Books Read in 2013

I only managed to finish 16 books last year. I probably bought at least that many, so the to-read bookcase is still stuffed tightly with books. Sigh.

Here’s what I read:
The Shadowed Sun N. K. Jemesin
The Way of Shadows Brent Weeks
White Tiger Kylie Chan
Kevin McCloud’s Principles of Home
My Cool Shed
The Final Empire Brandon Sanderson
Last of the Gaderene Mark Gatiss
The Deep Tom Taylor
Dead Ever After Charlaine Harris
Star Wars: Blood Ties Tom Taylor
Gamer’s Rebellion George Ivanoff
Through Splintered Walls Kaaren Warren
Salt Mark Kurlansky
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
The Path of Anger Antoine Rouaud
And a beta read of a book by a friend.

In 2014… ah, who am I kidding? I have to concede defeat with the challenge of the to-read pile. The only way I ever reduce it significantly is to cull books.

I will keep trying to read more even if it means buying a second copy of a book as an ebook, as I find it easier to snatch unplanned reading time on my phone. I will continue to resist acquiring books, too. But I’m resigned to the fact that, with a job that involves a lot of work with words that makes me want to avoid them when relaxing, the constant temptation of freebies, wanting to buy books written by friends to support them, and Paul being a faster reader and recommending books to me, I will never tame the to-read pile.

It’s about enjoying the abundance of books now, and the freedom to choose a book based on whether it interest me at the time… or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Designs on Bookplates

So having decided I should design a bookplate, I went looking for inspiration. I pinned a range of them to a dedicated “Beautiful Bookplates” Pinterest board. There are some lovely modern bookplates in there. I also have this book.

It seems owls, cats and trees are very common subjects for bookplates. There are lots of pretty women reading books and, of course, pictures of books. There are also versions of the book stealer’s curse.

I’m thinking of drawing a sea turtle. Slow on land, but surprisingly agile once immersed. Hard on the outside, apparently very tasty on the inside. (And they eat jellyfish, so I already have an affection for them.)

What would you put on your own personal bookplate? Do you have an animal you identify with? Or a plant? Or some other symbol? Do you like the old style of bookplate, or something more modern? Do you even use bookplates?

Book Shelfishness

When making the shift into co-habitation, the question of which possessions to combine and which to keep separate is an interesting and sometimes tricky one. It probably says a lot about a couple which possessions they don’t allow to become enmeshed and which they do. Sometimes it’s a matter of identity, sometimes practicality.

Paul and I have always kept our music collections separate. This is mostly practical. We both have eclectic but quite different tastes. There’s not a lot of overlap. So it’s easier to find what we want to listen to by keeping our collections separate.

We also have kept our books separate. This was not practical; it had everything to do with identity. The books that we own are a snapshot of our personal histories. We kept them in different bookcases: mine in the pine bookcases I had made nearly 20 years ago and took with me wherever I moved, Paul’s in incredibly heavy solid timber glass door cases we don’t really want any more of.

The thing is, we’ve been together for over ten years now and have since bought so many books that we’ve both read and for which there’s no way to tell whether a particular book is ‘mine’ or ‘his’. The bookcase issue is getting to be impractical, too. I’ve been culling my books savagely in order to fit everything in mine, and Paul goes on adding to his, which is starting to feel a little unfair. No, it’s starting to feel a LOT unfair. Especially when Paul often ends up adopting books I’ve culled.

Hmm.

So I suggested the other day that we finally combine our collections. Paul, to my surprise, agreed. (In fact, he looked rather happy about it… until it came to the part where we had to remove, cull, re-order and replace a whole lot of books.) But to reassure the possessive bibliophile in me, who still remembers the awkwardness of having to extract my books from the ex’s collection, I’ve come up with a salve: bookplates.

We’ll probably only put them the books we feel most sentimental about. While I could buy them, we’re going to need an awful lot of them. I could make them, but that’s going to be time-consuming. However, I have had bookplates printed before for people who forget to bring my books to signings, or have ebook versions. It’s a lot faster and cheaper to have them made in bulk.

2012: Books

These are the books I read last year:

Code Noir, Marianne de Pierres
Crash Delux, Marianne de Pierres
Dead Sea Fruit, Kaaron Warren
Rogue Gadda, Nicole Murphy
Bite Me, Christopher Moore
Black Juice, Margo Lanagan
Cold Magic, Kate Elliot
Thief of Lives Lucy Sussex
Casting Spells, Barbara Bretton
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
Jeans: A Cultural History of an American Icon, James Sullivan
Timeless, Gail Carriger
Laced With Magic, Barbara Bretton
Full Circle, Luis Sepulveda
Deadlocked, Charlaine Harris
Colour, Victoria Finlay
What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell
Sunshine, Robin McKinley
The Gift, Alison Croggon
Showtime, Narelle Harris
Winter Be My Shield, Jo Spurrier
The Book of Animal Ignorance, the QI Elves
Sean & David’s Long Drive, Sean Condon
The Classic Fairy Tales, Iona & Peter Opie
From Armageddon to the Fall of Rome, Erik Durschmied

25 in total. Six were books I acquired this year, six were non-fiction.

Last year I managed 30 books, but I did ‘cheat’ a little by reading small books in order to increase the score. At the beginning of this month I considered challenging myself to get to 30, which would have meant reading ten books in a month. But December is crazy enough without adding unnecessary extra demands on my time, so I quickly abandoned that idea.

Instead I decided to see if I could finish some of the books I’d already started. Kind of a book WIP finishing challenge. The first was Sean and Dave’s Long Drive, a whacky book about two guys on a driving holiday in Australia that I started way back in the 90s but had to put aside to finish something else. I had to re-read the start, but didn’t mind as it’s a fun, easy read.

I also finished The Classic Fairy Tales, which proved much easier than I expected. It contains early versions of fairy tales, with a short intro on their origins. The first one was rather long and a bit tedious, so I’d put the book aside assuming the rest of them would be as well. But the rest of them were short and not at all tedious, so finishing the book was very enjoyable.

Next I tackled the last third of a non-fiction book about decisive battles in ancient history, which isn’t as dry as it sounds as the author really gets into describing the atmosphere and emotions of the participants. I picked up at the story of Julius Ceasar which gave me enough hints to get me interested in starting second season of Rome, and maybe I’ll finally get hold of I, Claudius, which I’ve been wanting to watch for years.

I’ve managed to get them finished thanks to two things: Paul bought me a little side table that swivels out over my armchair. I can put my book seat on it, which I can’t normally use without kicking the cat off my lap. I confess, I don’t have the heart to push Slinky off when he’s curled up asleep, and wind up playing with my phone instead. Yes, I know. Pathetic.

The other reason is I’ve been ‘sick’ and spent lots of time in the armchair. Without going into gory details, my cycle is the very definition of ‘irregular’ now. Lovely menopause. Or pre-menopause. I may end up calling it ‘life on pause’. I was either a zombie, or too hyper to concentrate for five weeks thanks to medication, so I got no work done and couldn’t get the energy or enthusiasm up for Christmas.

I’d rather it didn’t, but if this keeps happening at least I’ll get more reading done in future.

The To-Read List Update

It’s been a year since I decided to do something about my out of control to-read list. I have managed to get more reading into my routine, increasing it to about 30 books a year, but I’m not sure I’m doing as well at reducing the book buying as I need to.

Last time I picked five aspects of stash reduction, so I’ll review how well I’ve done with each.

Cull:
I’ve kept up the culling, by reviewing what was on the bottom of the list from time to time and taking out anything that didn’t excite me any more, and by removing a whole series when the first book didn’t thrill me.

Prioritise:
To help I put together a spreadsheet, noting whether a book was for research of part of a series I’d already begun. Later I added everything to Goodreads in the hope I could cull out anything with low star ratings, but everything is rated pretty highly and it’s much faster to change the order of the books on the spreadsheet.

Restraint:
I wasn’t supposed to buy more books except…
Books for research – I did buy some non-fiction that wasn’t specifically research, so I’m not doing so well here
Manuscripts for friends or to provide quotes for – I haven’t had any to read this year
Ongoing books in a series I’m hooked on – I bought four of these, was given one, and read four
To support a specialty bookshop – nothing that didn’t also qualify under other rules
If I run out of books on holiday – this is where I fell down, buying both new and second hand books in New Zealand
Books given to me – six, five by my publisher
Books with proceeds going to charity – none

In general, I broke the rules when I was at a bookshop, and in particular when I was on holidays. I had no problem with willpower at conventions, so I reckon this was a matter of being in holiday mode and having my guard down. I suspect with non-fiction books that I reasoned they were research at the time, but aren’t really. I also know that I started buying books ‘for Paul’, despite knowing that they’d end up on my to-read list once he finishes them – and he’s a fast reader.

Encouragement (or cheating):
I wound up choosing smaller books toward the end of last year in order to get my total up to 30. And I do find myself grabbing shorter books when I want to see some progress. I’ve also noted a few books that I’m partway through that I could finish off.

Rewards:
Well, the list has gone from the 130s to the 110s, so that’s one small achievement. And I am reading more than I used to. I’ve got to some books I’ve been wanting to read for ages, in particular ones by writers I know or was going to meet so it was nice to be able to talk about them.

So, what to do? Well, I’ve come up with some new rules:

If I buy a book I have to cull one – but that can only go on so long before the whole point of this exercise is gone
I’m not allowed to buy books ‘for Paul’ – unless he asks for them
No non-fiction unless it really is for research – especially as they usually take longer to read
Pick less specific research books – so instead of buying one on the Silk Road, buy one that covers several great trading routes.
I can’t buy any new book until I’ve read 3 to-read list ones – and I’ll keep a wish list to help me prioritise what I buy when I do

I doubt I’ll be reading more books per year without any major lifestyle change, so my best chance of getting the list down is to reduce my book buying habit. The list stands at 118 books. With luck and willpower it’ll be under 100 in another year. And with the Olympics taking over the tv in a few weeks, I ought to take the opportunity to get a few more ticked off the list.

Books Read in 2011

I read 34 books in 2012, if you include re-reading my own books. I’m very happy with that, considering that I only read ten last year, and less before then. I’d have said I’m a long way off my pre-chronic fatigue days of a book a week, but perhaps it’s not as impossible as I thought.

So here’s the list of what I read, for posterity:

Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity (nf)
Madigan Mine, Kirstyn McDermott
Souless, Gail Carriger
Broken Kingdoms, NK Jemesin
Eona, Alison Goodman
Future Found, Nicole Murphy (ms)
Debris, Jo Anderton (q)
Leviathan, Scott Westerfield
Dead Reckoning, Charlaine Harris
Mystification, Kaaron Warren
Changeless, Gail Carriger
Freakonomics (nf)
The Big Re-read of 2011 (6 books)
Blameless, Gail Carriger
Gunpowder (nf)
The Kingdom of Gods, NK Jemesin (q)
Heartless, Gail Carriger
Sassycat, Richard Harland
Power Unbound, Nicole Murphy
Gamer’s Challenge, George Ivanoff
Family Trade, Charles Stross
The Wallflower, Tomoko Hayakawa
You Suck, Christopher Moore
The Killing Moon, NK Jemesin
Wicked Plants, Amy Stewart
Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction (nf)
Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World (nf)
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates, Martin Hopkinson

That’s 6 fantasy, 1 science fiction, 3 horror, 4 paranormal romance, 5 steampunk, 1 manga, and 8 non-fiction, and 6 of my own books. Though some of those cross genres. The Gail Carriger books could be classed as paranormal romance, but I read them as steampunk research. Family Trade is a very science fictiony sort of fantasy. Sassycat isn’t very scary because it’s a ghost story for kids. Debris has been marketed as science fiction, but tastes like fantasy to me.

Best books? Debris is amazing, and I love Nora Jemesin’s writing. Gail Carriger’s books are great if you want a funny, pacy read. Though the non-fictions books were all great, the little art theory one really stretched my mind.

I’ve started another list in the sidebar for this year. First fiction book I’ve finished is a rollicking science fiction tale and now I’m onto the last of the trilogy. Both from my prodigious To Read list.

One List Shorter, One List Longer

I’ve abandoned the woven cat food mats project. Slinky gets so enthusiastic about eating that he pushes his food bowl across the floor. I figured a woven mat might provide enough texture to stop it slipping. It was a project that ought to have been simple, but became ridiculously complicated.

(Alert! Technical weaving terms begin.) I thought I’d try warp-faced rep on the knitters loom using some Lion Brand cotton. The warp needs a small dpi – the strands are threaded closer together so only the warp shows in the fabric – but when I went to weave it the yarn stuck together and wouldn’t form a shed. I tried spraying it with hair de-tangling spray and using a pick up stick, which helped, but then I found the warp strands still weren’t close enough to form a completely warp-faced fabric.

So I re-threaded the warp to use plain weave, which caused a flare up of RSI. But because the weft in warp-faced rep doesn’t show, I’d used most of the yarn as warp – so most of it was now cut into lengths. I needed to buy more. (Alert! Technical weaving terms end.)

Well, it turned out there was only one shop in Australia that sold Lion Brand yarn. When I went to order it, they were going to charge me over $15 in postage, even when I reduced the order to one ball. So I went looking for similar yarns and found Sugar & Cream at Yarn Over. Two balls = $6 shipping & handling.

In the meantime, I decided that a non-slip rubber mat would do just as well for the cat. So I’m going to weave hand towels out of the warp on the loom, and concentrate on other projects on my list.

My ‘Books Read in 2011′ list just got longer. I finished two books, but I have to admit the one about bookplates was the shortest in my To Read List. Is that cheating? Well, I hadn’t read it and it was in the list, so I don’t reckon it was.

Small Steps

I am SO looking forward to delivering this book to the publisher. Even though it means we move into the painful and annoying part of the process: editing (painful) and proofing (annoying).

My wrist felt like it was back to normal on Tuesday. The knitting was calling, but I resisted. Wednesday morning I re-warped the small loom (long story) and though it hadn’t bothered me the first time I warped it, I wound up with a sore and burning hand again. Not too bad today, though.

Slinky has gained a lot of confidence. Perhaps a little too much. He’s started being a bit naughty, scratching carpet and chewing on the laces of Paul’s shoes in the wardrobe just after I go to bed. But yesterday I finally saw him go down the stairs and yes, he does move a little bit like a Slinky. Front legs, back legs. Front legs, back legs.

I finished another book: Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World, which was a biography of the guy who started the synthetic dye industry. Mauve led to many other inventions of modern chemistry, including cancer and malaria treatments. It’s the 26th book I’ve read this year, if you don’t count me rereading five of my own books in order to refresh my memory. I’m wondering if I can get to 30 books before the end of the year. That’d be three times the number of books I read last year. (At that rate, it’ll only take me under four years to read through my To Read List.) But I have one more of my own books to reread as well. Perhaps if I choose short books from the List…

And the List is still growing, as I tackle new sections of my book collection. I’ve added short story collections by single authors and more recent non-fiction purchases, which increased the List to 111 books. I still have to go through short fiction magazines and anthologies and my older non-fiction (collected when I worked for Oxford Uni Press) to root out what I haven’t read and/or don’t want to keep. I’m a bit dismayed to find that, of the 26 books I’ve read this year, only two hadn’t been acquired recently. I need to get some of the old stuff read. And stop buying books!

(update) I’ve now gone through the old non-fiction and found I’d missed the small collection of Fantasy Masterworks, and the list has now grown to 134 books. Eeep!

Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned From Stash Busting

Well, not everything

Being a writer, the whole ebook thing is hardly recent news, but I’ve only recently started reading digital books for pleasure. I’ve been reading books on screen as part of my work for years, helping writer friends by reading their manuscripts and providing feedback. In fact, some years the only books I read were manuscripts, because for a few years there I found reading very difficult.

You see, I have chronic upper back issues that make reading while sitting up for more than half an hour painful – sometimes for days afterwards. The bigger and heavier the book, the worse it is. Physiotherapists tell me I should lie down to read, and I’ve found the Book Seat helps a lot, too.

Some years back I had some kind of chronic fatigue thing set in, and every time I lay down to read I’d fall asleep. I also found it very hard to concentrate on anything for long. I barely read anything for a couple of years, and then even though I slowly got over the fatigue I found it really hard to get back into the habit.

Still, I’ve been gradually regaining my reading mojo. Last year I read ten books. Ten! This year I’ve read that number in six months. I may never get back to my 50+ books a year habit, but things are improving.

Unfortunately, there was a lag between the drop in my reading habits and the drop in my book buying habits. I have quite a big to-read pile of print books. In fact, my to-read pile is a to-read bookcase. And on top of that I admit to ‘hiding’ unread books among read ones in my other bookcases.

Like many people, now that I’ve decided I like reading ebooks, I can’t help looking considering those print books a little differently. I still prefer to read print books. They feel and smell nice, are easier on the eyes, I think a house full of bookcases is immensely comforting, and they don’t vanish the next time you update your iPhone software.

But reading them hurts.

So the other day I went through my main fiction bookcase and removed everything I hadn’t read yet. I added them to my to-read bookcase and counted a total of over 100 books. Oh dear. If I continue to read at a rate of ten books a year, it’ll take me ten years to read them all. And only if I read what is there and nothing new. There are always new books to read: books by friends, new releases by favourite authors, books Paul reads and recommends, books publishers send for me to read and provide quotes for.

I don’t want to take ten years to read these books and I need the space they take up. But how am I going to get through 100 of them any faster than that? Well, thinking about this, it occurred to me that there must be some wisdom in all that yarn stash busting I’ve done. So I listed the ways I could apply it:

First: cull
The easiest way to reduce yarn stash is to simply sell it or give it away. In fact, a stash bust can be an excuse to get rid of yarn that you don’t really like, but have been feeling obliged to hang onto for some reason. I got ruthless in the same way with my books, getting rid of the series by writers I met once or used to chat with on a forum, but never got beyond the first book (or chapter), the sympathy buys, and the guilt purchases. Sometimes having spend my hard-earned cash on these books is support enough.

Then there’s the bargain yarn. I’ve been as much of a sucker for bargain priced books. And gift yarn. Most of my ‘gift’ books are freebies sent by the publisher, and I need to remember that I don’t have to read them.

I will also be applying the ’50 page rule’. If a book hasn’t hooked me by the time I get to page 50, out it goes – and the rest of the series. Heck, if the first chapter has me wanting to claw my eyes out or rinse my brain, I’m not even going to continue to chapter 50.

Second: prioritise
There are definitely yarns that I’ve been dying to knit. Some I’ve been dying to knit for years. Same with the books. They went to the top of the pile. As did ones by friends that I want to read. There are also some books that I bought for research purposes. I’m intermingling them with the others, so I’m not reading all research all the time.

Though the ones I’m least interested in are at the bottom of the pile, from time to time I’ll pick something up to see if it passes the 50 page rule. If it doesn’t, then at least I can remove it. If it does then I’m reading a good book, so there’s nothing to lose.

Third: restraint
A total ban isn’t always practical. When stash busting I usually make exceptions and, looking back at my last Knit From Your Stash rules I can see plenty of parallels:

I will not buy more yarn/books except…
Yarn for weaving – Books for research
To make gifts – Manuscripts for friends or to provide quotes for
Extra yarn to complete a project – Ongoing books in a series I’m hooked on
Yarn from a special yarn store – To support a specialty bookshop
If I run out of yarn while on holiday – If I run out of books on holiday
Yarn given to me – Books given to me
Charity knitting – Books with proceeds going to charity

Fourth: encouragement (cheating)
Seeing a tangible reduction helps me feel like I’m getting somewhere. With yarn stash busting there’s one big ‘cheat’ that I don’t mind resorting to: I count the yarn by grams not meters. Mostly this is because some yarns don’t list meterage, whereas I can always weigh it. The ‘cheat’ within using this system is that the heavier weight yarns knit up faster so if you knit them first you get a satisfyingly quick initial stash reduction.

With books I’ll be counting each tome, not the pages. So reading the shorter books first will make a bigger initial impact. But there’s still an advantage in reading bigger ones. They’re more likely to be the first of a series, and if I end up disliking it then I could get to cull 3-7 books.

Fifth: Rewards
I don’t like to set time limits on a yarn stash reduction these days, instead I give a little cheer whenever I get the stash down to a set round number of kilos. Call me crazy, but that’s reward and motivation enough. With books the aim is to read more of the books I already own as well as make space, so I think I’ll be pleased whether I read more of them or simply end up with more space free on the to-read bookcase. For the next six months I’ll see what works better, then see how I want to proceed next year.

The Devil in the Retails

You know how it goes. To buy something hard to find (in my case, ink for a fountain pen) you end up at a big shopping mall. While you’re there you discover a sale on at a shop that’s closing down, and an intriguing new stationary chain, and suddenly you’ve swapped some of those thin rectangles of plastic (paper if your local currency is low-tech) for some pretty stuff.

I didn’t know there was a Borders at Doncaster. Well, not for much longer. It was having a closing down sale. Along with some novels and a book on art, I picked up these for 20% off (which probably equals 5% off considering that Borders prices were usually hiked up by 15% to begin with):

The finishing techniques one actually contained a few tips/techniques I didn’t know, so definitely worth getting. The other two ought to be polar opposites – classic vs latest fashion – and yet I found more than a couple of patterns inside both that I thought I might actually knit.

The stationary store was like Smiggle and Ikea got together and had offspring. Cute things, but lots made out of pale wood, pastel colour schemes and prices so surprisingly cheap for this sort of thing that the words ‘mass production’ and ‘third world sweatshop’ whisper at the back of your mind. I couldn’t resist these:

Today I found Interweave Knits Spring issue at my local newsagent. I asked him what happened to Interweave Knits Winter since I hadn’t been able to find it in the five or so newsagents I usually look for it in. He looked it up and discovered that, while they’d been ordered, the stock had never arrived. So I wasn’t imagining things. That issue never did show up locally. Which is annoying because I usually only buy the autumn and winter issues.