Keep a Book Journal? Um, Not So Much

I have loved to read since I was in grade school—more than 50 years ago. In the intervening time I’ve gobbled up a lot books. I slowed down while my sons were growing up, but now I can read as much as I like. So much so, that I consciously limit my book intake so I can fit in all of the other things I want to do. Nonetheless, I average about four books per month. Until recently, I never kept a book journal or list of what I’ve read.

Why not? Laziness, mostly. Making a list or creating a system of tracking what I read seemed like homework. Besides, aside from me, who cares what I read? If anything, keeping a list might make me feel vaguely guilty about all that reading . . . when I could be doing something more virtuous and less fun like training for a marathon (oh wait, I’m not a runner).

Learning that Star Tribune books editor Laurie Hertzel never caught on to using Goodreads made me feel better. I’m a Goodreads dropout too (my apologies to the dozen people who follow me).

Her article about book journals describes the various ways avid readers approach book journals. Some people record the title, author, and date the book was read to keep from accidentally repeating a book or for a sense of accomplishment. Others rate the books. The article also mentioned that a few particularly organized readers develop Excel spreadsheets—that’s so not me!

That’s why I’m surprised that in the last two years, I’ve begun making a few notes about my reading. It began as a list of books I want to read, culled from book reviews and book blogs. I’d jot my list in Notes on my phone. But after I read the book, I didn’t always delete the title (re: laziness) so the list began to grow.

My process is still hit or miss, but sometimes I add a gold star next to titles I loved in case anyone wants a recommendation. I’ll put a + next to pretty good books, +~ next to books that were good but didn’t quite work, and a ~ for so-so books. Books that I actively disliked or abandoned get a NOT symbol or a minus (these days, I’ll desert a book if I don’t love it after 50-75 pages—life’s too short). When I’m underwhelmed by a book, I occasionally jot a brief note about it, especially if I’m trying to understand why I didn’t like something that was critically acclaimed.

 

Book notes

Reading is the real pleasure. Some people enjoy making scrapbooks of their experiences or photo albums of their travels. The process enhances their enjoyment. I don’t do either one. For me, the fun is stepping into another world, a different time, or an unfamiliar culture. Getting caught up in a story. Unlike real life, I have no responsibility for the characters and no ability to intervene in their dramas. I’m just along for the ride. The experience is enough.

However, if you ever want a recommendation or my opinion, just ask—I might have a note!

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16 ½ Things I Love About Summer

1. Early morning walks around the neighborhood (a.k.a. my own tour of gardens).

2. Strawberries, peaches, and cucumbers with dill in sour cream. Burgers/brats/shish kabobs on the grill. Homegrown tomatoes and sweet corn in August.

2 1/2.  Picking fresh herbs from my patio pots: basil for caprese salad, fresh mint for mojitos, and cilantro for quesadillas.

3. Waking up to birdsong at 5:30. Being awake and refreshed when hardly anybody else is up. Adding that extra hour to my day.

Mears Park, St. Paul

4. Cutting through Mears Park, along the man-made stream on the way to the St. Paul Farmer’s Market on weekends.

5. Walking to get an ice cream cone from the Grand Old Creamery.

6. Feeling bathroom tile that’s pleasantly cool to my bare feet—not frigid—so I don’t have to hop from one throw rug to the next.

7. Sunning with a book and swimming at Schulze Lake in Lebanon Hills Park.

8. Grabbing Wednesday night supper from the food trucks at the Nokomis Farmer’s Market.

9. Fireflies in late June.

10. L o o o n n g days that stay light past 9:30 p.m.

11. Heat lightning.

12. Road trips—leaving early with a sack full of snacks and a cooler packed with cold drinks. Passing rippling fields of impossibly green corn and soybeans. Pink, purple, yellow, and white wildflowers tumbling across ditches.

13. Drinking wine and reading after dark on the front porch.

Powderhorn Art Fair, Minneapolis

14. Art fairs bursting with jewelry to adorn me and artwork to adorn our home.

15. Outdoor dining at area restaurants—in hidden shady gardens, improvised patios framed by flower pots, or even at tables three feet away from traffic.

16. Drinking beer (don’t tell the park rangers) around the campfire we don’t really need and seeing a breathtaking number of stars come out overhead.

Capturing the Moment

Since getting my iPhone, I’ve begun taking tons of photos, especially when I’m vacationing. During the nine days I was in Kauai I took 361 photos—mostly of scenery and quirky objects, occasionally of my companions.

Near Kilauea lighthouse

near Kilauea lighthouse

Tiny shrine under banyan tree at Hindu monastery

Tiny shrine under banyan tree at Hindu monastery

That’s about 40 per day. Why not? It’s fun. Taking pictures has become a way of heightening the experience. Documenting and remembering it. But sometimes I wonder: when I’m focusing and framing shots, am I more in the moment or less?

There’s something acquisitive about taking pictures.

Click. There. Now I’ve got it. This moment and this place are mine. I can revisit them whenever I want. I’m hoarding a treasure of memories. At some future point, seeing this vista, cool object, or time with friends may be just the tonic I need.

Of course I've got a beachy sunset photo -- it's Hawaii!

Of course I’ve got a beachy sunset photo — it’s Hawaii!

Initially, I might share a handful of photos on Facebook. Snap a funny scene and text it to a friend. After I return from a trip, I fuss with the photos in Photoshop, cropping them or adjusting the lighting. It’s a second way of enjoying the sights. Sometimes I create screensavers. Once in a while I make a printed calendar.

Surfboard fence in Hanalei

Surfboard fence in Hanalei

Having photos allows me to relive the good times. Except that after my first wave of enthusiasm, I rarely do.

Bird of paradise at Allerton McBryde Gardens

Bird of paradise at Allerton McBryde Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At least my photos are easy to store.

I’m grateful that I don’t have to deal with storing my collection. I think of the albums and boxes of pictures my parents had. Some of them are precious—that’s our history. My three siblings and I lined up in front of the tulip garden at Easter. There we are sprawled in swimsuits on the dock at Lake James.

But the photos from when my parents were in Hawaii? I’m glad they had the experience, but the images mean very little to me. I wasn’t there. I don’t know the stories. Is there any reason to save those prints now that my parents are gone? Similarly, my Hawaii photos won’t mean anything to my kids either. They weren’t there.

Fortunately, my fascination with photography doesn’t require much effort or upkeep. As long as I have loads of gigabytes, digital photos are easy to keep.

There’s one picture I didn’t take in Kauai.

In Hanapepe, they have a Friday night art gallery crawl. At 6:30, it was dark except for a few streetlights and the lights from shops. The air was cooling but the breeze was still gentle. A dozen shops opened their doors and a handful of food trucks gathered. Several musicians performed here and there—folk music and traditional Hawaiian music.

An old black pickup truck was parked under a streetlight. The front of it was painted with orange and yellow flames. Hot pink bougainvillea bushes were planted in the truck bed and they bloomed lavishly. Alongside the truck, a woman in a lawn chair was making leis.

I really wanted to take that photo, but it seemed wrong. Did I have the right to the photo if I didn’t want to buy the lei? Probably didn’t matter. People must do it all the time. That truck is meant to attract attention. Specifically, tourists’ attention.

After a while, she got up and shook some flowers from the tree behind the truck. Had a cigarette. A friend of hers stopped by with a brown bag of food.

I let the moment pass. It was too dark for my phone’s camera. It wouldn’t have seen all the color and details my eyes registered during the 20 minutes that I sat on the curb across the street from her eating spicy chicken curry.

I appreciate both kinds of images—the photos because they can trigger a story and the remembered images that have become vivid because I found the words to turn them into stories.

Both bring wonderful experiences to mind.

Why I Want a Coloring Book for Christmas

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 8.46.13 AM  I can’t pinpoint what makes visual pursuits like paper projects, quilting, and flower gardening so refreshing to a bizzy dizzy mind, but I have a few theories.

One is that I read and write words all day, so shifting to nothing but color, shape, and design relaxes me. I engage a different, less used part of my mind. With visual pursuits, I’m not explaining, persuading, or struggling to find meaning, as I must when I’m writing.

It’s also playful.

As a writer, I need to do a respectable job with whatever I write. But with visual pursuits, nobody but me cares how well I do. If I make holiday cards, I’m strictly pleasing myself. For me, fooling around with bits of paper is fun. I never get bored with the possibilities for color and texture: ridged green paper, lime checkerboard tissue, bronze matte vellum.card

I have to concentrate hard enough that everything else gets crowded out.

Because I’m not as visually talented as my graphic designer friends, I have to try out the combinations to see what works and what doesn’t. When quilting, what happens if I put this red fabric next to the gold? Repeat that color and create a pattern? Does this fabric work or is it too busy?quilt

 

 

Designing flowerpots and gardens also involves color and design, but now the shapes are 3D, so I have to think how tall and wide each plant variety will get. This leads to a lot of standing around thinking at the garden store and again in my yard. What if I put a lot of shades of purple with white? I shuffle bedding plants around until I have an arrangement that seems to works. Even so, after a few days, I may uproot and relocate a zinnia or geranium if it doesn’t look right.

IMG_1649

 

While I’m solving a visual puzzle, I can’t think or worry about anything else. I’m completely absorbed. So often our days call for doing things to meet other people’s specifications, so there is real pleasure in envisioning something and then creating it to my specs.

 

I suspect that’s one of the reasons why adult coloring books are popular now. What colors you select are up to you. Only you. I imagine it’s soothing. Filling in a little section is completely under your control, unlike so many things in life. Plus coloring is mindless. No big commitment of time, materials, or brainpower is required. Coloring isn’t earthshattering or important, but it looks like fun and fun is good. I intend to find out.

The Little Free Library Saved My Camping Trip

At 11 p.m., the tent, sleeping bags, lantern, bin of dry food, and bug spray were in the car. Early the next morning, we were driving to northern Wisconsin for a four-day tent camping trip. But wait! What was I going to read? All of my books were on my iPad and it would be pretty hard to recharge it while camping.

As a reading addict, I get panicky at the thought not having at least three books to read when I go on a trip. Barnes & Noble wouldn’t be open before we left. Amazon couldn’t help me.

For many people, being without books during a camping trip is no problem. There’s hiking. Swimming. Sitting by the fire. Eating s’mores. Stargazing. And we do all of that.

Lack of old-fashioned paper books would really put a damper on the trip.

I love losing myself in a story and there are lots of opportunities to read during a leisurely trip like camping. When the birds wake up the campground at 5:30 a.m., I like to burrow into my sleeping bag and read for a while before wrestling into clothes and walking down the road to heed nature’s call. For me, swimming really means reading on the beach and jumping into the lake occasionally to cool off. In the late afternoon, it’s nice to have a beer and read before we make dinner. After the dishes are done and we’ve gathered kindling for the fire, I’ll read a little more before the light fades.

If we delayed the trip for several hours until the bookstore opened, we would arrive too late to have lunch with a friend who lives near the campground.

Inspiration struck—I could borrow books from the Little Free Library!

IMG_1344The libraries dot my Minneapolis neighborhood. A Little Free Library steward makes or buys a house-shaped box, stocks it with books, and erects it in the yard. Patrons can take book or leave a book anytime. If the steward registers the library, it will appear on the world map the Little Free Library organization maintains on its website.

Little Free Library is a grassroots movement begun in 2009 by Todd Bol of nearby Hudson, Wisconsin. He and Rick Brooks, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, saw the opportunity to build community and share a love of reading. Initially, they and other volunteers donated time and materials and the movement grew within the region. Word-of-mouth, as well as regional and national media, helped spread the idea, and by the end 2011, there were nearly 400 Little Free Libraries across the U.S. In 2012, the Little Free Library became a nonprofit corporation. In early 2015, nearly 25,000 Little Free Libraries were registered across the world.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 10.08.38 AMA Mystery, a Memoir and a Novel

Within blocks of my house, there are eight Little Free Libraries. I visited two and came away with three books to devour on my camping trip: a bestselling mystery, an historical novel, and a memoir I’d read but enjoyed enough to reread. Crisis averted!

After we returned, I put the books back in circulation and added several more from home. It’s inspiring to see how a grassroots organization can do so much to support a love of reading and foster a sense of community.