Bookish DIY from Book Riot

photo of book tote with a chalkboard paint square to write on

A tote bag with a chalkboard paint insert means you’ll never forget when your library books are due.

Over at Book Riot, one of my favorite sites of literary mayhem, they have a roundup of crafty projects to help you carry your library booty home with you. The chalkboard tote is the winner for me. How about you?

Bookish DIY: Book Totes for Kids (Book Riot)

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To Read Or Not To Read? (What A Ridiculous Question!)

Lynette tries to answer the eternal question: Why is reading so beautiful? I found myself nodding right along with her conclusions. Maybe you will, too.

Lynette Noni

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I have a confession to make: I read a lot. As in, heaps. It’s what I do. Some people watch movies, some go out with friends, some spend time with their families, some play sports… And sure, I do all of that, but when I really want to space-out on life for a while, what I truly love most is sinking into a book.

Reading allows me to journey to other worlds. And in those worlds I can wield swords, wave wands, fall in love with vampires, sail across the universe, travel to the past and to the future… I can do anything. I’m only limited by the confines of the story – and even then, my own imagination can fill in any gaps if needed.

So, why is reading so beautiful?

Well, I’m sure there are a number of reasons, but one that I believe to be fairly significant is the fact that

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Reading Shakespeare with a little help from my friends

Sonnets-Titelblatt 1609

Sonnets-Titelblatt 1609 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am three reviews behind on books I’ve read. I’ve got another book that I am trying to wrap up before it’s due back at the library later this week (only 300-some pages to go!). I have a freelance editing project that needs to be done sometime this month. So of course I’m not going to do any of those things right now. No, right now I’m going to tell you a bit instead about one of the most fun books-related things I’ve ever done: participating in a tutored read of Shakespeare’s The Sonnets.

A tutored read is an invention of the smart folks in the 75-Book Challenge over at LibraryThing, my favorite place to catalog my books, track my reading and talk to other folks who love books and reading as much as I do. The idea was born last year when one of the group members proclaimed she had never read a Jane Austen novel, never intended to, and couldn’t stand reading books written in the 19th century in general.

Well! It didn’t take long for someone else, who has a deep love and appreciation for 19th century literature, to offer to provide moral and logistical support for a read of Austen’s Emma. The details were worked out as they went along, but it generally consists of the tutee reading a chapter (or however much of the book as they like) and then posting all of the questions that occurred to them as they read. The questions might relate to plot points, unfamiliar or archaic vocabulary, or the social/cultural context of the book’s time period. Other group members are welcome to follow along and occasionally chime in with a comment here and there, but the primary posting is done by the tutee and the tutor, at a pace that works for the tutee.

That first tutored read of Emma turned out to be such a hit that it was decided to make this a feature of the 75-Book Challenge group. A combination of wiki and group threads helps match folks with expertise in particular areas (time periods, or authors, or genres) with prospective tutees. I knew that I wanted to participate in some way, and finally hit on the idea of asking for help reading Shakespeare’s sonnets, which I’ve had a copy of for years and never cracked open. It wasn’t long before another group member offered to be my tutor, and we were off!

The sonnets seem to be a particularly good choice for a tutored read. They are pre-segmented pieces of writing, so we’ve hit on the pattern of posting and commenting on one sonnet more or less every day. They are in the public domain and short, so I can post the entire sonnet at the beginning of my post each day, followed by my thoughts about what I think the sonnet might mean, or asking any questions about imagery, vocabulary, or (especially!) what my tutor calls “pretzeled syntax,” a particular favorite of Mr. Shakespeare. I never took any poetry appreciation courses in high school or college, and I’ve always felt intimidated by trying to read serious poetry, so the support has been great in helping to grow my confidence and really appreciate the text.

I don’t think the tutor and tutee have to have similar senses of humor, but in my case one of the most appealing things about my sonnet reading is the rapport I’ve developed with Cynara, the tutor who has made me laugh and say “Ah-ha!” in nearly equal measure. Our thread has gotten downright silly at times, and it’s all helped to make the sonnets seem very accessible and fun instead of boring and impenetrable.

If you’d like to take a peek at what I’ve been up to, you can follow along with the first thread (which covers Sonnets 1-24) over on LibraryThing. You don’t have to sign up for anything in order to read the posts, but if you like what you see and would like to comment, signing up is as easy as choosing a screen name and a password (offering up your email is optional, so you can be just as anonymous as you want to be). If you stop by, please let me know you’re there, so I can say ‘hi’!

I’ve become a mooch — BookMooch, that is

A couple of months ago, I joined BookMooch, a Web site whose motto is “Give books away. Get books you want.” Members of the free service list their unwanted books for others to “mooch” for free. Mailing out claimed books from your inventory earns you points that you can use to “mooch” free books from other users. The only costs are for postage.

BookMooch logoAt the time I joined BookMooch, my intention was to pare down my library of approximately 1,200 books. (When I moved/downsized into my current 1-bedroom apartment in 2002, I had to choose whether to get rid of the books or the bed. Now my “bedroom” walls are lined with 7 bookcases and I sleep on the (very comfy) couch.) I have happily sent off 19 books to mooching readers all over the world (Germany, England, Scotland, Finland, Australia, Korea) and the U.S.

Unfortunately, all those BookMooch points were burning a hole in my Web browser, and I have mooched back 16 books (you can see a mosaic of covers of my recent Mooches over there on the left). To say that this defeats my original purpose is to belabor the obvious, so let’s just agree between ourselves never to mention it, OK? Thanks!

On the plus side, all those new books (new to me, that is) give me a fresh source for material for this here web log. So if you’re looking for ideas for what to read next, stay tuned for some fresh looks at books. See? I’m doing it for you! First up: Firehouse by David Halberstam.

New hope for library delinquents like me

I have this … problem. I don’t always (OK, hardly ever) remember to return my library books on time, even though I have always finished reading them. This is one of those weird brain-freeze things, where the books will be sitting in a tote bag right next to the front door, and I will walk right past it on my way out. I can’t explain it, though the same thing used to happen with rented movies back when I still rented movies. And those babies cost serious money to return late.

For years I chalked up the inevitable library fines to “charitable donation.” I figured it was just my way of supporting the public library, which heaven knows can use all the help it can get. Now that I am a struggling student without a lot of (OK, any) extra cash, it’s no longer quite so cute. As a result, I was blocked from using my local library for most of the early part of this year, thanks to a whopping $11 in library fines I had racked up over the months (once you get to $2 in fines, you can’t check out any more books). Again, I’m not proud of this particular mental deficiency, but it is what it is.

About a month ago, I found out that the West Branch Public Library has a great policy: you can pay your library fines with donations to the local food pantry. In this case, 1 item = $1 fine. Now this is more like it — I have any number of perfectly serviceable food items hanging around that I could part with more easily than cash. So I rounded up 6 cans of potato-cheddar soup (I had bought a case at one of those bulk-buy stores), 2 boxes of lasagna noodles, 1 box of Rice-a-Roni, 1 can of baked beans, and 1 boxed lemon-poppy quick bread mix, and bought my way out of library jail.

Then I strolled over to the shelves, picked out 6 books from my “To Read” list, and went home …

The Obsessive Reader

That would be me, of course. After all, it’s only been 10 days since my literary dinner with Janet, and I’ve already posted 4 reviews of those books (and actually, I have 2 more finished but not posted). You might think I’ve been spending all my waking life reading, though it’s not true. I still manage to work full-time (well, 7 hours a day) between chapters. But I have been reading pretty much all the rest of the time — it’s one of the advantages of living alone, I suppose. I read on the bus to and from work (20 minute trips each way), I read during dinner, I read after dinner and before bedtime.

I’ve been like this as long as I can remember. I don’t seem to be capable of letting a book sit once I’ve started it. There’s almost nothing I would rather do than read, it’s as simple as that. Of course, there are a few things: I enjoy spending time with friends (though it happens fairly infrequently as they all are busy with their own lives), I love listening to music (and often have music on in the background while I’m reading, and always in the car), and I do watch some TV (though the Cubs’ season does not encourage prolonged exposure, and the only “appointment viewing” I have is House, currently in reruns). And I am still a regular volunteer with IRRIS (the Iowa Radio Reading Information Service) and RVAP (Rape Victim Advocacy Program).

Reading over that last paragraph, it sounds a bit sad and desperate, doesn’t it? Perhaps I am feeling a bit guilty about spending so much time lost in books. And I believe I do have a nagging feeling that there are experiences I am missing out on by choosing to allot my free time so narrowly. But unlike in my previous journalist’s life, before I returned to college, these reading binges have a limited duration. During the semester the only reading I do is what’s assigned for classes (which is not to say that it’s not interesting, engaging and enjoyable, but only that it’s not “for fun”). So I guess I will try to stop feeling so guilty about being a book addict, and enjoy the sensation all the more for knowing it’s only a temporary reprieve.

Thanks, Janet!

I had dinner with Janet last Wednesday at Saigon To Bangkok, a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant that has the hands-down best fried rice I have ever tasted — never greasy and with a fantastic hint of spiciness that raises it from “better than nothing” to “better than anything”. But I digress …

We compared our current reading lists, and I lamented that I have fallen behind this summer. Usually, summers and semester breaks are the times into which I cram as much “just for fun” reading as I can, but due to a little overdue fines issue I have not been able to avail myself of the public library lately. (This, however, is due to change, because I have discovered that the West Branch Public Library accepts canned or nonperishable food items for the food pantry in exchange for fines. It’s 1 food item = $1 in fines, which means I am just 4 jars of salsa, 4 cans of potato cheddar soup and a box of mac&cheese away from having a clean slate.)

Anyway, Janet invited me back to her house to peruse her bookshelves in search of reading material. This is roughly analogous to waving a crack pipe in front of an addict, frankly, but like the junkie I have no shame. I came away with a grocery sack full of books, which I will be writing mini-reviews on as I work my way through the bag. Stay tuned …