Of Books and Beauty

The only reason I’m sharing this is because I love the artwork. No witty remarks or long, drawn-out commentary. Looking at it just makes me feel good, and I wanted to hopefully pass that feeling along. Not only does it illustrate what it is like to be lost in a story — perfectly, I might add — but I think it’s beautiful as well. Of course, this is one of my favorite books, so there’s that too.  I don’t know who the artist is and would love to give them credit, however, as soon as I find out, I’ll update this entry.

Update: thanks to Angel of Anthropology, I found out this artwork is by Kylie Parker and is entitled “The Book” (photo below updated).

“The Book” by Kylie Parker

Book Nook Schnooks Unite!

Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m a book nook schnook.  I can definitely relate with The Shop Around the Corner, Meg Ryan’s little bookstore in “You’ve Got Mail.” There’s a coziness, a warmth that the large chains can’t give you. Don’t get me wrong. Stores like Barnes & Noble are still very nice; especially if you like fresh muffins with chocolate icing and cappuccino with your browsing, which I get often when I’m perusing the six, eight, I mean one – yes of course, just the ONE book that I’ve finally decided on.

me in a bookstore

The advent of Kindle and Amazon sounded the death knell for hundreds of small bookstores, and many large, nationally known chains. B. Dalton, Borders, Brentano’s, and Crown Books have all gone the way of the brontosaurus.

Still, there’s a place for the little neighborhood bookstores that have been able to stay open in these trying literary times, thanks to legions of Book Nook Schnooks, just like me, across America. Although not nearly as prolific as they once were, many of these smaller shops are alive and well, and even the big publishers are now paying more attention to them, helping them with pricing and marketing. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • It’s part of the local community. It’s a meeting place for friends and neighborhood book clubs. It’s like a “Cheers” bar for book lovers. There is a growing “buy locally” movement that benefits the independent bookseller. For every $100 spent in a national chain bookstore, only $43 of it stays in the local community. Small bookstores? More than $73 stays in the neighborhood. There is also a sensory aspect to the small bookstores. When I’m in a Barnes & Noble, while resplendent and heavenly, it nonetheless smells of credit cards, name tags, industrial cleaner, and the aforementioned cappuccino (which really, they’re worth the trip if you ask me). In a small, locally owned bookshop, I smell Emily Brönte, Shakespeare, L.Frank Baum, Jack London, and Mary Shelley mixed with essence of earnestness. And not in a bad way.
  • Who wouldn’t love the small bookshop experience? Visiting one is like putting on a warm sweater on a chilly day, a cup of tea, a shelter from the storm. One never knows what will be found when turning the corner in an aisle and browsing. That’s a key word: It’s a word that is overused, yet underrated. Visiting a small store can be like visiting a vintage clothing store. “Wow!  I didn’t know I needed that, but I want it.” A pleasant surprise — in book form — lurks around every corner, just waiting to be found. Children sit on the floor, poring through picture books. Kindly Ms. Kelly is reading stories to a group of seniors.
  • The staff knows what they’re doing. They are keenly familiar with the store’s offerings. They don’t need a computer to see what’s in stock. But they know how to use one to order any book they may not have but a customer wants, and are probably just as excited as you are when it’s finally located. They love books more than you do, if that’s even possible. “Hey, if you liked X, you’re going to love Y!” Conversely, they’ll let you know if something you’re looking for isn’t your cup of tea. “No, actually, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ isn’t a graphic designer handbook.”  You can count on what a small bookshop employee tells you. It’s like the library except you get to keep your newfound treasure.
  • The “intangibles.” There is an “atmosphere” to a small store. You may find a comfortable amount of clutter, pictures drawn by local schoolchildren, and potted plants. Walking into a small bookshop, you will feel the tension in your neck and shoulders disappear, your attitude improves, and time slow down.

Yes, I am a proud Book Nook Schnook. Do yourself a favor and visit your locally owned bookseller. It’ll be good for you – and good for the neighborhood. There are more than 1600 of them still around. When you do, stop by and say “Hello!” for me. And hey, if you want to buy me a book…even better!

story-time is the best time

Library Shenanigans

I was waiting for my daughter to finish with her tutor yesterday at the library, and having already chosen the books I was taking home, I got a little bored.  So, I decided to amuse myself.

  • I grabbed a thick atlas off the Geography shelf and slammed it open at a table full of people. I pored over one page with a magnifying glass while mumbling “There it is!  The biggest treasure in history, just like Grandpa told me, right here on page 98!  He was right; I’m rich!”  Then, I slammed the book shut and put it back on the shelf full of atlases.
  • I went to the Wildlife section and made bird calls from behind the shelf any time anyone came over. My repertoire is quite impressive I’ll have you know.
  • I chose one person and followed him all around the library. Hiding behind the shelves, I kept popping my head out and whispering, “I see you.”
  • I found a book about time travel, then waited for people to come down the aisle before rifling through the pages and muttering angrily, “If only they knew. I could have saved them all.”
  • Strolled up to the librarian and announced, “I’ll have a Big Mac, small fries, and a diet Coke.” She was not amused.
  • I walked out of the bathroom with a thick book and said, “Geesh, I wouldn’t go in there for a while.”
  • I brandished a genealogy book over my head, screaming, “I knew it! Bow down before me!”
  • I read a comic book and kept spewing a running commentary of the entire thing. “Don’t go in there, Batman! Don’t do it! Oh, snap, he went in! Look out!”
  • Grabbed a book on dream interpretation and thumbed through it, feverishly mumbling “Giant mutant flying cannibalistic panda bears…”
  • Paged through a cookbook while sitting at a crowded table, whispering, “Where IS that kitten stew recipe?”
  • Pretended to have a heart attack in front of the CPR manuals. No-one noticed.
  • Built a fort out of books about forts.  The brilliance of this was lost on the security guards. They have no appreciation for genius.

They say I can be allowed back in the library by 2018, with adult supervision. No fair if you ask me.

Books on Tape

Have you guys heard of audiobooks yet? What a genius idea! They’re books that are read out loud by a narrator and recorded, so you can listen to the story instead of read it. Who knew?! (This is where you say, “Wendy, literally everyone knows about audiobooks.”)

Don’t worry, all. I’m not so far out of the technology loop that I’m just now learning that audiobooks exist. But, I will say that it wasn’t until just recently that I started to give them a shot. And you know what…I kinda like ‘em!

It’s not that I dislike good ol’ fashioned reading. Sometimes there’s nothing better than curling up with an engaging page turner, which is why it took me so long to come around to audiobooks. I figured, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And to me, books ain’t broke. I know, I know, perhaps I should listen to a grammar book (as my mother’s voice rings in my head…”ain’t isn’t a word, dear”).

But for some reason I decided to give audiobooks a chance. (The honest reason? They were free.) YouTube and a few other sites have books that you can download onto your phone and, boom, you listen through your headphones. Easy peasy.

The crazy thing I’ve learned since this new trend started is that I sort of like the feeling of someone reading to me. It’s relaxing in a very childlike sort of way. I can hunker down, close my eyes, and do literally zero work to have a story fed into my brain. I wouldn’t call it “laziness,” but rather an alternative relaxation technique I’m embracing. Hey, stop rolling your eyes at my rationalizations! I thought long and hard on that one!

I’m currently listening to Agatha Christie’s collection. Her books are great. Right now, I’m on “Cards on the Table.” The one downside with the audiobook is that it keeps my mind from conjuring up what each character sounds like. I hear the narrator and that’s the voice of the character. Not the worst thing in the world, but still, I miss that little sliver of freedom (such as imagining David Suchet – the quintessential Poirot) reading gives me.

Sometimes I start playing a book before bed to wind down, but I end up falling asleep and in the morning, I have to go back to the beginning again. But that’s not going to stop me. It might take me longer. But it won’t stop me.

Which is why I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked! Is it sad that I’d rather have someone read to me instead of reading for myself? Or is this me being “hip to the times” and embracing what technology has to offer? You decide. I have a book to listen to.

Reading is FUNdamental

It might be a bit of an understatement, but I love to read. It’s one of my favorite activities. On average, I read two or three books a week. Sometimes I do it to keep the brain firing but mostly it’s just flat-out fun. To me, there’s really nothing better than curling up with a book that takes me to faraway places with interesting characters, especially after a hard day at work.

One of my favorite genres is horror. I know, I know. Very relaxing, Wendy. I like the modern classics. Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft are a couple of my favorite scribes, but I’ll give just about any horror author a decent shot at winning me over. Mysteries—both hardcore authors like Alex Kava or whimsical writers like McCall Smith—can often be found on my nightstand. Agatha Christie is a true favorite. Then there’s science fiction, another favorite. Old, new, it doesn’t matter. I read it all. Even genre-bending authors like Kay Hooper who intertwines mystery-thrillers with a psychic/supernatural twist can be really fun. As hard as it might be to reconcile this next one given what you know about me, I do enjoy Jane Austen as well.  And yes, I’m also a comic book nerd. I know. Big surprise there, I know.

Even though I am a legit, full-grown adult I have not escaped the blast radius of the cataclysmic Young Adult boom either. Harry Potter?  Yep, I’ve read them too.  Look down on them if you must, but I don’t believe that everything you read has to be on par with Dickens. I’d heard that some parents kept their kids from reading these delightful books because they thought it celebrated witchcraft and their kids would turn into Satan-lovers or something ridiculous like that.  That was a minority of parents and I’m thankful for that because that book series single-handedly got an entire generation absolutely bonkers on reading again. It was great. The books couldn’t come out fast enough and the kids were thrilled to be READING!  Imagine that!? READING of all things!  And parents were trying to squash that. I just don’t understand some people.

At a time when the fear that iPhones and tablets and PSPs and social media were going to rot the brains of our youth, the Harry Potter collection got them reinvigorated on flipping through paper pages. They were reading. Not posting or updating or following or pinning. And I totally get why. I freakin’ loved those books. And they were not all easy reads as one might expect. J.K. Rowling did not hold back on the drama, the emotions, or the suspense. These novels were super exciting in spite of, or maybe because of, the emotional roller-coaster the author put us devoted readers on, and worthy of all the accolades they received.

A few people I know pointed out, as if I didn’t know, that—gasp—those are kids’ books. Their eyebrows would arch as they not so silently judged my reading selections. This air of pretentiousness is starting to pervade our literature choices and I just want to say, let’s not get too snobby, people.

Take book clubs for example. If you’ve ever joined a book group, you know that they usually don’t read “fun” books. No light romances or whimsical mysteries or horror novels for them. Heaven forbid they admit that they like a fun story more than some bloated philosophical 3,000 page masterpiece that takes forever to get through.

No disrespect to Tolstoy of Dostoevsky or Nobokov, but I don’t quite get why a club would choose a book where it’s hard to really understand the “point” behind them even after you’ve read them twice or even three times (but you say you do just so you don’t look stupid in book club)! Yeah, yeah, yeah, they’re classics. They deserve their place in the annals of great literature, but I’m just going to say it: No one really enjoys these books. The problem is that most people in book clubs only say they do so their peers won’t look down on them or think they’re “reading challenged.”

That last paragraph was not just all speculation. I belonged to a book club back in the day. It was mind-numbingly boring. I gave it a good college try though hoping it would broaden my horizons but I only lasted a couple of books. The material they chose was sooo stale. To my credit, or discredit – however you want to view it – I could read the material…easily…I just didn’t want to.  I know, I know, that sounds like something a toddler would say, but oh well. Why read something you’re not going to enjoy? Before bowing out I did notice that no one else in the club seemed to relish the book list either. Yet no one spoke up and said, “Can we please just pick out something fun to read?”

I think it’s high time we remove the snobbishness. I say, if you’re reading, that’s great! It doesn’t matter what you’re reading just so as long as you’re enjoying it because it’s supposed to be a truly relaxing hobby. So, please, read anything. Read comic books or Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Danielle Steele. Just have fun doing it.

Reading builds the mind and offers an escape from everyday life. While it’s good to learn and improve yourself by stretching your comfort zone, there’s no reason why it always has to be overly challenging or arduous. You should never sulk or heavy sigh when you think about the book you’re about to crack open. Read a book that’s fun sometimes instead of always choosing material that hurts your brain. And don’t let others bring you down for what you read.  Ever.

Remember: Reading should be FUNdamental!

girl reading

An Unrepentant Addiction Redux

So in honor of National Library Week, I’m going to repost a bit of a previous entry about my love of books. Believe it or not this obsession with books even outweighs my obsession with all manner of horror films. I know, I know, but it’s true.

So when my son was little, and then again with my daughter, we’d make the weekly trek to the library, dufflebag in hand, prepared to raid their shelves of as many books as I could physically carry out to the car by myself.  Oftentimes it was quite the struggle out to the parking lot (and then again into the house) and to an outsider it probably looked as though my bag was filled with bricks what with the way it bent my back. And trust me, this was not an exercise made in vain either…we actually read every book we stuffed into that dufflebag, usually before the week was over. Our bedtime ritual was quite a lengthy one given the fact that we had to read 5 or 6 books each night. Keep in mind, we had books of our own…stacks and stacks of books. But we soon exhausted our own supply and since I didn’t have a money tree in my backyard for trips to Barnes and Noble, the library was a weekly fixture for us. Of course they’re older, but my kids retained their love of books…as have I.  And my house shows it.

Now, if you’ve ever been at home watching network TV in the late morning/early afternoon, during The Price is Right, Family Feud, or any old school soap opera you’ve no doubt seen those cheesy coffee commercials where a woman wrapped tight in a pastel shawl has her hands cupped around a steaming mug of French Roast. Without a care in the world she looks out the window of her breakfast nook just contemplating how wonderful of a morning it is. She’s in no rush at all to start the day and just basks in the comforts her caffeine and nook are providing her. How silly, right? Well…

I want that! Not exactly that, but close to it. The only thing I’d change about those commercials is that instead of standing around like a zombie I’d be curled up in a decked out bay window seat with a good book in my hands. It’d be a requirement.

Books, reading, literature…appreciation of the written word is the lifeblood of my house. I may not have the breakfast nook or the time to laze around in the mornings or a sprawling vista of oaks and elms rolling into the distance from my backyard, but I do have the book part down. They’re absolutely everywhere; stacked on nightstands, scattered around the bed, piled on stairs, and littering the kitchen counter. Hell, it’s not rare at all to find a book under my bed covers because I fell asleep reading (again). My daughter’s room is practically a library in and of itself.  Even the spare room isn’t safe and has more than its share of bookshelves.  We’re hopeless addicts (a nicer way to say this would be bibliophiles) to novels, tomes, epics, thrillers, horrors, mysteries, best sellers, unknowns, contemporaries, and classics. It’s all fair game.

This addiction doesn’t make for the tidiest house in the world but certainly an entertaining one seeing as how you can literally stumble across a good story at any given moment. While the rest of the Barnes and Nobles are going down quicker than the Titanic, I may be single-handedly keeping the one near my house in business. Every time I go in there with my daughter any cash I may be fortunate enough to have in my pockets is quickly transformed into a bag of books.   You can never have too many, right? At least that’s my understanding. It’s simply impossible for us to window-shop in a book store.

On top of the whole Barnes and Nobles temptation problem I have, there is another one closer to home.  The downtown area of my neighborhood is reminiscent of Mayberry (showing my age here).  And right smack in the center of the main drag next to the coffee shop is a used/rare book store. It’s large and dusty and unorganized and the guy who runs it looks like he hasn’t stepped out into the light in decades.  But it’s a treasure trove to me!  I could seriously spend hours in this place.  And have.  I enjoy everything this hole in the wall offers — the smells of the old books, the joyous wonder of searching through the shelves to find some rare book I’ve never seen before or perhaps one that I remember from my childhood or maybe a classic in its original print rather than the abridged edition.  They’re all fodder for my unrepentant book compulsion.  And did I mention it’s right next door to a coffee shop!?  Nirvana.

One day I may have a house that has that beautiful vintage inspired reading nook complete with a cushioned window seat and surrounding bookshelves in an oh-so-cute and artistic arrangement.  Until then, though, I’ll enjoy the hard and softbound jungle that is my cluttered home, which really, in itself has become the greatest reading nook of all.

The literacy site