been happening as well. I finished Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain the other day. Incredible read and highly recommend any of Boyle’s work. (He is one of the more prolific writers so quality can vary, but most of his stuff is great.) That’s led to me prowling the TBR shelves (as you do) to find my next read which ended up being Mary Norris’ wonderful memoir/grammatical manifesto called From Me to You. Norris has worked at The New Yorker for years and is known as the Comma Queen (gotta love that title), and this is a fun read to experience. It’s good to hang with your own tribe every now and then.

Then I’ve been missing reading a classic of some kind, so I’ve picked up Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Love it completely, but Hardy is so good anyway.

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Watching: We’re riveted to the new Masterpiece show about Queen Victoria, and now I’m curious just how accurate the narrative is. (Cue reading Victorian biography I have sitting in my shelves…  In a minute…)

Saw a French movie called Elle which took some awards at the recent Golden Globes. (My recommendation is that you don’t pay money and time to see this film. So much violence against women that didn’t contribute to the forward movement of the plot…) One movie that more than makes up for that yucky experience is Hidden Figures which spotlights the contributions that a small group of African-American female mathematicians made to NASA’s early space flight program. (Really good film.)

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And then we’re in the process of researching new furniture for the living room and now narrowing down the choices to “really comfortable” combined with “not bad looking”… It’s not as easy as it sounds, let me tell you, but I think we have it narrowed down to a manageable number of pieces. The next step is to measure… We’re looking for a settee/couch set-up which sort of “hugs” you when you sit in it (as opposed to “bouncing you out” when you first sit down). It’s a lot of sitting down in furniture shops right now, but as I mentioned, we’re getting there. Hopefully something by the end of the month, which means that we’ll also need to sell the current furniture to make room for the new purchase!….

Know anyone? 🙂

  • See what I did there?…

The Weekend in Review…

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(Above) – The tree under which I was reading. If you look closely, you might be able to see some dry brown seed pods amongst the leaves. When there is a gentle breeze, these pods rustle with the leaves, and makes a really relaxing sound. Hooray for Sundays!

It was a fun weekend. I’m not sure it could be said that we did a whole lot, but that was also one of the reasons why it was so lovely. The weather has suddenly become autumnal here on the South Plains, and so the light has become crisper and the colors are finally becoming reds, oranges, and brown (although not, perhaps, in the pic above!). I do love autumn in a million different ways, so it’s definitely my favorite season.

I spent yesterday sitting outside in an open space on campus right by the library. Just reading away whilst a nice breeze brought the temps down from 87 degrees (on the thermometer) to something much cooler than that. I’m really lucky to have such pleasant places to go to outside. It’s quiet (generally). No traffic. Not much foot traffic, and under a huge blue sky. Lovely way to spend some time.

I’d been feeling that I hadn’t been reading that much lately, so made a concerted effort to make that part of the weekend. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed doing that. I think I’d just got busy and tired, and went for the activity of least resistance: Narcos TV show on Netflix. Wow. Pablo Escobar was (is?) a ruthless man. I’m wondering how true it is.

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Speaking of versions of “true”, I’m interested in watching the biopic about Dr. Dre. I’m not really a huge hip-hop kinda person, but ever since watching Straight Outta Compton, I’ve become pretty interested in the culture and major players. It’s a very different world than the one in which I live, so I’m inquisitive about that. It’s very far removed from my everyday life!

Back to books: Had great fun reading. I’m trying to read more of my own books (HA!) and was doing really well until the library called this morning with an ILL. I did it to myself though, and if it’s an ILL it means that the title is going to be a good one, so I’m looking forward to it. I’ll let you know what it is when I pick it up, mainly because I can’t remember what I ordered so it’ll be a surprise for all of us!

I’m not sure that I’m going to get a blog post up about the Kennedy book that I read the other day (The Ladies of Lyndon). It was good, but not notable really (and I say that as I can only remember very vague things about the plot).

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I did read a cheap print of a graphic novel of Dracula by Bram Stoker. It was one of those cheapo Barnes and Noble books, and at first, I wasn’t sure that I could keep reading it. The art wasn’t that great, and I kept thinking I’d rather go back and read the original. (It’s one of my fav books.) But then something clicked, and the book and I got on really well from then on. I do have to admit that the graphic novel was more scary than the actual book. Maybe I’m a visual person in how I read as I don’t remember being so scared at the novel itself. Whatever triggered that reaction, I was glad that I was reading it out in the open under a sunny sky when I was reading it. Some of those comic panels were actually rather frightening – more so than the book. Weird how that can be, huh?

(For a more substantive review of the original Dracula, I have a post here.)

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Original movie poster from 1975.

Finished up a quick re-read of The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. An old book from 1972 (nicely filling a spot on my Century of Books project), I thoroughly enjoyed this read although I did have to jump over the truly sexist comments that mark the second third of the story. If you haven’t read this, it’s a spec fiction (perhaps) about a family who move into the community of Stepford. The mother in this family is proud to be a Women’s Lib supporter and is rather horrified when all the wives around her were only focused on domestic duties and being subordinate to their husbands in obvious ways. Why was this? Was she the only one? Then she meets a friend, similar to her, and wonders if she too will change… Does she? You’ll have to find out. It was a spooky read with lots to think about so expect a chatty blog post about that soon. (As an aside, check out this slightly strange website. I have to hope it’s a joke.)

I’m not 100% sure what the next title will be, but it may well be straight non-fiction. I’ve only read fiction this month (which is strange for me). It’s been great fun though, so perhaps I’ll keep on that streak. Who knows? I won’t until I browse my TBR shelves and also find out about that ILL. The suspense, my friends… I’ll let you know.

Traveling: Ruidoso, New Mexico

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We happen to have some great friends who invited us to share their cabin in Ruidoso, New Mexico, over Memorial Day. It was great fun and I also happened to spot some curious signs as we drove our way and around town. There was also a large meeting of the Bandidos, although we weren’t invited to their hang-out…. 🙂

So thought I’d share some of these finds with you:

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Seen in store window downtown.

(Above) – Appropriate for the area, methinks…

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(Above) – Groaning of my writing soul….

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Above – Using apostrophes comes with responsibility… 🙂

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I certify that all the above signs are truth… 🙂

And the local bookshop was great. Props to Books Etcetera for implementing their Book Blind Date idea…

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So, of course I had to buy a book (Support a local independent bookstore today!) I ended by buying New Yorker editor’s “Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen” by Mary Norris. Joy in my heart!

Reading Plan: African-American History Month

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Just as I did last year in February, I’m interested in focusing my reading on books about POCs (specifically people of African descent) and by POCs (again of African descent). So I’ve pulled together a small pile of books from my TBR (plus 1-2 from the library), and thus begins JOMP’s recognition and celebration of Black History Month.

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From bottom to top:

  • The Known World – Edward P. Jones (F)
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker (F)
  • Native Son – Richard Wright (F)
  • Saturday is for Funerals – Unity Dow/Max Essex (NF)
  • Kaffir Boy – Mark Mathabane (NF)
  • They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky – Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, Benjamin Ajak (with Judy A. Bernstein)
  • Bud, Not Buddy – Christopher Paul Curtis (YA F)
  • Mighty be our Powers – Lemah Gbowee (NF)

Not pictured include:

  • Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates (NF)

(And the two rectangles are titles whose authors don’t meet the criteria that I’ve set for this month. I’ll read them at some point, but just not at the moment.)

I’m excited to do this again this year, and I’m looking forward to some great reads!

 

Lots of New Bookie Goodness

So, as with any serious bookie household, there have been some new additions to the shelves. Thought you’d be curious to see which titles made it across the threshold…

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(Above, bottom to top):

  • The Best American Travel Writing 2015 – Andrew McCarthy (ed.) (NF)
  • A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman (F)
  • The Lonely Girl Trilogy #2 – Edna O’Brien (F)
  • The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide (F)
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Kondo (NF)
  • Girls in Their Married Bliss Trilogy #3 – Edna O’Brien (F)

(Not pictured: The Country Girls trilogy #1 – Edna O’Brien (F) Already gobbled up this volume and trilogy #2. This weekend, I have to find out what happens to these naughty two Irish women in the final volume…)

And then, be still my heart. There is the Kris Kringle FoL Book Sale coming up soon at the library… I know, I know…. but still! I see an editing of the TBR bookshelves in my future.