Category Archives: reading

Ending the Year With a Bit of a Rant

I will spend time today wrapping up my LibraryThing thread for 2023. I am part of a group that sets a goal of reading 75 books each year and sharing that reading and more with the group. Many of us, especially those on the mostly-retired end of the spectrum and old enough to be past the “guilty pleasure” syndrome so we read what the heck we want, read many more than 75 books. I will top out at 170 this year with about 40 audio books included in that number.

So, here’s my rant: scrolling social media (tell me again why I do that??), I happened upon a book guy speaking out strongly against setting quantitative goals for the new year. It meant you weren’t reading deeply or well, obviously skipping blissfully along on a diet of cozy mysteries and celebrity memoirs, and, in his mind, that was wrong. You were supposed to read the way he read, savoring every word, digging into every nuance, connecting with the author in deeply meaningful ways. Otherwise, could you really call yourself a reader?

I had the same visceral reaction to his remarks as I did when the William & Mary undergrad in the course I was teaching reacted with disgust at my professed joy in reading the Twilight series. But, rather than listing my bona fides the way I did with her, I will simply say this: you be you. Read whatever and however you want. Feel free to use your platform to tell us how much you get out of it. Feel free to even encourage us to try it. Feel free to ask us to share our experiences. You might be surprised with what you learn. But, please, stop short at judging us and our reading preferences and styles based on your experiences.

It is a practice that can be applied in many area of our lives. Share your experiences and the lessons you’ve learned that you think could help others. Then, stop, right at the cliff’s edge of “if you don’t do what I suggest, then you are bad/wrong/dumb.”

If You Can’t Say Something Nice At Least Be Rude Flamboyantly and With a British Accent

I have been an Elton John/Bernie Taupin fan all my life with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road being my first foray into their music. I permanently borrowed it from my sister in 1973 and still have it on the shelf along with most of the other albums they created together.

I read Elton’s memoir Me last year (a rollicking tour through the life of an entertainer) and treated myself to Bernie’s–Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton & Me–in hardcover during a bookstore buying spree on a recent vacation. I follow Taupin on Instagram so know a bit about his current state of happiness with a lovely wife and daughters. In fact, in the memoir, he comments that it took a long time, but both he and John found happiness in family and home.

I didn’t know much else about him. Rather than a strict chronology, Taupin told stories and, as you might imagine, entranced us with detailed, beautifully crafted prose. It could be over the top sometimes, even florid, but often just wonderful like this description of trail riding near his ranch in California:

Red-tailed hawks gliding on the thermals, solitarily swooping, their flame-like tail feathers catching the sun, their predatory nature intercepted intermittently by blackbirds and crows that dive-bombed them impressively, bravely strafing their aggressive attempts to pick off their young. In a melancholy rain, the murmur of the wind sang softly through the live oaks and drummed the leaves above our heads, the rhythmic tattoo of the heavy late summer drops playing into the fantasy of the fine line drawn between who I once was and who I wanted to be.

Scattershot, p. 322

But, as the heading suggests, my main takeaway was how mean he could be. This, from a man who always seemed so quiet and gentle compared to his flamboyant friend. The book contains more than a few lengthy put downs that sing even more for the figuratively rich language in which they were delivered. It isn’t enough to say that the Playboy Mansion was run down. Here’s Taupin’s description of his visit to the famed estate:

What a dump. Popular folklore might have built it up to be a louche Mecca preeminent in sensual sophistication, but I can assure you it was none of that and a lot less. Like a miniature House of Usher, it was a gray collision of Tudor and Gothic, all faux turrets, battlements, and way too busy in its attempt to be anything more than a kitsch architectural mess…Even glitzed up and lit like Knott’s Berry Farm at night, it wasn’t hard to tell that maintenance was not a priority and that the efficiency of cleaning crews was lacking. The place was like a courtier in the Palace of Versailles, constantly powered and perfumed to mask the unpleasant odor underneath. The place simply had no style or character, the furniture looked old and ugly, the alcoves were murky, and the carpets were balding and frayed.

scattershot, p. 216

Daggers thrown with skilled syntax and, presumably, delivered in a withering British accent. There were several scattered throughout the book, all delivered with the same snooty tone and, in some cases, was funny despite being mean. I suppose one function of memoir is to air some grievances so Taupin is all ready for Festivus this year. That being said, he could be just as profusive with his praise and self-deprecating about his own talent (he is a songwriter, not a poet he assures us several times) and past reckless, irresponsible behaviors and actions.

I just went back and read my review of John’s memoir from 2022, and I said almost exactly the same thing about his book: I was surprised by how mean he was. I wrote in LibraryThing: “What I wasn’t prepared for, perhaps, was the gossipy, b****y side of Elton; he can be downright mean. But he is also funny and often self-deprecating as well as completely honest about his addictions from drugs to sex to shopping as well as his terrible temper.”

I enjoyed the walk down memory lane and can recommend both memoirs. Be warned: There was lots of explicit talk about sex and drugs and, of course, rock and roll in both books.

Happy Belated Thingaversary to Me!

I knew my anniversary of joining LibraryThing was coming up, but I thought it was later this week. Turns is, my Thingaversary was last Friday. I joined the site on October 13, 2005! Eighteen years of recording my books and connecting with other book lovers and readers. One of my retirement goals was to be more connected: I check in more often and post on other people’s threads, and I write at least short reviews of every book I read, something I didn’t always take time to do before.

LT was an early vision of what the Web could be in terms of both utility and community. I am pleased to have been part of it almost since its inception in August 2005. It is old school and has stayed much the same, adding features and updates but not messing with its original design and purpose.

Cheers to LT and here’s to another 18 years!

Go Read a Book

I am feeling quite unmotivated this morning. I taught last evening and enjoyed learning and laughing with my students, but I am too wound up to go right to bed when I get home. Add in an exciting tennis match and I was up way past my bedtime.

Woman Reading, Susan Macdowell Eakins, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

I had an extra latte this morning, poked a bit at the to do list, and then while surfing social media, discovered to my happy surprise that it is National Read a Book Day! I couldn’t find any history other than it started in the 2000s and is similar to Book Lover’s Day, which is an “unofficial” holiday but at least has a Wikipedia entry.

National Read a Book Day must be a bit more unofficial but nonetheless, a national holiday is a national holiday and must be observed. I have brewed a pot of teach and will be curling up with a good book: The Murmur of Bees by SofĂ­a Segovia.

Happy Birthday, LT!

LibraryThing appeared on the World Wide Web on August 29, 2005. They are celebrating their 18th birthday with a fun scavenger hunt that encourages you to explore the site. If you are a reader and book lover, it’s worth creating an account to play!

My own 18th anniversary is coming soon. I joined the site on October 13, 2005. According to LT practice, I am permitted to buy one book for each year and one to grow on. I better get started on my wishlist. LT came around at just the right moment when I was considering how to catalog my rapidly growing book collection. I had been tinkering with an Access database but it meant entering the books manually. LT solved that with a web-based search along with the offer of community of readers. I have written about my involvement in LT in the past including my participation in their 75 Books a Year group.

In 2005, I only entered one book: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I even wrote a short review. The next year I entered a few more and then began keeping my completed reading regularly in 2007. I have not yet catalogued my unread books but may devote some time this winter to working on it. LT sells a handy dandy scanner called the CueCat. They also offer a library management software program called TinyCat. It has a free version for individual users and low cost versions for small institutions.

I am grateful to creator Tim Spalding and the whole LT team for developing this readers’ retreat, demonstrating how to harness the Web for good.

Happy Birthday, LibraryThing!