What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You?

My friends, look upon this book:

book ideal bookshelf

My Ideal Bookshelf — I found at the library. It’s a collection of writers, actors, musicians, artists — cultural movers and shakers — talking about their favorite books.

As I read it, I was struck by a couple thoughts. For one, I’m woefully under-read. Not only have I not read most of the books listed, many I’ve never heard of. It’s shameful, really.

Another thought: this book is strangely voyeuristic. Like you’re peeking into their personal lives and getting a sense of what makes them tick.

But really, isn’t that what our bookshelves do? They tell a story of our interests and hobbies, our upbringing and education level, even our fears or obsessions.

And tell the truth, when visiting someone’s home, don’t you look at the titles on their bookshelves and judge them just a little, based on what you find? (Yeah, me too.)

Knowing full well you’ll probably judge me for this, I’m going to pull out a few of the titles on my shelf that I think describe me best. These are the ones I either read over and over again, or I’m deeply sentimental about them. So much so, that moving them from Phoenix to Minnesota was a no-brainer.

(Note: Nearly all links lead to abebooks.com, my favorite site for buying used books.)

My bookshelf and me

On the far right is my Betty Crocker’s Boys & Girls Cookbook. I think it was a gift when I was in the fourth grade and I credit it for igniting my love of cooking. Right next to it are Anderson’s Fairy Tales and Blackbeard’s Ghost. I read those two over and over again all through my youth, and to this day have a strong preference for fantasy. Oh, and that fat book toward the left without a binding or cover? That’s a book of poetry, both silly and serious, that my dad often read or quoted from. I believe it explains my penchant for dark humor:

Willie saw some dynamite,
Couldn’t understand it quite;
Curiosity seldom pays:
It rained Willie seven days.

Next up, let’s consider my teen years: That Certain Something, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and way over on the left, Dr. Zhivago. Probably the weirdest collection for a teenage girl to be found. That Certain Something is a book on developing charm, of all things. You might say it was the first self-help book I ever read. It even has a quiz at the end to see how charming you are. (Note: for those of a certain age, the author was Arlene Francis — she of game show fame.)

As for Jonathan LS … well, as a matter of fact, yes. I was one of those teenage girls who thought Jonathan was deep. Truly deep, man.

seagull

Dr. Zhivago is when my serious reading began. It took three attempts and a course in Russian history before I finally understood the novel was waaaay more than a love story. I felt oh-so-smart when I figured it out, and in the process learned some books are worth a second (or third) try.

From there it was an easy jump to other classics, my favorites being The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice. And then there’s Giants in the Earth, by O.E. Rölvaag.

Never heard of it? Neither did I until I heard a portion of it on the radio. I immediately ordered two copies, one for me and one for my dad. Reason being, the book is about Norwegian immigrants to the Dakota territories and it opens with a man walking ahead of their ox-pulled wagon — the same story my dad told about his grandfather.

Later when my dad was hospitalized with congestive heart failure, I visited him. He brought up the novel and I found out things I never knew — like how his dad would tell him stories of trolls and other folk tales, and I learned more details about his mom’s depression after his dad died (in the book, the main character’s wife suffers from mental illness). My dad passed away a few months after our impromptu book discussion. Some books you enjoy, some you recommend, others hold treasured memories. Giants in the Earth is all of those things for me.

Closing in on our Final Five, you’ll see there’s Lanterns & Lances by James Thurber. I’ve mentioned before this served as inspiration for the Feeding on Folly moniker, and as I said in my ‘about me’ page, I’m a huge Thurber fan. This book doesn’t include his most well-known writings, but it’s about 60 years old and it smells lovely.

As I Live and Breathe, A Sense of the Morning, and Here Be Dragons were all accidental discoveries. Either found in used bookstores or at a “friends of the library” sale, they weren’t my usual choices of reading but became instant favorites. As I Live and Breathe is a sweet, humorous tale of the author and his wife in the ’40s and ’50s. A Sense of the Morning contains essays on nature, but it’s so much more than that. This book reminds me how to look at the world with a sense of wonder. And Here Be Dragons… well, that book taught me way more about the world than any science class did. If you have any interest in evolution or plate tectonics, or even if you don’t have interest, read this book. It explains things better than anything else I’ve read.

That leaves us with Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Hands down, my favorite book on writing. Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself and thinking I’ll never write anything good, it helps to think of this book and picture Lamott whispering over my shoulder, “go ahead, get that shitty first draft done.” (Hmm. Might be time to reread this one.)

And there you have it, 15 of the books from my shelves. I could have shown you more, but these are the ones I feel influenced me the most – either as a writer, a reader, or simply as a human being (if being human were so simple).

And now it’s your turn. Think about the books you’ve read that made you who you are today. They might be ones you prominently display on your bookshelf, or it may be you read it once and can’t get out of your head.

List them in the comments below or, if you have a blog, write about them on your site and link it here. I’d love to get more book recommendations. After all, I’ve got some extra space on my bookshelves just aching to be filled.

my bookshelf for featured photo

Thoughts on Squashed Snakes, Self-Publishing, and the End of the World as We Know It

What with one thing and another, mostly another, I found I was without a blog post for today.

I mean, sure, I wrote things. A feeble response to an online article I read, the beginnings of a short story that went nowhere, and a silly thing about the Biblical character Job calling Heaven’s customer complaint line. Funny, but too long for a blog post and I wasn’t sure how well people knew the story of Job.

Anyway, rather than skipping this week and ruining my record of posting in a timely manner two weeks in a row, I’m going to toss out some random thoughts that were cluttering up my brain.

Here goes:

Thought One

I wore boots yesterday and it’s still August. What’s more, I’ll probably wear boots again today. Ain’t life grand?

My boots

Thought Two

There was a squashed snake on the side of the road the other day. I saw it while walking to the post office. It was a pretty one, slender and long with bright yellow stripes. No idea what kind it was, but it looked like it nearly made it across the street before it was squashed. Poor guy.

snake in the street, alas
I’m not showing the squashed part, only the pretty part. You’re welcome.

Thought Three

I need to buy a rake. It’s not for leaves, though we know they’re coming. It’s for all the acorns. Our yard is full of them. So many that when you walk in the backyard, you don’t walk so much as roll. And I think the squirrels here are lazy. They don’t seem to be working very hard at storing food for winter. (Maybe they know something?)

acorns

Thought Four

So this is how it is. You write something funny about the Book of Job and think, gosh this is great. This is worthy of publishing. And so you check the submission guidelines for humor sites and magazines. That’s when you discover there just isn’t the market for snarky humor pieces about the Book of Job like there used to be.

Thought Five

I need more boots. I only have two, both black, one short and one tall. These were the ones I thought worthy enough to pack and able to withstand Minnesota weather. I’m thinking I need multiple types. Money is no object! (Who needs food?)

Thought Six

Back to the squashed snake. Why was he crossing the street? The side he left was woodsy and green. The side he was heading toward was rocky. Had he been satisfied where he was, he might still be alive today. What possessed him to leave his happy home? Was he unfulfilled as a snake? Was the weight of his responsibilities too much to bear? (*Gasp!* Did he, like our squirrels, foresee the future and found no reason to carry on?!)

Thought Seven

Maybe what I should is bundle together my Bible stories in text, Samson’s online dating snafu, and the piece on Job — add a few more texts and alternate stories — then self-publish the whole lot of them.
Hmm. It might work. I’ll have to think about it.

Thought Eight

If the squirrels and snake are onto something, if we have but a limited time on this earth — okay, I guess we always knew our time was limited, but let’s say it’s more limited than we thought — does that change anything? Does it change how we live, how we act, or how soon we snatch up boots on sale?
Or work on the book we have percolating in our head?
Hmm.
Excuse me. I should get back to work.

My Idea Journal: the Foolish and Forgotten

Do you keep an idea journal?

JournalsI have two. One is a pretty little journal someone gave me several years ago. Unfortunately, I misplace it constantly. So I’ve taken to using the notes section in my daily planner.

(Yes, I use an old-fashioned printed planner. Don’t judge.)

My problem with idea journals is that I rarely remember what I had in mind when I first wrote the ideas down. Which is what happened when I reviewed my entries recently, hoping for inspiration.

Instead, I’m offering my ideas to you. Maybe you can work them into something.

You’re welcome. Continue reading “My Idea Journal: the Foolish and Forgotten”

Do You Keep Christmas Well?

charles_dickens-a_christmas_carol-cloth-first_edition_1843I reread A Christmas Carol recently, because it’s a thing I do every year and it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t.

(Not to be pushy, but if you’ve never read it, DO SO NOW! Here’s an online version if you don’t own a copy. I recommend you read it slowly, to get all of that great Dickens’ humor.)

Anyway, yesterday as I was listening to the radio, I heard the DJ call his brother a Scrooge because he was complaining about the nonstop Christmas music. The DJ was wrong on two counts: Continue reading “Do You Keep Christmas Well?”

Birds: Helpful Neighbors or Ruthless Overlords?

treeA three day weekend before me, I had one plan and one plan only: to move a tree.

To be specific, a volunteer tree that was growing in a small shaded area between our home and the back fence. Far too close to both home and fence.

After some careful research, I determined it was a silk tree – Albizia julibrissin – and that it would make a pretty little shade tree near our front entrance.

My dad was a great one for transplanting volunteer plants, and I think of him whenever I follow his practice. Although my success rate is nowhere near as good as his, I like to think I’m improving.

I also tend to think it will go much faster than it actually does, because I forget I live in Phoenix. Digging a hole in Phoenix is not for the faint of heart.

After 20 minutes, this is what I accomplished:

Continue reading “Birds: Helpful Neighbors or Ruthless Overlords?”

Weekend Reads: Self-Talk, Sassy Librarians & Working at Snopes

White dog next to person with laptopI don’t know about you, but this weekend seemed to take its sweet time getting here. Let’s hope now that it’s here, it’ll stay awhile.

Meanwhile, here are a few suggested reads to get your weekend started right. Continue reading “Weekend Reads: Self-Talk, Sassy Librarians & Working at Snopes”

Weekend Reads: Cow Butts, Writing, and Fat People on Planes

Welcome to Weekend Reads – a new feature where I share three or four articles, websites, or podcasts I was entranced by, and then seriously annoyed my family by giving them the links and saying, “Did you read it yet, huh, did ya huh? … How ’bout now?”

Promise I won’t nag, but seriously, you should read these.

KuhFirst up, an ingenious way scientists are protecting lions, cows, and ranchers. Oh my!  Continue reading “Weekend Reads: Cow Butts, Writing, and Fat People on Planes”

A Poetry Lover is Born

The Family Book of Best Loved Poems. Tattered and stained, yellowed pages, glorious old book smell. Wow, the memories it contains…

On Monday, I sent out a request for poetry suggestions. As of now I have 2 journals, 22 poets, and a number of online resources to explore.

You don’t leave a girl hanging, do you? Consider this my personal thank-you, as well as my pledge to do you proud.

One comment (left by Claudette from To Search and to Find) mentioned her father with two childrenfondness for silly, humorous stuff, reminding me of my dad’s favorite poems.

Dad had a fondness for silly rhymes too, and he would recite them often.

For one, he had a bit of help from Longfellow: Continue reading “A Poetry Lover is Born”

Can’t Believe I’m Asking, but…

Do you have any poetry suggestions for me?

Reason being, I came across this cool article about fostering your creativity. It included this graphic, based on Ray Bradbury’s diet for feeding his subconscious:

4ways4

What’s good enough for Ray Bradbury is more than good enough for me, but my bookshelf is suffering a severe famine in the poetry department. (I live in great fear of the bad stuff.)

Who are your favorite poets?