Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Salon: A Reading Retrospective

It is the memory that enables a person to gather roses in January. ~ Unknown

January 2004 got off to a rocky start. My workload at the office suddenly doubled, and two people I cared about were facing life and death health issues. One would not make it to the end of the month. I took solace in my books.

My ever supportive and loving husband granted my single book wish the Christmas before with the promise of a copy of Sara Nelson's So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading upon its release. It was the first book I read in 2004, and it earned my top rating.
. . . Someone in one of my online book groups said that this is the type of book any reader can write. Although I disagree that just anyone would be able to write so well, I do agree that Ms. Nelson touches on points that many book lovers can relate to. In this book, the author sets out to read a book a week and journal her experiences as she goes. It is not a book of reviews but is a book about how her life is impacted by the books she reads and vice versa. Ms. Nelson is witty and knows her subject matter very well . . . [excerpt from reading journal, January 2004]
Five years later, I remember little details about the book that I would have thought long forgotten by now. It is definitely one of those books that has stayed with me over the years.

That January I read my first review book--and, oh, was I ever nervous! I was one of 20 people selected to preview a book for Bookreporter.com. It was really an informal deal. All I had to do was write a brief summary of my impressions of the book and submit it to Bookreporter.com where it would be posted on their website. The book was called The Last Goodbye by Reed Arvin. In my journal I wrote: "His style reminded me of the old black and white movies . . ." I liked the book enough to add another of the author's books to my TBR collection.

I would fall head over heels for Tess Gerritsen's Harvest and Susan R. Sloan's Act of God that month; one a medical thriller dealing with organ stealing and the other a legal thriller touching on the controversial topic of abortion. January 2004 would also be the beginning of my love affair with P.D. James. She quickly became a favorite mystery author of mine after I finished reading Cover Her Face. P.D. James is gifted at drawing out her characters.

The less memorable books I read that month included Juno and Juliet by Julian Gough and Paragon Walk by Anne Perry, both of which I enjoyed at the time of reading. My only slight about Julian Gough's novel was a portion of the ending that left me dissatisfied.

I ended the month with Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. It is a book that still resonates with me today.
Two Chinese city boys, guilty of being the sons of doctors, are sent to a mountain village for re-education in the early 1970’s during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. There, the two best friends meet a beautiful girl who is the tailor’s daughter, discover a stash of Western books, and learn about love and life. How interesting, I thought, that these two boys, nearly men, were sent to the mountains to be cleansed of their intellectual ideas and backgrounds, to make them more like the peasants they were living among in the village, and yet it is they, with the outlawed books and “intellect,” that had a larger impact on the culture around them. Something as simple as a story from a book holds much power even in the subtlest of ways. This book was surprisingly light and easy to read. The author used humor throughout the book and his characters were sympathetic and extremely likeable. [journal entry, January 2004]

My reading that month five years ago took me all over the world and put me in numerous situations. My own stressors faded into the background for a brief while and brought me much needed relief.

January 2009 is nearly at an end, can you believe it? I am only a little farther along in The Woman in White than I was at this time last week (so much for finishing it this weekend). Company kept me away from the book last weekend, and my attention was not on books most of the rest of the week, admittedly. When I was reading, I was lost in a memoir called Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith. It reminds me a bit of Augusten Burroughs' Running With Scissors, another eccentric childhood story that both fascinates and amuses me while at the same time dredging up feelings of sadness and sympathy.

This week I will be posting my thoughts on recent movies I have seen along with my review of Zoo Station by David Downing. I hope you will stop in and say hello. Happy Reading!

Week in Review:
Interview with author Diana Spechler
Review of Who By Fire by Diana Spechler
The Year of Readers
Bookish Chatter

[Note: It is very difficult to type with a kitten laying across my arms.]

36 comments:

  1. How fascinating to look back 5 years.

    I am struggling with reading a little bit this month myself.

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  2. yes, it is
    and sometimes the differences seem to be incredible big the kinds of books you loved five years ago and you love now. Five years ago, as I can remember I read only classic stories from the 19. century or the first half of the 20. centruy, the mania to learn more about the contemporary literature came only later,
    happy reading,
    Anni

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  3. If it makes you feel any better, when I read "Moonstone" by Wilke Collins it took me several weeks, and the book is fairly short! Some books are just like that. I loved the book, nevertheless.

    Thanks for sharing your memories! I don't keep a journal, so I can't remember what I had for breakfast...

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  4. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is one I've been curious about for a while...you're making me want to read it!

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  5. What a great idea flashing back 5 years. I am so happy that January 2004 was such a sad time for you.
    Have a great Day!

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  6. I have keen memories of where or when I read a book or what was going of in my life at the time too. It was very interesting to read your thoughts on this. Reading is my only activity and I couldn't live without it.
    I'm glad you enjoyed Who By Fire, I read your review. I read it too and Diane is such a nice person to deal with. Have a nice Sunday.

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  7. I'm really looking forward to your review of The Woman in White. Ever since I read Drood I've been so curious about Wilkie Collins (I'd never even heard of him before that). I'm definitely going to be reading that one this year as well.

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  8. You've added more books to my TBR list! So Many Books, So Little Time is a great read.
    Have a good week!

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  9. I'm sorry to hear you have loved ones with health issues. My thoughts are with you.

    Great look back at your reading. That's one reason I've kept a blog. I'd never remember otherwise.

    Have a great week1

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  10. Walking Through Walls is in my TBR pile - it sounds like I should try to get to it soon.

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  11. Thanks for this newsy, and interesting retrospective! I wish I'd been keeping track of the books I've read over the years. I'm kicking myself!

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  12. You are just rubbing in the part about the kitten. Some of us don't HAVE kittens. We have grouchy old lady cats.

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  13. I love going back through my reading journal periodically. It's funny how sometimes just seeing the title of a book I read years ago can bring back vivid memories of things that were going on in my life when I read it.

    Lezlie

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  14. Marg - It must just be that kind of month for both of us then. Hopefully next month will be a better reading month for us.

    Anni - It is interesting taking a look back and seeing what I was reading then. I still have similar tastes in reading as I did five years ago, but my reading has expanded considerably.

    Sandy - That's good to know! Some books do take more time to read, you're right.

    I enjoy traveling down memory lane, especially if it's related to books. :-)

    Nymeth - I hope you will read it. It made quite an impression on me.

    Diane - I'm hoping to have these flask backs every month now. I bet I even come across books I'd forgotten I'd read! Or at least nearly forgotten.

    Sandra - I kind of cheated because I kept a regular journal in 2004 as well and was reading through that as well as my reading journal before writing this post. There were quite a few things I didn't remember, both good and bad. I hope you are enjoying your Sunday too!

    Laza - I'm looking forward to reading Drood (although it probably won't be until it's out in paperback). I've heard such great things about it.

    Gautami - Thank you!

    N. Vasillas - I hope you have a good week too! It's hard not to come away from blog reading without any new books to check out, is it? :-)

    Kristy - Thanks, Kristy. It always seems to be something, but that month in 2004 was an especially tough one.

    I am so glad I started keeping a reading journal when I did, although I wish I'd had the foresight to start earlier. I didn't start blogging until much later, but I still keep my reading journal up. It's become such an important part of my reading experience. I hope you have a great week too.

    Kathy - I hope you like it when you do get to it. It's definitely interesting.

    Linda - You're welcome! :-) I wish I'd started keeping track of my reading much earlier than I did too.

    Lisa - LOL I guess I'm lucky in that my older cat is a cuddle lover too. :-)

    Lezlie - I will sometimes go searching through my journals to look something up, but it's been fun to actually take the time to read through each entry again.

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  15. Interesting to look back 5 years. Sometimes months just start out slow. I've had this happen to me. Although this year, I'm doing much better than I did last year :)

    Happy Sunday! Have a great week!

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  16. I love when you do this and wish that I was able to look back at my reading from 5 years ago. I have the Balzac book on my TBR list. I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on The Woman in White.

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  17. I haven't visited in way too long, and I'm sorry about that. I've missed reading your words. I don't know how long you've had the new 'look' but I love it! Esp. the kitty!
    This was a beautiful posting. Thanks for it.
    I have a little question - are you the person who used to be in a book discussion group and once a month would write where your books had taken you that month?? I'm thinking of starting this on my blog as a little monthly thing, and of course thought of you. Is it okay with you if I do this?? I'll credit you. :< )

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  18. I love hearing about your look back. What an interesting perspective for you. I did do that this year for my 7 months of blogging but to look back that far must be really awesome.
    Congratulations!
    Don't worry about Wilke..tough book when you're having a rough reading week. Find something lighter. :)
    Sorry to hear about your friends, I hope they feel better soon.
    Wisteria

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  19. I really enjoy your retrospectives. So Many Books, So Little Time was the first book I read in 2008 - it feels like a good one to start off a year. I really enjoyed it too.

    I'm participating in an online book club discussion of Who By Fire tomorrow - hope you'll stop by!

    Have a great week, Wendy!

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  20. Hey Bud, great post. I also like the new layout and colour scheme of your blog.

    Happy Belated New Year to you and yours.

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  21. I've had So Many Books.... on my wish list and to-read list forever - I really need to get a copy!

    Have a wonderful Sunday. :)

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  22. Yvonne - You are right, some months do get off to a slower start. This one got off to a fast start, but then sagged in the middle for me. LOL I hope you have a great week too!

    Samantha - Thanks! It's fun to go back and see what I read all those years ago.

    Nan - Thank you! I'm always happy when you stop in for a visit. :-)

    Yes, that was me who used to post about where my books had taken me each month. I was thinking of starting that up again this year. Of course, you can do it too! I would love to see where your books have taken you. :-)

    Wisteria - Thanks! It can be quite interesting to see what I was reading and thinking back then.

    I have been in the mood for something more paranormal-ish lately. I think it's because of all the talk of the new Carrie Vaughn book coming out. :-) That would be something light to try!

    Florinda - Thank you! Nelson's book does seem to be a great way to start of a year.

    I definitely will be stopping by tomorrow for the online book club discussion. :-)

    I hope you have a great week too.

    Dancin' Fool - Thanks! Happy New Year to you as well!

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  23. Carrie K. (Books and Movies) - It's worth it! I hope you have a great week!

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  24. Wendy - I loved the Sara Nelson book. I read a library copy, then promptly went out and bought my own copy because I enjoyed it so much.

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  25. Hi Wendy, this is in reply to your comment in my foot massager post (copy-and-pasted from the reply on my blog):

    I am enjoying the foot massager. I totally encourage you to get one. It could get ticklish and painful at certain point, especially if you're new to foot massage (or any massage for that matter), so do give time for your body to adjust. Me thinks this is a good investment!

    Have a good week ahead! I'll be back to read your posts with more focus. For now, I'm zooming off for my trip. Take care!

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  26. My kitty doesn't seem to understand that I have to get around her to get to the computer either. She sure gives good "baleful glares"!

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  27. Shana - Sara Nelson's book is definitely a keeper. :-)

    Alice - Thank you so much! I love, love, love foot massages. I admit I am ticklish though--it makes getting a foot massage a bit challenging at times. LOL

    Have a great time on your trip and Happy New Year!

    Jen - LOL Kitties can be so selfish! But we sure do love them, don't we? :-)

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  28. Let's see...January 2004. I just graduated from A&M with my undergrad, so I was probably reading fluff. Maybe The Devil Wears Prada? :) It's amazing how books stay with us years after the cover has closed. That's what I love about books.

    In response to your poll about responding to comments--I really like how you currently respond. It does take time, but I try to do the same on my own blog and really appreciate when others do the same. It is a conversation, even if it just ends with your response. I actually prefer to leave comments on people's blogs who respond. Not sure why that is (well, I can guess but this comment is long enough as it is). ;)

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  29. I have a kitty on my lap right now and just had to shift him a bit so I could type with both hands! Never mind that I was going to get up to do some laundry just before he jumped up on my lap. Guess it can wait a bit. :P

    Wonderful retrospective. Books really are a great way to escape real life for a little while. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is one I'd like to read again someday. Have you seen the film? I though it was quite good.

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  30. BTW, I just voted in your poll. I like how you do it now, replying directly in the comments, but with the added caveat that I also want to have follow-up comments sent to me by blogger. Otherwise, by email I suppose since I don't usually come back to a post afterwards (unless I remember to tag it) but do really appreciate the reply. It's no fun talking to yourself! :P

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  31. Trish - I am pretty sure I went on a fluff binge after finishing school too. :-) And it lasted a very long time. LOL

    Thank you for your comments about the comment responses. Now that sounds funny! It's actually easier for me to do it the way I've been doing it, but I've seen some discussion on the topic and thought I'd get an overall feel for what others prefer.

    Nat - Those cats sure do make it hard to type sometimes, don't they? Sounds like you are in the same boat I was in when I was typing up my Sunday Salon post. And you just can't get up like you planned when they come join you. They're too cute to rush off your lap.

    Thank you! I am trying to remember if I've seen the film for Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. I don't think I did. I'll have to see if I can rent it.

    Thank you too for voting in the poll. I really like the blogs with the option to subscribe to the comments too. It makes things so much easier. I also subscribe to something called Commentful, which allows me to track comments too, but it is less convenient because it doesn't always work and I don't receive e-mails when a new comment is posted. I have to remember to go and check the main site. It at least saves the posts I commented on so I can go back to them later if I want though.

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  32. I love the posts where you reflect back on what you've read in the past. I've never read Sara Nelson's book but I think I would love it. And the one you ended with...Little Chinese Seamstress has been on my list for a while. Reading can do so many things for people and I'm so glad that you were able to find some solace in that while the events going on around you were out of your control. Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

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  33. Staci - Thank you! I think you would like Sara Nelson's book too, Staci.

    You know, I hadn't really thought of my reading back then as being a tool for comfort, but it really was. As you said, reading plays many roles in our lives.

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  34. Thank you for sharing this! I have some reading journals I used to keep before blogging and it's so fun to look back on those and see what books made a difference in my life at the time.

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  35. Iliana - I still keep reading journals, even with my blog. Occasionally there are things I want to write down that I'm not comfortable posting on my blog. But I guess more often than not, my journal entries act as rough drafts for my blog posts.

    Your reading journals are perfect for taking down notes about books, by the way. :-)

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