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 focused...no, 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.