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Bookworm Chic

I have a lot of books. This is nothing new. I’m on Bookmooch and GoodReads and consider myself quite the reader. I’m also quite the aspiring owner-of-a-well-decorated-condo. The two don’t always mix.

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I’ve actually Googled “styling a bookcase” because I’d like mine to look a little less like I’ve crammed every book I could find in there sideways. Unfortunately, most tips for beautifying bookcases involve getting rid of your books and replacing them with faux souvenirs or woven baskets. One decorator advised getting rid of “unsightly paperbacks.” If I did this, I’d lose most of my collection.

I am culling. I get rid of books (via swap or donation) as soon as I finish them. I just seem to acquire them at a phenomenal rate. Input is far exceeding output.

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My life is not a magazine. I need my bookcases to hold actual books. Actual paperback books. I know. I dream of wall-to-wall shelving (especially with a sliding library ladder), but until that day, I need to figure out creative storage. My bookcases are full to the brim and books are currently residing there both horizontally and vertically – however they best fit.

In addition to two busting bookcases, I have one of these:

Thus, a stack of five or six hardbacks becomes wall art. I’ve considered getting several more (they’re cheap!) and making a floor-to-ceiling “stack.” I also love this herringbone bookcase, but I was indecisive and West Elm sold out.

Do you have a home full of books? How do you display them? Suggestions, please.

I Am: A Reader

Throughout my childhood, books could get me out of all manner of unsavory things. Naps, for instance, could be avoided if I promised to read quietly in my room. 

I got my first library card on a Kindergarten field trip and that following Summer I enrolled myself in the California Raisins Summer Reading Program. We went to the library regularly and I could check out as many books as I wanted. While this often ended in tears as books were lost in the abyss under my bed, it fostered a deep love of reading.

I was always aces at reading competitions. Remember BookIt? My school also did “Read to the Moon” where every page read brought us a mile closer to our celestial goal. I was personally responsible for quite a bit of our travel. I crushed annual reading goals.*

Reading also provided an escape. The Summer I moved to New York I buried myself in Baby-Sitter’s Club books from the local library. Lost in the adventures of Kristy and her friends, I didn’t could ignore my anxiety about starting a new school.

Currently, I’m rarely found without a book in my purse. In fact, I’ve been known to select purses specifically because they are sized right for book-carrying. I’m avid, insatiable, always looking to start the next story. I swap books with friends and family and online via BookMooch. When people tell me they don’t have time to read, I smile and turn back to my book.

Reading is my favorite pass time. Books are slowly taking over my home but, as I tell Will, there are worse addictions.

I am a reader. Reading is a crucial part of who I am.

*Sadly, my early zeal for reading had a dark side. My first instance of plagiarism was forging my mother’s signature on a form attesting to how much I’d read that week. The give away? I’d yet to learn capital letters in cursive.

What I’d Rather Hear About than Your Job

When meeting new people, it seems the default question of “What do you do?” comes up shortly after names are exchanged. Our jobs become our definitions. However, only a lucky few who are truly passionate about what they do for a living welcome such a definition.

“What we do” is not always “who we are.” With the noted exception of those fortunate few who love their jobs, asking what someone does provokes, at best, a neutral, pre-packaged response.

There are other things I’d rather hear about.

1. What you are reading. As an avid reader (be my friend on GoodReads!), I love to hear about, talk about, obsess about books. I read thrillers, novels, personal essays. I dabble in poetry collections. I fill my home with books and pass good ones along to whoever I think would enjoy them. Tell me about the last great book you read. Tell me about the recent article you read in the newspaper, a magazine, or online that changed your thinking about foreign policy, menswear, or drapery pleats. Reading makes you interesting, and everyone loves to hear from interesting people.

2. Where you’re headed. I’m always planning my next trip – be it real or imaginary. I like to ask people where they’d go if they could jump on a plane right this minute and go anywhere, all expenses paid. My own answer to this question changes frequently. I want to go to Quebec, Istanbul, Mumbai, St. Petersburg. I want to see much of South America and Africa. I want to ski wherever I can. I’d love to hear about upcoming vacations, past vacations, or fantasy vacations. Distance doesn’t matter.

3. What you’re eating. My boyfriend is quite the chef. Prior to him, I had no real appreciation for the culinary world. Now, I have a cabinet full of spices and cookware. I’m slowly learning to love food – preparing it, eating it, and talking about it. Going to a great restaurant? Have a wonderful meal the other week? Love cooking at home? Peeved about Top Chef? Please share!

4. What you do. If your job is your passion, I’d love to hear about it – even if I have no real understanding of what it is. Listening to people talk about their passions is fascinating. The other night, I joyfully eavesdropped on my sister as she discussed chemistry with a mutual friend. I’ve never heard two people so pumped about Tungsten. Your passion may not be your job, but, for most of us, your job is not all that you do. Tell me about your hobbies. Tell me about your weekend plans.

People’s jobs can be fascinating. People’s jobs can be boring. Unless they are enthusiastic about it, I’d rather talk about something else.

Literature for the Ladies

I am, to put it mildly, an avid reader. You’re not likely to find me without a book in my bag.

{via the amazing Kraus Schönberg Architects as featured in Architonic}

While I read a good number of serious and scholarly works, I’m hardly working my way through a list of Man Booker Prize winners. Generally, I intersperse my more noble selections with what I lovingly call “brain candy” – you know, the light and fluffy stuff that keeps you entertained without really taxing your cognitive abilities. Literary down-time.

My last two candy-novels were straight-up chick lit. While in both cases the protagonist lived in London and thus there was perhaps a small amount of cultural exchange to be gleaned, that was the only redeeming quality.  I finished the second novel out of sheer force of will. Along the way, I have come to some conclusions:

  1. Bitches be neurotic. If levels of neuroses displayed in chick lit were in any way reflected in real life, Darwin would have done us in generations ago. Are female protagonists neurotic to make them relatable? Is the idea that we all have a host of issues and are never satisfied (with our lives, with our partners, with our weight)? Worse, is being self-critical the modern-day equivalent of being a damsel in distress? Often in these storylines, mental clarity arrives along with the knight-in-shining-armor. Without dragging out my feminist soapbox, why do we want ourselves portrayed this way?
  2. Be nice to the mousy girl. She’s the hero. You aren’t. Unless you are the mousy girl, in which case…
  3. JUST TELL HIM HOW YOU FEEL. Holy smokes. He probably feels the same. If not, at least you’ll know and can SHUT UP and save me 200 pages of dithering.

It’s not that the subject (girl + boy = love) itself is trite – we could spend the rest of our lives dissecting the many facets of human relationships. The storylines, however, are painfully formulaic. All seem to involve the following:

  • 1 awkward, neurotic protagonist unaware of her own beauty
  • 1 man-she-hates-at-first-and-then-loves (may substitute one male-friend-who-was-always-just-a-friend-but-then-fireworks!)
  • At least 2 female friends to provide comic relief, insight, and/or side-storylines
  • (optional) 1 caricature of a shrewish female boss to add work-related stress or provide the protagonist with reinforcement for her bleak self-assessment

While too many books by and about females gets tossed into the “chick-lit” bin, all such novels are not created equal. Setting aside those perceived by greater society as “not just for ladyfolk” (Jane Austen, Maya Angelou, Harper Lee), there are many current lady-authors who cover – in part – lady-protagonists (and their complicated lady-feelings) without venturing into the saccharine or cliché. An incomplete list:

  • Kate Atkinson – Case Histories (a personal favorite) is a story told from many viewpoints, each providing its own rich layer. I quickly acquired everything she ever wrote.
  • Barbara Kingsolver – I’ll admit that I purchased The Poisonwood Bible at Boston’s Logan airport solely because it was fat and (comparatively) cheap – thus offering a tempting page-to-dollar ratio. After I’d finished it, I flipped to the front to start again – this time to focus on the words; some passages were too beautiful, too delicious, to be left on the page unsaid.
  • Emily Giffin – Take Something Borrowed (it’s OK if you only saw the movie). You root for the girl who steals her best friend’s fiance. The protagonist – like a real person – is a complex mixture of good and bad.

The list, of course, goes on: Audrey Niffenegger, Anita Shreve.

Additions? recommendations? Do share.