I have several friends/family members who are baffled by my habit of re-reading my favorite books. But I’m baffled by their bafflement. Doesn’t everyone revisit their book-character friends? Don’t they miss them?

I imagine that I first re-read books because I had a limited supply. My house always had books in it, but there weren’t hundreds. We made frequent trips to the library (thank goodness) but the end of one book did not always coincide with an influx of new reading material. And a time during which there is no book-in-progress is a predicament not to be borne.  As a result, I read every book that was in my house — sappy autobiographies of accident and cancer victims (Mom), mindless teen-girl fiction, Laura Ingalls Wilder , and Nancy Drew mysteries (older sister).

And when nothing else appealed to me, I went back to the books I had loved enough to acquire or been lucky enough to receive as gifts. The Chronicles of Narnia box set was (and still is) a cherished gift when I was 11 or 12. Anne McCaffrey’s dragon/fire lizard books were chosen as free ‘Reading is Fundamental’ books, and Madeline L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet was permanently borrowed from the junior high library (sorry, Mrs. Hartner!). Lucy will once again discover that the scary wizard is really a kind old man, and Eustace will learn from being turned into a dragon. Menolly will escape from the thread, and find a place where she can be herself and thrive (and even fall in love). Meg & Charles Wallace will again blow my mind with a vision of the world as malleable and open to the will of every one of us.

Swiftly Tilting Planet Madeleine L'Engle

I’m sure that winged unicorn on the cover was one of the reasons I picked this book up

But this doesn’t really explain why a woman with disposable cash and full access to one of the best libraries in the country still reads books she’s already read. Stories in which she has already discovered the surprises, admired the prose and pondered the lesson.

Why do I re-read them?

  • Because I’ve forgotten some minor detail of the plot and cannot rest.
  • Because my particular sad/angry/happy/wistful/etc. mood requires a book to match, and [insert book title here] matches that mood exactly
  • Because the book in question blew my mind wide open in a new and unexpected way, and I want to experience that again — and likely go deeper in, where there are more new things to ponder.
  • Because, once again, the end of one book did not coincide with an influx of new material. Or the available new material does not fit the current reading mood.
  • Because the series is 15 freakin’ books long and I don’t exactly remember everything from Book One (first read in 1992), which will impair my ability to fully enjoy Book 15 the way I want/need/deserve to.
A Memory of Light Robert Jordan Brandon Sanderson Wheel of Time

Seriously

  • Because the series is (currently) five books long, the new one is expected next month, and I can’t wait so I re-read Book Four. Or maybe books One through Four.
  • Because the series is 15 books long, and reading Book 16 reminds you how much you love those books/characters/plotlines, so you start over at Book One.
  • Because my current book brought a previous book to mind, along with the urge to read that book.
  • Because the book I just finished blew my mind wide open in a new and unexpected way, and I need time to sit with those new ideas — but since a time during which there is no book-in-progress is a predicament not to be borne, it is safer to re-read a book which I know won’t interfere with this pondering.
  • Because that book broke my heart/gave me a new attitude/made me want to run away to Hawaii and I want to feel that again.

 

I’m sure there are dozens of other reasons why I reread the books I love, but this is the hit list (or possibly the top ten – hey, there really are ten of them!).

Where do you stand on the read once/ read over-and-over spectrum? Why? Hit me.

My reading week in review: Miéville, Austen, Marcus Samuelsson, Mary Robinette Kowal.

I love how the things we read connect to each other in unexpected ways. But it is not so unexpected that a speculative fiction novel set in the time of Jane Austen would connect with Pride & Prejudice – it is quite deliberate. But it is rather unexpected that – three days after I re-read P&P, Without a Summer would appear on my hold shelf at the library. And since I’d forgotten the premise of the novel approximately 30 seconds after I put it on hold, it was quite surprising to my little brain when I opened it and was reading of proper ladies, gentleman of the peerage, and – oh, yeah – magicians. Good thing I love surprises. I’ve only just started the book (okay, I’m 125 pages in), but so far it’s good. It doesn’t try to be Jane Austen (which irritates me), it just lives in her world (well, her world if it had magic) – and does a good job of it.

Speaking of Pride and Prejudice, I think I figured out why Mr. Darcy has been such an object of female adoration for so long. Long before he was impersonated (quite ably, I might add) by Colin Firth, Matthew MacFadyen* and the like, he was merely words on a page. But such words!

Colin Firth Mr. Darcy Pride & Prejudice

Obligatory photo of Mr. Darcy looking dreamy.

We – or at least *I* – love him because he is articulate. And a critical thinker. And he listens when the woman he loves speaks, and attempts to improve himself when he sees his own faults. And Jane does the same in return. I think this consideration – and certainly the fact that both of them behave so admirably – is highly unusual in any romantic fiction (maybe I’m wrong ). And it’s essential in real life. And it’s DAMNED attractive. Even when he’s angry and humiliated, Darcy writes her a letter that compliments her in many ways and assumes she will give his words a fair hearing, even if she does hate him. At every turn, he treats her as a capable, thinking human being, not an empty-headed ornament. Who doesn’t love that?

I’m not sure where I saw Yes, Chef discussed – Twitter? a Powell’s email? I have no clue – but the story intrigued me. A very young man is adopted out of Ethiopia to Sweden, where he grows up helping his grandmother cook and becomes an award-winning chef in America. I’d never heard of Marcus Samuelsson previous to this (though there are several ways I might have if I paid any attention). His memoir is well-written and a great story of the global village we are living in today – plus lots of travel and food. So if I enjoyed this book knowing nothing about him, I imagine fans of his will be delighted.

 

*I originally typed this as Angus MacFadyen – an even more attractive actor I also adore. They are apparently unrelated except in some crazy place in my head.

What have I been doing since January 2, 2012? What have I been doing? Hell, I don’t know.

I’ve been working [here], and [here]. Both volunteering and  working [here]. I’ve been living [here].

Moved to a new (much-improved) apartment [here]. Walking the riverfront.

portland riverfront spring walking home

This is what my walk home from work looked like recently. Now it’s much sunnier.

Walking the close-in East side of Portland and loving every minute of it. Met all kinds of cool and interesting people.

portland kerns springtime flowering trees

I live in a neighborhood that looks like this in the spring.

Traveled to Montana (more than four times, less than ten). Took day trips around Oregon looking at rocks. Flew to Arizona for sun and softball and Sista-time. Went camping in Eastern Oregon. Went to Las Vegas for a weekend with high school friends. Crocheted a few bags, a few scarves, a belt and some wristers. Sort-of loved and didn’t really lose. Lived through my first (business) IRS audit. Had a lot of deeply crazy dreams. Saw Amanda Palmer and Alanis Morissette and Sugarland in concert. Figured out what was causing the pain in my shoulder/back and made it (mostly) go away. Had an old friend come visit me for a whole weekend. Paid off my credit cards (all of them). Threw myself a birthday party for the first time in a decade or more.

Met Cheryl Strayed (Dear Sugar) twice and Lidia Yuknavitch once. Saw Glen Duncan and William Gibson (again) at Powell’s.  Read innumerable words on the internet. Proofed two books. Wrote six book reviews.

And read 156 books in 477 days. That works out to be one book every 3.06 days.

Good books. Great books. Decent books. The last book in the Wheel of Time series (finally. And also sadly). New (great) books by long-time favorite authors (Kingsolver, Erdrich, Bharati Mukherjee). Fantastic books by new-favorite authors (Glen Duncan, Lidia Yuknavitch, Tupelo Hassman). Books that blew my mind (Debt by Graeber), broke my heart (The Fault of Our Stars – Green), make me laugh (Redshirts – Scalzi), made me angry (Z – Fowler), and made me happy to be alive (well, all of them).

Seems like a good use of one and one-third years. But maybe I could spend just a bit more time writing for this blog in the 15 months coming up.

What have you been doing?

So, a few months ago, someone contacted me through this blog and ASKED ME TO REVIEW THEIR BOOK.  Here. On my tiny little blog on the interwebs. (I imagine they missed the fact that I haven’t posted for 5 months!) Can you guess what I said? Of course you can.

On my own, I would never have picked up 150 Pounds by Kate Rockland. My Advanced Reader Copy has a cover just like the one above. The color scheme, the font, the blurbs – everything points to ‘chick lit’, a category that pisses me off for existing (since it lumps anything written by a woman that is actually about women and not manly pursuits together in one big ‘hey guys, don’t even look at these lame books’ category) and – at its worst – bores me to tears with its mindless girl-power attitude.

Thankfully, this book is not one of those I feel I need to throw across the room. This book is well-written, compelling and – most important of all – has great characters. Rockland does a great job of making these women real – their lives, families and emotional complexities leap off the page.

Alexis spends every day counting calories and working out.  Shoshana spends her days taking care of everyone but herself, and treating herself to food when she feels down. Both are bloggers who write for and about women – from opposite sides of the war on weight.  When they are scheduled together on a segment of Oprah, their encounter is the beginning of important changes in both their lives.

We’ve all had friends much like these women. You love them, and they frustrate the hell out of you because they can’t see how wonderful they are.  One of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known spent more time worried about her looks than anyone I’ve ever met.  She truly believed that all those manicures and hair appointments and new clothes were necessary to keep her looking decent enough to be seen in public.  Still breaks my heart to think of her, living her life buried in self-loathing.

This story is interesting and believable, and realistically hopeful for women in the real world.  I like that it included writing from both blogs, and discussions of media portrayals of women in relation to their weight – one of the all-too-prevalent influences on women’s relationships with their bodies.  I think some of the pieces in the book could have been shorter, and there were maybe a few too many stereotypes in play, but overall this was a good read and a positive portrayal of American women today. I have several friends who hate every book I send them – so I might just send them this one next time.

 

*no, I did not receive compensation for this review, unless you consider a review copy of the book compensation. And it is true I can take that review copy to Powell’s and maybe get a few dollars toward another book, but that’s hardly enough to get me to perjure myself. I really did like the book.

 

I’ve read some really great books lately and have been keeping them mostly to myself.  Today, the selfishness ends!

The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris (whom I’ve slathered much love on here and here) is the next chapter of the story of Vianne and Anouk Rocher from Chocolat (the book, of course, not the film, though the stories are close enough that film-goers would enjoy it, I think).   It is every bit as wonderful as Harris’s best stuff.

It’s five years since we’ve been in Lansquenet and things are very different for Vianne. She’s given birth to a second child (Rosette) and has consented to marry a man she does not love.  She’s hiding from the world instead of trying to bring magic to it. Anouk is entering puberty afraid of herself, the magic inside her and the world around her, and wishes her mother was the woman she used to be.  Enter Zozie.

Zozie is everything Vianne used to be, but without the compassion and kindness. She is cool and interesting and not afraid to attract attention. She sees the potential in Anouk and wants it for her own selfish reasons. But in truth, she’s hiding even more than Vianne is – from herself more than anyone.

Harris’s writing is stellar, as always. The copy I have is the P.S. version, with interviews and background material, and I read every bit so I could live with the book and characters a little longer. I was visiting my sister and her family in the wilds of Northwest Montana and read it by flashlight in my tent, surrounded by the sounds of horses grazing around (and sometimes underneath) my tent late at night. The strange surroundings only added to the feeling that I was really in another world, living with Anouk and the others in Paris.

I’m not sure I can articulate what it is I love about Harris. It’s the same thing I love about a lot of authors, who write a lot of different stuff (Miéville, Chabon, De Lint, Shields, Kingsolver). Her works speaks of truths I knew but hadn’t recognized. Her characters are people I’ve been, or met, or would like to meet. I feel as if I know myself better at the end of the book than I did at the beginning. Her writing has a beauty apart from the meaning of the words. Her work helps me feel more strongly connected to the world.

It’s hard to turn the last page, sometimes, and let that go.