Weekend Reading: January 11, 2014

The Time Traveler's WifeIt’s a rainy, blustery day. Perfect for curling up and reading! I have a plan to make some soap later today, particularly as I have received this excellent equipment in the mail.

New England Handmade Artisan Soaps apronI made it on Zazzle. It turned out just like I wanted. I haven’t made a soaping video in a while either, and I am going to try to do one this weekend.

I’m still reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’m about halfway through the book on p. 283. I’m still enjoying it very much, and I half wonder if I’m subconsciously drawing out my reading so I can keep reading it for a while. Then again, I don’t have as much time to read during the work week.

I finished the audio book of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, read by Michael York. You can read my review here if you missed it. I am moving on to The Horse and His Boy read by Alex Jennings. I have zero memory of what happens in that book, though I’m pretty sure I read it about 22 years ago or so. I’m also still listening to Voyager by Diana Gabaldon read by Davina Porter. That book is pretty long, so I imagine it will take some time to finish.

We had to buy a new microwave yesterday. Our microwave died earlier this week. I’m not sure what happened. It wasn’t terribly old (perhaps a maximum of ten years or so). I remember we had to buy the old one when we moved into our previous home, which was about ten years ago now. The one before that lasted about ten years as well. Perhaps that’s about all they’re good for nowadays?

No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity

My copy of No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity has also arrived. I had to order the journal and supplies, so I can’t get started right way. That sort of sounds like an excuse! I do hope that I can make a regular habit of art journaling and perhaps even post some photos from my journal here. We shall see.

What are you up to this weekend?

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Sunday Salon: Resolutions

A Ride in the SnowJust like everybody else, I am making a few resolutions as the new year begins. However, making resolutions is not typical for me. I usually ignore the passage of a new year, at least in terms of turning over a new leaf. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a teacher or not, but I always felt like the real new year turned when a new school year started. For some reason, I don’t know why, this year feels different. I actually find myself feeling like it is the start of the new year, and for the first time in years, that didn’t feel like a sad thing to me. New Year’s Eve usually makes me quite sad, and this year, while I can’t say I was excited or anything, I felt pretty content. As a result, I started thinking about the things I really want to do better or do more of in the coming year.

No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity I have the usual resolutions regarding tackling organization, etc., but in terms of reading, I want to try to be much more active in reading and talking about my reading here. I have had a hard time making myself blog for the last couple of years, but I do enjoy it, particularly book blogging, and I have missed it.

I also want to do better with journaling, and to that end, I picked up No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity. It looks like a fun way to try a new creative outlet. One of the things I have enjoyed about making soap is the creativity. The soap is like a work of art. No two cut bars are the same, and no two batches of soap are the same. Art journaling seems like a fun way to be creative when I’m stuck. One of the things I’ve learned about making soap over the last year is that it can’t be my only creative outlet, or I wind up making too much of it. By the way, if any takers want to try out my soap, let me know. If you want to check out my soap on Etsy, try here.

So, do you have any resolutions?

The Sunday SalonA Ride in the Snow by DaveLawler

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Weekend Reading: January 4, 2014

The Time Traveler's WifeIliana posted her current reads over at Bookgirl’s Nightstand, and it inspired me. A new year is always a chance to try new things and introduce new habits (hoping they will stick!). Here’s hoping I can make a regular Saturday post about my weekend reads a habit. What I’d like to do is take a snapshot of the book I’m reading, right where I’m starting for the weekend.

This weekend I’m reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’m already in love with it on page 79. One of the reasons I picked this book up is that I have a new-ish obsession with Doctor Who, particularly the love story of the Doctor and River Song, and I read somewhere, I forget where, that their relationship was similar to that of Henry and Clare in The Time Traveler’s Wife in some respects. Given I’m not too far in yet, I would say the comparison is fair, and I can see how the novel may have inspired the creation of River Song.

I’m also listening to Michael York read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Davina Porter read Voyager by Diana Gabaldon. Both are what you might consider re-reads, since I have read the Outlander series up to Drums of Autumn. I would like to catch up the end, and I’m looking forward to the adaptation of Outlander on Starz.

It’s bitterly cold outside. My browser’s weather extension says it’s 14 degrees and feels like -3 degrees. Perfect for curling up inside under my husband’s robe with a cup of tea and a good book.

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Bookish Gifts

beautiful books

Years ago, my local Barnes & Noble had a Christmas tree set up in the center of the store. It was decorated with gift tags, and each tag had the name and age of a local boy or girl who was in need of a Christmas gift. I had so much fun buying books for boys and girls that year. I haven’t seen anything like it since, though my school did a book drive for a local chapter of Girls Inc. I don’t know why I haven’t seen the tree idea used again. I suppose it’s possible it wasn’t very successful, but I find it hard to believe (of course, that’s also because I bought a lot of the books myself, so naturally I assumed others did, too).

I find it harder and harder to figure out what books people might like for Christmas. Even me. I hate to admit it, but I’d much rather receive a bookstore gift card than a book. I can spend the money on whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. I find this to be true even if I want a particular book, though I can’t say why, particularly because a book chosen as a gift usually sends the message, “I saw this and thought of you,” or “I loved this and wanted you to love it, too.” And I love to give books, even if I do have trouble figuring out what others will like.

One of my new roles at work involves working on the YA collection in our library. I also give book talks to the middle schoolers, and I absolutely love sharing books I enjoyed with them. Even more, I love it when they tell me how much they enjoyed a book. A student who heard my last book talk stopped me in the hall to tell me she read The Fault in Our Stars in one evening and just loved it. Their teacher recently told me that many of her students were already finished with the books, which they had to read over their holiday break, and were requesting them for Christmas.

In a way, I almost feel like I gave those books as gifts, even though I didn’t physically do it. However, I have several books that have been given to me, book I actually really want to read, and I haven’t read them yet. Maybe 2013 is the year I need to do that. It feels sort of rude not to read a book given to me as a gift.

So what books are you giving for Christmas? What books do you hope to receive?

Merry Christmas to everyone.

The Sunday Salon

 

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Food Nonfiction

I love reading about food. It is interesting to learn how certain food items are entwined with history and impacted world events as well as how they became so important to culture as well as our diet. We are what we eat, right? Here is a collection of books about food that I’ve put on my tbr pile:

Salt: A World HistoryOne of my friends has described this book as one of the best she’s ever read. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky is a story about the history and importance of salt. From Goodreads:

Kurlansky “turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: salt. The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions.  Populated by colorful characters and filled with an unending series of fascinating details, Kurlansky’s kaleidoscopic history is a supremely entertaining, multi-layered masterpiece.”

The True History of Chocolate (Second Edition)I actually have The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe on my shelf right now. I looove chocolate. Who doesn’t? Goodreads says,

This delightful and best-selling tale of one of the world’s favorite foods draws upon botany, archaeology, and culinary history to present a complete and accurate history of chocolate. The story begins some 3,000 years ago in the jungles of Mexico and Central America with the chocolate tree, Theobroma Cacao, and the complex processes necessary to transform its bitter seeds into what is now known as chocolate. This was centuries before chocolate was consumed in generally unsweetened liquid form and used as currency by the Maya, and the Aztecs after them. The Spanish conquest of Central America introduced chocolate to Europe, where it first became the drink of kings and aristocrats and then was popularized in coffeehouses. Industrialization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made chocolate a food for the masses, and now, in our own time, it has become once again a luxury item. The second edition draws on recent research and genetic analysis to update the information on the origins of the chocolate tree and early use by the Maya and others, and there is a new section on the medical and nutritional benefits of chocolate.

For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed HistoryFor All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose is currently on my Kindle. I love tea. I love teapots. I love everything about a traditional British tea. This book, however, makes the story of tea sound like an adventure. Goodreads describes the book:

Robert Fortune was a Scottish gardener, botanist, plant hunter—and industrial spy. In 1848, the East India Company engaged him to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China—territory forbidden to foreigners—to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea. For centuries, China had been the world’s sole tea manufacturer. Britain purchased this fuel for its Empire by trading opium to the Chinese—a poisonous relationship Britain fought two destructive wars to sustain. The East India Company had profited lavishly as the middleman, but now it was sinking, having lost its monopoly to trade tea. Its salvation, it thought, was to establish its own plantations in the Himalayas of British India. There were just two problems: India had no tea plants worth growing, and the company wouldn’t have known what to do with them if it had. Hence Robert Fortune’s daring trip. The Chinese interior was off-limits and virtually unknown to the West, but that’s where the finest tea was grown—the richest oolongs, soochongs and pekoes. And the Emperor aimed to keep it that way.

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive OilI was doing some research on olive oil the other day, and I came across Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller, and I have to admit I was intrigued. A whole book in olive oil? Apparently so:

For millennia, fresh olive oil has been one of life’s necessities—not just as food but also as medicine, a beauty aid, and a vital element of religious ritual. Today’s researchers are continuing to confirm the remarkable, life-giving properties of true extra-virgin, and “extra-virgin Italian” has become the highest standard of quality.

But what if this symbol of purity has become deeply corrupt? Starting with an explosive article in The New Yorker, Tom Mueller has become the world’s expert on olive oil and olive oil fraud-a story of globalization, deception, and crime in the food industry from ancient times to the present, and a powerful indictment of today’s lax protections against fake and even toxic food products in the United States. A rich and deliciously readable narrative, Extra Virginity is also an inspiring account of the artisanal producers, chemical analysts, chefs, and food activists who are defending the extraordinary oils that truly deserve the name “extra-virgin.”

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman has been on my list for a long time. Goodreads says,

This delicious saga of how immigrant food became American food follows European immigrants on a remarkable journey from the Ellis Island dining hall to tiny tenement kitchens, from Lower East Side pushcart markets and delicatessens out into the wider world of American cuisine.

Although reviewers have mentioned the book isn’t really about the immigrant families so much as it is about the kinds of food immigrants brought to America and that the single tenement was more an organization device than anything else, I still really want to read it. Just reading the description from Publisher’s Weekly makes me hungry:

Ziegelman puts a historical spin to the notion that you are what you eat by looking at five immigrant families from what she calls the “elemental perspective of the foods they ate.” They are German, Italian, Irish, and Jewish (both Orthodox and Reform) from Russia and Germany—they are new Americans, and each family, sometime between 1863 and 1935, lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Each represents the predicaments faced in adapting the food traditions it knew to the country it adopted. From census data, newspaper accounts, sociological studies, and cookbooks of the time, Ziegelman vividly renders a proud, diverse community learning to be American. She describes the funk of fermenting sauerkraut, the bounty of a pushcart market, the culinary versatility of a potato, as well as such treats as hamburger, spaghetti, and lager beer. Beyond the foodstuffs and recipes of the time, however, are the mores, histories, and identities that food evokes. Through food, the author records the immigrants’ struggle to reinterpret themselves in an American context and their reciprocal impact on American culture at large.

Food is one of those things that shapes our culture in so many ways. We also derive so much of who we are from the food we eat. I was listening to an Italian-American colleague at work the other day telling a co-worker he never had macaroni and cheese as a child because it was “boxed pasta,” and his mother wouldn’t have it in the house. I don’t think I ever had pasta that wasn’t from a box unless it was at a restaurant. I know folks who swear by homemade pasta and spend the time to make it, but would I know the difference? I don’t know what I’m missing. Chances are pretty good, however, that my colleague doesn’t know good Southern fried chicken.

So, do you have any good books about food? Please share.

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Booking Through Thursday: Interview Me!

:: When you re-read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before ::

  1. What’s your favorite time of day to read? I can’t say that I have one. I read when I have the opportunity.
  2. Do you read during breakfast? (Assuming you eat breakfast.) I don’t really eat breakfast, but I do read on the bus in the morning on the way to work. If I am eating alone in a restaurant, I will read.
  3. What’s your favorite breakfast food? (Noting that breakfast foods can be eaten any time of day.) I guess it would be bacon. Love good bacon.
  4. How many hours a day would you say you read? If I am really into a book, I might read it all day, but on average, I’d say one to two hours.
  5. Do you read more or less now than you did, say, 10 years ago? Much more. I know there’s no way I read anything close to 50 books in 2001, for instance.
  6. Do you consider yourself a speed reader? Not really. I have learned to read faster than I used to, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a speed reader at all.
  7. If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I would like to fly. I think flying would be so cool. First, it cuts down on travel time because you aren’t bound by roads. Second, you’re flying.
  8. Do you carry a book with you everywhere you go? Only if I suspect I will have time to read. I bring one back and forth to work so I can read on the bus. I always bring one if I think I’m going to wait, but I don’t bring one to, say, the grocery store.
  9. What KIND of book? Whatever I’m reading at the time. Lately it’s been my Kindle.
  10. How old were you when you got your first library card? I honestly don’t know. I think maybe second or third grade, but I couldn’t say for sure.
  11. What’s the oldest book you have in your collection? (Oldest physical copy? Longest in the collection? Oldest copyright?) Another one I have no idea about. I do have a dinosaur book that I have owned since I was in second or third grade. That’s probably the longest in the collection. I am not really a book collector.
  12. Do you read in bed? Pretty much every night.
  13. Do you write in your books? Sometimes. Depends on the book. I highlight notes in my Kindle a lot. I only rarely write in paper novels, but I almost always write in professional (education) books I read.
  14. If you had one piece of advice to a new reader, what would it be? Read what you like. Don’t worry that other people don’t like it or think it’s not “good” literature. It’s more important to find enjoyment in reading than to allow someone’s opinion of what you read turn you off all the good books you could be enjoying. At the same time, be open to reading books you might not think you’re necessarily interested in. You might find you like them.
  15. What question have I NOT asked at BTT that you’d love me to ask? (Actually, leave the answer to this one in the comments on this post, huh? So I can find them when I need inspiration!) I have had a blog post in the hopper for some time about literary crushes, but I haven’t ever finished it. Maybe I would if it were an official BTT prompt.

Creative Commons License photo credit: » Zitona «

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2012 Reading Goals

A Young Girl Reading, Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Happy New Year! Let’s all hope we survive the end of the Mayan calendar this year, mainly so people on the “History” Channel (lately, I’m thinking some sort of federal authority ought to require them to use the quotation marks) will quit talking about it.

I met my reading goal of 50 books in 2011, which was my best ever year. While I do want to read more books this year, I am not sure I could read much more than 50, so I’m setting this year’s goal at 52, only a moderate increase over last year’s goal. It also rounds out to an even book a week.

I am participating in the following reading challenges this year:

All of these challenges allow for books to be counted for more than one challenge, which is great. Otherwise I’d need to pare back.

Last year I made it a goal to improve the tagging on my blog posts, which is still an area I need to work on. I am posting more regularly, and the review posts include the authors’ names now, which I think has contributed to making them more useful. I need to work on titling meme posts so that they are more descriptive of the content rather than just titling them after the meme and using the date. I need to get back in the habit of doing Teaser Tuesdays. I realized in looking back at my posts that I actually liked those posts quite a lot more than I thought I did. Also, I think it’s a good way to introduce readers to favorite quotes in books. Another goal I have for my blogging is to post more often about book and literature-related issues, which I started out doing, but gradually cut back on. In reflecting on my favorite posts of the year 2011, I found those types of posts were more frequently my own favorites, and it stands to reason that if I liked them better, perhaps readers do too.

I have some other reading goals for the year.

  1. Find the time/energy to revive the faculty book club I have led at my school. My colleagues have been asking me about it.
  2. Comment more on reading blogs. I subscribe to many in my feed reader, but I don’t leave comments as often as I think about it.
  3. Clean out my blogroll/RSS feed reader once a month and eliminate bloggers who haven’t posted in a while (unless they announced a hiatus and plan to be back).
  4. Read books set in a larger variety of locales. I don’t want to push it artificially, and I want to read what I want to read, but I did notice the books I read this year were clustered in two locations: the east coast of the U.S. and the U.K. I guess it makes sense, but even with the U.S., I only read two books set in western states (Colorado and Washington) and one set in the midwest (Wisconsin, though that was American Gods, which is set all over America, and I picked the place the character settled down the longest).

Outside of reading, blogging, and reading about blogging, I have some more goals for the year.

  1. Continue the exercise regimen I started before Christmas. My Christmas present to myself (from the family, I guess) was a Wii Fit, which my sister said was great for beginners. I started a yoga/aerobic/strength training regimen that I have been faithfully doing every day for about a week (barring Christmas, mainly because I didn’t take the Wii down to my parents’ house, where we spent Christmas). It’s actually been a lot of fun to use the Wii Fit program.
  2. Learn to knit. My sister learned from watching videos, and frankly, I hope I can teach myself using videos or tutorials rather than take a class. But I should like to learn so I can make Hogwarts house scarves for everyone in the family according to their house colors (Maggie and Sarah are Hufflepuffs, Steve’s a Slytherin, I’m a Ravenclaw, and Dylan hasn’t been officially sorted in Pottermore, so I’ll either let him pick or sign him up for Pottermore when it’s out of beta). Maggie and Sarah seemed to like the idea of having Hufflepuff scarves, so it sounds like a plan.
  3. Cook more. It’s hard with work and everything else, but it’s more economical. I have done fairly well this year, but there is always room for improvement. I get bored of the same old things over and over. I like trying out new (simple) recipes and saving the more time-consuming/difficult stuff for weekends, holidays, or breaks. Cooking more means planning better and perhaps even a membership at one of those wholesale warehouses. I have a family of five, and we go through the food. I need to be smarter about the food budget. I have quite a few food-related books on my TBR list, too. I love watching TV about food and reading about food.

What about you? Do you have any reading goals or other goals for 2012?

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2011: A Reading Year in Review

Catalyst
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Looking for Alaska
Misery
Twisted
Sense and Sensibility
On Writing
Bridget Jones's Diary
The Night Circus
The Man with Two Left Feet: And Other Stories
Those Across the River
The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Novel
The Secret History
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
The Ballad of Frankie Silver
The Songcatcher
Adam & Eve: A Novel
A Room With a View
The Winter Sea

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This was my best reading year yet in terms of meeting my reading goals. Actually, it might have been the first year I actively set reading goals.

  • Total number of books read: 50.
  • Fiction books: 46.
  • Nonfiction books: 4.
  • YA books: 8.
  • Audio books: 3.
  • Kindle books: 14.
  • DailyLit books: 2.
  • Books reread: 2.

2011 Reading Challenge

2011 Reading Challenge

Dana has completed her goal of reading 50 books in 2011!

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I recently posted my list of favorite books, but here is a quick list:

  1. Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly
  2. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
  3. On Writing, Stephen King
  4. The Songcatcher, Sharyn McCrumb
  5. The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
  6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
  7. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  9. Passion, Jude Morgan
  10. The Kitchen Daughter, Jael McHenry

Least favorite books of 2011 (no one-star books this year!):

Favorite book meme of the year: Top Ten Tuesdays.

Favorite reading challenge: The R.I.P. Challenge. Again.

Just a couple of days ago, I posted a list of my favorite blog posts for this year.

My Where Are You Reading 2011 reading challenge map (you can open it up and look all over):


View 2011 Where Are You Reading Challenge in a larger map

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WWW Wednesdays: December 14, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA novel Catalyst. It was, incidentally, mentioned in the most recent book I read by Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It’s one of Junior Spirit’s favorite books. I also recently read Looking for Alaska by John Green. You can read my reviews of these books here and here. John Green will be in Atlanta next month, and I think my daughter wants to go see him. I have also finished Stephen King’s novel Misery since I last checked in with WWW Wednesdays. My review of that book can be found here.

I am not totally sure what I’ll read next. It’ll be something from this list. I have a lot of those books already, many on my Kindle, and it seems about time for a Kindle book.

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Listening to My Own Advice

Shakespeare and Co.

I should know better than to keep plugging away with a book when it’s just not grabbing me, but sometimes I second-guess myself. I recently picked up Bernard Schaffer’s Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes for two reasons: 1) I love Sherlock Holmes, and 2) the murders committed by Jack the Ripper are endlessly fascinating. I was encouraged by high ratings on both Goodreads and Amazon, too. Lucky me, it was available on Kindle for $2.99, so it seemed low-risk enough. I read about 25% of the book. This afternoon, I found myself not wanting to pick it up again. That’s when I knew I should probably just quit reading it. I am a little angry with myself for giving it that much of a chance, but I told myself it must get better because of the ratings. Listen, I am no prig. Not even close. But Holmes and Watson were Victorian-era gentlemen, and if you are going to appropriate another writer’s characters, I think working within the confines of their established characters should be a given. Up to the point I read, I felt Schaffer’s Holmes was faithful to Doyle’s, but Watson? Lestrade? I just can’t imagine Watson grabbing Mary Morstan’s breasts or saying sexually provocative things to her. It seems so unlike his nature. And Lestrade taking up with a prostitute in a dark alley as the prostitute’s daughter looks on from a distance? Well, I don’t like Lestrade either, but really? A significant portion of the part of the book I read is devoted to development of Jack the Ripper, who Schaffer has researched well. Schaffer’s depiction of the killer is spot on, as far as I could tell, but it’s cured me of wanting to read anything more about the case. Disgusting. I mean, obviously on an intellectual level, I knew the Whitechapel murders were the horrific, grisly work of an absolute psychopath, but actually seeing it through the character was too much. Maybe I’m squeamish, but I was really grossed out. I don’t think Schaffer is in the wrong, either. I think Jack the Ripper is buried under some layers of, for lack of a better word, Romanticism, and all Schaffer did was portray him as he probably was. So, I put the book down. I am not going to say it isn’t good because maybe it is, depending on your point of view. It just really wasn’t for me.

I picked up The Secret History by Donna Tartt instead, and I was immediately taken. The story begins in a crisp New England fall. At forty-five pages in, I am already sure I will like it. My point is that I should listen to my own advice more often. I gave the Schaffer a longer chance that I should have. I knew it wasn’t grabbing me long before I read so much of it. I was contemplating finishing it anyway and trying to imagine how I would rate it, when it occurred to me I didn’t really have to finish it. After all, don’t I tell everyone else it’s OK to give up on a book and that there are too many good books to read ones you don’t like? Of course! So why continue? Just to see if it gets better? OK, but what if it doesn’t, and how angry will I be with myself if I read the entire thing and wasted a week or more on a book I knew on day one wasn’t grabbing me? So I scrapped it, and now I am reading a book that has grabbed me absolutely within the first ten pages.

Creative Commons License photo credit: craigfinlay

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