One person’s trash, is another person’s gold

The title of this post came to me as I was thinking about the day’s outing, to one of my local secondhand shops. I love second hand shopping – no other type of shopping gets me going quite as much, even book shopping (new books, that is). The main reason for this preference is the element of hunting in thrifting; it’s all about finding hidden treasures in a sea of otherwise useless stuff, whether they be clothes, books, furniture, or porcelain. The object itself is irrelevant, the value of the object is irrelevant (unless you’re part of the antique’s road show). What is important is what you value, the ‘market’ value of a thing is no longer as valid in a second hand shop because the shop’s staff usually don’t care or maybe they don’t know – so the price is not a reflection of the original price. You’re then free to make your own judgement, based on your own tastes and demands. I mean, long story short thrifting is a treasure hunt and there’s loads of things every person in the shop will think of as trash – but you might think of as a gem, a little speck of gold.

I am not much of a shopping person because the whole experience stresses me out; all of the people, the music, the people talking on the phone, the weight of a bag which straps are sliding off the shoulder, sweating in a changing room, endless lines for the cash register, all the while not finding what you’re looking for but always finding stuff you don’t need. I guess second hand shops aren’t necessarily different, it depends on where you’re at but generally speaking people don’t seem as much in a hurry there, there’s no insipid music stimulating spontaneous purchases, and I guess even if everyone is noisy and in the way and the lines are awful – it’s worth it because you just saved money. And possibly supporting charities. And at the same time you’re recycling. Win, win, win.

Is this just a long love letter to thrifting and second hand shops? Yes, probably. I love finding books that have clearly come from someone’s basement, showcasing 70s editions that have probably never been read before, or books that have been given/received as gifts – also probably never been read. Or what about those books that have annotations in them? Aren’t they the best? Books that smell like they’re a decade old, because they are. Books that have broken-in spines. Books that have yellowed pages. Books that have been through war times. Books that have come from other countries, other continents, to this small town in Sweden. It’s magic, in my mind. The idea of someone’s trash being someone’s gold is the idea that for some; the books I bought today are probably trash or at the very least useless things, never been read, never been loved, gifted and forgotten, hidden and aged. For some, a book with a broken spine is a book that has only one destination left to go and it’s not in a reader’s library. For some, writing in books is absolutely a no-no, dog-eared pages induce (internal) screaming. But nonetheless, to me these things are part of the charm.

I love old books. I love new books. I love to read a book for its first time, I love to read a book for its tenth or hundredth time (if it has succeeded in staying in tact for that many readings!). All of the various states and shapes books come in, and the magical ways they find their way to me; is just another reason why I am so happy to be a reader.

I hope you’re having a wonderful day!

Natalie

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Buying vs. Collecting Books

Over the last couple of years I’ve kept tabs on all my book acquiring in a personal spreadsheet, initially only logging title of the book, source I got the book from, and which condition I got the book in (the reasoning behind the last being that I wanted to buy more of my books secondhand, and also to separate secondhand from vintage books). Over the years I’ve added more and more categories to track my book purchasing as well as the books I’ve been gifted. But what I wanted to talk about today wasn’t just the acquiring of books, and in particular the books you get for yourself (whether they be free or bought with cash). One thing that has become increasingly clear to me over the last few years is that I am or strive to be a book collector.

With this slightly fancier way of saying purchaser-of-books, I suppose what I really mean is someone who cares not just for the story within the pages – and buys the book to get access to the story – but the book as a physical object. I care about the selection of books I buy, and keep. I want my library not to be just a whole mess of a thing with anything and everything stuck in there; I want my collection of books and really my personal library to show a vision, a cohesive spirit, a purposefulness that shows one personality coming together through individual book spines.

Because of this, lately I have been thinking through all of my additions to my shelves more thoroughly; do they fit here? Can they possibly have a permanent home on my limited shelfspace? Of course, I don’t expect the books I think are worthy of display now will always be the same books, just like I expect some things about my taste, lifestyle, and reading life will change as I change through the years. That’s good, a library should be organic and have a natural flow in and out. But there’s a difference between culling and adding with a purpose and selectiveness, to grabbing every free (or cheap) book that comes my way and keeping every single book I’ve read (even the ones I’ve felt nothing about or hated). For some people, this is the way to go. For me, it’s not.

As I’ve started thinking in the way of a book collector, I have started to look for more specific books and spending the extra money to get those to me – instead of say, buying four easily discarded paperbacks. I bought two A. A. Milne books both in vintage editions (one dated to the 1920s, the other I think from the 1930s) because he has become a favorite author but his books are mostly not in print anymore. I just recently bought a nonfiction tome about Christmas – it’s a lifelong fascination and love of mine, and I am determined to start building a collection of Christmas (history) themed books. All year I’ve been slowly but steadily collecting natural history books, which has become a new-found passion. It’s these things, the odd little interests and what makes me tick, that I have started to allow guide my collecting habits.

That’s not to say all reading or collecting should necessarily be restricted or and planned. I enjoy the spontaneous and serendipitous browsing of books, discovering hidden gems, picking up something I have never heard of and taking a chance on something. I still do this in the way of collecting, but even more so in my visits to the library. Which is sort of the next big part of the change in my acquiring of books; I get more books from the library, I often request books for the library to get too which means even a new release isn’t necessarily off limits. It’s been a freeing experience of getting more of the wild-cards from the library, and focusing my money more on the books I want to physically own and think will be part of a long-term collection.

I still like a messy, slightly asymmetrical, varied sort of personal library. I don’t organize much in my shelves, I don’t buy books in the same line or brand just for the sake of having completely sleek shelves – I don’t even like the idea of having the same height on all my spines, I like them wonky. I like that some of my books have yellowed pages, annotations, and even at times little hidden items like receipts or tickets in them. I like that other books stand with spines not-yet-cracked, white pages, the smell of print or paper fabrics not having been hidden behind layers of dust yet. In some ways, I think it is this mismatch of things; genres, authors, topics, time periods, conditions, size, etc. – that best reflects the many varied sides of me as a reader and as a person.

Do you buy books thinking about its place in your personal library? Do you collect books at all or do you prefer to have a more casual relationship with the books you encounter? I’d love to hear all about it. As you can tell, it’s something I’ve spent some time thinking about.

I hope you have a wonderful day,

Natalie

#Victober Round 1

It’s the start of October. The air has turned crisper, leaves are changing in color or else dropping down on the muddy ground, and the days are getting increasingly shorter. What says October and autumn more than moors and storms? Yes, that’s right – it’s time to reach for those Victorian stories of large mansions, courtship, rapid societal changes, parties and life on the moors. Hosted by four ladies on Booktube (Ange, Kate, Katie, and Lucy), October is #Victober time. Victober is a month long reading challenge in which you read Victorian literature during the month of October. Truthfully, Victorian literature isn’t something I normally read much of, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

I made a whole TBR (to-be-read) video talking about the four books I wanted to read for the challenge, two of them actual Victorian books and two contemporary works of nonfiction about the Victorian period. But today I wanted to talk about two of them specifically, which I am currently reading.

Anne_Brontë_by_Patrick_Branwell_Brontë_restoredFirst up in my Victorian fiction is Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë, published in 1846. In many ways Anne seems to have been the forgotten sister – what with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights gaining a popularity that does not seem to be comparable to neither Agnes Grey nor her other novel, The tenant of Wildfell Hall. Although she seems to have been slightly overlooked because of her sisters, Anne Brotnë of course was an accomplished writer in her own right – after all, she is still being read and studied more than 150 years later. So what is Agnes Grey all about?

Agnes Grey follows the slightly naive and pure of heart Agnes, who after their family faces some economical problems decides to start working as a governess to help support her family financially as well as gain some form of independence. It was not a good idea. Although it’s easy enough to understand her motives for getting out of her family house to try her own wings, leave the nest, see what she can do and all that – it doesn’t quite go the way she had anticipated. The first family she workAgnes_Greys for have horrendous children, one worse than the other. Their parents are impossible, according to Agnes – demanding her have full control of the children without using force (basically any violence in making them do things) nor is she allowed to really deprive them of anything (as threats, to make them do things against their will). That is really unfair, thinks Agnes. Well, it goes to hell with her first job and the family finally decides she has done no progress with their kids and lets her go. Disappointed with her failure, Agnes decides to try again – to be able to hold her head up, and to save her pride. She finally gets a new position, which in truth isn’t that different from the first except the children are older, they end up being fewer (the sons of the house are sent off to school soon after her addition there), and while no one in this house is exactly pleasant to her or understanding in any meaningful way, they are also not as hostile as the previous family were.

That’s about as far as I have gotten into the book, so I can’t say where Agnes finally ends up. One thing that becomes obvious early on as a modern reader is that the discipline of children is seen, through Agnes, to be requiring violence, threat of violence, or threat of deprivation of some sort. The parents themselves use these methods when they have to, mostly it is expressed through our heroine since she is the one given responsibility for the children and the control of them. The idea of discipline and guidance to children through these means is also reflected in the way the characters behave towards animals, only worse. While this way of gaining authority over individuals is less obvious in childcare of the 21st century, you can definitely see remnants of it in the care for dogs and other animals still. Is it just me who sees childcare as a big part of the 19th century illu_217.jpgnovels? A book I read just a few weeks ago, The Scarlet Letter, similarly had interesting constructions of childhood, childcare, and especially in relation to a ‘broken’ home/marriage; the consequences an unstable home situation has on a child. While The Scarlet Letter more indirectly deals with childcare and childhood – in the way the character, Pearl, is written; Agnes Grey clearly focuses on children, childhood, the disciplining and schooling of them as well as the ideal familial situation.Who knows what the remaining 150 pages will bring, but I don’t expect I will feel much fondness for any of the characters under 18 years old. Actually under twenty. Or any of the characters quite possibly, since I’m not sold on either Agnes herself as some pure and well bred Christian girl who only does what’s right, or the parents of the children who can’t be bothered to fix any of the less than charming characteristics in their children but still expect them to excel in society.

29467289The other book I am currently reading is the first of my nonfiction titles about the Victorian era. It’s none other than Therese O’Neill’s Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manner. So far it has been most strongly focused on body related issues. Of all kinds truly, everything from toilets (and more!), how to hide your wrinkles or fix your saggy breast, body image, clothing of the body, etc. I suppose one of the common threads through this book is the horrifying things people did to look ‘beautiful’ or passable in the era, or the horrifyingly dirty reality of the Victorian era, and don’t get me started on the lack of understanding and knowledge of some of the common poisons of the time (and their long-term effects) either. Lead on the face, no problem. Cocaine for weight loss, sure. Actually I’m not going to go into details, it’s a bit stomach turning to read but if you’re interested – pick up the book!

This would probably be a much harder to book to read if O’Neill weren’t such a humorous writer. It’s clear she is here to entertain first and foremost, while at the same time being helpful in guiding you through some of the more significant (dirty) sides of the era. Educational and funny, who thought it could be possible? Of course it’s not the only book of its kind, but it’s one of the fewer in my experience that doesn’t lose out on its educational content for the sake of jokes. You’ll never read a Victorian novel the same way again, trust me. It’s already shaping my reading of Agnes Grey. Being almost halfway into Unmentionable I’ll say that while her humorous writing style can sometimes be a touch on the too-much, and I am never not cringing or wincing when I read this book, because of horrendous Victorian practices and habits, it’s also been a delight and enlightening in more ways than I thought I would ever need or want.


That’s all for round 1 of my #Victober reading.

Are you participating in Victober 2017? What are you reading? Do you have some favorite Victorian novels or nonfiction books about the Victorian era? Or do you perhaps have a favorite historical fiction book set in the Victorian period with a modern take? I’d love to hear all about it.

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Natalie

When the Stars Align • Connections Between Books

A little while ago I made a post talking about some of the books I hoped to get to during the summer months. A few weeks I think has passed since then, and I have noticed something funny in that list. It’s not something I had consciously thought of, making the list, but there are connections between the books I had added on the list. What sort of connections? you might ask. It’s not that the books are in the same genre, written by the same author, published in the same year, nothing that obvious; otherwise it wouldn’t have taken me such a long time to realize it was there at all. Instead there are red threads bounding the books, parallels, a network of ideas and voices.

To go from the abstract to the concrete, let’s take the Tove Jansson biography (Tove Jansson: Work and Love by Tuula Karjalainen) to start. The book that connects to her on the summer TBR list is Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. Now, the fact that Lewis Carroll was one of the influences for Jansson’s work was something I just recently found out, although I can definitely understand it having heard about it. The nonsense approach of Carroll I think would appeal to the creator of Moomins were the finesse of many other children’s stories is completely lacking, one of the charms I think of the stories and their characters. The connection is stronger however in that Tove Jansson actually illustrated two of Carroll’s books; one of them is Alice in Wonderland, which I knew about, but the other is none other than The Hunting of the Snark. I had never actually heard of this particular Carroll book before reading The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddharta Mukherjee so I don’t feel it’s one of his more known works, rather Alice and some of the poetry seems to be what people usually think of when they hear the name Lewis Carroll. But there you go – a completely unintentional connection in the same list.

I don’t normally do TBRs so the example above is unusual in that respect. But the feeling of reading a book that connects to another book you’ve just read, or even speaking of a topic you’ve just learned about, is such an all-stars-align moment and I find it is one of my favorite moments as a reader. It feels like I’m spinning my own spider web, further and further, connecting dots, and it’s somehow an enriching experience. Sometimes it’s not as unintentional or surprising as that, I have come to actively follow such paths or listen to the whispers of hidden trails more recently. Recently I read a book called Not that it matters by Alan Alexander Milne; it’s a collection of articles or as he himself puts it – essays – published between 1910 and 1912. In one of the essays he writes about a book he goes to lengths to recommend to everyone he can, it just happens to be The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. He talks of this book fondly, and with much praise. Again, this is one of the books on my summer TBR list – and while there’s an obvious connection between E. H. Shepard and A. A. Milne I had no idea there was a connection between A. A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame when I put the book on the summer list. E. H. Shepard who is well known for his Winnie the Pooh illustrations also did the illustrations for one of the most beloved editions of The Wind in the Willows. The edition of The Wind in the Willows illustrated by E. H. Shepard apparently came out in 1931 for the first time.

In other words, the essay in which Milne praises the book was published long before the Shepard edition came out. So, what can be concluded from this? Obviously it’s all guesswork here, but in my mind there seems to be a possibility that Milne talked fondly of The Wind in the Willows to his companion of the Pooh stories, Shepard, whom he would’ve worked with closely only a few years before 1931. Maybe Shepard already knew of the book, maybe his interest was peaked through Milne. Either way, there’s a connection there whether it was as clear and causal as my guess or not. One could probably find out about such information through a search on the internet, but isn’t this way more fun? To see sudden connected dots and guess the rest, fill in the blanks with theories.

It’s the little things that makes life fun after all, and when the stars align – whether they do of their own accord or by my intervention – I am just so happy to be a reader.

Natural History | Three is a magic number

Since I’ve gotten more into nonfiction over the last few weeks (or months) and have been reading a few interesting natural history nonfiction books in particular, I wanted to recommend a few specific titles that I think would appeal to a few different kinds of readers.


For the reader who is looking first and foremost to be entertained:
Rats by Robert Sullivan

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This book is sort of a mishmash of natural history, history of New York City and urban life in the modern world. Robert Sullivan spends a year observing one alley in NYC, in particular studying the alley’s rat population. He talks with rat experts of all kinds from pet control/exterminators to researchers to people working in restaurants and landlords, trying to capture this smart and ever present species in about 270 pages. It’s written in a chatty style, kind of like an essay collection by a comedian or internet celeb. Therefor I think it would appeal to people who aren’t necessarily reading a lot of nonfiction, or haven’t done so in the past; Sullivan definitely makes an effort to entertain – while also giving the reader something to nibble on (yes, I used nibble on purpose!).


For the reader who is into history/science but less familiar with natural history:
Rainbow Dust by Peter Marren

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Rainbow Dust is just one of many books on butterflies, but while it certainly classifies as a natural history it is also very much a history of scientific research, the connection between butterfly collecting and science, the study of evolution, and the many men and women who have done work within the entomological field. Marren spends a great deal of time going back to yesteryear, talking of both collecting and illustrating of butterflies, of their place in history, and of the remnants left through time. Especially because the collecting of butterflies is a practice linked with its time (and is no longer as common as it once was), large parts of this book could be said to be more focused on history than (contemporary) nature. If you are interested in either science or history, or both, and want to broaden your horizons to natural history – this book might be something for you.


For the reader who wants a solid, passionate natural history:
Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones

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It probably doesn’t come as a total surprise to see this book here if you know me, it’s my favorite piece of nonfiction I’ve read this year. Foxes Unearthed is a study of human’s relationship with foxes, specifically in Britain although things could apply to other countries as well. Lucy Jones goes through several aspects of this relationship, as well as observing the foxes on their own – and it’s hard not to fall a little bit in love with the species after reading this book. While Jones talks of things like hunting and animal ‘control’, that are clearly loaded subjects, she takes pains to keep the book balanced and give voice to all sides of the fences. You don’t have to be interested in natural history to enjoy this book in my opinion, it might even turn you into a natural history reader – it’s just that good. One thing I feel this book has going for it over the other two titles is that Jones is also a pretty good prose writer. It helps – especially with a subject this interesting, it makes the book even sharper. If you’re interested in natural history, British nature, or human’s interaction with predators like foxes, or if you’re just on the market for a solid nonfiction title – this is definitely a book worth checking out.


That was all that I had to share today. I hope this might be helpful to someone out there, and that it might create an interest for natural history in books as it has done for me. If you’ve read any of these or have any other natural history recommendations, you’re very welcome to share in the comments.

Happy Reading,

Natalie

Summer Reading: 10 Books of Summer

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While it might be a little late to write this now, the summer technically starts the 21th of June in the Northern Hemisphere so really I am only a few days late.  Today I’m bringing you my Summer TBR, tbr standing for to-be-read although it’s a little more tentative than set in stone. I’m joining in on the 20 Books in Summer challenge hosted by Cathy of 746 Books but I ended up having an odd number, so while I’m using the number of 10 for the challenge – I’m really listing 11 here. I suppose I can see it as options? Or me being typically rebellious to rules? Anyway, here are the books I’m hoping to read during the summer weeks.

  1. Strange Heart Beating – Eli Goldstone
  2. No School To-Morrow – Margaret Ashmun
  3. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
  4. The Hunting of the Snark – Lewis Carroll
  5. Fever dream – Samantha Schweblin
  6. Behind Bars – Ty Wenzel
  7. Corvus – Esther Woolfson
  8. Lost Animals – Errol Fuller
  9. The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature – ed. by Pat Rogers
  10. Tove Jansson: Work and Love – Tuula Karjalainen
  11. A Woman in Arabia – Gertrude Bell

 

That’s all for now, happy summer reading!

Natalie

Book Juggler; or how I became a polygamist reader

The little kitten ‘Marie’, in Disney’s Aristocats, once said:

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If the same principal was to be applied to projects, I’m certainly not a lady. I have so many boxes filled with started projects and discarded projects, remnants of ideas and plans unfulfilled, and an even longer list of projects I’ve yet to start – waiting for me to either become realistic about them, or gather enough energy to kick-start them. All this is me saying I’ve definitely had the mentality of easy-to-start harder-to-finish since my younger years but it’s only in more recent years that this has translated into my reading life.

To be honest, it’s more surprising to me that this hasn’t always been the case. I love to learn and I don’t think this is something new to me. I used to make encyclopedias of sorts on topics ranging from Sailor Moon to dogs. I like collecting information, I like learning about new things – and I think that is one of the reasons I’ve always been inclined towards language learning, because learning a new language is a key opening doors otherwise locked and hence the access to ever more information. Books are obviously a great way to gain much knowledge and information, both in the way of nonfiction and the fictional stories. Not only would I say that books teach readers things of all kinds, but for me at least books have been key in creating new interests too. I just recently read a nonfiction book about foxes and one on butterflies and I am now on the look-out for basically any and all nonfiction titles on animals. Reading books (among other things) shape where my interests lie, where I want to gather more knowledge, what gap in my understanding I want to fill.

Reading more books than one at the same time feels like a continuation of the project-starting mentality, but also the wish to learn everything as soon as possible. As soon as possible is of course – now. Clearly there’s a practicality to consider here. Even though I want to read all of the books ever published in the Japanese language, or all of the books on the Rory Gilmore reading challenge list, I can’t read them all today, or this month, or even this year. I’m not a miraculously fast reader, nor do I spend every waking hour reading. All the same I get the urge to start a new book about twice a day, sometimes I hold on until I am finished with one and then add a new one to my currently-reading pile but other times I can’t hold on the self-control. I think what it comes down to is that I spend a lot of my free-time either reading, listening to book related podcasts or watching booktube, and surfing book-related websites like Goodreads. I am daily drowning in book recommendations and book lists of all sorts – from the type that are genre specific to ‘2017 best new releases’ or even upcoming titles. Because I hear about so many books, it’s harder to ignore the other books that are calling to me, other than the one I am actively reading.

I guess this is all just me saying that when I was younger I read a book at a time because I was mostly reading on my own, I didn’t really have any friends to share my love for reading. I would go to the library after school and hang around for a few hours before going home. Sometimes I’d even read the entire book while I was at the library, although they were mostly comics. While I have certainly had people in my life who enjoy reading, and people who have made me a reader in the first place, there weren’t many active readers in my life until I started spending time within the bookish community on the internet. Suddenly I was breathing books, and as a result it became harder to keep my focus on one volume at a time, to keep all the other books at bay.

Aside from the obvious lack of self-control and distraction-focus issues that are linked to the whole polygamist reader gig, there are actually a few real benefits with reading more books than one at a time. The main thing is that I’m a mood reader and if I have a book for every mood I can enjoy the books I’m reading to the fullest – at least theoretically. The other thing is that some books are physically more practical in different situations and different times of the day. So while I tend to read the heavy hardcovers when I’m sitting by a table, I read the paperbacks in bed. I will listen to audiobooks while I do my knitting, and I will sometimes read e-books while I’m eating. The reasons are all because they are most comfortable; hardcovers put on the table, paperbacks to hold in the air, audiobooks when my hands are busy, and e-books are easier to turn pages on.

So in the end, while I do at times reminisce about the time when I could focus solely on one book and give it my undivided attention, I’m also coming to an acceptance of my changing reading habits and reader persona. I think the only thing that could change this facet of my reading life would be if I suddenly increased my reading speed so much that I could finish a book before I got that urge to pick up another one. I wonder if that day will ever come. Are you a strict monogamist reader or do you juggle books like me? And are there any specific requirements for books you read at the same time? For example, I know many people read one nonfiction and one fiction book at the same time.

Until next time, happy reading!