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There’s been some stuff recently about how people organise their bookshelves. (Alexander McCall Smith put out a call on Twitter for advice, and the discussion was picked up by the Guardian.) So I thought I’d put in my two cents as well.

Everyone who has more than a shelf or so of books has to deal with organisation. I’ve gone through several iterations of bookshelf sorting, ranging from your basic by-author to the more adventurous ISBN. (There was a while there where I knew which ISBN numbers were given to which publishers. I am a nerd. I freely admit this.) I’ve done Dewey Decimal numbers for my non-fiction books, as well as LOC categorisations.  (I think some of the French study books I had a teenager still have stickers with Dewey Decimal numbers on them.)

As an adult, I’ve been in charge of a couple of libraries. I tried, mostly, to separate fiction and non-fiction, but there was also the trick of keeping age and reading-level texts together, without limiting the students’ access.

I do think, contrary to some of the commenters in the article, that alphabetically-by-author is one of the best ways to organize books. Within categories, of course. As a grad student, I kept my for-fun reading and my course-based reading separate. For-fun reading was mixed between fiction and non-fiction, organised by author. Course-based reading was kept together by which module it was for, generally chronologically by placement in the module.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed in our current dream house – although because of heating issues I haven’t done a ton with it yet – is setting up a new organisational system. I’ve got categories again: children’s books, fantasy/sci-fi, historical (non-fiction and fiction), general non-fiction, “classics”, Japanese language and manga, folklore and fairytales…..  This time, though, I’ve decided to mix up the traditional alphabetical system. For categories that don’t cross genre, I stick with alphabetical. But children’s books are approximately by reading age, with same authors or series grouped together. Classics are in approximate chronological order. And my favourite, historical, is by time period, with all the Robin Hood non-fiction together, followed by the Robin Hood fiction, then general medieval, then historical biography chronologically, then historical fiction chronologically.

This is only a temporary system, of course. No system is ever perfect or permanent. I’ll have a few days between Christmas and New Year’s where my boyfriend isn’t back from his parents yet, so I may play with it some more then.

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Links, some of which relate to books and reading!

…so they are totally relevant here. Really.



I so need to go on a complete Little House re-read.


Yes to all of this. I mean, I have massive faith issues, but one of the problems that I have is that the hyper-conservative fundamentalists seem to have co-opted the term “religious”. The next time someone asks me, “How can you be a Christian and believe” whatever it might be (gay marriage being the most prominent example, but not the only one), I will send them a copy of this article.


I actually don’t want most of these things – except the booklight/bookrest. It’s far too expensive, but how cool. Also I love the tagline: May not be suitable for “1Q84”. [If you don’t know, 1Q84 is the newest Haruki Murakami book, and comes in either two or three volumes depending on what country you buy it in.]


Obviously, I’ve read Henrietta Lacks, but the biographies of the Curies and Fibonacci also look cool.


Want. That is all.


I absolutely must get to this exhibition. I will hate myself if I don’t.


My alma mater as well! She graduated the same year as my cousin. I also didn’t realise that she was a music major. (This information doesn’t really surprise me.) I also am kind of surprised, still, that people are surprised that Iowa can be liberal. This is a state that allows gay marriage, after all. (I have a post coming on Stephen Bloom’s Atlantic article, soon.)


Jane Austen! I’m not sure how much more we’re going to learn about her from the foundations of  her house, but whatever.


Not sure I want to read this, but I’ll consider it.


I so want to read the journal article on this when it comes out. I don’t know what journal it’ll be in, but if someone with JSTOR or academic library access could find out and get me a copy, I would love it.


I know her! Her sister was a friend of mine in high school, and someone that I always want to spend more time with. Also, Sharing the Dream is an awesome organisation.


I love Tomato Nation. I also have much the same relationship with the space program as Sars does. I was fascinated to read this “oral history” of the moon landings/space program, and think everyone should read it. And watch this. And From the Earth to the Moon.


Oh, Calvin. (and while you’re on Tor.com, skim through some of their read/reread/rewatch series of posts. Because they’re awesome too.)


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Thoughts on reading and friendship

I read a lot of blogs. News blogs, celebrity blogs (for a certain definition of celebrity – mostly authors, as I look at my RSS feed), publishing blogs, a couple of cooking blogs….  Sometimes links in those blogs lead me to other blogs that I then subscribe to (although sometimes I go through a decluttering phase and the new subscriptions fall prey to my service industry, shift-based job). And sometimes things in those blogs lead me to consider things that are not the point of the blog at all.

Which is a long-winded way of leading up to this blog post, which caused me not to think about the different types of friendship, but the ancillary mentioned that “women who love books…are especially prone to close friendships with women because there is an obvious subject to talk about: books.”

I cry foul. And not just because, as Rachel points out very well, books are not the only shared interest that can lead to extended conversation and eventual friendship. I cry foul because books are not an automatic point of common interest, even when both people love books and reading.

True story: I met a new colleague one year while teaching abroad. We shared our love of reading. She asked what my favourite books were, and I listed a few of my all-time favourites (Room with a View, Rilla of Ingleside, Outlaws of Sherwood, etc.). She’d never heard of any of them. I asked hers. “The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks,” she said. “Because it’s just so well-written.” That was my first clue that we were going to have nothing in common. (We didn’t.)

I attended a seminar during my Master’s  about writing CVs. The instructor suggested that, when describing interests, you should avoid saying things like “I like reading” and “I like music” because the categories are too broad. I don’t know how effective it is on CVs to say “I like historical biography and classical music” but at least it gives more of a sense of the applicant’s personality and tastes.

Because that’s the thing about books (and music) that is not as true about, say, knitting or even cooking. The categories are too wide to give any sense of what the person actually enjoys. Someone who reads exclusively non-fiction and someone who reads exclusively Mills and Boon (Harlequin) are not going to have a lot to talk about – even though both of them would describe themselves as readers and probably as people who love books and reading.

Friendships – any sort of relationships – have to be built on points of commonality. The two people involved don’t have to have everything in common, of course: how boring is it to have a conversation about books that goes, “I loved that book!” “Me too!” “And this one!” “Me too!” “And … now what do we talk about?” But just saying “I love books!” isn’t enough of a commonalit y to build a conversation on, much less a relationship.

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What I’ve done recently

I entered a short story competition.

And I won.

Hello, people who found me through the Huffington Post! I’m still kind of in shock about the whole thing! Read and comment away – I love meeting new people and talking about books.

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eReaders vs. paper books

I have an eReader, a Sony. I also covet the Kindle, although Barnes and Noble’s Nook is looking incredibly appealing. I also own several hundred paper books.

I read an article today that seemed to imply, as so many articles do, that e-books are inferior to paper books, and that e-books are taking over the world. This article doesn’t make the argument that e-books – or, rather, e-publishing – are destroying publishing and literature and the quality of writing and hence the world.

What it does do is something that pretty much all the other articles do: it implies that e-books and paper books can’t coexist. That if you have an eReader, then you’ve given up on ‘traditional’ books. This is so untrue.

Just take a look at my own buying habits. I have an eReader. I have several hundred books from various sources on my eReader. And just last week I bought three more paper books including a hardcover that I’m pretty sure is available as an e-book.

I use my eReader when I’m travelling, or when I know I’m going to have a short attention span, or when I know that the things I want to read are relatively short. I use it when I don’t want to, or can’t, carry a lot of books with me, or if I’m not sure what I’m going to be in the mood for. It’s useful for short reading windows, because it remembers what page I’m on, even if I switch to another book. I don’t have to find a bookmark or use some other kind of mnemonic.

If I have a lot of time, though, or am reading before bed, I’ll read a paper book. It’s still not great to curl up with an e-book. I think that’s because it only has display on one side. And it’s still a bit faster, for me, to read a paper book, because there is a time delay of a second or so on the page turn.

I am also a person fascinated by old books. One of my favourite things about my MA was the ability to look at manuscripts, even in facsimile. I am also fascinated by scrolls and tablets. Even hundreds of years from now, when we’re reading things in formats we can’t even imagine now or in literary forms we haven’t thought of, there will still be a place for today’s books.

My point, made very obtusely, is that there is room in my life for both paper and e-books. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive. And I get quite annoyed by people who imply that they do.

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Dickens, Dorrit, and Davies

I have been in a vaguely Dickensian mood for the last little while, for a few reasons:

  • There is a new biography of Dickens out now – I have a few of the reviews of it bookmarked but haven’t read them yet.
  • I just watched the recent version of Little Dorrit (which is what I really want to talk about).

I freely admit that the main reason I wanted to watch Little Dorrit was because of Matthew Macfadyen, who I love. (He has a beautiful voice. Mmm….) But I also wanted to watch it because I like Andrew Davies as a screenwriter (more on that below), I really liked Bleak House both as a book and a film/series, and I don’t hate Dickens in general. And Matthew Macfadyen was really good – all of the acting was really good, as expected – even if Arthur’s realization of his true feelings for Amy was a bit out of the blue.

It didn’t sparkle, though. There was nothing in it that made me want to go out and actually read Little Dorrit – which, for me, is very, very unusual. When I see an adaptation of a book, I usually want to go out and read the book for myself, either because the movie was so good that I want to re-experience it through the book, or to find out if the book was as good as the movie, or to see what they changed between the book and the movie, or (if the movie was bad) to see if the book is better than the movie. This adaptation was good, but really didn’t make me want to actually read Little Dorrit. And it seemed like every other Dickens tome ever.

I use the word ‘tome’ specifically, because there are certain works of Dickens that are long, complex stories that deal with specific social issues of the early-to-mid 19th century. A Christmas Carol is very different, as is The Pickwick PapersChristmas Carol is much shorter*, and The Pickwick Papers are really short stories or vignettes in one long collection. The others are all very, very similar. This is not news to me, but it was reinforced by watching this version of Little Dorrit and feeling like it was Bleak House but set in and around the Marshalsea instead of Chancery. I never really cared about any of the characters’ backstories – which is bad in a plot that relies so much on character history. The stock characters were flatter than I remember some of Dickens’s other stock characters being and, for the most part, were obviously only there to advance a storyline. [Signor Cavaletto was an exception to this, but I don’t know if that was the actor or the writing or both.]

I also don’t understand the concept of debtor’s prisons. If you can’t pay your bills, why was it a good idea to lock you away and keep you from working to earn money to pay your bills? The idea of Georgia or other transport makes more sense to me – put them in a situation where they have no choice but to work off their debts instead of racking up more.

Anyway, to touch on Andrew Davies’s reaction to the BBC – ‘period drama’ is not exclusive to the 19th century. And the comment about only doing ‘big, popular warhorses’ is kind of ironic from the guy who adapted Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, Emma, Vanity Fair, and several Dickens novels. Even if the Dickens novels aren’t the best-known ones, Dickens is by definition a ‘warhorse’. But mostly, ‘period drama’ is not exclusive to the 19th century. I would love it if the BBC or someone would do an adaptation of a Middle English poem – like one of the early Arthurian stories that are so full of blood and gore, or another version of the Canterbury Tales, or some of the more fantastical ones with magic, like Sir Launfal or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or even one of the ones that aren’t so commonly taught. Or go back to the early days of novels, if you must do a longer serial adaptation. Do something from the 18th century, like Evelina or Moll Flanders or something like that. Also, to go back to my earlier point, ‘period drama’ is not exclusive to the 19th century. The Great Gatsby is period drama. Lucky Jim can be period drama. The TV show Life on Mars – set in the 1970s – and Ashes to Ashes – its sequel in the 1980s – are period dramas. Anything not set in ‘the present day’ is a period drama. By some standards even science fiction could be considered period drama – it’s just that the period is the future. Basically, Andrew Davies, stop whining and shut up.

*A Christmas Carol is excellent. It’s my favourite Dickens book. It’s a short list – Dickens is way too wordy for me and I swear there are sentences in David Copperfield that don’t have verbs. Bleak House is mostly beautiful although falls into the trap of too many characters so that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on during the middle part. I still want to read A Tale of Two Cities one of these days, but doubt I’ll read the others without massive motivation (like having to teach it someday). But, yeah, A Christmas Carol is my favourite Dickens book. That being said, do we really need a new movie and/or TV version of A Christmas Carol every year? The story is played out. Give it a rest for a while. Please.


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Autism and adults….really?

Okay, granted, I have never studied autism. I don’t know much of the research and what I do know I get strictly from the news and conversations with people who have actually studied autism or deal with it on a regular basis (like my mom and my sister). I do know that one concern is over-diagnosis of autism and autism-spectrum disorders, which is why this article kind of disturbs me.

All that the article says is ‘new research funded by the Department of Health’ shows that 1 in 100 adults has autism. There is no link to the new research, no quotation from anyone who carried out the research, and no formal statement from the Department of Health. Just ‘new research’. What kind of research? What criteria are they using to diagnose? There are things that are part of responsible science reporting, and some of those things are missing in this article.

Also, ‘Mozart, Orwell, Einstein, Beethoven and Newton all had it’? Really? Again, by what criteria? When was this decided, and by whom? I’m pretty sure autism wasn’t recognized as a disorder when Mozart was alive, or Newton (anyone know when it was first diagnosed?). Posthumous diagnoses are tricky, because they are based on necessarily biased and incomplete accounts of a person’s behavior. My first instinct, when reading a statement like that lead, is to see it as nothing more than a publicity attempt, especially when there’s no further context for it. I’m not saying that the diagnoses are necessarily wrong, you understand. I just think it’s a troubling attempt to impose modern criteria on personalities of other eras, especially when it’s autism which is such a vaguely defined but highly public diagnosis anyway. I’d like to see whatever study came up with the idea that Mozart and Newton and especially Beethoven were autistic.

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Goodbye, Guiding Light

Soap operas are literature, too, right?

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But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Reading Rainbow airs its last episode

This makes me sad. Reading Rainbow was one of my favourite shows, and featured some of my favourite picture books. Like this one or this one.

What I think is saddest is the rationalisation for cutting the show. I have no problem with using television as an education medium to teach kids how to read, with emphasis on phonics or whatever the current vogue method might be. Literacy as an ability is important.

No, what I think is saddest is the implication that once you know how to read, you’re done. That it’s not necessary to instill and foster a love of reading for its own sake. That learning why to read is not important, at least not as important as knowing how to read.

This is patently untrue. Literacy is so much more than just the ability to read – something that I’m afraid the educational standards overlook far too often. Teaching kids that reading is fun and enjoyable is just as important as teaching them how to sound out words. One of the biggest obstacles that teachers face is students that don’t want to read. They don’t see reading as something to be enjoyed, just something to be endured. But if we can teach children that reading is not just required, but recreational, then we can create teenagers who can and will read outside of class, and then we have adults who read for pleasure as well. And adults who read can change the world.

Reading expands your mind. It gives you insights into other people, other lifestyles, other countries, other times, and other ideas. Reading teaches in a way that the classroom cannot. And people who don’t read tend to be more close-minded than people who do, simply because they don’t have the breadth of mental experience to understand that there are different perspectives in the world. Aliteracy is just as much of a problem as illiteracy.

We need adults who will read, not just adults who can read. And in order to have that, we need to have children and teenagers who read because they want to, not just because they have to. That is what Reading Rainbow provided. It wasn’t just about the featured book – although each episode had a fantastic featured book. It was also about how that book could connect with your life: Gregory, the Terrible Eater, for example, led to lessons on healthy eating and getting along with your parents and making compromises. And it was also about ordinary kids telling about the books they liked, showing that reading is something that kids just like you did even when it wasn’t a part of school, and giving a range of ideas for what to read after the show was over.

There is a hole in educational programming now; I only hope that something fills it before it becomes a hole in our lives as well.

The original theme song

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There was an article on Huffington Post that I read yesterday that I wrote about, but it ended up being very emotional, so instead of posting it here, I’ll just link to it:If you’re interested.

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