Can One Own Too Many Books?

If reading if my favorite activity, then buying books is a close second. I love spending my weekends going to bookstores literally getting lost among the thousands of choices. Shopping only becomes fun when it becomes about book shopping! I remember starting my collection as a child, taking a sort of perverse pride in owning so many books. As I became an adult, I would love spending my free time perusing bookstores and coming home with five or six more to add to the collection. When friends came over, they would sometimes comment (with either envy or disgust) the number of books on the shelves. It’s definitely a fun hobby. However, there is a dark side to the extravagant world of book buying!

As I sit here writing this article, I turn around to look at my shelves and the clear lack of further space. Books lay stacked on top of once were very neat shelves. There is a lovely pile next to my side of the bed. I think I even have one or two books in my car that I haven’t brought in yet (hey emergencies happen). If I were to think about how much debt I have accrued simply for the love of books, I might pass out. Yes, there is a downside to owning so many works of literature. Perhaps I need professional help! Can one possess too many books? When is enough enough?

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MUST…..HAVE….MORE

This affliction is actually quite common among book lovers. This recent article from the Guardian explores the phenomenon known as “bibliomania”. In the 19th century, obsessive book buying became the pursuit of gentlemen who desired a large library. There was even a book written by English cleric and bibliographer Thomas Frognall Dibdin called Bibliomania, or Book Madness: A Bibliographical RomanceDibdin developed a list of symptoms based on the types of books sought, such as first-editions, illustrated copies, or editions made with unique binding or covers. I say if this is good enough for the upper-class English, then why not right?

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I found a couple of points very interesting in the above article. First, that book collecting of this magnitude was viewed as very antisocial. The buyer was considered to be someone who refused to contribute to the masses by not sharing books with anyone else. Second, that the innuendo used by Dibdin was considered “sexual innuendo.” Here’s some example dialogue from Dibdin:

“Can you indulge us with a sip of this cream?”

“Fortunately it is in my power to gratify you with a pretty good taste of it.”

Oh my! This is an interesting argument that being a book hoarder could be an equivalent to sexual addiction. I may have more problems than I thought! I also found it fascinating that collecting books was considered an effeminate hobby. Personally I think women find sex appeal in the fact that I have a massive….book collection.

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Here’s a more recent article on the millennial book-buying boom.The article explores how even in the digital age, there has been a resurgence in buying physical copies of books. I’ve read a couple of books electronically, and I have to admit that I don’t particularly care for it. There’s just something about holding a physical book in your hand with its weight and the smell of paper.

“Tech-obsessed younger people are finding that holding a book in their hands can “fill an important void,” said American Booksellers Association Chief Executive Officer Oren Teicher.”

The article goes on to talk about how bookstores and the art of buying books are becoming more of a social experience. Who says readers are antisocial misfits? I mean not all the time anyway.

One doesn’t buy as many books as I do over the years without picking up a trick or two. Buying books doesn’t mean breaking the bank. I typically only buy used books. Within the past five years, I’ve purchased only a handful of books brand new. I usually do all my obsessive book buying at thrift stores and one particular used bookstore that has become my favorite. This particular store has thousands of books, and I almost always end up with at least one or two more. Sometimes lots more.

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Why stop at just one or two right?

There are other ways to be thrifty as well. Bookstores often offer discounts or membership deals. I’ve often received books as gifts on my birthday and Christmas. Of course, there is always the public library (you do have to return those).

I don’t think my book buying will stop anytime soon, probably not ever. At certain times, I would impose a temporary ban from buying more books. Sadly, this is usually short-lived. I supposed there are worse addictions out there.

Are you a book-obsessed shopper? What do you think about owning too many books? Comment below as I would love to hear your thoughts. 

 

 

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37. ‘Armada’ by Ernest Cline

Last year I reviewed Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my hyped-up expectations. I found his follow-up novel at a used bookstore and decided to give this author another chance. Would I discover the same problems that I had with Cline’s first novel or would this prove to be the author’s salvation in my eyes? Sadly, it falls more into the first category. I struggled to finish this one, even stopping halfway through to the point of abandonment to read something else. Eventually I picked it back up but found the second half to be as unrewarding as the first. 

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Zack Lightman is your typical teenager. He spends his free time playing video games and watching science fiction movies. Sure he gets into trouble sometimes for his anger issues, but those are most likely caused by the death of his father when he was just a baby. Zack is a dreamer at heart and wishes that life could be more like the fantasy and science fiction worlds where he likes to spend most of his time. Then one day while daydreaming in class, he sees a giant spaceship up in the sky.

Not only does Zack see an alien craft, but this ship looks exactly like an enemy ship from his favorite video game, the hugely popular flight simulator game called Armada. In this game which has sold millions, players have to protect the Earth from hostile alien invaders. As it turns out, this game was designed to help prepare fighters for the real alien invasion that is on its way. Zack also learns that this goes way beyond Armada, as the government has been secretly developing all of those science fiction books, movies, and games to help find the best of the best to stop this alien invasion. Zack Lightman is finally getting his wish to be the hero he always dreamed of becoming!

You would think that I would have loved this book. As with Ready Player One, Cline references numerous science fiction books and movies from my youth. Obviously, this book is meant to be taken as a fun tribute to movies like Flight of the Navigator and The Last Starfighter. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the fact that the whole setup is so ridiculous. Not only is the premise predictable and cheesy but it’s badly written cheesy. Armada feels like a retread of Cline’ first novel, pages of exposition followed by pages of pop culture references. The whole thing feels like a piece of fan fiction rather than a serious novel.

As far as the plot goes, I grew bored with it quickly. There are a few surprise plot twists, but I used the term “surprise” loosely because I saw those plot points coming from miles away. I was hoping that there would be a true shocker, something that I hadn’t predicted. However, there is not as the book basically unfolds as I expected. It’s been some time since I finished this one as I like to take time to think about what I’ve read in order to process what I liked versus what I hated. I then started to question my reading tastes. Have I become (gasp) a book snob? Has my judgement been clouded from all the “higher” literature I’ve read?

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After careful consideration, my thoughts are that I would have hated this even back in the day. I love science fiction with a passion and always will for the rest of my life. This just wasn’t a good book for me. I don’t even know if I would call it a fair tribute to 80’s science fiction.

One of my major problems with Cline is that his books feel like there should be some type of introspection into why nerds like me are drawn into these fantastically created fictional worlds. The pop culture of the 80’s and 90’s was so important in my development as a person. I never feel like we get there with this author. Ready Player One felt totally lacking in this area. There was a moment where I thought Armada was going to hit me hard with some philosophical discussion but it never happened. Once again we manage to avoid going into any depth and instead just immerse into nostalgia. Sorry Ernest Cline. You’ve gotten me twice now. I must move on from you.

Overall, there were moments of fun mixed with some painfully mad dramatic moments.

“I’d spent my entire life overdosing on uncut escapism, willingly allowing fantasy to become my reality.”

 

Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts! Please comment below!

My Experiences Reading Kazuo Ishiguro

Last week British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature. This excites me to no end because not only is Ishiguro one of my favorite authors, but I also had to honor of meeting him several years ago. It was such a pleasure hearing him speak and having him sign my copy of Never Let Me Go. I found him to be both humble as well as funny. At a recent news conference, Ishiguro expressed his genuine surprise stating “If I had even a suspicion, I would have washed my hair this morning.”

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Photo taken from steemit.com 

I have had the pleasure of reading four of Ishiguro’s novels. Three of them I enjoyed immensely, while one was a bit of a letdown. Here are my experiences with Ishiguro:

The Remains of the Day

Interestingly, my first experience with Ishiguro is also the most famous of his works. The Remains of the Day is the story of Stevens, an English butler in the service of a wealthy American who prides himself on his dedication and work ethic. Steven looks back on his life under his previous employer Lord Darlington and remembers his relationship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. Several themes run through this work with the most important being having a sense of dignity. Despite stressful situations occurring both in the world and within himself, Stevens holds a strong sense of calm dignity which actually interferes with other aspects of his life such as social situations, politics, and interpersonal relationships. This is the perfect novel to begin your journey with Ishiguro. His calm and detached writing style works perfectly with having a protagonist like Stevens. It is beautifully written and quite a heartbreaker to boot.

As with all of Ishiguro’s works, another theme of this novel is memory and perspective. His books always feature first-person protagonists who is looking back on important events in their lives. A recurring motif is the flaws in our perspectives and how often we can be unreliable in our recollections of the past. Also, we tend to view events quite differently after so much time has passed.

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Despite being nominated for several Academy Awards, the film version of ‘Remains of the Day’ sadly won none. 

A Pale View of Hills

I went back to Ishiguro’s first novel for my second experience. Despite not being quite the emotional masterpiece of Remains of the Day, there is actually quite a lot to enjoy in this little work. A Pale View of Hills is the story of Etsuko, a middle-aged Japanese woman living alone in England. The novel opens with a discussion between Etsuko and her younger daughter regarding the recent suicide of Keiko, Etsuko’s oldest daughter. This leads to Etsuko remembering her time in Japan and her friendship with a lady named Sachiko who had a daughter of her own. Etsuko recalls that her friend’s daughter was very antisocial and solitary. As further details of the friend and daughter are told, we see that their story mirrors that of Etsuko and Keiko.

A Pale View of Hills contains the familiar themes of loss and the act of remembering. I also really liked the comparisons between life in Japan with that in England. Although born in Japan, Ishiguro’s family moved to the UK when he was just five years old. It was nice to see him study and contrast the customs of both countries. Ishiguro said he wasn’t pleased with the way he worked the twist at the end, but personally I was fine with it. One of his shorter works, this is a great little gem.

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Photo Credit: Peter Laing

Never Let Me Go

One of my all-time favorites, this is the book I had Ishiguro sign. It sits proudly on my shelves (although apparently he was willing to sign as many of his books that you wanted to bring). Returning once again to a female narrator named Ruth, this is the story about her and her friends Tommy and Kathy at an exclusive school called Hailsham. As it turns out, this isn’t your typical kind of school as information slowly unfolds about what is actually happening. Kathy and the other students are being raised for a very specific purpose, which I’m not going to spoil here. Their relationships become even more heartbreaking once you realize the truth of their inevitable futures.

I love this novel so much, not only for its science fiction elements but also the careful way Ishiguro lays out what is actually happening. His subtlety in the writing is a stroke of genius. Not only does he grab you by the heart and squeeze all the life out of it, but he does it so carefully that you don’t even realize it until long after you are done reading it. I learned recently that a film adaptation exists, so I might have to watch it along with Remains of the Day just to see how many tissues I can go through in one sitting.

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My signed copy of ‘Never Let Me Go.’ Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

The Buried Giant

Unfortunately, The Buried Giant was more of a miss than a hit. I may have to reread at some point because I’m wondering if I didn’t appreciate it for what is was. I mean there is a knight, magical beings, and a dragon in it for crying out loud! This story is set in a post-Arthurian England where Britons and Saxons live side by side. The protagonists of the story are Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who living in a communal village. After a mysterious encounter with a Saxon woman, the couple is persuaded to go visit their adult son, who they refer to as an important man in his village. The journey to see their son is fraught with perils. Also, there is a mysterious fog that covers the land that appears to be affecting everyone’s memories. In fact, often Axl and Beatrice question if they even have a son.

Once again, Ishiguro uses a different type of setting in order to convey a very personal story about loss and the nature of memory. I love how he has used different genre settings as vehicles to achieve this task. Ishiguro does craft this story well. It just doesn’t quite hit the same high note that works like Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day did. The characters are some of his most memorable as there is your classic warrior as well as a quixotic knight named Sir Gawain (yes that Sir Gawain of King Arthur fame). I also liked how the protagonists were an elderly couple, something you don’t see very often. This book actually sparked quite a lively debate regarding books and genres. In fact, reviews of The Buried Giant were almost overtaken by the arguments regarding what genre this book should be placed. “Let’s Talk About Genre” is a great conversation between Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman regarding the borders that exist between fantasy and literary fiction.

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Photo Credit: Carrie May

I just finished his short story collection Nocturnes and am currently reading An Artist of the Floating World so look for those reviews soon. Although it was not my intention to dive back into Ishiguro for a while, I decided that this recent event should push him back to the top of my to-read list. Hopefully, this post will entice you to give one of the most remarkable authors of the past century a try. I leave you with this awesome quote by Ishiguro:

“We all live inside bodies that will deteriorate. But when you look at human beings, they’re capable of very decent things: love, loyalty. When time is running out, they don’t care about possessions or status. They want to put things right if they’ve done wrong.”

Have you read any Ishiguro? Did he deserve the Nobel Prize? Please comment below!

35./36. ‘Hear the Wind Sing’ and ‘Pinball, 1973’ by Haruki Murakami

My apologies for being a tad behind in the reviews department. What better way to make up for it than a Murakami double feature? I picked up this awesome double sided copy of his first two novels. Originally published in Japan in 1979 and 1980 respectively, these books have not been out of print until just a few years ago when Murakami decided to release them together. While not as defined as his later works, I did enjoy seeing the early development of one of my favorite authors. 

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Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 are actually the first two parts of a loose trilogy finished with A Wild Sheep Chase in 1989. I wouldn’t think of these novels as part of the same series though because they basically have very little connection to each other. Wind virtually lacks any plot whatsoever, it almost feels like more about Murakami’s philosophical musings on life. It is also very straight forward lacking any of the magical realism that is commonplace in one of his works. The introduction was actually my favorite part as Murakami talks about the path that led him to become a writer so late in life (he had an epiphany at a baseball game). Prior to become a world renowned wordsmith, the author of some of my all time favorite books was the owner of a jazz club. Music is so important to Murakami (as is food), and these passions are very much used in his writing. I thought it was interesting that Murakami decided to write Wind in English, a language where he was not comfortable, in order to develop his sparse style that would become his trademark.

The only real connection between these books is the presence of an unnamed narrator along with his friend known as the Rat. Wind is a very sketchy outline of the thoughts of this unnamed narrator, a student who spends a lot of time in a place called J’s bar with the Rat, and his feelings about previous relationships. Despite it’s disjointed nature, a Murakami completest should read this one.

“All things pass. None of us can manage to hold on to anything. In that way, we live our lives.”

In Pinball, 1973, the narrator is attempting to track down a particular type of spaceship pinball machine he used to be obsessed with during his teens. Meanwhile, the Rat is still languishing in J’s bar but we get some insight into his life during alternating sections. This second novel is noticeably more confident and has a stronger structure compared with Wind, demonstrating how quickly Murakami’s narrative style was developing.

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Despite being his first novels, I wouldn’t recommend these to a Murakami newcomer. His established classics such as Norwegian Wood or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle are better introductions to his novels. Both Wind and Pinball read like long writing exercises, which is probably why Murakami hesitated on releasing them again. However, while these short novels will appeal the most to hardcore fans who are interested in the early development of Murakami’s surrealistic style, they are quite accessible and are still quite contemporary. The whispers of Murakami’s distinct style are heard with Pinball making that clear just a little bit louder.

“Sometimes I feel like a caretaker of a museum — a huge, empty museum where no one ever comes, and I’m watching over it for no one but myself.” 

 

Have you read these books or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!

 

34. ‘The Lottery and Other Stories’ by Shirley Jackson

While on vacation, I decided to take with me this collection of short stories by the incomparable Shirley Jackson. Since reviewing We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I have been wanting to read more of her work. I would name “The Lottery” as my all-time favorite short story in high school. It was so deliciously creepy and twisted. While I was expecting the remaining stories to be of that same vein, I was surprised to learn that they were very different. 

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Let’s start with the title story, which actually doesn’t turn up until the end. It fits my definition of a true horror story in that it demonstrates the cruelty of human beings. Also, it was my first experience as a youngster with the classic “twist” ending which I have grown to love as an adult. I think it goes without saying that this story was such a huge influence on various tales of dystopian fiction.

Jackson crafts this story extremely well. The horrible ending is foreshadowed very early, so it is worth going back for a reread to pick up all those subtle clues. It’s interesting to think about how much controversy Jackson raised over the publication of this story, which might be considered fairly tame compared with today’s fiction.

However, “The Lottery” stands out from the other stories in this collection which I wouldn’t call “horror” in the true sense of the word. Then again those that read my blog know that I’m so over “genre” labels. The stories are good and well written with lots of disturbing elements. Jackson suffered from both mental illness as well as feeling like an outcast in society, and she manages to translate her life into her fiction quite flawlessly. Some of the stories feel like true slice of life tales while others are quite disconcerting.

I thought I would talk about some of my favorites in this collection, starting with the more disturbing tales. A woman desperately searches for her fiance who may or may not be real in “The Daemon Lover.” The fiance’s name James Harris reappears in several of Jackson’s stories. Based on a Scottish ballad, the name “James Harris” symbolizes the devil. Jackson uses different versions of this character to illustrate the devastating affects men can have on women particularly psychologically. In “The Witch,” a simple story told by a stranger on a train takes a sadistic turn. In “The Renegade”, various methods to “cure” a dog of her chicken-killing tendencies are discussed, some of them right out of a medieval torturer’s manual. By far my favorite of the collection is “The Tooth” where a woman with a horrible toothache takes a bus ride to the dentist and undergoes a surreal transformation. I loved this story as it reminded me of some of my favorite authors of the bizarre like Haruki Murakami. Many of the stories deal with the fragility of women in society and how threats from within can lead to being pushed to the brink of sanity.

Most of Jackson’s stories, such as the ones mentioned above, are often concerned with the fragility of the positions, statuses, and environments that have been created in society particularly with women. One of my favorites called “Flower Garden” is a great story about how we are misguided by the wants of society over our own individual values. “Elizabeth” deals with an aging executive secretary feeling threatened by the hiring of a much younger woman. Jackson has some rather dire thoughts regarding the future of society, which is reflected in the first short story called “The Intoxicated.” It’s a very short story, but it delivers a huge punch in regards to the degradation of the world. Another very short one, “After You, My Dear Alphonse,” is charming but contains some cold truths regarding civilization underneath. Basically, you can choose any of the stories at random and find a dark allegory to society in Jackson’s time.

Although published in the late 1940s, I think these stories still stand on their own today. There is a sense that the fragile world one has created could so easily be destroyed one person or one simple act. Think of our world today, not just in the greater context of huge political events, but of our own delicate lives that we try so hard to protect. Another thing I noticed while reading Jackson’s fiction is that she often leaves the ending quite ambiguous. Perhaps “ending” is too strong a word because her stories don’t necessarily end but just sort of stop. We are left wondering. Not only do I think this style works, but I find it quite brilliant.

I’m now on a mission to read more by this extraordinary and underappreciated author.

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Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!