Bibelots

a place for the curious

Tag: libraries

Read harder or not at all

two people sit comfortably across from each other between two library shelves full of books

Getting comfy with books

I’m going to try a reading challenge this year. Not to prove how many books I can ram into a year – I’ve never been the type to sit around and boast how big, how far, how many – but to push the boundaries of exactly what I’m comfortable reading. And what I’m not.

It’s too easy to stay in your happy little comfort zone. Sometimes, when life is busy or tough, knowing your comfort zone and residing there is good and, even more, necessary. Sometimes you need to push the reading envelope a little.

This time of year there are plenty of reading challenges around. There’s one from Pop Sugar that’s quite nice, but I balked when I read their challenge of ‘A book with a blue cover’. Don’t judge a book by the proverbial, right?

Goodreads has you covered if you just want the numbers, but I do not. It’s nice though as they let you set your own goal.

I loved the look of the #BustleReads 20 book challenge. But I loved it a little too much. If I’m feeling comfy, it’s hardly a challenge at all. Yes? Yes. Still, I wholeheartedly reserve the right to go back there and plunder it if I get bored with my final challenge choice.

The challenge that I’ve gone with had a few goals that properly made me screw up my nose in discomfort. It’s still got some easy hits for me as well though. 500+ pages? Sure. Done. Horror? Um, how many can I have? Just one? Oh. But there is more challenge than ease, and so the winner is…

My preferred challenge

The 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

The challenge by Book Riot is a great list (that unfortunately is done as an image. Hello, modern web much?) You can get a text version of the list over at Goodreads.

For my own amusement, I’ve broken it into some useful groups. The point for me is to extend myself. I’m not bothered if I don’t tick all the boxes, but I do want to try and tick all the ones that make me break into a sweat.

Well, it doesn’t say it has to be an adult, right?

  • Read a book out loud to someone else

Uh, really? Do I really have to do that?

  • Read a food memoir
  • Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)
    {I’m surprised by how much I don’t want to do this}

Oh, I didn’t realise how infrequently I do this

  • Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award
  • Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Read a play
  • Read the first book in a series by a person of color
  • Read a book that is set in the Middle East

I’ve done this lots before, but I’m due again

  • Read a collection of essays
  • Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness
  • Read a middle grade novel
    {for Australians, this is a book aimed at kids aged around 8-12}
  • Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie – debate which is better
  • Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender
  • Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia
  • Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
  • Read a book originally published in the decade you were born
  • Read a book under 100 pages

Too easy, I do this all the time

  • Read a horror book
  • Read a nonfiction book about science
  • Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900
  • Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes
  • Read a book over 500 pages long
    {done, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things}

Is it even possible not to do this?

  • Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel

That’s all from me

It’s time to start reading.

Who owns this book?

A question about unread books was posted on twitter today. It gave me pause for thought:


There’s little doubt that this question has more to do with hoarding than reading, but for me it soon became a question about ownership.

Wisely, Octavia (@ReadSleepRepeat) was careful to include e-books. If she’d just said ‘books’, I could have cheated by trying to interpret that as ‘paper books’, before walking around my house counting a few dozen unread books*.

Thinking of all my copyright-free e-books, I asked Octavia whether her query was also about books you get for free — the answer was a resounding yes.

Uh-oh.

With that answer my slightly-smug feeling of  ‘I don’t have too many unread books’ started draining away.

library, black and white photo

Books, beautiful books
National Library of Norway

Here’s my problem. When I’m bored I’ll trawl through places like Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive, searching for things that sound curious, intriguing or, at least, eminently readable. There are now hundreds and hundreds of tiny, little book bibelots, stored on my kindle and computer, waiting my possible perusal or swift reference.

Do I own these books? Of course not. Not in any financial sense. Do the ones I love belong to me as much as any book I’ve paid money for? I guess the answer has to be yes.

The question then becomes one of whether these great hoards of digital books can be counted. And to that I can say a resounding ‘not in this lifetime’. It’s just not possible. While I’m at it I might as well try and count all the pages on the internet. These books keep going out of copyright, getting uploaded and being downloaded.

It’s around about now that it all gets a little philosophical. Just who owns what anyway?

Octavia’s question was a good one as it got me to thinking. A wonderful outcome on any day. But, ultimately, it’s just not the question I want to answer. Ask me this:

What’s still out there that you haven’t yet managed to read?

The answer is, of course, everything. I can’t ever own all of it, but it’s all there. And, so, here I am. With the universe and everything in it still left to read.

 

* Is it just me or does the phrase ‘unread books’ conjure up images of story-less books roaming the midnight streets looking for words to devour. … No? Just me, then?

Battle of the books

a woman smokes a cigarette while reading the paper

Longing for one story
while reading another.

I am currently reading two books.

Actually, that’s not quite right. I’m currently obsessed with two particular books. And I’m cheating on one.

I thought about disclosing what they are, but I wouldn’t like to bias your opinion for one combatant over the other. Both books have strangely connecting themes. Both are written by authors with the first name ‘Miranda’. (I may have already said too much.)

Both books are good reads. They’re both weird and both make me feel slightly uncomfortable, but in very different ways. When I wake up I think ‘I can’t wait to read that book by Miranda’. This thought is immediately followed by several minutes of guilt over who might win the competition for first read of the day.

How did all this happen? Why are these Mirandas in such fierce competition. What can I do to avoid it all again?

Not much. Not unless I can somehow remove deadlines from my existence, especially any to do with reading.

We’ve all experienced the battle of the books at one time or another. A book might need to be read in time for a book club discussion. Another could be an overdue library book, delicately nibbling at your conscience and your bank account in the form of overdue fees. Or maybe it’s a treasured loan from a good friend, and its continued presence in your house almost ensures an ending of coffee-stained proportions.

I’ve been through all of it. And more. The root cause of the problem is not that first, sweet, innocent book. It is always another book. One that is too damn good to put down. It’s suave. It’s appealing. It is the ‘other’ book.

It is the book that forces you to read at every opportunity. A minute in the lift? Read. Is that a red don’t walk signal flashing before you? Read. You read as you walk, as you eat and, yes, if you could, you’d do it in the shower. This unstoppable, delectable, almost-edible book is forcing you to cheat on your main read. And, time to admit it now, you’re loving it.

The terrible guilt-ridden shame of it all.

There’s no choice. You can never put down a ‘can’t put it down’ book. It has to be read. Fines, stains, guilt complexes and disapproving looks be damned. The ‘other’ book always wins.

In that sense, this current battle of the books is no different to any other. Except that usually, when the battle is on, one book is pulling ahead. Not this time. They are equally intriguing. I know I should just put down my-deadline free book and read what I’m meant to be reading. But, I’m not. It’s the same problem, no matter how I try to deny it.

I’ve tried keeping them at separate ends of the house. Making one a bedtime only book. Taking only the deadline-Miranda on the train with me. It doesn’t help. A good book calls to you. It must be read. There’s no logic to it. It’s why deadlines and reading for pleasure can never be friends.

Yes. I am, truly, reading two books. As and when I see fit. And loving it.

(Please don’t let either of them know, okay?)

Dear librarian

a photo of a book titled "one thousand beautiful things" with a rose on the cover, next to a little Lego manThe walls were beige and the floor was beige. The chairs were plastic and the tables flimsy and chipped. Yet this room was more full of life and colour than my most vibrant dreams.

This was my first library. A place overflowing with books. Shelf after endless shelf of them, reaching far above my young head.

My library also had a little games room. A table, two chairs and a beanbag. It was the warmest and most welcoming room on the planet. I felt safe there. Safe and happy. The word sanctuary seems too thin to convey just how good it was.

Of course, I shared this space with other children and adults. I didn’t mind. A place of books draws in people who love books. That’s not to say that all people who love books are lovely people, but it does attract people with a similar frame of mind.

And at the centre of all of these books and book-ish people was the Ringmaster. The librarian.

I don’t know her name. Oh, how I wish I did. I would hunt her down, hold her in my arms and pepper her forehead with the gentlest of kisses.

In one way, it doesn’t matter. Librarians the world over provide access to knowledge, share with us their beautiful collections of books and, almost unwittingly, they provide shelter.

Each librarian probably has a different way of welcoming you. My librarian was of a kind who felt that all books were good books, even the bad ones. She has left me with an unbiased love for any book. I’m as at home with Luminaries as I am with the Little Fuzzies. Whatever it is, I’ll try not to judge it by cover, genre or price. Every one gets at least one chance. Maybe two.

So, from the bottom of my papery heart, dear librarian, I wish to say thank you.

Thanks for every bright little word. Every grand word. Every long and winding sentence. Every page, every author, every book. Thank you and your amazing house of words.

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