Not too long ago I came across BookTuber Haley Pham, whose enthusiasm for her reading made me sit up a little straighter, sort of pulled me away from a slump I’ve been working on leaving behind. In the first couple of videos I watched, she tended to talk about romance novels, which I’m not terrifically interested in, but I really liked her energy and the relationship she has with her collection. Without any sort of lecturing, she talked about swapping phone time for reading, her desire to read new genres outside of her comfort zone, and different types of journaling. These clips and the video in which she excitedly gets to put her books on a new shelf, arranging, talking about her experiences with the stories and so on – they all awakened something in me and I decided I’d have a perusal around a book store, something I hadn’t done in quite a while.
Specifically, I wanted to look for a new blank book because I decided I wanted to record my books there, not just online. My idea was to record the basic info about each book – title, author, etc. – and a few words regarding my reading experience. I’ll write more about this and other angles in an upcoming blog, but for now I’d like to show you the haul I came away with – for of course I ended up with more than just one blank book! How could it be any other way!?
A Promise of Ankles by Alexander McCall Smith – The 2020 installment for McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series, Ankles’ quirky title is yet one more in the author’s collection of catchy designations. Equally intriguing are the inhabitants of the series title’s Edinburgh address, including Bruce, a self-satisfied surveyor who finds a roommate in Pat, a second-gap-year twenty year old; their neighbor, the widow Domenica; five-year-old Bertie and his insufferable mother and long-suffering father. I can only imagine the title has something to do with Cyril, personable canine companion to Angus Lordie, and a slight obsession with the ankles sometimes associated with the disembodied voices he hears from underneath the table. As a long-time fan of the prolific Alexander McCall Smith, I’m at a happy place in my McCall Smith collection because I’ve fallen a bit behind, which means I have a number of books to read ahead of me. Now I just need to decide: do I start one of his many series over (which I plan to do anyway) or read the new book I’ve just purchased first?
Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays by C.S. Lewis – This one is inspired by Haley Pham’s reading recommendations, though I’d also been carrying an interest in reading Lewis for quite some time. However, when faced with his row of books in the store, I really had no idea which one to choose. Having tried, and failed, to read Lewis on at least one previous occasion – and we are talking non-Narnia here – I went with the slimmest volume and the one that seemed most digestible, because I really wish to succeed this time. Plus the teal color on the cover, which is my favorite. It is notable that much of what the author writes about, in this compilation of articles stretching from the early 1940s to 1962, is very relevant today, such as the fate of the English language; threats to education; living in an atomic universe; and literary censorship. That these issues still persist even after all this time is a little alarming, actually, though I have heard several people say that reading Lewis is very “comforting,” so between this and an online course on the academic and lay theologian I signed up for, I decided just to move forward and take it from there.
The Logic of Alice: Clear Thinking in Wonderland by Bernard M. Patten – The first thoughts that came to my mind upon seeing this book cover were, “Perfect, given as we are currently living in the looking glass presently!” and “I wonder if this author is related to Marguerite Patten?” I’ve seen enough of the book’s innards during a flip through to know I must read it, and had to make myself content to wait and see if I find an answer to my second question within the pages. Sometimes books such as these serve up small bits of autobiographical material, so for now the answer is, “We’ll see.” So what is this book about? Well, without having read it yet, my brief and hopefully not short-shifted explanation is thus: Logic provides a walk-through of Alice in Wonderland, using key episodes in Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece as analyses on thinking and expanding our intellectual and other horizons. Three section headers that sealed the deal: “A (Dismissive) Word About Freud and Freudians,” “Neglect of Evidence is Wrong/Conclusions Contrary to Fact Are Always Wrong,” and “Emotions Often Dictate Our Thinking on Critical Issues.” And then, because I really want to say curiouser and curiouser: “Aristotle Was Wrong.” Stay tuned.
Persian Grove Journal: This blank book’s cover reproduces a 16th-century binding of mystical Persian poetry, featuring lacquer painting with gold and pearl dust. – As some readers probably know by now, I’m intrigued by and attracted to things Persian: history, food, art, literature, even their modern culture. And so, while certainly not an expert, I have immersed myself in it at least enough to be able to recognize Persian art on occasion, as I did when I first laid eyes on this beautiful book. And since I was engaged in a search for the perfect blank book to house my reading journal, I knew my search had ended. The journal is to be for 2023, so I do have a bit of time (thankfully) to plan it out and, as mentioned above, some chit chat about that will be forthcoming. I do know some of what I want and don’t want, though I suspect there also a little of both that I don’t know. So, I’m perusing videos of other people’s reading and book journals to get more ideas on how to set mine up, angles to consider and so on – at least a portion of the and so on being that I also just like to watch flip throughs because taking in the beauty of people’s creations is satisfying in so many ways.
Beast by Paul Kingsnorth – I now understand a bit better why Haley Pham spends money on books she then says of, “I have no idea what this is about.” At time of purchase I had not an inkling of this novel’s plot; still, it said Paul Kingsnorth, so I knew I was taking that baby home. Kingsnorth is the author of The Wake, a book written entirely in a close approximation of Old English (aka Anglo-Saxon), one I’ve struggled to read but remain determined to complete. Also, I subscribe to the author’s Substack and greatly admire his measured and thoughtful approach to any topic he picks up on, and that he isn’t afraid to consider other people’s points of view. Here, Edward Buckmaster, wanders a West Country moor (that alone gripped me) as he simultaneously battles a creature that becomes an obsession. Between the blurb and a flip through, where I saw sentence fragments and strange passages, it reminded me a little of Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, which, to be honest, I read all of about three pages of because, despite the rave recommendation of a Swiss friend, I simply couldn’t get into it. Having said that, I hasten to add that I was not as careful or thoughtful a reader as I hope I am today, and I also didn’t have the dedication – for lack of a better word – to Calvino that I seem to feel for Kingsnorth’s work. And the cover, I can’t go away without a word about Beast’s simply and simplistically beautiful cover. I may be able to better describe it after reading the book, but the font, in words splayed out across lines, carelessly (but with precision, you know?) meandering from one to the next, they speak to me as somehow reflective of the content, particularly the small dot in place of the capital A’s crossbar, the bars on the T, and what…what is that pair of fs in the lower right corner? Simplistically, I had called it, while really there is nothing simple about it.
Why can’t I get paid to read?
The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson – I confess I prefer the cover of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which Meyerson’s cover reminds me of, but still it caught my attention enough for me to pick it up and read the blurb. And let’s face it, a pile of books is nearly always a beautiful sight. Miranda Brooks may or may not see the nearing-bankruptcy book shop that her uncle wills to her as a beautiful sight, and she also finds a scavenger hunt he left behind, the solution to which brings her closer to unwrapping a family secret that her mother never meant to be revealed. “The Bookshop of Yesterdays is a love letter to reading and bookstores, and a testament to the healing power of community and how our histories shape who we become.” It’s not a huge secret that our past informs our present, but the how, and how we choose to move forward, can be an amazing journey of discovery. I haven’t read many love-letter books, and in fact the only other one that comes to mind immediately is Hanan al-Shaykh’s Beirut Blues – a work I treasure deeply. It remains to be seen whether Meyerson’s novel finds a place in my heart – admittedly, it has some stiff competition – but it came home with me, and that’s always a good sign.
Sea Turtles Journal: The cover’s sea turtles swim in an undersea forest filled with flowers and starfish. This one accidentally fell down, literally right into my hands, as I was moving another, and when I saw it, I knew this too was meant to be. You see, I collect turtles in honor of my wonderful Turtle, my sweet little boy who grew to be the most wonderful young man. Still a teenager, he nevertheless looms over me, a beautiful and vibrant presence in my life. Not long ago, he persuaded me to read the first part of Plato’s Republic, which I’d initially resisted because I’d been there, done that in university and thought I wasn’t as fond of it as I probably should have been, but I’d moved on. OK, full disclosure, I really didn’t like it at all. Also full disclosure: I read it in a philosophy class I took toward the end of my four years, when burnout was setting in heavily. Reading it more recently, however, I found it to be rather accessible and intriguing. I recalled aloud to my boy about something I missed and had been thinking about in recent months: how at one time I used to grab a backpack with a couple of books, a journal and sketch pad and took off to various locations around Washington, D.C., a place often as horrible and fantastic as you can make it. It definitely has some great locations to sit, think, read, sketch (even if you’re terrible at this last endeavor), and journal, as I often did. I lamented that I didn’t really do this so much anymore and wanted to get back into it. He encouraged me to do exactly this, though my first search for a fitting journal ended with purchase of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life (Mossimo Pigliucci). A bookstore employee recommended it to me and though I’d temporarily put it down (I vow to read it), I don’t regret taking it home – of course it provides some food for thought as I get down with journaling, some of which I’ve chewed on and am eager to continue pursuing.
I hope you’ll join me for Book Haul (Part II of II) in which I discuss, naturally, the books I found, as well as the re-awakening of a story important to me; how books so often lead from one to the other, not accidentally; some new perceptions on the act of getting rid of books; sense of place; and the place of food in our reading and writing lives.
Lisl Madeleine is the author of “Episodes in the Life of King Richard III,” a short story in The Road Not Travelled: Alternative Tales of the Wars of the Roses, edited by Joanne Larner and available at Amazon and Amazon UK. She is currently attempting to muster up enough steel to publish her book of poetry and is engaged in researching and writing several works of historical fiction while trying to keep up with her reading, which includes further developing interest in Rumi, the Black Prince, and expanding her cooking repertoire.
A random past entry from the Browsing Books series you might also enjoy: In the Big City Edition. Be sure to click to subscribe (upper right) and keep up with books and other fun stuff!