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.

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!

Reflecting on a year passed

Some things have become quite clear as the year has passed, and that is that I don’t do well under any form of rules for my buying habits. This seems to be a general trend for me, although it has been especially obvious with books since that’s what the majority of my money goes to. I never go overboard in the sense that I spend more money that I have, or that I can afford. I never drown in books in my room because I have nowhere to put them either (although, it’s getting there, I need more shelf-space!). But whenever I say to myself that I’ll only buy x amount of books, or only from x places, I set myself up for failure. I suppose I am a born ‘rebel’, determined to break the rules even if I’m the one who made them.

I made a few reading related goals at the end of last year, a few of these were related to the buying of books – all of which I broke within the first few months of the year, then discarded. I had one big goal which was to read about 50% nonfiction, another thing I tweaked although I have definitely read more nonfiction than previous years so I consider it a win. Something I noticed as I was reading nonfiction, and trying to prioritise them, was that nonfiction (non-memoir) books takes me longer to read than fiction. The reason is probably that I read nonfiction the way I do course literature – I read it as if I’m going to get tested on it. By that I mean I read it slowly in order to remember as much of it as possible, to understand it, to add the knowledge to my minds’ library that I can use at a later date if the day ever comes when this knowledge will be useful. And I guess it’s not that strange that my reading is different for the two forms of writing – since I also read them for different reasons.

   I read fiction to be entertained, to experience different world views and different lived experiences, to be inspired by beautiful writing and to be spellbound by stories, words, magic. But I read nonfiction to broaden my horizons, to learn about things I didn’t know about before, to go deeper into areas I’ve only tiptoed on, to get a richer understanding of our world, to see the differences and the similarities between cultures, people, places, species. Sometimes the reasons overlap, some books cross the borders, do multiple things, and challenge my perceptions of these two “genres” of writing. But as a general observation, I have a slower reading pace when I’m reading nonfiction (memoirs not included, since they don’t seem to follow the same pace).

Which is why I was okay with not reading as many nonfiction books as fiction in the entirety of the year, because then I’d have to read a lot less in total, and another one of my goals was to read 70 books this year. I’m closing in on it, with only 4 books left to reach it. Which should be fairly easy to do before the last day of December.

Another goal that I was hoping to make real progress with was to read more translated books. Although this year has been a definite improvement, and the amount of books I’ve read this year from non-English authors have been at least half of the books I’ve read, the countries are not as diverse as I would like them to be. The majority of the translated books I’ve read are from Japan, which isn’t something I necessarily want to change as I want to become closely familiar with Japanese literature as a whole. But I feel I’ve still only dipped my toe into the other countries in Asia, not to talk of the entire continent of Africa and South America. I can only keep trying to find new authors and new titles from around the world to keep widening my net within literature.

One of my smaller goals was to reread two books that weren’t my two most reread books (The Little Prince and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). This goal I have definitely surpassed. I reread Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in January, followed by The Order of the Phoenix late in the summer. I also reread both Winnie the Pooh books this autumn. All of the rereading I did was a lot of fun and I hope to keep revisiting old favourites in upcoming years.

Lastly I made a goal to annotate more in my books. I wanted to interact more with my books when I’m reading, not to be afraid of writing in them, putting pencil to paper and leave a mark of my having been there. One thing I have noticed though is that underlining is almost as passive as not doing any annotating at all – which is to say, underlining is only useful to remember specific quotes or sections. But it doesn’t show any of your reactions to what is said in the text. You can’t tell whether the underlinings were something that angered you, made you happy, inspired you, or made you want to hit the author in the face. I guess I just realised that underlining isn’t enough for me, because if I reread a book I’ve annotated years from now I won’t know what those underlinings (or sticky note marks) mean or meant to the me back then, then they won’t serve much of a purpose and it’ll only annoy me with cluttering the text.

   I also seem to have become used to underlining so that I almost do it passively now, barely reflecting on the text because I have underlined it I don’t have to remember it. This discussion is a bit simplified, and only my experience on it, but basically I’ve realised I want to keep pushing myself to read more critically and with more awareness, and one way to do this is to annotate. In the form of marginalia. This is what I’m trying to move towards now. I’m not planning to start filling all of the books I read in scribbles, but that I at least have a pencil at hand so that when the thought strikes I’ll be able to jot it down.

So these were a few of the things I learned from my goals for this year, how I did and how some of them were discarded early on while others are still in progress. For next year I’m planning to cut back and simplify a bit more, also because of the goal I had to read what I want, not what I think I should – kind of fits into that. I’ll talk more about the goals for the upcoming year in a future post, later in the month.

If you had any goals for your reading in 2016, I’d love to hear how they went, if you changed them or forgot about them or even actively decided to throw it all out the window. Does reading goals work for you? And do you have any plans for your reading in 2017 already brewing?

Until next time, happy reading!

The Act of Re-Reading

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I was never much of a re-reader.

Somehow I always tend to think along the lines of “can I really justify reading that book again, when I’ve read so few in total over my lifetime?” or “how can I know which books are worth returning to?”. It all comes down to the fact that reading a book again means prioritising it over a new book, over an entirely new experience and stories, characters, places, thoughts, ideas. Of course there’s no saying a rereading might not give those experiences – giving a new layer to an experience of a book you already have a basic familiarity with, on which to build a deeper knowledge. There’s no guarantee for this experience though, is it? Although on the other hand, there’s no guarantee reading a book for the first time will be a good experience, even if it’s a new one. Or a book you’ve never read might be so unoriginal as to feel familiar, boringly so.

But for me, I think more than the priority thing it’s been that feeling of inadequacy I’ve always felt as a reader, as I identify myself as a reader – an avid reader, a reader persona if you will. For most of my life I have seen reading and books as a big part of me – of my character, my interests, my being – especially so the last few years. It’s become a vital part to my existence, no matter how overdramatic that sounds, it’s true. Even so I have always felt that I haven’t read enough, that I don’t read enough, that I need to read more and to read more widely. Think Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls) when she and Lorelai is standing in front of Harvard’s library in the second season, being struck by how few books in the world she’s read – “I sleep too much”. That feeling of inadequacy is part of what drives me in my reading, and I don’t mind it – in fact I think it’s a good thing, especially in terms of trying out new things. In terms of making rereading a part of my general reading, it’s probably the main reason why I haven’t historically – and why I still don’t – reread much.

Having said all this – the principals/reasons as to why I don’t do it very often – it’s not like I never revisit books I’ve read. Two of my favourite books as a child was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum, and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I’ve read both of them more times than I can remember, and the readings have been spread over my lifetime – I’ve read both of them within the last three years or so. They are still two of my favourite books and one of the reasons I call them that is because I have reread them so many times, because they have stood up to rereading – they have lost none of the charm that they had for me as a child, to my current self. Funnily enough, they actually represent two different reasons I can see why rereading is worthwhile – or why people eread in the first place, from my point of view.

I love The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – it’s a wonderful children’s classic filled with magic, whimsical characters, colorful places and communities, wonder; I mean, it’s probably well known at this point. I’ve read some of the other books in the series as well but it’s been so long I can’t remember exactly which of them I have read, except for the first book in the series. I reread The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to return home, to feel good, to experience that warm wave of nostalgia and welcome, of that magic and that comfort that comes from certain books that have meant something to us, that have brought certain feelings and experiences to us. The Wonderful Wizard is for me what Harry Potter is to millions of readers out there – a place like home, a place to return to, a place that will always be there welcoming them with open arms. It’s possible I have noticed new things, little details in the writing, with new readings of the book but for the most part I have read it for fun.

The Little Prince however, is an example of what I would call a book you reread to gain something new out of, every time. A book that is so complex that one reading has only showed you a part of the myriad of details, layers, etc. to it. A book that is philosophical, that will bring new thoughts to you depending on your life experiences, your knowledge, your maturity, or having been experiences to new ideas and perspectives. It’s not always the books that are written in the most complex of ways but sometimes the more ambigious books that fit into this category of re-read contenders. For me The Little Prince is a book that have given me something new with each reading. First my dad read it out loud to me, then I read it on my own as the first chapter book I ever conqured. Then I have returned to it, with a few years gap each time, with different levels of maturity indeed but also all of the other things I mentioned above. I have even read it in two different languages; first Swedish, then English. I have read the first few pages of it in its original French, most recently.

I recently reread Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner for the #hundredacrereadalong hosted by Words of a Reader on booktube – celebrating 90 years of Pooh Bear. It was the first time I revisited these two books and I can safely say they are two of my favourite books, The House of Pooh Corner especially. It was wonderful to return to the Hundred Acre Woods, spending time with characters I know and love. I rediscovered how well A. A. Milne captures the mind, ways and actions of children in his animal characters; how well captured the littlest things of a child’s behaviours and feelings really are within those two books. On the whole though I would say rereading these books would best be categorized as fitting into the first category – additions to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, books I revisit to go back home.

I think there’s a lot of value to rereading, more than I personally have given it credit and I know already of many books I want to revisit when time allows. I know this has been a long one, and I haven’t even said all of the things I have bubbling inside me on the topic of rereading. But I’ll finish off with this; are you a big rereader? Do you reread occasionally? Have you done so your whole life or is it something that you’ve incorporated more recently? And what are your reasons for rereading?

Until next time, happy reading!

Natalie

DNFing Books

I spend a lot of time hanging around the cyber book community – be it booktube, bookish sites like Bookriot, book blogs, browsing book lists or Goodreads – and one term that I’ve recently stumbled upon quite frequently is “DNF” or “DNFing” as a verb. What does this mean? Did not finish, basically it means you were reading a book and you decided to drop it – it wasn’t worth your time anymore and so you decide not to finish it. There are sides to this term – some people think it’s a bad thing, to keep giving up on books, to have a pile of half-read books that just don’t count to anything. Some people think it’s a good thing – you save your precious time to things you actually enjoy.

I was always the type of person to persevere through a book once I’d read a certain amount of pages. It wasn’t actually a specific page count so much as it was the time I had invested, and the percentage of the book I’d already consumed – if I was more than halfway through it felt like such a waste not to finish it. I’ve always been of the mind that even when you don’t enjoy a book – or even dislike it, you can still learn and/or gain something from it. Sometimes you realize you dislike a certain trope or way of storytelling, sometimes the text is not challenging you or it’s too challenging – no matter the problem it can still be a rewarding experience in one way or another even if it’s not always enjoyable. On the other hand – I also believe that some books just have to be read in the right time, and a book that could’ve been great in a different point in your life just didn’t do it for you in the present.

The argument for DNFing books you don’t like/enjoy is usually that there’s a limited amount of time, and an endless amount of books waiting to be read. That’s definitely true – scary scary thought.

So what am I even trying to say? Well, the last month has been a rather stressful one for me. School and life circumstances has been challenging me on so many levels that I just haven’t been feeling quite like myself. And during this time, I’ve read – I’ve finished at least one book and given up on two – for different reasons. The first one I gave up because it was different from what I was expecting and although it wasn’t bad – actually is was pretty interesting, I felt resistance towards it and didn’t really want to keep reading. The other book was so dense and interesting that I felt it not the right time to be reading at the moment when my head was drowning in school work. So this was definitely the right book in the wrong time – I plan to get back to it in the future.

I’ve lived by the “50 pages and then choose” motto for a while now – I give a book 50 pages to get me stuck, and at that point I decide to continue or drop it. If I continue, I persevere to the end no matter what. But one of the books I gave up I’d read more than 50p, the other less, and I didn’t feel bad about it at all. Instead I’ve been focusing on other books that I have been enjoying.

I still feel like I haven’t quite gotten across my point – maybe there isn’t one. I guess I’m realizing that it’s not such a bad thing to drop books when it doesn’t feel like the right time or what you are wanting to read now, but on the other hand I think always dropping books because you’re not enjoying it can make you lose out on important and/or useful experiences and lessons – about yourself, about writing, or about something entirely different.  A balance is what I’m striving for – and to listen more to my gut rather than a strict rule of reading 50 pages (or even percentage) of a book before deciding, to trust myself but also to question myself now and then.

So, what are your thoughts on DNFing books? Approve, disapprove? Maybe you have a different approach than my 50p border?

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Why I don’t rate the books I read

Once again I have decided to start anew, remove my old posts and start with a fresh plate.

Hello, I am Nayu. I’m a 23 year old knitter, tea drinker, and book lover.
I have once again decided to use this place to write about books.

To start off – I thought I might tell you about why I don’t rate books. One of my many reading goals for 2015 consisted of “stop rating books”. Why? Well. For some time last year there was a discussion going on especially on Booktube about the star rating system, and even before that I had my concerns about the systems efficiency. Simply put, I asked myself if the star rating did me any good. When I looked back at the books I’d rated 3 stars, there was a mixture of quality and types of books – some which I’d been expecting more of but where still good, some that were actually pretty good but surprisingly so – I obviously had different feelings towards these books but they still ended up in the same category. Often I found myself just putting any book I read in a 3 or 4 star rating, not making full use of the entire range. And again, what was the point of that? What did that number really tell me when all kinds of books, different in quality, different in genre, different lengths, different expectations, mixed together?

And then there were the books that were hard to rate. Like poetry – how do one rate poetry? It’s a very personal experience. If you relate to a poem or not. Of course it’s possible to discuss the use of language, the smart use of words, the technical aspects. But isn’t poetry first and foremost about feelings, about capturing emotions, abstract things, how can one truly rate such a thing? Or a memoir, how can one truly rate someone else’s life, sure – again, based on the language, the way it is written, everything like that. But to put a number to represent someone else’s life, it seems a bit simplistic, no?

I found myself questioning the usefulness of the system, and so I decided to try this year to throw it out the window. So far it’s been going well. Since I don’t have the option of lazily putting a number on a book and leave it like that, I always write reviews for the books that I read so that I will remember my feelings of it. It pushes me to write reviews as clear as possible, or rather to really include everything I found important so that I can remember for my own sake whether it was a book that I liked or not, affected me or not, but also that other people planning to read the book can make their own conclusions about the book. If one is interested in a book, I find reading reviews where the points are discussed rather than having a rating is more useful to decide upon a book since there will be things that puts other people off that won’t bother me, and the other way around.

To sum it up, one of my goals this year was to try out not using the star rating system for the entire year and instead focus on reviewing every book that I read. I will be re-evaluating at the end of the year, and decide then if it’s something I will continue doing or not.

Hope you are all having a lovely day!

xoxo
Nayu