Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Salon: Confessions of a Common Reader (Part Two)

Last Sunday I let you glimpse some of my thoughts as I began reading Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. Part One of my own impressions found us discussing the joining of libraries, the love of words and poetry.

This week, let's take a walk through my library as I continue sharing my thoughts as I read this little book about reading and books.

Thoughts of this common reader (continued) -

"My Odd Shelf" - Anne refers to her odd shelf as books "unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection, reveals a good deal about its owner." [pg 21] The only odd shelf I have in the house is what I refer to as the reference bookcase which houses all of the reference books, home repair how-to books, the Bibles, animal care books, and cookbooks. I do not think that is exactly what Anne was referring to. And if it is, my odd shelf could be very misleading if you expected to actually learn something about me from the books I keep on that bookcase.

Literate Kitten posted about a similar topic, although more general as it relates to a person's entire library, Thoughts for Thursday - What Your Books Say About You. Over half of the books I own are unread books, books I have collected in recent years with every intention of reading. I still plan to read all of these books too; it's just that I am not quite as fast a reader as I am a book collector. Like in life, there is so much I want to take in and enjoy and, unfortunately, there never seems to be enough time to do and see it all.

Among my read and unread books, there is a wide variety of subject matter. I am a very curious person and have a passion for learning. I especially enjoy learning about other cultures and lifestyles, whether they be somewhere close to home, in another country, or in another world altogether. Although the mysteries probably outnumber the fantasy novels, I have a great passion for both--and it shows on my shelves.

The condition of the books a person's shelves also says something about us, don't they? Mine are a combination of pristine and tattered and torn, depending. There are new and used books on as well. Not one is there for display alone--that's not the sort of person I am.

The books are organized simply. The hardbacks and trade paperbacks are separated out from the mass market paperbacks. It's more of a shelving issue than for aesthetic purposes. Mass market paperbacks take up less room and are easier to double shelve. Regardless, they are all in alphabetical order by author's surname. Series books are kept in order of publication. At the moment I have quite a few books stacked at odd angles on top of the shelved books. Lack of space and my tardiness in filing them away being the two main reasons for this. Oh, and my to be read books are kept separate from the read books, rooms apart, but the shelving system is the same for all of them. While my bookshelves convey a sense of organization there is still a hint of underlying chaos, another echo of who I am.

What do your books say about you?

"Never Do That To A Book" - This was among my favorite chapters of the book. This is a topic dear to many of us booklovers hearts regardless of which side you stand. Anne describes two camps on this issue: the courtly lover who is always careful and treats books like a fragile glass figurine; and the carnal lover who ravishes books, loves them hard, and is not afraid to let it show. One is gentle and would not dare mark in a book. The other is fearless and uses the margins as if the space is meant for notes and recording a reader's history. Anne is a carnal lover as is most of her family. Her examples had me chuckling and nodding along in agreement, from both sides of the fence.

This topic has come up a few times before. You can find my more detailed thoughts on the subject here and here. I fall somewhere in between a courtly and carnal booklover when all is said and done.

"Words On A Fly Leaf" - This is perhaps my favorite of the author's essays. It was not too long ago that I shared my thoughts about inscriptions in books. Anne shared her own story about how the first book she received from her husband-then-beau was inscribed in a rather impersonal, friendly way, and then years later, he had penned the most romantic dedication she could have hoped for. Inscriptions can hold all sorts of meanings, be serious, romantic, funny, or short and to the point. For the recipient, it can mean the world. Or not:
"How melancholy, by contrast, are the legions of inscribed copies one finds in any used book-rack, each memorial to a betrayed friendship. Do the traitors believe that their faithlessness will remain secret? If so, they are sadly deluded. Hundreds of people will witness it, including on one occasion, the inscriber. Shaw once came across one of his books in a secondhand shop, inscribed To---- with esteem, George Bernard Shaw. He bought the book and returned it to ------, adding the line, With renewed esteem, George Bernard Shaw." [pg 60]
Of course, there are many reasons an inscribed book might land in a secondhand bookshop, not just because the reader no longer wants the book.

"You Are There" - Would the ultimate reading experience involve reading the book in the setting that is being described? Anne Fadiman thinks so. I do like to visit the places I read about or read about the places I visit. On my husband's and my journey through the Southwestern U.S., I was especially drawn to books set in the spots we visited. Anytime we would come across a bookstore, I headed straight for the local area section in hopes of finding just the right book. I have also found that it can be even more stirring to read a book set in the same season that is underway when I read a book, even if the location may not be one I am familiar with.

I had every intention of answering this week's Booking Through Thursday question along with participating in the Friday Fill Ins. A surprise visit from my parents and a few other unexpected issues of the unwelcome variety have kept me away from the computer and my reading this week. I have been unable to stop in and visit all my favorite blogs recently as a result. Hopefully I will be able to get back into the groove of things soon.

New Book Acquisitions:
  • The Murder Notebook by Jonathan Santlofer (ARE, Library Thing Early Review book)
  • The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (ARE, review book from publisher)
  • The Konkans by Tony D'Souza
  • The Undead Kama Sutra by Mario Acevedo
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  • Lost Prince by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (Front Street Reviews selection)

I hope that you all have a good week. Happy reading.


  1. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on On Beauty. I've had it on my to-read list for ages, but still haven't gotten around to it.

  2. Thanks for writing some more about this book - I've really enjoyed reading your thoughts. It's on my wish list waiting for a day I have some spare ££ :)

  3. Like you, I have more unread books on my shelves than those I have read. The problem is really related to the library. When a book arrives for me there there is usually a waiting list for it and I have to read it and get it back. There's no such list for the ones on my own shelves,

  4. Today I re-read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Now I am on another book, The Blind Assassin. It is such a fat book!

    Have a great easter sunday!

  5. I like the sound of this book - how we can 'read' ourselves through the books we read. It seems like the sort of book that makes you think - and your thoughts have made me think too!

  6. I've got to get hold of this book! What a wonderful collection of essays, and a very nice TSS post. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Reading inscriptions, especially on really old books, can be fascinating.
    I think of these orphaned books as being like the photographs that ended up discarded when someone dies.

    Hope you like the Lace Reader! I thought it a most promising first novel and really enjoyed it!

  8. The books in my home are organized very similarly. I don't have an Odd Shelf and have been sitting curiously thinking what it might contain. Mine are split up fiction / nonficiton / unread (in a separate room). That's it! The more you write about Ex Libris the more I want to read it.

  9. Thanks for another wonderful Sunday Salon post, Wendy!

    I was thinking about your question as to how the shelves are organized. I organize in a strange way, I think. I sort books by type of fiction and then group them by author in no particular when I look at my shelf there are "sections" for the mysteries, sections for the epics, sections for the historical fiction and literary fiction, etc... I can't be bothered alphabetizing (maybe I will when I get my new bookshelves built!).

    Hope you have a wonderful Sunday!

  10. I am going to get the ARC of The Lace Reader too! oh, that one sounds good to me. I hope it is. I'll check back for your review on it.

    Happy Sunday! Great Salon post!

  11. I really do need to get myself another copy of this. I've enjoyed reading your reflections on it.

    Since I often do give away books after I've read them - it's nice to share :-) - my bookshelves are also contain far more unread books. Like you, I collect them much faster than I can read them - and now that Lent's over, I can go back to the bookstore again! Woohoo!

    Happy Easter, Wendy! Hope to see you around a little more this week.

  12. I love reading about places I've been or visiting places I've read about. Right now I'm reading a fiction story about Hiroshima because we're going to have a short trip there next week, and I took another one out of the library to take with me.
    Hope things are better for you next week.

  13. Carrie K - I feel like I use that line all too often--that it's on my TBR stack but I haven't yet gotten to it. :-) The story of our lives. So many books to read in between! I'll be curious to know what you think of On Beauty when you get to it as well.

    Mrs. S - And I'm still not done talking about it! I'll probably wear people out with my impressions of the book by the time I do reach the end. :-)

    Ann - You make a very good point! It's easy to let books linger on our own shelves since we have no deadline by which to read them. That's partly why I enjoy the reading challenges so much. I feel like I do have a little bit of that deadline and it spurs me on more--at least it did last year. Not so much this year, I'm afraid.

    Gautami - Fat books are sometimes the best books! I hope you enjoy Blind Assassin.

    Clare D - These are often the best little books because there is so much I can relate to--and they make me think about how what I am reading applies to my own life.

    Andi - It is an enjoyable book. I can see myself going back to it now and again in the future.

  14. Jenclair - Yes, it can! I love reading inscriptions in old books. The stories they tell . . .

    I am looking forward to reading The Lace Reader. I'm so glad you liked it.

    Jeane - I thought the Odd Shelf idea was an interesting one. Anne Fadiman's odd shelf contained a lot of antarctic survival type books, a subject matter she was quite taken by that most people probably never would have guessed about her. All of my books are mixed together for the most part subject matter wise.

    Wendy - I organized by TBR room like that at one time, by book type. Both my husband and I have always been alphabetizers. I imagine that comes from our experience working in a library.

    Bethany - Oh good! I'll be anxious to read your thoughts on the book when you read it. It sounds like it will be a good one!

    Florinda - My dad took quite a stack of the books I'd added to my "giveaway" pile during his visit this past week. And he returned even more books that he'd borrowed from me. Someday I may be more willing to give away books rather than just lend them out. That would take convincing my husband too, which I don't see happening any time soon. It's a nice concept though.

    Tanabata - Thank you so much. I need a good week, I really do.

    It's fun to read about a place you are going to visit or have visited, isn't it? It adds an extra dimension to the book and the place we visit that we might not have noticed otherwise.

  15. Wanted to drop by and say thanks for the warm Sunday Salon welcome. Things are finally settling down and I look forward to Sunday visits. :)

  16. I wonder what my bookshelves say about me. I am less organized than you are. I keep my books by genre, and the ones by the same author are all together, but the authors are not in anything that resembles alphabetic order.

    Also, I think I am torn between being a courtly lover and a carnal lover. I don't abuse my books, but I don't treat them like glass figures either. I carry them around a lot, so a few do get tattered. And I have been known to scribble little things in pencil on them.

    I hope you enjoy On Beauty!

  17. Enjoyed your post, Wendy. I too wonder what do my bookshelves say about me, hehe... Usually I arrange the books in a way that the trilogy/series books go together, next will be genre...

    I love my books and treat them with care, although not to the extent of thinking them like glass figurines, haha.

    Hope you've a wonderful weekend!

  18. Great post Wendy as always. I don't know what my books say about me but I do try to take care of them and keep them in order...even if only I know what order it is! I hope everything is ok over at your place and the unwelcome surprises resolve themselves. Take care.

  19. J. Kaye - Thanks for stopping by! I hope you will enjoy the Sunday Salon as much as I do.

    Nymeth - There have been times I've been reorganizing my shelves and almost given up on alphabetizing them, but I know my husband will just go in and do it if I don't. He's more anal about that sort of thing than I am. Now that I think about it, why don't I let him do it? Save me the work! Haha

    When I was at the store trying to remember which it was I wanted, On Beauty or White Teeth, I brought to mind your review and that's what kept me on the right track. :-)

    Melody - Thank you. I think I'd be afraid to touch my books if I thought of them as glass figurines. ;-)

    I hope you had a great weekend as well.

    Jaimie - Sometimes I wonder about the order of my books too. Haha

    I am hoping things improve here soon. With the advent of spring, maybe there's hope for the year yet. :-)

  20. Hi Wendy, great post! I think booklovers will start admonishing me for what I did to my books. They're written on, dog-eared, highlighted, coloured, doodled, you name them, I did them all. Short of dropping them into the water. Yet, they still look very new, and I plastic wrap their covers. I love my books! :D

    I think in short, I 'own' them. They're all very Alice. Hahaha!

    I arranged them into various shelves for various genres. I also catalogue them all. I think I'm obsessive in this aspect. For fiction, they go by trilogy or author.

  21. the courtly lover who is always careful and treats books like a fragile glass figurine; and the carnal lover who ravishes books, loves them hard, and is not afraid to let it show. One is gentle and would not dare mark in a book. The other is fearless and uses the margins as if the space is meant for notes and recording a reader's history. Anne is a carnal lover as is most of her family.

    I always feel so out-of-place when this topic comes up, because I'm the only person I know who doesn't fit into either camp. I prefer my books to last as long as possible, so I don't like to mess them up too much, but a dog-eared page doesn't send me into hysterics (I'm too much a practical gal---blame it on my Capricorn nature).

  22. The other Carrie K beat me here! I didn't think I'd read this post.......

    I suppose The Lace Reader isn't about reading lace patterns?

    I wonder what GBS's friend said when he received the book back? I've picked up a copy of Fadiman's essays from the library.

  23. Alice - Thank you. You'll get no admonishments from me. Your books are obviously well loved in that carnal sort of way. ;-)

    Heather - I think there are a lot of us who fall somewhere in between. :-)

    Carrie K - Carrie K without a period!

    I was wondering that too, about GBS's friend's reaction to having the book given back to him. :-) I hope you will enjoy the book!

  24. Isn't it amazing when you start thinking about what your books say about you?

    Oh, and I love all the widgets you've been adding to your site!

    Take care!

  25. Books can say a lot about our relationships, too. Before I moved in with my husband, I am afraid I was horrible to my books. Loved them to death - read in the tub (and occasionally dropped them). Dogeared corners, the whole bit. But I was basically a reader of paperbacks, so I thought, you know, read 'em and wear 'em out. Husband is more of a hardcover man and takes much better care of his books! I still read (mine, anywya) in the tub, but I almost never bend a corner anymore. In fact, the thought gives me shivers.

    PS - We both have TBR piles on each side of the bed and, for me, by my desk.

  26. LK - Thanks! It is interesting to think about what our books say about us--more than I realized once I started really thinking about it, that's for sure.

    Clea - That is very true. My husband is a lot more careful with his books too.

    And like you, we each have our separate TBR piles. Mine's a lot bigger though. :-)

  27. Finished the book last night, really loved it. Especially enjoyed the essay where her family is always correcting spelling and grammar.....hmmm. :)

  28. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I liked that essay too.

  29. Behind in my blogging as always--trying to catch up. Some fascinating thoughts here...I'll have to check out the website you are referring to. I'm always interested in what people have on their bookshelves. I don't know if it's fair to "judge" what books say about a person. Maybe I can have someone come analyze me based on what's on my shelves. :) More than half my library is unread as well. It's a frustrating thought, but I can't seem to stop collecting.

    I'm always fascinated by what people write in books or leave behind. In second-hand books I've found lots of receipts, travel tickets, pictures, etc.

  30. Trish - It's so easy to fall behind too, isn't it?

    I am not sure a person really can be judged by his or her books when it gets right down to it. But it makes a fun discussion point. :-) And I do know about frustrating! Sometimes when I think of how many I have and I kick myself for letting it get so out of hand. Not to mention feeling behind in my reading all the time. Still, I'm not sure I'd have it any other way.

  31. "I'm not sure I'd have it any other way."

    :) Me neither!


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