Thursday, June 23, 2005

Birth of a Book Blog

I have been a voracious reader since the age of four. I learned to read early because of my brother. He’s two years older than me and when we were very young I plagued him by following him everywhere and copying everything he did. There was no way I was going to let him escape into the fantastical world of books without me. When he learned to read, I learned to read.

In grade two, my class had a reading contest. Likely it was intended as an incentive program rather than an actual competition but, since I won, I remember it as a competition. Throughout the year, for each book we read we wrote out the title and the author on a disc of coloured construction paper. We taped our discs together as we went along to create a bookworm. By the end of the year, my bookworm was the longest in the class. I took it home and taped it up on my bedroom wall and I remember it stretching all the way around the room. I wish I’d kept that bookworm. I would love to have a record of all the books I read in grade two. I have no trouble remembering the childhood favourites that I read over and over again: Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Emily trilogy, Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy books… But over the years I’m sure there have been many books that I’ve read and loved yet lost from memory.

I started a book journal in January of this year. I was inspired by the “Best Books of 2004” lists that several people posted on listservs to which I subscribe. I would have liked to have been able to contribute my own best reads of 2004 but I could barely remember what I’d read the week before, let alone a whole year’s worth of books. I resolved not to find myself in the same position at the end of 2005. I also thought that keeping a book journal might compel me to slow down, to linger a bit over each book rather than blazing through at lightning speed. It doesn’t seem fair to the authors who have sweated over each sentence not to pause now and again to appreciate the craft of their work.

Alas, my book journal didn’t slow me down or render me a more contemplative reader. It’s just a list of titles, authors and dates with the odd asterisk or three-word commentary to indicate which books I particularly liked and why. To begin with, this format may even have had me reading faster just to get the sense of accomplishment that came from adding another book to the list. It also had the unforeseen effect of making me feel like I had to finish every book I started, a mindset from which I thought I’d liberated myself long ago. Apparently I can still be motivated by a few more construction paper discs to add to my bookworm.

Hence this book blog. I intend for it to be both narrower and deeper than my book journal. I won’t list every book I read here but I’ll ruminate a bit on the ones that make me think. I’ll write about good books and not-so-good books (for me, what doesn’t work in an unsuccessful book can be as thought-provoking as what does work in a successful one), about books I couldn’t put down, and books I couldn’t bring myself to finish. I will also occasionally post excerpts from old diaries about books that I found particularly intriguing or inspiring at other points in my life.

I’ll begin with some of the books I put asterisks next to in my book journal. I’ve read 65 books since the beginning of the year. Here are my five favourites so far:

1. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson;
2. The Whole Story and Other Stories by Ali Smith;
3. Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer by Stuart Ross;
4. The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson; and,
5. The Perilous Trade: Publishing Canada’s Writers by Roy MacSkimming.

Over the next week or two, I'll write a series of posts explaining what I particularly liked about each one.