Categories
Libraries Personal

A Visit to the Library! And a Restaurant!

On Monday I saw an announcement in our local paper that two branches of the Tacoma Public Library would be opening for timed-entry, in-person browsing beginning the next day. One of those two is a local library for us, so this was a not-to-be-missed opportunity.

A quick click to the library web site revealed that there will be four different times each day: noon, 1:00, 5:00, and 6:00, each lasting for 45 minutes. By the time I got there, the first two time periods for Tuesday were already filled, so I signed us up for 5:00. 

Yesterday, I was twitching with excitement by the time we got to the library. When they opened the door and I walked through, my eyes filled with tears. I immediately went for the new fiction section, where only a few books remained (and none of those were titles that I at all recognized). This was somewhat disappointing, but, hey, we were AT THE LIBRARY!

I had forgotten how small this library branch is, but, hey, we were AT THE LIBRARY! So I soldiered on. In the children’s section I found The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while. And in the large print section stood a copy of Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman. 

two books: The Island of the Blue Dolphins and Something in the Water

I hadn’t planned to spend the rest of my reading time this month with these two books, but, hey, they are actual library books checked out AT THE LIBRARY. So there we are. This whole experience didn’t require anywhere near 45 minutes.

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day here in the Pacific Northwest, so we got to see the trees in flower in the parking lot.

flowering trees in parking lot

Back in the car, my husband announced that he wanted to stop at Oddfellas, one of our favorite local eateries for dinner on the way home. When I asked if he wanted to order online for pickup, he said no, that he wanted to go inside and sit down to eat—and drink, of course, because Oddfellas offers a large selection of draught beers. 

Restaurants in our area are now allowed to open at 25% capacity. Odfellas is small. When we got there, the only other diners were a couple of women eating and chatting at a table along the back wall and a solitary man sitting at the bar. We took a booth well removed from them. While we were there, two or three other couples arrived. There was enough room for all of us to be more than appropriately socially distanced.

But, as much as I enjoyed my pizza, I also felt ambivalent. My husband and I both had our second dose of COVID vaccine more than two weeks ago, but I fear that if people start to mingle in public again too soon, there may be another upsurge in COVID-19 infections.

So we won’t be eating out routinely now, and we’re certainly not going to Disneyland any time soon. But for a couple of hours yesterday evening, I felt almost like a normal person again.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

small pot of live shamrocks
Categories
Personal

On This Day, March 8: International Women’s Day marked on March 8 for 1st time – UPI.com

On March 8, 1914, International Women’s Day was observed on March 8 for the first time and would go on to be marked on this day annually.

Source: On This Day, March 8: International Women’s Day marked on March 8 for 1st time – UPI.com

Categories
Discussion Fiction Personal Reading

Your Favorite Book Might Be My DNF . . . and Vice Versa

illustration: 2021 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2021 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2021 by clicking on either link above.


“One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.”

“There’s no accounting for taste.”

“Different strokes for different folks.”

I occasionally see the novel Geek Love by Katherine Dunn listed on someone’s list of best novels ever read. I understand that the novel’s themes of family, love, and normality make it appeal to a lot of people, but I just could not get past the notion that anyone—even someone fictional—would purposely engineer birth defects in order to create a bigger and better freak show.

Cover: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

But I did learn from Geek Love. What this novel taught me is that I don’t need to finish every book I start. I was around 40 when I ran into it and still thought that once I had started a book, I was obligated to finish it. I had seen Geek Love described as imaginatively inventive or something and thought I might enjoy it. I gave it about 100 pages, but I simply couldn’t get past that revolting premise. 

Geek Love was the first novel I DNF (did not finish).

cover: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Fast forward about 25 years. I see a post by a blogger complaining about A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. The blogger has written something like “I had to stop reading this book. Nobody could have as much trauma in his life as Jude had.” And my heart nearly breaks.

Because, you see, A Little Life is on my list of the top five novels I’ve ever read.

More recently, I saw a comment somewhere by a person who complained “I couldn’t finish The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. It wasn’t making any sense.”

Cover: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

I knew I should have bitten my tongue and moved on, but I just couldn’t. I loved that book. (This novel truly is imaginatively inventive.) So I gently suggested that the confusion was a big part of the book’s meaning and all would become clear at the end. A while later I received an email informing me of a reply to my comment. The reply went something like this: “Well, that may be so, but I’m not finishing it.” 

This time I did bite my tongue and move on. But I thought, “Too bad. It’s your loss.”

Different strokes for different folks, and so on and so forth.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

Vaccinated!

My husband and I both got our second dose of COVID-19 vaccine yesterday. I’ve waited to post in case either of us experienced any of the reactions to the second shot that I’ve been reading about.

Last night we each had a very slight bit of soreness in our arm, but that had disappeared by this morning and neither of us has had any further reaction. A few friends who also got their second shot yesterday reported a slight fever and low energy today, but nothing serious.

This article reports that there are still questions about the results of getting the full dose of vaccine, but both my husband and I, being over 70, were happy to get vaccinated.

And here’s the short-sleeve shirt I wore to vaccinated:

T-shirt saying, "Yes, I do have a retirement plan. I will be reading more and more books."

I hope that all of you are staying healthy and warm.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

Snow Day!

We don’t get much snow, except for occasional flurries, here near sea level on the coast of Washington. So when a storm hits, we make the most of it. Yesterday afternoon through this afternoon we got about 10 inches, which is quite a lot for this area.

The Seattle Weather Blog noted that 8.9 inches that fell at Seattle Tacoma International Airport on Saturday was the fifth-snowiest single day at that location, and the most snow on one day since 1969, when nearly 15 inches fell there.

The Seattle Times

The last time this area got a significant amount of snow was February 9, 2019, when about 5 inches fell. We were traveling in the southern hemisphere then and missed it, so we took full advantage of this storm.

Weather Service tweet indicating this storm is the 15th largest since the beginning of record keeping in the Seattle area in the 1890s

My husband went out to get the mail while snow was still falling.

Man standing in snow waving while snow continues to fall
snow falling outside, covering yards and houses

Once the snow stopped, we got all bundled up and went outside to take some photos.

We have several lion statues like this one around campus, but they were all camouflaged today:

statue of lion nearly covered with snow

One of the reasons we moved into a retirement community was to avoid having to do chores like mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. We are very lucky that we have such a dedicated staff here. They got to work immediately:

snow plow on driveway

Because we had plenty of warning that this storm was on the way, we were able to lay in enough supplies to last us for several days. Our outdoor photography trip reminded us of our childhood in New England and was a welcome break from the seemingly endless routine of the past 10 months.

Wherever you are, we hope you are safe, healthy, warm, and well supplied.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Personal

Groundhog Day Reading

Happy Groundhog Day!

I came across this list of time-loop books to celebrate with and felt it my duty to share it with you:

13 Great Time Loop Books to Read This Groundhog Day

I’ve read three of these books:

  • The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

I vouch for all of them.

Happy reading!

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Discussion Personal Reading Writing

My Reading & Writing Goals for 2021

What I Learned from COVID-19

illustration: 2021 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2021 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2021 by clicking on either link above.


I keep reading things like “I can’t wait to be done with 2020 and move on to 2021.” Do most people truly believe that merely taking one calendar off the wall and hanging up another one is going to change their day-to-day existence? Such magical thinking. Reality doesn’t work that way. The truth is still out there.

As I write this post in the first full week of January, we are in our 44th week of lockdown. (The last social event we attended was a monthly lunch excursion to a restaurant on March 6, 2020.) Even with the good news of the arrival of vaccines, I expect we won’t see any substantive change in our daily lives until July 1, 2021, at the earliest. I’m preparing for another six months, at least, just like the previous nine months:

Reading reduces stress levels—there’s scientific evidence for that. But stress levels also reduce reading. Anxiety ruins your focus, wipes out your short-term memory, makes you thick-headed, makes you jittery. You can’t keep track of who’s who or what they said or what it means. Stress, maybe especially the kind of stress we’ve all been going through where everything seems like the end of the world, also wrecks your equanimity and sense of proportion: being unable to read, if you’d previously thought of yourself as a reader, makes you feel monstrously guilty for what seems, to your addled brain, like a towering failure. You can’t read, so you are ashamed, so you can’t read, so you are ashamed.

Jess Zimmerman

Looking back on how well I fulfilled my reading plan for 2020 made me realize that the year well illustrates the validity of the old proverb  “Man plans. God laughs.” And there are some lessons to be learned from this realization.

The biggest lesson is that, since we probably won’t see significant change in our current situation for at least half of this new year, the whole notion of a plan feels irrelevant. Last year I had my whole year’s reading planned out, month by month. But when COVID-19 hit and brought with it heightened anxiety along with reader’s and writer’s block, I was only able to get back to reading by ditching the plan. I allowed myself to stand in front of my TBR shelves and look for the book that called to me the loudest. I kept up that process, sometimes letting one book lead me to the next, at other times finding a new book to set me off on a different chain of association.

I have therefore decided not to use the label of plan at all for 2021. Instead, I’m going to focus on some goals that will still be possible no matter which particular books I may read. For example, one part of my plan for last year was to use the Blog Discussion Challenge to motivate me to write some substantive blog posts. Even though I didn’t meet my original quota, I was able to write about just about anything—including a look at why I was having trouble reading and writing—and call it a discussion post. So this year I’m going to talk about reading and writing goals instead of a reading and writing plan.

After looking at last year’s plan, I’m describing this year’s goals in relation to last year’s in two major areas:

  • I. Elements I’m keeping from last year
  • II. Elements I’m dropping from last year, replacing, or adding

I. Elements I’m Keeping from 2020

Most of these are general challenges and goals.

1. Goodreads Challenge

I did make last year’s goal of 55, but I had to rush and include a couple of particularly short works. I’m therefore going to dial my challenge goal back to 50 books, a number I think I can more easily achieve.

2. The Classics Club

Although I had good intentions last year, I didn’t come even close to my goal of crossing six books off my Classics Club list.

I’m going to cut back this year’s goal to four and hope for the best.

3. 2021 Book Blog Discussion Challenge

I signed up for the 2020 Discussion Challenge to motivate myself to write substantive posts on literary topics. Despite not writing as many discussion posts as I had wanted to (because, you know, COVID-19), I enjoyed working on the 12 that I did manage and was pleased with the results. I’m therefore signing up for the 2021 Discussion Challenge  with the goal of writing one discussion post per month.

II. Elements I’m Dropping, Replacing, or Adding

For 2021 I’m taking the focus off reading exclusively and incorporating the intention to write about more of the books I read. Not every book I read warrants a review on the blog, but many do, and I need to make more of an effort to discuss those. For me, writing seems to take some time; thoughts swirl around in the unconscious before percolating to the surface of awareness. It’s too easy for me to finish reading one book, then immediately pick up another one without going back to revisit the first one again.

The first process, to receive impressions with the utmost understanding, is only half the process of reading; it must be completed, if we are to get the whole pleasure from a book, by another. We must pass judgment upon these multitudinous impressions; we must make of these fleeting shapes one that is hard and lasting.

—Virginia Woolf, How Should One Read a Book?

I will need to follow through and return to each previous book to finish the reading process. And this emphasis on writing may have a secondary effect of influencing me to choose more meaty books to read so that they’ll be ones I’ll want to review. 

Here, then, is a new goal I’m adding for 2021:

4. to review 50% of the books I read on this blog

I’m also adding another reading goal this year:

5. to read more of my TBR books

Here is my current TBR shelf of Book of the Month editions I haven’t gotten to yet:

The shelf contains 22 books, with two more to be added as soon as my January box arrives. And those are just my Book of the Month books. Several other shelves contain books I’ve been wanting to read for some time, including Where the Crawdads Sing, All the Light We Cannot See, The Hours, Crime and Punishment, A God in Ruins, and Trust Exercise.

I do not acquire books haphazardly; I chose every book on these shelves for particular reasons. They’re all good books that I want to read.

When I jettisoned the calendar part of last year’s reading plan at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing myself to choose whatever book I wanted to read next proved to be a tremendously freeing experience. Suddenly reading became an adventure again, not just some productivity goal to tick off on a to-do list.

This rediscovery of the joy of reading convinced me not to include a specific reading calendar in this year’s goals. I still have several reading projects I’m interested in pursuing, so I’m keeping the list of projects, but I’m treating them as possibilities rather than requirements tied to specific completion dates.

I’m beginning 2021 with an emphasis on my analysis of horror literature. As the year progresses I’ll move on to other projects such as these:

  • comparison: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf & The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  • a deep dive into the life and works of Patricia Highsmith, the centenary of whose birth will be on January 19, 2021
  • a look at evil children in literature
  • a rereading of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout followed by a reading of the sequel, Olive, Again
  • a study of some novels featuring Older Adults in Literature
  • a rereading of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale followed by a reading of the sequel, The Testaments

But my overall goal for 2021 is to enjoy being a free-range reader and to share that reading joy on this blog.

How about you?

Do you make annual reading plans? If you do, what’s on your list for 2021?

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

Happy New Year! Feed Your Soul

We’ve all been waiting for 2021, and finally it’s here!

And to get this new year started off right, The Guardian has put together The 31-Day Literary Diet for January:

“From a Shirley Jackson short story to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 30-minute Ted talk, nourish your mind with our one-a-day selection of literary treats.”

Categories
Book Recommendations List Personal

The Best Books I Read in 2020

Most of the annual best books of the year lists refer only to books published during the stated calendar year. But my annual list always refers to books I read this year, regardless of when they were published.

Here, then, are the 10 best books I read this year, listed alphabetically by author, plus 5 more honorable mentions.

The Best

Alam, Rumaan. Leave the World Behind

Clark, Julie. The Last Flight

du Maurier, Daphne. The House on the Strand

Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Mandel, Emily St. John. The Glass Hotel

Moore, Liz. Long Bright River

Murakami,Haruki. 1Q84

Reid, Iain. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Shute, Nevil. On the Beach

Toews, Miriam. Women Talking

Honorable Mention

Brodesser-Akner, Taffy. Fleishman Is in Trouble

Connelly, Michael. The Law Of Innocence

Foley,Lucy. The Guest List

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road

Wrobel, Stephanie. Darling Rose Gold

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown