Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Big Read Comes to an End -- Hurrah!

In December I read another 14 books, for a grand, record-smashing 2014 total of 185 books.  Whew!  Boy howdy, I don't want to do that again.  Next year I want to focus on art, so this blog will go unused and/or mutate into something else.  We shall see.

102 of the books were nonfiction and 83 were fiction, for a total of nearly 50,000 pages.  They are listed in previous posts, so here I will just note the ones added in December.

On the Map (Simon Garfield)
One Man's River (Keith Brockie)
Open Horizons (Sigurd Olson)
Out of the Flames (Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone)
A Passion for Books (H. Rabinowitz/R. Kaplan, editors)
The Year of Reading Dangerously (Andy Miller)
The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe (Chet Raymo)
Picture This: How Pictures Work (Molly Bang)
Phantoms on the Bookshelves (Jacques Bonnet)

The Cruelest Month (Louise Penny)
A Rule Against Murder (Louise Penny)
Nuts to You (Lynne Perkins)
The Brutal Telling (Louise Penny)
The Only Thing Worse Than Witches (Lauren Magaziner)

Happy New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Big Read: November 2014 Books Read

I'm happily on my way to obliterating my previous record for books read in one year (147 in 2011), having just finished book number 171 this year.  It's great to have so many good books out there and lots of time to read them.

Here is the list of books read in November.


Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus Christ (Thomas Cahill)
Mysteries of the Middle Ages (Thomas Cahill)

Two more in Cahill's Hinges of History series that looks at crucial turning points in cultural history.

The Mysterious Lands (Ann Zwinger)
The Nearsighted Naturalist (Ann Zwinger)

The first is about four desert regions in the U.S. and the second is a collection of essays by this midwest-based naturalist.

Natural History in the Highlands and Islands (F. Fraser Darling)
Scottish natural history in great detail written in the 1940s; of interest only to odd people like me.

The Natural History of the Long Expedition to the Rocky Mountains 1819-1820 (Howard Evans)
It wasn't "Long" because it was long, but because it was led by Major Stephen Long, though you hear very little about him in this interesting book.  Mostly it's about the other members, with lovely illustrations by expedition member Titian Peale.

Nature Walks (Cathy Johnson)
So-so book of essays about nature and art.

The Natural History of Selborne (Gilbert White)
A classic from the late 1700s in which White carefully examines the plants, birds, insects, mammals, and geology in his southwestern English parish in a series of letters.

Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick (Jenny Uglow)
Fascinating biography of the English artist who singlehandedly rescued wood engraving from oblivion with innovative techniques that beautifully illustrated many books on nature and especially birds.  Yes, this is the Bewick for whom Bewick's Wren was named.  Interesting fellow!

Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening (David Hendy)
Even-handed and intriguing account of sound through the ages.

Of Time and Place (Sigurd Olson)
Series of essays by naturalist and adventurer who specialized in canoeing the lakes and rivers of northern Minnesota/lower Canada.


Persuasion (Jane Austen)
I could have sworn that I'd read everything by Austen, yet I did not remember this when I "re" read it, so maybe not!  I liked the story of Anne Elliot and her long-delayed romance, plus it had the virtue of being short.

Comet in Moominland (Tove Jansson)
A re-read of an old favorite children's book.

Still Life (Louise Penny)
A Fatal Grace  "
First two in the mystery series featuring homicide detective Armand Gamache, set in a small town in Quebec.  Good stuff.

The Keeper of Lost Causes (Jussi Adler-Olson)
Mystery by a Danish author featuring Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Morck, who has to come to terms with a devastating shootout while trying to solve the cold case of a missing politician.  Excellent!*
*WARNING: I naturally bought the 2nd in the series, The Absent One, and am very sorry I did, as it is full of sadistic, vicious characters and animal cruelty.  Extremely disappointing after the first book, and after struggling to get even halfway through (with skimming), I gave up, on both the book and the author.

One more month to go on the Big Read -- and then I may take a reading sabbatical.  For at least a few days, anyway.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Big Read: October 2014

It's official:  I reached my Big Read goal of breaking my all-time "books read in one year" record, formerly held by 2011 with 147* books.  Whoo-hoo!  In fact, I'm currently at 155, so not only have I broken the record, by the end of the year it will be obliterated.

*it should probably be 146, because I counted a Sherman's Lagoon comic strip collection, but since I also read one of those this year, I'll go ahead and keep both books on the lists.

Next year I plan to relax, slow down, aim for fewer than 100 books, and tackle some big, fat, dense stuff.  And now, here is the October list of books read.


Listening Point (Sigurd Olson)
The Lonely Land (Sigurd Olson)
Olson was a nature writer who spent decades exploring the woods, lakes, and rivers of Canada and has an engaging, often lyrical style.

Lost Heritage: Wilderness America Through the Eyes of Seven Pre-Audubon Naturalists (Henry Savage Jr.).  
Just what it says.  Well-written, interesting account.

The Greatest Stories Never Told (Rick Beyer).  
A bathroom book of short descriptions of historical oddities, most of which weren't that odd if you've read as much as I have.

Lucy's Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein's Brain (Harvey Rachlin).  
Stories of a wide variety of historical objects and where they are now; rather dull overall.

The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein (Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler). Fascinating and highly recommended biography (Lynne, you might like this one!).  I always knew Byron was a cad, but was not so aware that Percy Bysshe Shelley was nearly as unpleasant -- he abandoned his wife and children to run off with Mary (when she was 16), subsequently cheating on her with her own step-sister.  Mary was an amazing woman (she wrote Frankenstein at 19) and this book is a very well written look at her chaotic life.

Mountain Reflections (Keith Brockie) 
A naturalist and illustrator from Scotland; beautiful watercolors and lovely prose.

The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Thomas Cahill).  
Volume 2 in Cahill's multi-part "Hinges of History" series in which he examines crucial turning points in cultural history.


The Old Fox Deceiv'd (Martha Grimes).
The Anodyne Necklace   "
The Dirty Duck               "
Jerusalem Inn                  "
Help the Poor Struggler  "
Having failed mightily to find good new mystery authors, I re-read a bunch of early Martha Grimes (her Richard Jury series of British detective novels).  I enjoyed them, though by the last one I read, I was growing tired of the same old tropes she keeps trotting out, and in looking ahead, it doesn't seem as if that changes any.  So I'm done with her for now.

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase (Jonathan Stroud).
A middle-grade fantasy set in London where ghosts have returned to not only haunt, but harm the living, and since children can see them better than adults, they are trained and used to hunt the ghosts down and destroy them.  Dark stuff, yet the tone is kept fairly light and even amusing overall.

Sherman's Lagoon: Lunch Wore a Speedo (Jim Toomey).
Yes, it's a comic strip collection.  Hey, it's a book!  There were words!

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: The Terror of the Southlands (Caroline Carlson).
Middle-grade fantasy, a sequel to Magic Marks the Spot, and while entertaining enough, not nearly as good as the first one.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic (Jennifer Trafton).
Another middle-grade fantasy and again, mildly entertaining but a bit of a disappointment, as there were far too many characters and too much weirdness -- a fantasy book really only needs one odd thing to work well, not three dozen.

All in all, the more I read fiction of late, the more I like nonfiction.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Big Read Update: TIED!

As you may recall, this year I aimed to beat my all-time record for Number of Books Read in One Year.  The record was 147 from 2011.  Well, last night I finished book number 147 for this year!  Whoo-hoo!!!!

So I'm pretty sure I'll break the 2011 record.  There was one book I waffled on counting -- a collection of comic strips, Sherman's Lagoon: Lunch Wore A Speedo.  I mean, it's not much reading.  But when I checked my 2011 list, I discovered that I had counted a Sherman's Lagoon collection then as well, so either I eliminate them both, or count them both.  Either way, I'm still tied!

My friend Mary suggested that a more accurate challenge would entail counting the number of pages read, to ensure fairness.  After all, I might have read fifty tomes of 400+ pages each back in 2011, and fifty slim children's books of 150 pages in 2014, yet counted them the same.  Because I love to track stuff like that, I went ahead and noted the page counts for all 147 books.  The 2011 total came to a bit over 39,000 pages.  The 2014 total so far is, guess what -- a bit over 39,000 pages.  Hah!

Please don't make me do word counts.

Next year I'm planning to relax -- no more Big Read years, no more record-breaking efforts.  I think I'll try reading more in depth, maybe get a few 500, 600 -- nay, even 1,000-page tomes and consume them in an extremely leisurely fashion.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Big Read: September 2014 Books Read

Well, I'm not posting here very much, and who knows if I'll keep it up after the Big Read year is over, but for what it's worth, here are the September Books read (I just started 2 new ones, so am unlikely to finish either before tomorrow night).


Bryant & May: The Bleeding Heart (Christopher Fowler) - mystery in a fabulous series
Well Read, Then Dead (Terrie Moran) - "cozy" mystery that was just plain awful
No Time Like Show Time (Michael Hoeye)
Time to Smell the Roses (Michael Hoeye)
- middle-grade novels in a series featuring Hermux Tantamoq, a mouse who is a watchmaker and part-time detective.  Lightweight fun.

The Man with a Load of Mischief (Martha Grimes) - re-read, first in the Richard Jury mystery series and such a wonderful contrast to the crappy mysteries I've been encountering of late.  Extremely engaging, smartly written, characters to care about -- I'm loving my re-visit to these books.

Poisoned Prose (Ellery Adams) - another cozy mystery that disappointed. Sigh.


The Life of Rivers and Streams (Robert Usinger)
The Life of Prairies and Plains (Durward Allen)
The Life of the Marsh (William Niering)
The Life of Sea Islands (N.J. and Michael Berrill)
The Life of the Cave (Charles Mohr and Thomas Poulson)

The rest of the "Living World of Nature" series put out in the 1960s by the World Book Encyclopedia folks, very similar to the Time-Life Nature series of that same era.  Well-illustrated and enjoyable.

The World's Oddest and Most Wonderful Mammals, Insects, Birds and Plants (Jeanne Hanson and Deane Morrison) - a bathroom book with short descriptions of just what it says.

Longitude (Dava Sobel) - short history of the solution to accurately finding longitude at sea via John Harrison's intricate chronometers; okay but overall a bit dull.

The Lost City of Z (David Grann) - fascinating account of Colonel Percy Fawcett's explorations in the Amazon in the 1910s-1920s, his mysterious disappearance, and the attempts to discover what happened to him, and his obsession with a possibly not-so-legendary vanished civilization.  Fabulous book.

Currently reading:

The Old Fox Deceiv'd - second in the Richard Jury mystery series by Martha Grimes
Lost Heritage: Wilderness America through the Eyes of Seven Pre-Audubon Naturalists by Henry Savage, Jr.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mysterious Disappointments

With a few outliers here and there, mystery novels comprise about half of my fiction reading, the other half being middle-grade books.  Lately I've been struggling to find mystery authors I like.  And I had a huge disappointment while on vacation, when I eagerly trotted off to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop in Pioneer Square, a longtime favorite, only to find it had moved to a space one-third its former size, as the owner explained, "Due to lack of sales."  Thank you, Amazon.

The selection was not very good, and I wound up buying a "cozy" mystery mostly out of pity for the owner.  It was a terrible book.  Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Moran is set in the Florida keys and the amateur sleuth is the co-owner of a bookshop/cafe who investigates a book club member's murder in an incredibly boring fashion.  At the end, she does the thing that I detest the most in mysteries -- goes off to meet someone who sent her a cryptic note about the crime in an isolated location all by her lonesome and naturally winds up in danger.  Jeez.  I threw it away.

Last month I tried a few historical mysteries and wound up disliking every single one.  Mr. Churchill's Secretary had intriguing background around WWII London, but the 21st-century attitudes, lack of character development, and absurd plot ruined it for me.  Reviewers who disliked it said, "If you want a much better historical, try Jacqueline Winspear", so I did. Maisie Dobbs was set in 1929 London and featured the most dour heroine I've ever encountered.  As my coworker, who also hated it, said, "The biggest thing wrong with Maisie Dobbs is Maisie Dobbs."  Sigh.  I threw it away.

Finally, I decided to give the French a go, with Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner (a pseudonym for two sisters), set in 1890s Paris at the time of a world exposition.  The sleuth is a journalist and he was dull and lifeless, except for his infatuation with a young artist that bordered on stalking.  And the plot turned out to be completely wacky.  I threw it away.

There was one shining light in my past month or two of mystery reading:  Bryant & May: The Bleeding Heart, by Christopher Fowler.  This series features two elderly detectives working for contemporary London's Peculiar Crimes Unit, and it is just as fabulous and fascinating as the earlier books.  The first in the series is Full Dark House.  Highly recommended.

I leave you with a one-paragraph description of a side character in Fowler's novel, which shows exactly why I find his work delightfully entertaining:

Rosa Lysandrou was a virtuous, decent woman who knew that the world was a wicked place and that life was short, ugly and disappointing.  Most of the time sin and ill fortune surrounded  her, seeping into her bones like damp and dragging at her limbs until she sometimes longed for the release that eternal sleep would bring.  On other days she cheered up a bit and went to bingo.

Love it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The 2014 Big Read: August Books

Here is a summary of the books I read in August.


In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food (Stewart Allen).  Interesting tidbits but overall largely forgettable and a bit too focused on the gross-out factor.

An Introduction to Birds (John Kieran).  Oversized book from the 1950s with brief descriptions.

Island Year (Hazel Heckman).  Well-written natural history of Anderson Island (off Tacoma) where the author lived for many years, told month by month.

Land of Lost Monsters (Ted Oakes).  Prehistoric creatures by continent.  Nice illustrations.

Land of the Lakes (Melvyn Bragg).  History and natural history of England's Lake District, well illustrated.

The Life of the Seashore (William Amos).  I snagged a bunch of books in this set put out in the 1960s by the World Book Encyclopedia folks -- they are similar to the old Time-Life nature series and while not quite as well done as those, they are entertaining enough and at 200 pages each, they are pretty quick reads.

The Life of the Desert (Ann and Myron Sutton).
The Life of the Forest (Jack McCormick)
The Life of the Mountains (Maurice Brooks)
The Life of the Ocean (N.J. Berrill)
The Life of the Pond (William Amos)

Land Above the Trees: A Guide to American Alpine Tundra (Ann Zwinger).  Mostly about the geology and plant life of several alpine regions, well illustrated by the author.


A Question of Proof (Nicholas Blake).  A re-read of an old British mystery, part of a series, in an effort to revisit a few of my favorite authors from decades past.  Did not hold up well.  Sigh.

Maisie Dobbs (Jacqueline Winspear).  Contemporary author, mystery set in 1920s Britain featuring a lower-class woman who is offered a chance to improve her lot with a private education and mentoring by a private detective.  Experiences from the Great War figure prominently.  Relentlessly severe and gloomy.  Not a keeper.

Secret Water (Arthur Ransome).  Fifth re-read of a favorite from this British series (1930s-40s) where enterprising, imaginative children have simple yet rewarding adventures.

The Sands of Time (Michael Hoeye).  Children's fantasy; sequel to Time Stops for No Mouse, featuring watchmaker Hermux Tantamoq and his quest to prove the ancient kingdom of cats truly existed.  He's a mouse.  There's a whole city of mice.  It's quite delightful and tons of fun.

Killed at the Whim of a Hat (Colin Cotterill).  First in a mystery series featuring Thai crime reporter Jimm Juree, a young woman uprooted from the big city to a rural backwater by her eccentric family.  She manages to find a few bizarre crimes to unravel in this unusual, often witty tale.

Grandad, There's A Head on the Beach (Colin Cotterill).  Sequel to the above; not quite as good though it picked up midway through.

Murder on the Eiffel Tower (Claude Izner).  Contemporary author, first in a mystery series set in 1890s Paris.  Protagonist is a journalist trying to solve murders at the World Exposition.  Background history is interesting but I grew to detest the hero and the plot left much to be desired.

So, in July and August I tried three different historical mysteries (all by contemporary authors) and not one succeeded in making me want to read the next in the series.  Two had awful anachronisms, and 21st-century attitudes imposed upon the characters.  I give up.  I'll be visiting the local mystery bookshop tomorrow in yet another effort to find mysteries I actually enjoy.  It's been a struggle of late!

Monday, August 11, 2014

In Which I Attend a Book Reading

On Saturday I was invited by friends to attend a book reading at my favorite plucky local independent, Third Place Books.  The author was one I'd not read, Spencer Quinn, who pens a mystery series featuring private detective Bernie and his dog Chet.  The unusual thing about these mysteries is that they are narrated by Chet.

Yes, you read that right -- the narrator is a dog.

I was dubious, but I had heard of the series and people said good things about it, so I went with an open mind.  Mr. Quinn was quite entertaining, and told us in a very humorous fashion about the books and how he writes from the canine point of view (there are a lot of smells involved).  He read a short excerpt which was most enjoyable.  I admit that I did not wind up buying a book, but my friend Mary did, and had the author inscribe it to her cat.  Interesting choice.

While it all did sound most promising, I think I'll wait for Mary's review before checking one out myself.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Borrowed from Buzzfeed

Click here: 13-things-book-lovers-are-tired-of-hearing  for a keen post on Buzzfeed.  I'd add to the list my personal least favorite saying, when people walk into my home:  "Have you read all those books?"

The answer to which is, "Except for the 100 books I bought in the past year, yes, I have read them all."

Next least favorite:  "Did you know you can borrow books for free from the library?"  (With the implication, of course, that there is no reason to actually own or keep books once you've read them.  Gah.)

The books on my shelves comprise my mental travel souvenirs.  Souvenirs are for keeping, thank you very much!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How I Find Books

According to my favorite neighbor, Charlesia, the question is not, "How do I find books" but rather, "How do I find so many books"....I told her just this past Saturday that I was on my way to the bookstore, and she said, "You may bring back only ONE book!  You don't have room for more!"

Well, actually, I had recently bought a bookcase at a secondhand store that was going out of business and selling off its display shelves -- even though I had no books to put in it at the time.  Because I knew I soon would.  So Charlesia is sadly mistaken -- there is room for more than one new book in my house.  That weekend I bought three.

Here's where/how I find lots and lots and lots of books to fill up my tiny home:

Shelf Awareness is a web site with reviews from independent booksellers around the country on newly published titles (and sometimes older ones as well) in all areas, both fiction and nonfiction.  You can subscribe and get an email newsletter twice a week, though you can also just read the site.  

As my friend Mary over at her blog, "Blahdeblahblah" likes to call them, I regularly visit my Plucky Local Independent bookstores, though they have sadly declined in number since I moved here lo these many decades ago.  My all-time favorites are the University Bookstore just a hop, skip, and jump from where I work, and Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.  Both have new and used books, frequent sales, and friendly staff -- though the U Bookstore wins hands-down for "most effusive Truman appreciators".  

A store I don't get to very often due to location (but which I hope to visit this coming weekend) is the Seattle Mystery Bookshop in Pioneer Square.  Fabulous selection (again, both new and used).

Friends of the Library sales:  these happen once or twice a year for the Seattle library, and take up a huge old hangar with well over 100,000 books at $1-$2 a pop (and half-price on Sunday!).  The next one is in September and I have my strategy well mapped out after years of practice.  I often come home (much to Charlesia's dismay) with 20-40 books from these sales.

Yard/garage sales:  rarely do I venture in search of these, but I keep an eye on the listings for them in both the Seattle Times and on Craigslist in case there is one mentioning books that isn't too far off.  My best score was when a local birder cleaned house -- that was a good yard sale indeed.

Speaking of Craigslist, they have a category for people selling books -- most of it is not anything of interest (though it can make for amusing reading, as in "1970 encyclopedia set only $150!"...dream on, folks...) but occasionally something interesting pops up there.  Last year it was a family selling off their folks' estate, which included over 25,000 books and I can tell you, these were well-read, well-educated people.  Good stuff. This year's score was an Encyclopedia Britannica set from the 1960s, and unlike the doofus above, it was reasonably priced -- as in, it was free.

One place I do NOT find books, nor buy books from, and never will, is amazon...for many reasons, though if you google "amazon" and "Hatchette", you'll get a good idea of their nefarious business practices.  Steer clear, and keep supporting your Plucky Local Independents!

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Big Read Update: July 2014 Books Read

The Great Northwest: The Story of a Land and Its People (nothing special)
The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan (Christopher Benfey)  A well written account of fascinating people in a fascinating time.
Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr (Richard Rhodes)  Entertaining though rather slight.
The Green Treasury (Edwin Way Teale, editor) A collection of nature essays by various authors that went on too long and was too repetitive.
Hill Country Harvest (Hal Borland) Life on a Connecticut farm in the 1960s, well rendered.
In Search of England (Michael Wood) Focused on origins of national identity; started out well, then got a bit too dry.

The Long Farewell (Michael Innes) Classic British mystery.
The Crabtree Affair (Innes, ditto)
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet (Reif Larsen) About a boy genius who views the world through his own mapmaking; a very unusual novel supplemented by maps/illustrations; eccentric and heartfelt.
We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea (Arthur Ransome) 1930s British children's adventure; a fourth re-read.
Fairs' Point (Melissa Scott) 4th in a fantasy series.
A Man Lay Dead (Ngaio Marsh) Classic British mystery revisited.
Mr. Churchill's Secretary (Susan MacNeal) Mystery set in 1940s London (by contemporary author) which had great promise but should have been much better; marred by anachronism and 21st-century attitudes.
Amy Falls Down (Jincy Willett) Bitingly funny novel about an aging novelist whose stagnant career is revitalized literally by accident, with lots of amusement at the expense of the publishing industry and the popular media.

The Big Read total so far for 2014 = 105
Number to beat for the record = 147

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Because I Can Never Have Too Many Books

Last weekend I saw an ad for a small sale of nature and bird books at a private home, and as it was nearby, I checked it out.  I felt an immediate rapport with the homeowners, an elderly couple who had put the books out on tables on their back patio.  Their back yard and garden were lovely, there were bird feeders about.  They had a lot of books on nature, wildlife, birds, and wood carving – the husband did delightful wood sculpture of birds. 

I bought this, and two others – sadly, a couple of book dealers had been there before me and snatched up a lot of good stuff.  They are the bane of bibliomaniacs everywhere – they will swoop in on library sales, yard sales, and thrift stores and snatch up a good many of the books to re-sell.  They have apps on their smartphones with which they scan the book’s ISBN (International Standard Book Number) which will instantly tell them what it is worth in the used book market. 

But I still managed to get these three nice books, and I had a nice chat with the couple, who had traveled far and wide throughout the U.S., mostly to visit national parks and wildlife refuges.

That same weekend I saw an ad for an old Encyclopedia Britannica set (1961!):  "Free to a good home."  I jumped on it – I mean, why not?  It’s not as if I need a newer encyclopedia set, since I prefer history to contemporary issues.  The person who offered them said he volunteered at a local food bank on Saturdays and could I pick them up there – it was six blocks from my house, so that was easy, and it also turned out that he knew my favorite neighbors who used to volunteer there too.   Great rapport again, and another delightful chat. 

I love getting books in ways like this, from fun people who have similar interests.  And they were all happy to know that their books had found a good home!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fun with Pie

Because I love keeping track of my books and my reading in a database, I have easy access to all kinds of fun information, and can play around with numbers in all sorts of fun ways.  Possibly this is a silly use of my time, but what else am I going to do on a slow Tuesday morning except entertain myself with pie charts?

So I took a look at the books I currently own, and discovered they broke down into 58% fiction, 42% nonfiction.  But that didn't make for a very satisfying pie chart, so I delved deeper into each category and came up with these lovely images:

Fabulous fun!  Look at that -- a solid 50% of the fiction in my home is "juvenile" -- mostly what they call "middle-grade" nowadays, in the 9-11 age bracket or thereabouts.  These are clearly books to cherish and to re-read.  Mystery novels come in at 22%, "general" fiction (you know, Austen and Dickens and the like) are 18%, and fantasy is 10%.  

Here we have my nonfiction books -- and the influence of birding on my bookshelves is such that a good 20% of that 50% nature/birds category is for the birds.  In the "history" category I lumped biographies and autobiographies, along with most of the adventure travel books.  But it's mostly just plain history and comprises 26% of my collection.  Art is 11%, and miscellaneous, at 13%, is a hodgepodge of a few books here and there on myth/folklore, psychology, religion, hard sciences, and sports.

So there you have it -- fun with pie.  Don't you wish you had a database of your books to play with?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mysteries of the Past

The Big Read book #99 finished:  Green Treasury: A Journey through the World's Great Nature Writing edited by Edwin Way Teale (1952), and book #100 (!!!! WOOHOO!!!): Fairs' Point by Melissa Scott (4th in a fantasy series).

Currently Reading:
Hill Country Harvest by Hal Borland, about life on his Connecticut farm
A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh

Having run out of new fiction to read, I decided to revisit a few mystery series that I first read several decades ago and have since mostly forgotten, so they will all seem new again -- or at least, that's the theory.

First up is Ngaio Marsh and her series featuring Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard.  As a firm believer in beginning at the beginning, I'm starting my Mysteries of the Past re-reads with #1 -- A Man Lay Dead, written in 1934.  

Typical of "Golden Age" British crime novels, the setting is an upper-crust country manor, where a house-party murder mystery game goes horribly awry when a real victim turns up.  So far it is fairly dry, standard fare -- lots of talking to the suspects and witnesses, searching out clues, looking for discrepancies and lies.  I think when I first read Marsh, I was in my "classic British crime/puzzle mystery" phase, where the emphasis is on analyzing the clues, with the reader trying to figure out "whodunnit" along with the detective. 

I also plan to revisit Martha Grimes' Richard Jury series (also a police detective) and Nicholas Blake's Nigel Strangeways series (amateur sleuth), both British, and James McClure's police series set in South Africa.  I gave up on the Grimes series when her writing started going downhill, but I hear good things about her more recent entries and am curious about those newer novels.  But my memory of the earlier ones is foggy, so I'll start back at the beginning.

I wish I'd kept all these books -- alas, they got the boot during one of my regular book purges many years ago.  Nowadays I try hard not to dump books I've read -- eventually I will have forgotten them and then hey, hours and hours of re-reading to look forward to!  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Catching Up

Finished yesterday: Book #98: Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr (Richard Rhodes), a short, fun bio of the actress who liked to invent stuff in her spare time.

Big Read Catch-up:  June 2014 Books Read


Audubon Nature Encyclopedia, Volume 11 and the last one of the set, Volume 12

Field Notes on Science and Nature (Michael Canfield, editor)
In which scientists from various disciplines describe their field note methods, with illustrations, in a gorgeously designed book.

Folklore of Birds (Laura Martin)
Just what it says.  Birds.  Folklore.

Frederic Church, Winslow Homer and Thomas Moran (Smithsonian)
Essays on the artists accompany excellent reproductions.

Fringe-ology:  How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable – and Couldn’t (Steve Volk)
One of my rare borrows instead of buy (and glad I did), this was an odd little work wherein the author, a journalist, looks at ghosts, telepathy, clairvoyance, UFOs and so on with an open mind.  He has a few intriguing stories to relate but nothing really new or interesting to say.

Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death (Deborah Blum)
This book on the paranormal, however, was much more interesting (and I’m glad I bought it).  William James and the other people in the book were well-known researchers and scientists in “legitimate” fields of study who were keenly interested in discovering an explanation for odd phenomena, with studies focused on mediums who purported to contact the spirit world – at least one of whom was extremely well tested and documented, raising fascinating questions.  Good stuff.

Glacial Lake Missoula and Its Humongous Floods (David Alt)
Dull, duller, and dullest.


A Guide to the Birds of East Africa (Nicholas Drayson)
Totally charming story of a widower who enters a competition with an old rival to spot the most bird species in a week – with the prize being the right to ask a pretty widow to an annual ball.  Delightful story in every way.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)
Contemporary French novel about a middle-aged concierge who hides her intelligence from the rich apartment dwellers of her building, and the young daughter of one of those families who does the same, told from alternating viewpoints in journal-like form.   Philosophical, often amusing, with engaging characters; marred solely by the far-too-obvious ending (which most readers seem to have found “bittersweet” but which I nearly burst out laughing at).

The Bloody Wood (Michael Innes)
The  Mysterious Commission (Michael Innes)
Classic British mysteries.

Black Orchids (Rex Stout)
Classic American mystery.

Champions of Breakfast (Adam Rex)
Final book in the amusing though overwrought middle-grade fantasy trilogy.

The Provincial Lady in London (E. M. Delafield)
1930s humorous novel told in diary form.

Friday, July 11, 2014

July Reading plus The Big Read Catch-up: May 2014

July: Finished: Book #94: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet (Reif Larsen), a most intriguing illustrated novel about a boy genius and cartography; Book #95: The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan (Christopher Benfey); Book #96: The Crabtree Affair (Michael Innes), another classic British mystery; and Book #97: We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea (Arthur Ransome), a re-read of a favorite British children’s novel.

The Big Read Catch-up:  May 2014 Books Read


Audubon Nature Encyclopedia, Volumes 9 and 10
Golden Treasury of Knowledge, Volume 8

A Desert Country Near the Sea:  A Natural History of the Cape Region of Baja California (Ann Zwinger)
Enchanting descriptions of the plants, wildlife, and landscapes of this area.

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek (Barry Cunliffe)
Interesting, though more about the various European cultures of that time than about Pytheas himself (about whom, it turns out, very little is known).

An Eye for a Bird: The Autobiography of a Bird Photographer (Eric Hosking)
Hosking was a renowned British photographer active from 1930s-1980s whose bird photographs were especially innovative; earlier chapters offer fascinating descriptions of his efforts to get good shots of birds on their nests using blinds and platforms; later chapters descend into a duller litany of places he traveled to around the world.

Natural World (An Eyewitness Book; Steve Parker)
The “Eyewitness” series are oversized picture-laden coffee table books.


Appleby’s End (Michael Innes)
A Night of Errors (Michael Innes)
One Man Show (Michael Innes)
Classic British mysteries.

The Golden Spiders (Rex Stout)
In the Best Families (Rex Stout)
Over My Dead Body (Rex Stout)
Classic American mysteries.

Cold Cereal (Adam Rex)
Unlucky Charms (Adam Rex)

First two books in a middle-grade trilogy about a rift between our world and the realms of fantasy, which was quite funny but had way too many characters and outlandish plot elements.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Reading Rut?

Naturally, we all have particular reading tastes and one can hardly be expected to enjoy all genres or subjects, but sometimes I feel as if I’m in a reading rut.  Ten mystery novels in a row?  Five books on natural history?  Perhaps it is time to branch out, to be more catholic in my reading choices.

I try this every few years by making scouting forays into those sections of the bookstore where I rarely venture .   This year I decided to find just one book from each row of the “general” fiction area at my favorite local independent bookstore, Third Place Books.  It was tough going.  Even though each row contained around 5,000 books, it was a struggle to find one book that I wanted to read. 

One book I found was a sheer delight, though:  A Guide to the Birds of East Africa (yes, it’s a novel) by Nicolas Drayson, so I felt encouraged to persevere.  I found The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery) which was mostly fun, though flawed, and I found The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet (Reif Larsen) which was even more fun (and less flawed).   Still, it took me many hours to sift through those thousands of books to find those few, and though I enjoyed them, when I was finished with them I must admit that all I wanted to do was read another mystery novel.

I’d say that about 80% of my fiction reading is mysteries, and 20% middle-grade children’s novels.  I did read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy from my teens through my early 30s, but have since lost interest in that genre (with rare exceptions).  I also plowed through a lot of “classic” literature in college days – Homer, the Greek playwrights, the Roman satirists, Shakespeare,  Swift, Defoe, Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Eliot (George),Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Mann, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Joyce, Camus,  and so on and so forth and there isn’t a lot left there unread of great interest.

Mysteries, though – I’ve read them since I was a wee lass, starting with Nancy Drew, the Hardy boys, Trixie Belden.  By age 11 or so, I moved up to adult mysteries of the “classic puzzle” type (Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie).  In college I had a penchant for both U.S. and U.K. police procedurals, and after 10 or so years of that, swung to amateur sleuths in mostly non-urban settings with a light touch.  All of the other fiction genres I’ve read have come and gone but mysteries stay the course.   I never grow tired of detectives solving crimes, and of enjoying the ride as they do so. 

Over the decades, I’ve read quite widely, and found what I like, so feeling as if I’m in a reading rut is probably just plain silly.  Perhaps I shouldn’t think of reading endless mystery novels as being stuck in a rut.  Maybe it’s better to think:  A rut is simply a well-worn track, made deep by many journeys because it is the best possible route to take.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Big Read Catch-up: Books Read April 2014


Audubon Nature Encyclopedia, volumes 7 and 8
The Golden Treasury of Knowledge, volumes 3 - 7

The Clockwork Universe (Edward Dolnick)
Science history focused on Isaac Newton et al; started well but dragged on a bit too long.

Crow Planet (Lyanda Lynn Haupt)
Excellent essays on human-nature interaction with an emphasis on birds.

Darwin’s Lost World (Martin Brasier)
Science history focused on fossils and the search for the earliest evidence of life on Earth.

Dawn Light (Diane Ackerman)
Often lyrical essays on nature.


The Daffodil Affair (Michael Innes)
The Weight of the Evidence (Michael Innes)
Classic British mysteries.

The Four Graces (D.E. Stevenson)
Light-hearted tale of four young sisters (British, written in 1946).

Poisoned Pins (Joan Hess)
Contemporary humorous mystery.

The Rescuers (Margery Sharp)
Middle-grade fantasy novel subsequently made into a Disney movie that bears little resemblance to the book; about a trio of mice who set out to rescue a poet (human) from prison.

Wildwood (Colin Meloy)
Middle-grade fantasy about several different communities of magical beings dwelling in a wood bordering Portland, Oregon which only certain people can enter, including the human heroine Pru, who sets out to rescue her young brother.  Promising start marred by weak characterization, lack of internal logic, and overemphasis on action.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

From BuzzFeed: Book Lover Dilemmas

Go check out this humorous post from BuzzFeed:
19 Dilemmas Every Book Lover Has Faced at Least Once

I was able to answer "YES!" to every single one, especially these:

Should I buy this new book, even though I've got literally hundreds at home that I've never read?
Currently there are 129 unread books in my house.  I bought two new ones within the past week.

Should I bring a variety of books on vacation, even though it will add about 30 pounds to my luggage?
Last May I went to Richland (WA) for four days.  I packed four books.  Two of them because I was already halfway through them, and was pretty sure I'd finish while I was there, and the other two to replace those first two.  I also bought a book while I was there, just in case.

 Should I buy a cool old edition of this book, even though I already have a copy at home?
Well...I don't do this too terribly often, though I do have 3 editions of Verne's Mysterious Island, which is an all-time favorite, because of varying translations and/or different illustrations.  And I also own my ten favorite Swallows and Amazons series books (Arthur Ransome) in both U.S. edition paperbacks and U.K. edition hardbacks.  Because, you know, the British hardbacks are cooler.

Should I stay at home and read, even though I was invited to this party?
Duh.  And sometimes I have a strong desire to bring a book to the party.  I hear this is frowned upon, but my friends are often busy looking at their smartphones or tablets at parties, so how is that different?

They left one out though (see my earlier post):  Should I label my book collection using the Dewey Decimal or the Library of Congress system? 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Big Read Catch-up: Books Read March 2014


2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said (Robert Byrne, editor)
A bathroom book.

Audubon Nature Encyclopedia, volumes 5 and 6

Golden Treasury of Knowledge, volumes 1 and 2
A bit of padding here – this was a 1960s “junior” encyclopedia-type series that I loved as a kid, and I wanted to revisit them.  Not exactly challenging reading, but fun.

The Book of Great Jungles (Ivan Sanderson)
Written in the 1960s, full of fun information and adventurous travels.

British Columbia: A Natural History (Richard and Sydney Cannings)
A somewhat dull read but with lovely photos.

Burne-Jones (Christopher Wood)
Biography of the British painter Edward Burne-Jones, allied to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (19th century); gorgeous reproductions.

A Clearing in the Distance (Witold Rybczynski)
A very engaging biography of Frederick Law Olmstead, a founder of American landscape architecture.

Wordbirds (Liesl Schillinger)
Not sure how to describe this – short, fun little book of made-up words that ought to really exist, accompanied by fabulous illustrations that happen to feature birds.  Delightful.


A Comedy of Terrors (Michael Innes)
The Secret Vanguard (Michael Innes)
Classic British mysteries.

A Conventional Corpse (Joan Hess)
Damsels in Distress (Joan Hess)
A Holly Jolly Murder (Joan Hess)
Out on a Limb (Joan Hess)
Contemporary humorous mysteries.

The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid (J. Michael Orenduff)
I like this mystery series – set in Albuquerque and starring a slightly disreputable fellow called Hubie who sells Native American pottery and somehow manages to get into the most difficult scrapes, which he gets out of again in smart, often funny fashion.   The series should be read in order.

A Snicker of Magic (Natalie Lloyd)

Middle-grade novel about a wandering family returning home to a very odd little town where magic once worked wonders but is now gone – or is it?  Quirky and endearing characters.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Comment function should be fixed now

The commenting function was set to "registered users only", which was causing problems, so I changed it to "anybody/anonymous" posting allowed and that should make things easier.  You should be able to select "anonymous" if you want without having to log in anywhere.

Finished:  Book #92 on the year, The Long Farewell, another classic British mystery by Michael Innes, and Book #93, The Great Northwest: The Story of a Land and Its People (no author listed, just "by the editors of American West"), published in the early 1970s; the chapters on the landscape and the early history of the area were more interesting (at least to me) than the later ones on 20th-century history.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Dewey Devastation

By the time I was in my teens, I owned 700 books.   They no longer fit in my bedroom, so my father built me a “library” in the basement, a little alcove whose walls were built out of tall bookcases run together.  I had a recliner, lamp, rug, and a gate across the opening to keep the siblings at bay.  It was definitely my primary “happy place.”

Our public library used the marvelous Dewey Decimal classification system, which I had admired for many years, but it wasn’t until all of my books were gathered together on real bookcases in my own “library” that I hit upon the happy plan of cataloging them.   Soon I had committed major portions of my beloved Dewey Decimal System to heart, and the next thing you know, I was busy creating book spine labels with the proper number for each of my own books.  My little library was a thing of beauty.

But then I graduated high school and went off to college – where naturally one of the first things I did was to visit its library with the intention of seeing what they had in my favorite sections (900 -  history!  500 – natural sciences!).  I had a great shock when I saw letters on the spines, followed by numbers – what on earth was this “BL2033” and “PR9986”?????!???  Whatever it was, it wasn’t the divine Dewey!  Why, I couldn’t find anything!  The horror!

I soon discovered that every university library used the Library of Congress cataloging system.  I was devastated.  I had to learn where things were all over again, and my personal library suddenly seemed quaintly out of date.    Over the ensuing years, as I got rid of old books and acquired new ones, the labels no longer got made, and now the only books on my shelves with Dewey Decimal labels are the ones I bought at library books sales.   Sigh. 

My bird-related bookshelf (click on photos for bigger views)

Now I keep track of the books I own in a database, listing title, author, subject, and date read.  Once in a while a nostalgic temptation steals over me – couldn’t I add a field for the Dewey Decimal number?  Wouldn’t that be keen?   Then again, maybe what’s gone is gone.  But it was certainly fun while it lasted.

One of my Natural History bookcases -- there are two

I do still keep my books arranged by subject matter, though not as strictly as Dewey would have liked. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Big Read Catch-up Report: February books

Truman Looks On

Books Read in February 2014


Audubon Nature Encyclopedia, volume 4
This was a "Nightstand Put Myself to Sleep" book -- I actually enjoyed this encyclopedia set quite a lot, but it was a bit dated and some sections could be rather dull.

Bird-watcher's Bible (John Alderfer, editor)

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings (Caspar Henderson)
This was a disappointment -- he purportedly writes about unusual (and real) creatures in the style of a medieval bestiary, and I was hoping for lots of natural history, but instead he mostly went on uninteresting, personal philosophical rambles.

I'll Take You There (Greg Kott)
A fascinating and well-written biography of Mavis Staples and the Staples family singers who came to prominence in the 1960s, intermixed with some Civil Rights movement history (though the focus is strongly on the music).

The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations (Ned Sherrin, editor)
A bathroom book.

Winslow Homer (Kate Jennings)
A coffee table book -- slim, basic biography of the artist with lots of good reproductions of the paintings.


Busy Bodies (Joan Hess)
Closely Akin to Murder (Joan Hess)
Tickled to Death (Joan Hess)
All are contemporary, humorous mysteries featuring a bookstore owner as the amateur sleuth. Part of a series.

Catalogue of Death (Jo Dereske)
The sleuth is a librarian in a fictional town based on Bellingham, WA, where I spent 10 happy years. It was okay, but the librarian was far too prim and prissy for my tastes.

Whose Body? (Dorothy Sayers)
The first in the famed Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, considered classics in the genre. Never read any, tried this one, and while faintly entertaining, I did not see the overall appeal. Will not be reading any more Sayers.

Cranford (Mrs. Gaskell)
19th-century classic novel about quiet goings-on in an English village. Mildly entertaining.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (Sheila Turnage)
Middle-grade novel, sequel to Three Times Lucky, about Mo LeBeau and her often-comic efforts to solve some tricky mysteries with the help of some truly eccentric and charming friends.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Part 1: The Big Read; Part 2: Reading Habits

Part 1:  Catch-up Report on The Big Read project

Finished yesterday:  book #90 for the year, The Provincial Lady in London (E.M. Delafield), a humorous novel in diary form, from the 1930s;  and book #91, Glacial Lake Missoula and Its Humongous Floods (David Alt), a very dry and dull account -- read Bretz's Flood by John Soennischen instead if you want to know about this fascinating topic.

Catching Up Report:  Books read in the 2nd half of January 2014


Audubon Nature Encyclopedia, volume 3 (a set from the 1960s aimed at families)
Birds Across the Sky (Florence Page Jaques) 
Florence and her artist husband Francis traveled in many northern U.S. and lower Canadian wilderness areas in the 1930s - 50s and wrote/illustrated a number of delightful books focused on keen observations of nature.
Birds Do It, Too! (Kit & George Harrison) -- sex lives of birds, unfortunately marred by "cutesy" humor

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Alan Bradley) -- mystery set in 1950s Britain featuring 11-going-on-12-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce, who is akin to a budding Sherlock Holmes -- this series should be read in order, starting with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Hamlet, Revenge! (Michael Innes) -- mystery, classic British puzzle-style mystery set in aristocratic home
Three Times Lucky (Sheila Turnage) -- middle-grade novel with a distinctive Southern U.S. flavor, about orphan Mo LeBeau and her search for answers to many mysteries; humorous, with eccentric characters, very well told
Triple Witch (Sarah Graves) -- mystery set in contemporary Maine -- I've given up on this series now

Part 2:  Reading Habits

I am incapable of reading one book at a time.  I've tried, honest I have, but with a few rare exceptions for page-turning, gripping novels, I just can't do it.  There are different reading moods and locations that require different books, and I also like variety -- or maybe it's a lack of ability to stay, I rather prefer the "loves variety" reason!

So I typically have going, at the same time:

The Bus Book -- something light to read during my work commute, often a mystery novel or other fiction
The Lunch Hour Book -- usually nonfiction for a more uninterrupted span of time
The Evening Books -- often I switch back and forth between the Bus Book and the Lunch Hour Book while a baseball game is on TV.  I grew up with television and like having it on, but as background, something I don't need to pay great attention to, and sports in general are perfect for this, baseball being the best.  I can read, and only need to look up when I hear the crack of the bat.  
The Nightstand Book -- This is intended to be read until I grow drowsy enough to fall asleep, so is always something very dull or a re-read of an old favorite so that it doesn't matter if I nod off and forget what I just read.

Out of a vague sense of propriety, I shall refrain from discussing The Bathroom Book.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Big Read

Being the sort of person who loves to keep track of things, about ten years ago I started to log all the books I read in a database.  I even tried to reconstruct the books I'd read prior to that, going back some 40 years. I'm pretty sure I missed a few.

Anyway, birders, as I'm sure you know, sometimes do a crazy thing called a Big Year -- they try to see as many species as possible in one calendar year -- North American birds, or sometimes a statewide big year.  Since I'll never do anything that nuts, I've decided to go for a Big Read instead.

You see, I recently printed out my "books read" lists by year, and noticed that my record so far was in 2011, when I read 147 books.  And I also noticed that so far this year, at the halfway point, I've read 88.  I could break my record this year!

So I shall log my progress here.  I'll list the books read so far, though not all at once -- just a few in each post.  I shall aim to read at least 150 books this year -- and a good mix of fiction and non-fiction.  I'm slightly handicapped, I believe, by the fact that 2011 was padded somewhat by 25 or so re-reads of old Enid Blyton children's books, which take maybe an hour or two to read at the most.  I have read a few children's books this year, but nowhere near that many.  So I shall have to work hard to break that record!

Books Read in the first half of January this year:

Dog Sense (John Bradshaw) -- on dog behavior/training
The Birder's Companion (Stephen Moss)  -- tidbits on birds and birding
A Walk Through Britain (John Hillaby) -- travelogue written in the 1950s

Death at the President's Lodging (Michael Innes) - classic British mystery
Death by the Light of the Moon (Joan Hess) - contemporary American cozy mystery
The Little Broomstick (Mary Stewart) - children's fantasy

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Testing: I may revive this blog...stay tuned....

Currently Reading

Black Orchids (Rex Stout)
Classic mystery (actually, two novellas in one book) featuring Nero Wolfe, grower of orchids, gourmand, and solver of most puzzling crimes.

Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death (Deborah Blum).  From the back cover:  "At the close of the 19th century...a small group of scientists launched a determined investigation into 'unexplainable' incidences of clairvoyance and ghostly visitations.  Led by William James, the renowned philosopher...they staked their reputations...on one of the most extraordinary psychological quests ever undertaken...."

Photo for Today

Common Yellowthroat