Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays: Non-Bookish Hobbies

Musing MondaysThis week’s Musing Mondays question is “Do you have any hobbies outside of reading? Or do you collect anything?

As a matter of fact, I have a really fun, somewhat new hobby that I have mentioned a couple of times on this blog. I make cold process soap. Cold process is another name for making soap from scratch, which means I mix lye and water with oils and fats to produce soap. Melt and pour is a process by which you take soap that has already been made, such as a glycerin base or a bar of commercial or handmade soap, and melt it down, then forming it into shapes or bars. I have not tried that particular process, which is considered a little easier, but also gives you a little more room for creativity with shapes and colors (that’s just my observation).

I blog about my soap-making adventures at Suds Life. I have also recently opened a store on Etsy and a Facebook fan page (feel free to “like” it!). I have actually sold one bar of soap and would love to sell some more, so check it out! I am adding new soap all the time.

I love making soap. It is a very zen sort of activity. I have complete control over all the ingredients that go into my soap. It is not unlike cooking that way. I can also try new things and experiment. Interestingly, I find I like to experiment even more with soap recipes than I do with food recipes! My favorite soap so far is a pumpkin pie soap I made not too long ago. I love the way it turned out. Although I have to say that the most recent soap batch I made, Cinnamon Apple Cider, turned out extraordinarily well. Here is a photo:

Cinnamon Apple Cider

It looks and smells just like applesauce. I think it might be a major contender for a new favorite.

I enjoy everything about this hobby, and I look forward to many happy years of soaping.

Aside from making soap, I also write and love to participate in NaNoWriMo every year. I also like cross stitching, though I don’t do it often. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but I like Downton Abbey, Sherlock Holmes (BBC with Benedict Cumberbatch), Doctor Who, and The Big Bang Theory.

It strikes me that readers tend to be hobbyists fairly often; specifically, readers tend to be “crafty” types. I know a lot of readers who knit, make books, paint, crochet, sew, or cook. I wonder why that is. Any thoughts?

Musing Mondays: Changing My Opinion

This week’s Musing Monday: “Have you ever reread a book and found that your opinion changed?”

This has probably happened to me more than once, but the most memorable instance was in re-reading J. D. Salinger’s [amazon asin=0316769177&text=The Catcher in the Rye].

I first read the book in high school. Not as required reading. My high school in California actually did precious little of that. It wasn’t until I moved to Georgia that I was actually required to read much substantial literature in English class. I think had some kind of list of great books students should have read by the time they entered college, and this book must have been on it. I hated Holden Caulfield. He was whiny. He complained too much. You know what, Holden? I thought. Life just isn’t fair. Suck it up. I really disliked him when he procured Sunny the prostitute. He was arrogant. He was annoying and full of himself.

Years later, Catcher was in my ninth grade curriculum. I picked it up again, not expecting to feel differently, but I was surprised. This time, I saw Holden as a victim. He was a loving brother who had lost a beloved younger brother and felt guilty about the small unkindnesses brothers commit against each other. He didn’t want to lose Phoebe the way he had lost Allie. He had already written his older brother off as a phony. His parents were largely absent and paid no attention to him, so naturally he was self-destructive and subconsciously did things that would ensure he was kicked out of school so they would have to pay attention to him, however fleetingly. He didn’t feel like he had a place in the world. One of the most poignant scenes to me in all of American literature, and I’ve taught the course a few times, is this scene when Holden is walking down the street in New York:

Anyway, I kept walking and walking up Fifth Avenue, without any tie on or anything. Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I’d never get to the other side of the street. I thought I’d just go down, down, down, and nobody’d ever see me again. Boy did it scare me. You can’t imagine. I started sweating like a bastard—my whole shirt and underwear and everything. Then I started doing something else. Every time I’d get to the end of a block I’d make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I’d say to him, “Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Please, Allie.” And then when I’d reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I’d thank him. Then it would start over again as soon as I got to the next corner. But I kept going and all. I was sort of afraid to stop, I think.” (197-198)

That is the portrait of a scared, lost child, and I think in reading it for the first time as a high school teacher and as a parent, I realized how incredibly sad Holden’s situation was. I felt sorry for him. I wanted to protect him.

My opinion of the book, and its main character, changed completely.

I think we probably never read the same book twice. We always pick up on different things when we re-read. We are different people than we were the last time we read the book. However, I can’t remember ever experiencing such a different reaction to re-reading a book as I did these two times I read Catcher.

I’ll be teaching it again next month.

I can’t wait.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays: Young Adult

Musing MondaysWhy do you think that the Young Adult genre is so popular with even the adult readers? Do you read YA books, yourself?

I think YA is popular for several reasons. First of all, it’s in the midst of some kind of renaissance, perhaps ushered in by writers like Lois Lowry and Laurie Halse Anderson. There is simply a lot of really good YA fiction out there right now. I think one of the reasons it is popular with adult readers is that we were all young adults once, and I think good fiction, whether the protagonist is a little girl like Scout Finch or an elderly man like Jacob Jankowski, is always appealing. Therefore, I don’t see why a teen protagonist shouldn’t appeal to an adult. I also think the [amazon_link id=”0545162076″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link] series, the [amazon_link id=”031613290X” target=”_blank” ]Twilight[/amazon_link] series, and the [amazon_link id=”0545265355″ target=”_blank” ]Hunger Games[/amazon_link] series had massive appeal for fans of all ages. Perhaps one reason for the popularity of YA is that these books prompted readers to pick up other YA fiction.

I do read YA. As a matter of fact, I am on my third YA book this month. I don’t read it exclusively or even a lot when compared with my normal reading habits, but I have never felt any shame in reading it, and I have enjoyed reading it since I was a young adult myself.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays: December 12, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing [borrowed from an old BTT post] asks…

I once knew a man who read about WWII. He read everything he could get his hands on on the subject. He had a whole wall of books that were all about WWII. It amazed me. How could he continue to find one subject that engrossing? My mother, on the other hand, loves to read best sellers. I’ve known other people who read science fiction to the exclusion of everything else; for others it was philosophy, self-help, or history.

So, to the questions…

What kind of books do you like to read?
Why? Provide specific examples.

I consider myself more eclectic than the average reader, but my staple is historical fiction. I love history. It’s exciting to see my younger daughter turning into a history buff. My older daughter does not like historical fiction; she prefers contemporary fiction or manga. I remember how floored I was when she told me she didn’t like [amazon_link id=”0547550294″ target=”_blank” ]The Witch of Blackbird Pond[/amazon_link]. Granted, she read it for school instead of for pleasure, like I did when I read it, but I have enjoyed books I read for school, and the requirement to read it does not necessarily preclude enjoying it.

I have read 22 historical fiction books this year out of a total of 47 books. I would say that statistic more than any other shows my interest. I like to read about a variety of history periods, but one period I’m not much interested in is World War II. I know what you’re thinking: why? It’s an endlessly fascinating time period, and I get that. I happen to be more interested in Medieval, Renaissance, Restoration, Georgian, and Victorian England (so roughly 500-1900 A. D.), but I occasionally like Edwardian England, too. I have recently developed an interested in Revolutionary and Napoleonic-era France. Pretty narrow, interests, I suppose. In terms of American historical fiction, I like the Colonial era, the Revolutionary era, and the Civil War, but that’s about it.

I can’t say I have a weakness for any particular genre aside from historical fiction. I find it to be a fun way to learn more about history, and I myself have enjoyed the challenge of the research when writing it.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—October 17, 2011

Musing MondaysIt’s Monday! That means it’s time for another Monday Musing. This week’s question is Do you judge a book by its cover?

All. The. Time. I know the adage well, but the truth is that publishers spend a lot of money paying people to design book covers. You know who I think does a consistently good job? Source Books. Just take a look at some of their covers. Sometimes judging a book by its cover has led me astray. Check out this gorgeous cover for [amazon_link id=”0345455932″ target=”_blank” ]Blackbird House[/amazon_link]:

[amazon_image id=”0345455932″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Blackbird House: A Novel (Ballantine Reader’s Circle)[/amazon_image]

And yet I didn’t care for the book.

I think it’s human nature to check out the package and be attracted to it before we get to know the contents. We do that with potential mates as well as books, so judging a book by its cover is nothing new.

Some covers I just love? The Ruben Toledo drawings for Penguin classics. My favorites are [amazon_link id=”0143106155″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link]:

[amazon_image id=”0143106155″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Jane Eyre: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)[/amazon_image]

and [amazon_link id=”0143105442″ target=”_blank” ]The Scarlet Letter[/amazon_link]:

[amazon_image id=”0143105442″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Scarlet Letter: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)[/amazon_image]

But I love [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link], too:

[amazon_image id=”0143105434″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Wuthering Heights: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)[/amazon_image]

Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the cover of [amazon_link id=”B000QRIGLW” target=”_blank” ]Twilight[/amazon_link] has been influential:

[amazon_image id=”B000QRIGLW” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)[/amazon_image]

[amazon_link id=”B00136YCIG” target=”_blank” ]This[/amazon_link] is probably one of the most iconic covers of all time, and it has such an interesting background, too.

[amazon_image id=”0743273567″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_image]

Scribner has a reissue edition, which is pretty, by the way, but not as iconic as the Cugat original.

Here are some books I’ve read, bought, or received recently that I think have pretty covers:

[amazon_image id=”0312558171″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Ballad Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0345524969″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0385534639″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”1594744769″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0345521307″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Paris Wife: A Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0553807226″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Peach Keeper: A Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”B004SYA7PM” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Revolution [Deckle Edge] (text only) by J. Donnelly[/amazon_image]

Musing Mondays

Monday Musings—September 5, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks: Who do you think is the hottest male/female character from a book?

Ha, ha! This is a funny question. I only had to think about it for a minute. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] series, of course. Listen, my husband is a redhead, and he and all the other redheads out there can thank Jamie for making everyone else understand why redheaded men are sexy.

Why is Jamie “hot”? He is not afraid to be a man and have whatever feelings he has. He never tries to hide his feelings. He also has the courage not to impede Claire from being whatever she wants to be, which is an unusual trait in a man of his time (eighteenth century Scotland). He also loves Claire with an intense and lasting love that transcends time. He can be stubborn and frustrating at times, but honestly, it’s always in a predictable way—it’s usually because someone he loves feels threatened, and he thinks they are being kind of stupid. Not that they are necessarily being stupid, but that he thinks they are, mind. Another thing I like about Jamie is the joy with which he approaches life and his sense of humor. He has more funny quotes than any ten other characters in that series. In addition to all of that, he is also strong, a survivor. He has been through some of the worst humanity can throw at another person and come out the other side if not unscathed, then at least with a sense of humor and a sense of himself intact. He also shows a surprising open-mindedness for a man of his era—his affection for Lord John Grey, even after find out Grey is homosexual and is attracted to Jamie, is sincere and undiminished by the news, and his acceptance of Claire (even as outlandish as her tale truly is) is pretty remarkable.

Sorry, ladies, no pics. This one has not been made into a movie, and I prefer not to speculate (you can Google it if you’re curious), but here is a link to all the Jamie Fraser merch you could want at Cafe Press.

Honorable mentions:

Fitzwilliam Darcy from [amazon_link id=”0143105426″ target=”_blank” ]Pride and Prejudice[/amazon_link]

Rhett Butler from [amazon_link id=”1451635621″ target=”_blank” ]Gone with the Wind[/amazon_link]

Louis de Pointe du Lac (had to be at least one vampire… wait, I do have another one—hang on) from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, but specifically [amazon_link id=”0345409647″ target=”_blank” ]Interview with the Vampire[/amazon_link]

Captain Frederick Wentworth from [amazon_link id=”193659451X” target=”_blank” ]Persuasion[/amazon_link]

and Matthew Clairmont (no pics—no movie… yet; also my other vampire) from [amazon_link id=”0670022411″ target=”_blank” ]A Discovery of Witches[/amazon_link].

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—August 29, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s Musing Mondays asks…

What was the last book you…
• borrowed from the library?
• bought?
• cried over?
• disliked and couldn’t finish?
• read & loved?
• got for review? (or: got in the mail?)
• gave to someone else?
• stayed up too late reading?

Ah, now these are excellent questions. I honestly can’t remember the last book I myself checked out of the library. I haven’t been in over a year. I helped Maggie check out some books on the Salem Witch Trials, I think, but I can’t recall getting anything for myself that time.

The last book I bought was probably [amazon_link id=”0439139600″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire[/amazon_link] because we could not find our copy. We are always reading those to death anyway. I think some of the books in that series are on their third copy.

The last book I cried over was [amazon_link id=”1565125606″ target=”_blank” ]Water for Elephants[/amazon_link] (review). I just loved that book, and parts of it were so sad.

The last book I disliked and couldn’t finish…hmmm….I want to say that was [amazon_link id=”0758254083″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Bites[/amazon_link], which made me sad because 1) it was a gift, and 2) I love [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link] and would like to believe I have a sense of humor about parodies of works I love, but this one just did not grab me. I don’t think I made it into chapter 2.

The last book I read and loved was [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] (review) by Sharyn McCrumb. I really, really liked [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] (review), perhaps even loved it, but if we’re talking it-went-on-my-list-of-favorites love, then that was The Songcatcher.

The last book I got for review that I actually have reviewed was [amazon_link id=”1401301045″ target=”_blank” ]The Wild Rose[/amazon_link] (review). I have some other review copies in my TBR pile (or on NetGalley, which amounts to the same thing).

Does PaperBackSwap count as giving a book to someone else? I’m going to say it does, in which case I mailed copies of [amazon_link id=”0061579289″ target=”_blank” ]Adam & Eve[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”039592720X” target=”_blank” ]Interpreter of Maladies[/amazon_link] on the same day, which was August 24. Giving a book as a gift, it was probably Christmas. I gave books to the kids and a [amazon_link id=”B002FQJT3Q” target=”_blank” ]Kindle[/amazon_link] to Steve.

The last time I stayed up too late reading was probably…oh, shoot…I do this so much during the summer that it’s hard to keep track. I am going to say it was with Jennifer Donnelly’s “Rose” trilogy: [amazon_link id=”0312378025″ target=”_blank” ]The Tea Rose[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”1401307469″ target=”_blank” ]The Winter Rose[/amazon_link], and the aforementioned The Wild Rose. I ate those books up with a spoon.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—August 22, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks, “Do you prefer character-driven stories, or plot-driven stories?”

I definitely prefer character-driven stories. I will forgive a character-given story for not having much of a plot, but I can’t stand plot-driven novels with wooden or underdeveloped characters. Wooden characters were my chief problem with [amazon_link id=”0307474275″ target=”_blank” ]The Da Vinci Code[/amazon_link]. See, I will agree that [amazon_link id=”0316038377″ target=”_blank” ]Twilight[/amazon_link] is not especially well written, but it kept me turning pages because it had developed characters (though whether they’re good role models, etc., I am not here to debate) in addition to an engaging plot that kept me turning the pages. Most of the books I’ve truly disliked have suffered from the same issue: sacrificing character development in favor of the plot.

I think it’s important to give your readers some reason to care what happens to the characters. If your characters are only there to serve the plot, they are hard to empathize with. They don’t have to be perfect. In fact, they shouldn’t be. Some authors even pull the neat trick of creating characters with plenty of loathsome qualities that nonetheless engage the reader: Humbert Humbert and Holden Caulfield, for example. If I can be intrigued by the character in some way, I will probably enjoy the book more and rate it higher than a book with an intriguing plot and wooden characters. They remind me a bit of paper dolls. You just plug them into their scenes, and they function only as placeholders—someone to move the plot toward its conclusion.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—July 18, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

What is the last book you struggled to read through to the end, even though you weren’t really enjoying it? What made you keep reading?

The last book I had to force myself to finish was Dexter Palmer’s [amazon_link id=”B003A7I2PU” target=”_blank” ]The Dream of Perpetual Motion[/amazon_link] (review). I think the review covers why I didn’t like it, but the reason I slogged through it anyway, even though I wasn’t enjoying it was that I had purchased it on my [amazon_link id=”B002Y27P3M” target=”_blank” ]Kindle[/amazon_link]. I bought it a long time ago, and I am not sure if you can/how to return books you don’t like. The positive side of reading paper books instead of e-books is that if you don’t like them, it’s very easy to unload them. You can donate them, trade them at used bookstores or PaperBackSwap, or give them to someone else who you think might like them. With Kindle books, it’s a little harder to unload them. You can delete them, but there is no way to get any satisfaction, either of feeling like you handed it to someone who might enjoy it or to get books in return.

I read the book because I paid for the book, and I had been telling myself I wanted to read it and would probably like it for a year. I can tell you, I will be less hesitant to take a chance on books on my Kindle in the future. I will probably only buy Kindle books I am reasonably certain I will enjoy, and I certainly won’t try a new genre. This was my first steampunk book, and while I am still willing to give the genre another try, it wasn’t a great introduction to steampunk (at least not for me). I am usually pretty good about putting aside books I am not enjoying, but this time, I slogged through because I didn’t want to feel I had completely wasted my money (one could argue I wasted my money and my time in the end).

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—July 11, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

Do you think it makes you NOT (or less) “well-read” if there are certain genres that you won’t read because you KNOW you won’t enjoy them? Why?

This is an interesting question, and I don’t have a clear answer to it. I’ll try to illustrate through some examples instead. I haven’t been a fan of the Russian classic literature I’ve read so far. I have really tried. Despite liking the movie [amazon_link id=”B002WC88A8″ target=”_blank” ]Doctor Zhivago[/amazon_link], I found I couldn’t get into the [amazon_link id=”0679774386″ target=”_blank” ]book[/amazon_link]. I had to slog through both [amazon_link id=”0451228146″ target=”_blank” ]One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”0199536368″ target=”_blank” ]Crime and Punishment[/amazon_link]. Folks rave over these books. They do! And they must have a reason. I feel less well-read because I can’t bring myself to try more Dostoyevsky and I’m afraid to even begin with Tolstoy.

On the other hand, I also think it’s much more important to read books you like. I have said many times that life’s too short to read bad books. I came to the conclusion some time ago that I had to read for me, not to satisfy some arbitrary definition of “well-read.” After all, what does that really mean? Some folks would define it as reading a certain number of “classics,” while others would define it as reading a certain number of books. Still others would say it’s reading broadly, including a variety of genres, as well as reading a large number of books.

I think I have reached a place where I am happy with the amount I read and with what I read. I would consider myself well-read by my own definition, which includes having read a fair number of books in the classic canon as well as a fairly large number of books in general. But that’s just my own definition. I may not be well-read by yours, especially since I have so much trouble with the Russians. Either way, I am satisfied with what I’ve read and how much I’ve read. I think it’s much more important to seek out books I know I will enjoy rather than worry that other folks don’t think I’m reading widely enough. After all, it’s not my job to critique books, and even if it were, I have a hunch that most reviewers tend to specialize in genres anyway—at least somewhat. Reading is my favorite hobby, and it has given me a great deal of joy and pleasure. Why make it another chore by worry about whether I’m “well-read” enough, whatever that even means?