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Field Notes, vol 12

January 12, 2014

field notes

I write this looking at the early morning sun, at least what has filtered through the clouds, and it is magnificent. The morning holds such a strange combination of calm and hope for me: the day stretches out, full of hours not yet spent. The blueish light makes everything feel not quite real, a bit bewitched. Anything can happen.

My illnesses are easing back towards their everyday existence, leaving behind the heightened drama of a flare up, and I will celebrate with my delayed new year cleaning. This involves not only tidying, but also sorting and rearranging and clearing out my various possessions. They somehow multiply, no matter how close an eye I think I’ve kept on them, and systems that a year ago made tidying easy now need rethinking. I love it because it combines physical work with philosophical reflections, aesthetic decisions, and logical solutions. My entire being is engaged, and at the end I will once again have a cosy, working little place.

This week, spent mostly with various heating pads on various pieces of furniture, allowed seemingly endless time for reading. Lots of reading. Last Sunday, I’d completed three books in the year. This Sunday, I’ve completed thirteen. In fact, midweek I started deliberately spending time on other things, because I was afraid of my back list piling up at even more rapid pace. Which is something I’ll return to later.

Meanwhile, I found several nonfiction treasures amongst my reading. Naming Nature by Mary Blocksma (already posted about) was everything I could ask for in a natural history book. I found myself moved to tears and laughter and much inward reflection by Still Life with Oysters and Lemon by Mark Doty: the ideas in this book are far heavier than its seventy page slimness would suggest. If you have any interest in the intersection between life and art and physical objects, do look for a copy. Of course, The Inconvenient Indian, the latest book by Thomas King, one of my favourite authors, was incredible: a mix of history and storytelling that takes no prisoners in its account of how both the US and Canada have treated native populations, particularly in the more recent decades. That he managed to do all this without leaving me depressed or guilty or hopeless is a testament to his power as a storyteller. I’m now craving more books by Native American authors; luckily I have Crow Lake out from the library right now and Marilyn just listed several intriguing sounding ones.

I also read two books by authors with very different viewpoints than my own; while I can’t say I wholeheartedly loved either, I did encounter interesting or valuable ideas in both Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez and The Plain Reader ed. by Scott Savage. Reading books by authors who hold very different philosophies of my own sometimes feels like berry picking: lots of thorny branches to be cautious of, but if I can make it past them, there’s a reward waiting.
In contrast, my fiction reading was less than stellar. I only loved one without reservation: Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie. Crombie, and her Duncan/Kincaid mystery series, is one of my favourite discoveries of 2013, which should be obvious when I tell you this was the eleventh in the series! That means I read ten of her books last year, and I didn’t discover her until July. Three of the other novels I read were by authors I already like, and while they were all page turning, ultimately I ended up feeling a bit dissatisfied upon completing each of them, although for different reasons. A Spider on the Stairs by Cassandra Chan is the latest in her mystery series, and while the others have been very traditional and puzzle-like, thus qualifying as comfort reads, this one included a serial killer subplot that I found unnecessary and disturbing. Bellman & Black, Diana Setterfield’s latest, started out strong, but couldn’t sustain its magic and rather than following through on the promise in the beginning seemed instead to weaken. Not a terrible book by any means, but not a fabulous one either (of course, I was never quite as in love with The Thirteenth Tale as many others).

Raj by Gita Mehta also began strong, only to lose itself towards the end, although its cultural richness, sociopolitical commentary, and cleverness made me forgive it. It was published in 1989, which makes me think about how few books I read that were written from, say, the 50s to the 80s. They seem in a kind of in-between land: too young to be classics but too old to receive much attention. Unless I’m reading a favourite author’s back list, I tend not to come across them. I’d like to seek more out! And then of course there was Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker, which I expected to love like all of the other bloggers I’ve seen talk about it. That didn’t happen, to put it mildly, as I detailed on Thursday. Oh and I began a new audiobook, Ayana Mathis’ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, but I’m not far enough in yet to guess how I’m going to feel about it.

I’m currently in the middle of Love in a Headscarf, a fabulous memoir that includes a lot of religious and cultural musings on love, marriage, and a woman’s place. This is personal feminist writing at its best, despite the impression the title and cover might give you. And once I finished this post, I plan to begin Pathologies, an essay collection by Canadian Susan Olding. I have had very good luck with essay collections by women older than me, so I’m looking forward to it.

I accomplished a lot in blogging this week too: I posted almost every day, which considering my 2013 track record is almost a miracle in and of itself. I also did lists for four reading challenges (and added a few more besides) if you’re curious. And yet, having read ten books in one week, I’m now faced with an unavoidable fact: I read books more quickly than I post about them. Even if I did write a post as soon as I finished every book, when would I publish it? In general, I only post ‘reviews’ three times a week, as I like to discuss other bookish things as well. If I adhere faithfully to that schedule, I could write about at most 156 books in a year. I tend to read twice that amount. What should I do? Publish more than once a day? Accept that not all books will get their own individual attention and go back to group posts so at least I talk about it a little bit? Ration my reading (just kidding)? I don’t know yet. I do know that it’s easy to feel crushed by a review backlog and end up not blogging at all; I don’t want that to happen this year.

Of course, I don’t always read this much: during a flare up, it becomes almost impossible to pursue my other interests, so reading and perhaps a bit of knitting are all that happen. As much as I love reading, when my health permits I want to expand the time I devote to making this year, so perhaps this will end up being less of an issue. I’m not sure.

I’m off to do a bit of reading and knitting, the latter of which will provide plenty of space to contemplate possible blogging approaches. Do share your own approaches or any solutions that come to you for my dilemma.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2014 8:51 am

    Like you, I read faster than I write and cannot review every book that I finish. How about grouping books? I keep a summary list which I publish once a month. If I write a sentence or two about each book, then I have at least said something. Writing even this much forces me to think more carefully about what I have read.

  2. January 12, 2014 9:17 am

    Glad you’re feeling a bit better!

  3. January 12, 2014 9:20 am

    I haven’t managed to review everything for a couple of years now but I do miss the fact that I used to have a record of what I felt about all the books I read. Now I just have Goodreads or LibraryThing stars – not really enough. Maybe longer posts for the books you feel strongest about or have the most to say about and a group post for those you don’t?

    I’m glad your flare up is easing, I hope that continues!

  4. January 12, 2014 10:09 am

    Since I’ve recently cut back on blogging, I’m doing a few group posts. While I think I still prefer the single book post, I am enjoying looking for ways to connect the often disparate books that I’m posting about.

  5. aartichapati permalink
    January 12, 2014 10:17 am

    I am doing group posts, too. For example, I just went on a Flavia de Luce binge and instead of talking about each book (which is tricky in a series, anyway, as people are so anal about spoilers), I just talked about why I love the series.

  6. January 12, 2014 11:06 am

    I don’t let my reading dictate my blogging. If I have to I will do group posts, but mostly I am just going to read and blog and if they coincide, then great, but I refuse to get stressed out about it because I also stopped blogging last year.

  7. January 12, 2014 1:30 pm

    LOLOLOLOL…can’t let you in on any strategies I’ve developed, as I’ve never had the problem of reading more books than can fit into my blogging. Not that I post about every book I read, but that’s purely out of laziness and/or lack of things to say.
    But I always did love those posts you did that semi-briefly talked about a bunch of books at once–l still got loads of wonderful insights and info on each book and could load up my wish list massively in one fell swoop (something I complain about, but in reality, of course, actually love :P ). But I also love the idea of you just posting more than once a day if have more posts. I know some people don’t like it when people post more than once a day, but that’s an attitude I’ve never quite understood–if I love reading someone’s posts, why would I mind having even more to read? And it’s not like anyone’s forcing one to read every post a person writes anyway, right? Anyway, I hope you find a solution that works for you, because you’re the one who really matters here.

  8. January 12, 2014 3:58 pm

    Loving your blog. Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. January 12, 2014 4:37 pm

    I tried reading Bellman and Black but couldn’t get into it. I’m glad I didn’t get too far because I haven’t really seen many positive things being said about it. As for your review question, I say give full posts to books that you either love or that are really discussion-worthy, do the other ones in clumps like mini-reviews or not at all. I have the same problem but I don’t read nearly as much as you do so theoretically if I post 3 reviews a week I can easily review everything I read. But actually writing the reviews, well that’s another story…

    Happy Sunday :)

  10. January 12, 2014 8:01 pm

    Wasn’t The Inconvenient Indian wonderful? I like Thomas King so much. I’m going to ILL that book of his about stories that Ana’s been talking about — I can’t remember the title! The Trouble with Stories? Something like that? (I mean, all his books are about stories, so this isn’t very informative.)

    I never have this problem with a backlog of reviews. The problem I have is finding the time to read enough books that are interesting enough to me that I want to talk about them in full blog posts. (Not enough books, not too many.)

  11. January 12, 2014 9:36 pm

    It’s been so lovely to hear from you every day! I don’t know that I have any helpful suggestions for how to blog about what you read, but perhaps just do posts for books you feel strongly about one way or the other? And the more middle of the road books could be talked about in mini reviews, or just a post like this?

  12. January 13, 2014 2:19 am

    Enjoyed reading your post, Eva! I loved what you said about cleaning your workplace – “I love it because it combines physical work with philosophical reflections, aesthetic decisions, and logical solutions” – so beautifully written. I also loved what you said about ‘in-between’ books – “They seem in a kind of in-between land: too young to be classics but too old to receive much attention” – so beautifully put. Hope you figure out a way of writing about all the books that you read. Happy knitting an Happy reading!

  13. January 13, 2014 8:51 am

    I’m so happy you’re posting more; it’s so great to hear from you.

    Honestly? I would suggest scheduled posts. That’s what I do. It gives you a nice buffer to get you through the leaner times.

  14. January 13, 2014 1:36 pm

    Even though January is nearly half-way-through, I haven’t given challenges much thought for this year, but I’ll be checking out your list for sure. I hope there are lots of new favourite books in the reading year ahead of you. Enjoy and take good care.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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