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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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!

Ten Summer Beach Reads

Throughout the year, my wife and I spend several holidays with her parents in Florida. They live only a few minutes from the beach providing me with ample time to enjoy the sounds and smells of the ocean. Of course being the obsessive-compulsive reader that I am, I usually take way more books than is logical to finish in one short week. However, I firmly believe that one can never be too prepared for leaving one’s precious library for such a long period of time.

I try to adjust my reading tastes to match the tropical setting and calm atmosphere of the beach. Leave it to me to “color coordinate” my reading selections to match my temporary surroundings. So in the spirit of fun, here are my top ten holiday beach reads.

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1. Beach Music by Pat Conroy

Hands down one of my favorite books of 2016! I was introduced to this beautiful novel by my best friend/brother. Pat Conroy ingeniously blends family tragedy with a great sense of humor. If you think your family is crazy, wait until you meet this one! The settings are beautifully described from Rome to the gorgeous beaches of South Carolina. Conroy is an underrated master of the craft. He even took home both the ‘Newcomer Award’ as well as ‘Best Original Read’ for my Book Awards 2016.

2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is another genius, and this book has to be one of my all-time favorites. This one is perfect for the summer holidays because it jumps all over the world-as well as all over time. Here you will discover six stories separated by both continents and centuries only to find that they connect to each other in surprising ways.

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3. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I would definitely put this one as the best classic to take to the beach. Stevenson’s tale of dastardly pirates and hidden treasure is a fun read. I’m looking forward to reading Andrew Motion’s sequel Silver (probably during another holiday trip). Sure, it’s a boy’s adventure book, but who doesn’t love pirates? Maybe treat yourself to a pirate cruise after you have read this classic!

4. Dune by Frank Herbert

The first book of one of the greatest science fiction series of all time. Dune is set on the desert planet of Arrakis, where water is scarce but the spice known as melange is plentiful. There are conspiracies, assassinations, betrayals, and the awesome gigantic sand worms! I’m currently reading this one and plan to check out more in the series. There have also been a couple of film adaptations.

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5. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. It tells the absurdly comical story of centenarian Allan Karlsson. On the day of the 100th birthday, he makes the spontaneous decision to run away from the nursing home that he is trapped in with no plans for the future. His subsequent decision to steal a suitcase from a mobster filled with a ton of money leads to connecting with several other downtrodden characters and one increasingly ridiculous misadventure after another. This is a fun read, as we are treated to Allan encountering one famous historical figure after another. If you want something light and ridiculous, give this one a shot.

6. Sandition by Jane Austen and ‘Another Lady’

If you are searching for something light, you can’t go wrong with Jane Austen. This unfinished work was completed by an anonymous author who does well in capturing Austen’s signature voice. Set in a resort village, it is full of the typical tropes that Austen fans can’t get enough of….love gone wrong, misunderstandings, and colorful characters. In order to get the full experience, one should read this on the beach with the sounds of the ocean washing over you. Apparently, there’s a modernization of this tale available online.

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7. The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

This charming little memoir is part travelogue and part philosophy. The author Eric Weiner travels to various countries to learn each one’s definition of “happiness.” His pursuit of this elusive concept is quite charming and a great read to take to the beach.

8. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott

Perhaps you are wanting something a tad more exhilarating for your day at the beach. This early thriller by the scribe of Little Women involves a deadly chase through Europe by the ultimate gentleman stalker. Alcott does a great job of rendering some truly memorable and haunting scenes.

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9. The Martian by Andy Weir

Here is another great science fiction read. The Martian tells the story of a botched space mission and an astronaut who must brave the harsh Martian landscape alone with only his intelligence and sense of humor to aid him. This page-turner is a must read as Weir does an incredible job of describing the cruel terrain of Mars.

10. What I Didn’t See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler

This fantastic collection from Karen Joy Fowler contains some of the best short fiction I’ve read in a long time. The opening story, “The Pelican Bar,” sets the perfect tone. There are stories that take place over a wide range of locations all over the world.

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What are some of your favorite beach reads? Please comment below!

Lesser Known Works from Classic Authors

Recently I finished two novels from Louisa May Alcott. Believe it or not, the author of Little Women penned several Gothic thrillers before becoming a literary sensation. I’m looking forward to writing my reviews of both The Long Fatal Love Chase and The Inheritance. For now, here are some other lesser known works from the classic authors you know and love.

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

Everyone has read Lolita (except for me). My one journey into the mind of this great Russian author is a surreal ride that echoes Kafka. This tale about a man sentenced to die for a crime he doesn’t understand is filled with twists and metaphors on every page. I have it on my list for a reread because quite frankly I was unprepared the first time. The prose is typical of Nabokov who possessed a genius for beautiful lyrics that you practically need a doctorate to fully grasp. He was clearly an inspiration to one of my heroes, Haruki Murakami, and the art of magical realism.

Sandition by Jane Austen and “Another Lady”

Think you’ve read the entire Austen canon. Sandition was the novel she was working on which she unfortunately was taken from us. Although only a handful of chapters were completed, several authors have decided to finish these stories. This particular version finished by an anonymous author holds a special place in my heart. Set in a coastal town attempting to be the next vacation destination, I found it quite enjoyable while on one of my recent beach vacations. The collaborator manages to capture Austen’s voice and developed several humorous characters. If you are going to read Sandition, I must insist you only do it while relaxing on the beach. The sounds and smells of the water only enhance the experience. I have in my collection another “completed” Austen work called The Watsons. I’m hoping to give it a read sometime in the near future.

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Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Every serious reader has the same goal and that is to read more Dickens. Sadly, I have not read very many works by the man behind Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. One of his later works, Hard Times, is one of my favorites. Dickens manages to tell a great story about the conflict between being practical and being a dreamer set in an old coal mining town. Populated with several memorable characters, Dickens tackles themes ahead of his time, such as divorce and spousal abuse. I also recommend Hard Times if you are new to Dickens, as this is one of his shorter novels.

Chance by Joseph Conrad

Conrad is one of my favorite writers because he truly possessed the mind of a psychologist. Although he is best known for his works Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, I’ve always liked this later work that marks the first time Conrad made a female the lead of the story. Ironically, Chance is the novel that made Conrad money and yet is one of his most criticized. Together with Darkness and Jim, this books forms a loose trilogy and the final chapter for Conrad’s recurring character/narrator Charlie Marlow.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is known for her controversial short story “The Lottery” as well as the creepy The Haunting of Hill House. Castle ranks among my favorite books due both its supernatural themes and its deeper introspection into small town persecutions. I felt like the book is solidly embedded in the tradition of Gothic fantasy, without the more boring elements that often occur. Another Jackson book I’m dying to read is Hangsaman, one of her earlier and most unsettling works.

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

I was determined to read more from John Steinbeck after loving his incredible classic Of Mice and Men. If there are two things that Steinbeck does incredibly well, it’s his great depiction of American landscape and an intense understanding of human emotions. Divided into four interlocked stories, The Red Pony is a work that can be enjoyed for each individual work while greatly appreciated as the sum of its parts. I’m amazed at how a writer can convey so much meaning in such a short work of under 100 pages!

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The Last Man by Mary Shelley

Shelley’s beloved classic Frankenstein is forever embedded into our culture. However, this science fiction novel was rejected upon its first release due to Shelley being ahead of her time. A devastating plague has wiped out the world with the exception of one final human determined to chronicle the events of this apocalypse. This one is a must read from one the pioneers of the genre.

From the Dust Remembered by Ray Bradbury

Sure, everyone’s read Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I have a strong affection for this little “novel” that is actually more of a collection of shorts brought together under one theme. This is a story of a boy who lives in a family of monsters. Everybody but him possesses a superhuman ability. Bradbury will always be one of my favorites because he is a dreamer who was able to blend the fantastic with ordinary human emotion.

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Collected Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’ve been reading lots of short stories lately, and I was fortunate to find this great collection written throughout the life of a truly legendary author. Known more for his novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez penned many short stories that are nothing short of breath-taking. Another student in the art of magical realism, he manages to take the surreal and add a strong dose of humanity in the process.

Bartleby the Scriverner by Herman Melville

Until I read this, I thought Melville had only penned sea yarns.This story is narrated by a lawyer about a rather strange employee who worked for him for a very short time. Bartleby arrives one day in response to a job opening as a scrivener, someone who does writing and copying for legal offices. At first, Bartleby is quite helpful, but then becomes an enigma around the office. This little tale is full of both humor and tragedy. I highly recommend this one.

These are just a few of my favorites. I hope you discover a new favorite from my list or you select your next classic from it.

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Do you have a favorite “lesser known” classic or interested in reading a particular one? Comments are always welcome!

The Literary Road So Far

As I was scanning my bookshelves this morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on how my choices in reading have changed over the years. Perhaps the word “evolved” is a better description as “changed” implies that I simply swapped out one type of reading material for another. If you were to visit my home (please give advance warning), you would find just about every genre lining every shelf and stuffed in every open space. However, this wasn’t always the case. I thought this topic would make for an interesting blog, not only for my readers but for myself as well.

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I wish I organized my books as neatly as this.

Early Years

In junior high, I was introduced to several of the popular horror writers. My best friend at the time shared books with me by authors like Clive Barker, Brian Lumley, and the incomparable Stephen King. I devoured books by King like there was no tomorrow and still remember reading under the covers when I should have been asleep. Whenever I took my first trip to a real grownup bookstore, I bought a boxed set of three King novels-Misery, It, and The Eyes of the Dragon. It was amazing to find this writer who was known as a horror master create such a powerful work of fantasy. My obsessions turned towards his epic series The Dark Tower, and the fantasy genre became a huge part of my life. My mother, in her wisdom, bought me my first classic, a young adult version of A Tale of Two Cities. However, at that time I was more into Lumley’s monstrous vampires and stories of gunslingers from another world. It would be a few more years before I would come to appreciate all that Mr. Dickens had to offer.

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Thank you Stephen King for starting me on this journey.

College Years

By the time I entered college, I was quite familiar with the categories of fiction and the differences between proper “literary” fiction and not-so-proper genre fiction. I took a few classes during my undergraduate years in English Literature, and my eyes were opened to the wonders of the classics. For one of my classes, we had to select from a list a book to write a final report. Even back then I loved a challenge, so I selected Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, simply because it was the longest book on the list. I fell in love with Heller’s twisted humor and great play on words. I needed some extra electives to finish my degree so I took a class on the works of Joseph Conrad. I use the term “class” lightly because it was a self-paced class that simply involved reading three of his novels and meeting with the professor over the course of the semester to discuss. This little course would alter my life in huge ways. Joseph Conrad is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I have read both Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim countless times. I feel a sort of kindred spirit with Conrad as we both have a rebellious side to us. This author receives a lot of criticism, but that just makes me want to read him more. Through reading Joseph Conrad and his deep insights into humanity, I saw that my loves of Psychology and English Literature can be connected.

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In college, classics started opening for me

Although I started rocking the classics, this isn’t to say that I abandoned my first love. I was still hitting fantasy and horror novels with a vengeance and proudly displayed them on my shelves. It was amazing to discover that epic and magical journeys could be found on the classics shelves too! For my Humanities class, I did an oral report on Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. During breaks from homework, I went to Mordor with Frodo Baggins and journeyed down the mysterious rabbit hole with young Alice. The introductions to so many great works were coming so fast, it was hard to keep up with them all!

Adult Years

Although I still act like a child sometimes, my tastes have definitely matured into adulthood. I discovered many new grown-up authors that have changed the way I look at fiction. I loved Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and discovered a new sub-genre of fiction called “magical realism.” Through authors such as Murakami, Sherman Alexie, and Kelly Link, I’ve found fiction that combines both gritty realism and elements of fantasy.

Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle changed me forever!

 

In regards to straight up fantasy, I’m still a huge fan. During my adult years, I fell in love with the Newford tales of Canadian author Charles de Lint. This led to my discovery of another genre that became a favorite: urban fantasy. The blending of real life and fantasy was so awe-inspiring and contributed to my own writing efforts. This is not to say that I gave up on the more traditional fantasy books out there. Thanks to my best friend, I became a huge fan of Terry Brooks. His fantasy worlds are epic in scope.

As I get older, my purchases in the classic section of the bookstore continue to grow. Although classic literature can be more appreciated with life experience, it can be enjoyed by any age. I was slow getting to the party, but now that I’m here, I’m never leaving! Some of my favorites authors include Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Ernest Hemingway.

2016/17

These past two years have led to some great discoveries. In 2016 and 2017, I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, The Martian by Andy Weir, and The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman. I’ve also found some great female authors too, such as The Gap of Time and Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson along with The Accidental by Ali Smith. I feel like my reading tastes are at just the right balance between contemporary and classic. For this year, I signed up to take part in a classics reading challenge. I’m also considering a longer term project to motivate me to tackle even more of the old school writers.

When I started this project, my goal was simply to keep track of the books I read and share my bookish insights with the world. I can see that this little blog of mine turned into something so much grander. By writing about the books I read, I see that I’ve evolved with my reading tastes. I’ve been transformed into an open minded-reader who is willing to spend time with old friends as well as make lots of new ones.

It is my hope that this blog serves as some type of small inspiration to all the book lovers out there.Thank you for being a part of this journey and reading my words.

The journey continues….

 

Tell me about the books that built your road. I would love to read your comments!