Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Addicted to Books! January Edition

Just to recap, this year my friend Sue and I decided we'd try just reading books on our own shelves (since we have piles of unread books throughout our houses), to try to curb our serious book-buying obsessions, making exceptions only for book club picks. One friend of mine told me I'm basically shooting myself in the foot for announcing that I'm doing this, since not only am I a writer who depends on people buying my books, but I'm an editor at a book publishing house who edits books I hope people will buy. And she's absolutely right. So I will reiterate that we're doing this, but we don't advocate others doing it. Instead, we hope that we can come up with some book ideas so you can go out and buy a book in our honour. And then tell us about it so we can live through your book buying vicariously. Sigh. 

Nikki: Hey Sue! So. We're one month in to not buying books and I'm starting to think this was a really bad idea. On the one hand, I always say I'm a book-buying addict: I get a rush walking into a bookstore and walking back out with 12 books in my arms, but then a few hours later I start to feel guilty, realizing I have hundreds — HUNDREDS — of books on my shelves that I've yet to actually read, and the more I buy, the fewer I'll actually have time to read. But now that I've cut myself off, going cold turkey (after, I'll admit, ordering a total of 10 books on December 31st that arrived in a giant glorious box at my home on January 4) I feel ill going near bookstores. I used to feel SUCH a rush going into Costco and gunning it to the book aisle. Or deciding to spend some time browsing in Chapters or at LA Mood, a comic book store in downtown London. Or stepping into a used bookstore just for that wonderful smell. There's this feeling of butterflies in my stomach, excited anticipation of what I'm going to find and what goodies I'm going to bring home. And the first time I went into a Costco in January and rushed to the book aisle… I suddenly realized that it doesn't matter if I find something amazing: I CAN'T BUY IT. And the letdown was huge. Why the hell does one bother going to Costco? I only buy the three pounds of paprika because I know I can sneak over to the book aisle in between the "necessities." I haven't even bothered to venture into a Chapters. I will admit I've found myself browsing Chapters online, or Amazon, but knowing I can't put anything into that cart gets me down in the dumps. And I did manage to go into LA Mood, but left pretty quickly after watching the rest of our Graphic Novel group buying books and realizing I can't do the same. UGH. And I haven't even gotten started on reading book reviews in magazines and newspapers, realizing that some book sounds SO GOOD and I can't read it until 2015. 

Killing. Me. 

So before we get into the actual books, how has the experience of NOT buying books been for you? Are you having as much trouble as I am? Or am I just the far worse addict? 

Sue: I have to admit that at first I thought it was going to be horrible. I remember you telling me about your very full cart on Amazon at the end of December and I panicked a little because I wasn’t up to date on my EWs and therefore wasn’t sure what other books were coming out or being recommended that I may miss if I didn’t get up to date.  I think that I bought 4 books before the end of the year and I was quite happy with those.  I’m lucky in a way as I don’t have a Costco membership so I don’t have to worry about that temptation because I would also find that very, very difficult.  I also think that the only other thing saving me at the moment from going through major book buying withdrawal is the fact that after Christmas I am so sick of shopping that I don’t feel the need to go and buy, buy, buy at Chapters. I usually start off my new year by reading quite a lot of books as I feel my social calendar is a little less demanding and I get more time to read (especially this year since the weather has been so bad – there’s nothing better than “hibernating” with a good book).  I have a feeling that I may have more difficulty not buying books when spring comes around and new books are everywhere and I’m out and about more and ready to shop again – that’s when I’m going to have a struggle on my hands. So far I am very, very happy and satisfied with the books I’ve been reading from my own shelves so perhaps that has also made the resolution not to buy books a bit easier. It’s also nice to have a feeling of satisfaction because I’m finally reading what I’ve collected over the years. I had made a list of all of my unread books before the end of the year and realized that I had many more than I had thought which to be honest felt a little gluttonous and also induced a little bit of stress. With every book I pull off my shelf and read those feelings are lessening! I’m enjoying the process of remembering why I bought these books to read in the first place which is really making it a lovely adventure!

That said, if we were ever to venture out to a bookstore together all bets would be off and we’d both be in MAJOR trouble so part of my survival is also not hanging out with you in bookstores!! Heehee

Nikki: Ha! That is SO TRUE. We really are our own worst enemies when it comes to book buying together. I still remember years ago the two of us going into downtown Toronto and we put two hours of parking in the meter, and then two and a HALF hours later we left the bookstore, each with two full bags of books, and had to run as fast as we could back to the car, which was sans ticket!! We felt extremely lucky that day, but then had to deal with my husband and your roommate ribbing us about how many books we'd purchased. It was like we'd spent an afternoon in a crackhouse and had come out completely stoned with bags of the stuff hanging out of our pockets. 

I agree that this weather is certainly perfect for reading. And so let's get into what we actually read! We've decided to talk about not just the books, but how we acquired each of the books. 

I read five books in January. I’ll write shorter reviews here because my longer ones are on my Goodreads page (come friend me!): 

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: This had been recommended to me by so many people, and then my friend Chris Meades (author of the brilliant Three Fates of Henrik Nordmark and brillianter The Last Hiccup) sent me his copy for Christmas, so it was officially a book I owned! And while I wasn't so sure of it in the beginning — the humour is derived from chortling at a guy with Asperger's — you soon realize that you're not laughing AT him, but with him, and it's a book that truly opens up your mind to what Asperger's is and how all of us are able to change our strict mindset given enough provocation. I really enjoyed it and it had many laugh-out-loud moments. 

Saga volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan: I'm a huge BKV fan and had read the first volume of Saga before Christmas, and so this was in my big box of 10 books because I couldn’t wait to get the next one (vol 3 is in July: WHAT WILL I DO?!) and I LOVED it. This is such a great Romeo and Juliet type of story of two people from different worlds at war who come together and create a new hybrid life, and then immediately have to do whatever it takes to protect their new baby. Brilliant. And the illustrations are stunning. 

Pride of Baghdad by BKV: Because I was going to the Graphic Novel book club this month and wanted to pitch a BKV month (and they accepted!) I reread Pride of Baghdad. This was recommended to me by several Lost fans after Y: The Last Man became a key book on that series, and I bought it in . It's a one-off story of what happened in 2003 when a pride of lions escaped the Baghdad Zoo during a US air strike. Gorgeous and devastating. 

Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor: When I was doing my undergrad in English lit, one of my profs was offering a seminar course on African-American Women's Lit, but it was at exactly the same time as a Virginia Woolf course I had my heart set on, and I was devastated. I went with Woolf, and my prof was kind enough to give me the list of books on his curriculum. One of them was Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, whom he told me was his favourite author. So I read it and it was glorious. I've read it twice since, along with all of her other books (including Bailey's CafĂ© and The Women of Brewster Place). Her writing style is sublime, every sentence is like a poem, and I bought Linden Hills in the City Lights used bookstore (where I spent most of my off-time during university; seriously, 80% of my used books have the scrawled pencilled-in price with the CL under it on the front inside page) probably in 1995, and never read it. It travelled with me to do my grad work, then my first apartment, second apartment, first house, second house, and now third. And since it was the last book of hers I had to read, I finally sat down and read it. And doing so reminded me why we're doing this. SUCH a good book it made me want to pick up all of her other books and reread them. It's dark and dreary, I'll admit, and made for some depressing moments throughout the reading process, but it's SO beautifully written. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves great literature. 

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris: To offset the dreariness of Linden Hills I picked up Sedaris's book to read alongside it. I've read everything by Sedaris and there's always a handful of essays that make me laugh out loud, reading passages aloud to my husband, and this was no exception. There's a chapter where he talks about language CDs and learning to speak new languages so he can test them out in foreign countries that is screamingly hilarious, where others were more poignant. He included a few fiction pieces, but I much prefer the non-fiction. I picked up this book last year (from Costco no less!) and unlike his other books, didn't read it immediately. It was great. 

Next month I'm hoping to hit some older books on my shelves. Where you found dozens, I literally have hundreds. Blergh. 

And how about you, what did you read this month?

Sue: Ah, I love our adventures!!

I read 5 books in January:

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon: I had bought this book in hardcover when it was released as it was Haddon’s first book after The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (a book which I absolutely adored).  A Spot of Bother focuses on an older British couple (husband is retired and wife is semi-retired) and their grown-up children (gay son and relationship-challenged daughter). The husband begins having anxiety attacks and also begins imagining that a spot of eczema he’s noticed on his stomach is actually cancer. The whole notion of him having cancer debilitates him and things spin quickly out of control for him. The wife is having an affair with an old work colleague of her husband’s. The gay son has moved away from home and is having relationship issues of his own as he’s afraid to commit and introduce his boyfriend to his parents. The daughter is trying to decide if the man she’s marrying is due to his ease of dealing with her out of control son (from a previous failed marriage) or due to the fact that she does truly love him. The book was very funny and also very emotional. I loved way the story built up to one absolutely horrific day where the family is all together and everything goes wrong but turns out right in the end. Interesting comment on how family members can easily drift away from each other and not really know each other very well at all.

Ox-Tales Earth: This was a book of short stories released by Oxfam in 2009. I picked this book up at WH Smiths in a train station in England (my train stub was still in the front of the book). It was one of 4 books of short stories released to raise money for Oxfam (the others being Air, Water and Fire). Each of the compilations contained short stories from well-known authors who donated their stories to the collections. Some of the authors who contributed to this volume were Kate Atkinson, Ian Rankin, Hanif Kureishi, Nicholas Shakespeare and Jonathan Coe. I really enjoyed these stories which ranged from a station master in rural Russia hiding a dying Leo Tolstoy from his wife, a white South African woman fighting to keep her love for her native country despite the current regime which was persecuting legitimate white land owners and the lengths she goes to in order to defend her love, a Rebus story from Rankin of exactly 200 words, a story about a man trying to regain his youth and the story of a young boy with autism and how his mother struggles with wishes of him enjoying the simple things in life. I wish now in retrospect I had read this book sooner and bought the other 3 editions because I believe I would have enjoyed them as much as I did this one however I can’t find them online anywhere. This is the downside to waiting 5 years to read a book!

Wicked by Gregory Maguire: I picked up this book in a used bookstore many years ago prior to reading Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Maguire in my book club. I bought it on the recommendation of so many people. I bought it before I read and disliked Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and it has taken me at least 10 years to summon the strength and interest to read Wicked. This must be a good book though, right?  It’s been a major hit on Broadway.  I think my initial disinterest of the book was the fact that it was related to The Wizard of Oz. I have seen many clips of the movie over the years but the few times I sat as a child to watch the movie on t.v. I was either terrified or bored. I had to actually read the synapsis of The Wizard of Oz so that I would have the background to read Wicked. I did find the premise of Wicked interesting – to hear the other side of the story of the Wicked Witch of the West and figure out why she did what she did and why she was who she was.  I enjoyed parts of the book but on the whole found that I wasn’t very interest in the story of Elphaba at least not until she was at school but that quickly passed and I found that her early years and later years weren’t overly satisfying story material for me. I found that the politics usually overshadowed finding out who Elphaba really was on the inside. I found it hard at times to pick up the book and keep reading.  Perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t have that childhood link to Oz. I’m not sure. In the end this is not a book that I would recommend.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt:  Years ago I was part of a cyber-chat book club started by Nikki which was done by instant messaging (goodness how old am I?) and I believe this was one of the books picked that I had bought but didn’t end up reading. Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch, was recently released and has been much talked about lately. In recent articles I read that she releases a book every 10 years and I thought that I really should read some of her work. I am glad that I did. It was a very interesting study into human nature and human relationships. It was very well written and while a hefty read it was an engaging one. The story felt incredibly cinematic though I don’t believe it’s been adapted to film. I was very curious to find out how it would all end since there was an element of mystery and intrigue to the story and I am happy to say that I was not disappointed. I will definitely read more Donna Tartt in the future.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold: Alice Sebold is most well-known for her novel The Lovely Bones which I loved. Funnily enough I found this book in hardcover at a dollar store for $2.00 a couple of years ago and thought that I couldn’t pass it up. The story is about a daughter committing a horrific act which then forces her to look back on her very tumultuous love/hate relationship with her mother and the resulting ups and downs in her own life from childhood to adulthood. I found this book very thought provoking and also heartbreaking. I don’t know if at the end I agree with the daughter’s decision but I do sympathize with her. I think this would be a very interesting book to discuss in a book club. 

Nikki: Just a quick response to the Ox-Tales book, but I did see them all for sale still on Amazon, so you could pick them up there. Next year, of course. ;) And also, I’d almost forgotten about that cyber book club we had! That was probably 10 years ago now, and we did it all in a chatroom every month. I did it because I had friends spread out everywhere in the country, and it was a great way for everyone to come together to discuss books. ;)

Looks like we're both off to a great start!! My final question for this month: was there a book you saw listed anywhere that you wished you could buy right away and read? (I know we're going to see these every month so I thought it would be fun to document them… and then next year let's go on a shopping spree on January 2.) ;) For me, it's a book I read about in Entertainment Weekly called A Star for Mrs. Blake, about five American mothers who travel to France to see the graves of their sons, who died in WWI. I almost cheated and bought it, but I held off. (But I'm hyperventilating just writing about it.) 

Was there one that you saw that you wished you could have bought? 

Sue: At our January book club meeting while we were picking books for the year, a fellow member pointed out a book because of its colourful and interesting cover (and I am hoping that it does become a 2014 book club pick). I was drawn to looking at the book again this past weekend when I visited Chapters.  It’s called A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. In Tokyo, a sixteen-year-old teenager attempts to escape loneliness and bullying by writing a journal telling her great grandmother’s story (a Buddhist nun who lived 100 years) and a woman on an island in the Pacific finds a washed up lunchbox containing various items which she believes to be debris from the 2011 tsunami.  I’m intrigued to find out if/how their stories and fates become intertwined. I have to admit that I did have this book in my hands…but I resisted the temptation to buy.

Nikki: Wow, we are being so good. But for everyone else reading this, I hope we’ve given you some ideas and that you rush out and buy a book in our name! And also, I should confess that we’re already discussing that perhaps after a certain number of months, we reward ourselves by buying a book. Or five. 

See you all next month!

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