How do you remember what you read?



Reading is one thing, but remembering is something else. I love the experience of reading while I’m in it, but sometimes I wish the results were not so ephemeral. There are so many times a title is called to mind and I think “I know I read that — but I don’t remember anything about it!” It’s only after several rereadings, usually, that much begins to stick.

One of the things I appreciate about blogging is that it helps me to cement my memory of a book; the process of writing a post makes me reflect in a more conscious way than usual. And I have a written record in case I want to go back and jog my memory.

But the ones that don’t make it onto the blog — even the ones I really liked at the time — soon dissipate into faint wisps of recollection, along with all the other books from the past. When I’m asked for recommendations, or something rings a bell and I think “Didn’t I read a book like that?” it’s lost in the vast uncatalogued archive of my brain and I can seldom dredge up the details.

What could I do? Some possibilities are:

  • Read every book at least twice (unless I already know it’s not worth remembering)
  • Keep a reading journal – including thoughts and significant passages as well as title and author
  • Take at least brief notes on each book read, maybe just one sentence
  • Be less distracted when reading; don’t do other things at the same time, read one book at a time

Re-reading everything is not practical because it takes up too much time that I’d like to give to other books, and journaling and note-taking are cumbersome. I hate interrupting the flow of reading to think about it, and it’s unlikely I will ever manage to carry a notebook and pen around with me everywhere along with my book.

Perhaps I could discipline myself to at least record a few thoughts once I’ve finished the book. For some reason I have great resistance to this as well — the books I have something to say about usually end up in blog posts, and I don’t like pressuring myself when such thoughts don’t spring naturally to mind. But maybe I would get used to it after a while. Same thing with reading in a less distracted, fragmented way — it doesn’t come naturally, though I’m sure it would be good for me.

Do you have a better system for remembering what you read? Any ideas to help me out? My aging memory may be a lost cause, but I do wish I could find a way to make it stronger in this department.


Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Do I have to read depressing books?


Since reading is not part of my job, nor am I currently in school, I don’t really have to read anything. But maybe because reading is and has always been a major avenue of self-development, we in the bookish community often carry a heavy sense of obligation. We feel as though there are books we ought to be reading, because they form the basis of a good education, or they delve into important topics, or they have been declared Great by Those in the Know.

But why is it that many of these books tend to be depressing? In general, it seems that gloom is considered more serious and worth spending your time on than joy. Self-improvement (in the conventional view) consists largely of facing hard facts and becoming habituated to disappointment. To do otherwise is to remain in a carefree, childish state, incapable of coping with real life.

There’s something in that. A reading diet of P.G. Wodehouse and Georgette Heyer, while delightful, would leave one ill-equipped to handle certain necessary realities. But can a book be serious and uplifting? Is there hope to be found in the dark?

Depression doesn’t have to do with facing the darkness. It means getting stuck in the darkness and seeing no way out. If one has even a little bit of leverage — a spark of humor, a glimpse of a better world, a flash of curiosity as to how we got into this mess and how we can emerge from it — then the quicksand hasn’t fully taken hold.

And so certain books that initially appeared daunting or grim to me have become some of my favorites, because they give the hope that grows from knowledge rather than blithe insensibility. They may make me feel angry, or sad, or appalled — but also energized by the challenge of grasping such difficult content. My view of the world has expanded, with shadows giving richness and nuance, and that’s a good thing.

However, sometimes I’m not in the mood, or I don’t have the strength to manage depressing topics and stories. I need restorative, up-building books at those times, and that’s all right. In time, when I’m feeling stronger, I can confront them again.

Meanwhile, books that wallow in pure nastiness, or seem determined to grind human endeavor to a fine gray powder, are always unappealing to me. And I’ve decided that I don’t have to read them, no matter how “great” they may be. I’ll spend my time in other ways.

Are there books you feel you ought to be reading, but don’t want to? How do you deal with that?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Which books should I keep?



As I mentioned recently on my other blog, Entering the Enchanted Castle, I’m going through a big transition in my life. My husband got a job in Switzerland and has just moved there to start working, while I plan to follow with our son when the school year ends.

It’s been six years since our last move and I well remember what an ordeal that was. Now, I’m facing doing all that packing up, clearing out and hefting stuff again, this time overseas. I’m tempted to get rid of as much as possible and keep only the truly essential — but what is that? Particularly when it comes to books, it’s hard for me to know what I will need or want in the future.

It won’t be so easy for me to find English-language reading material, so I definitely want to bring along some to sustain me. Compact and multi-volume collections get the most words into the least amount of space, like my Library of America editions of Willa Cather, Ursula K. Le Guin, John Steinbeck, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thornton Wilder. I could happily read from those for some time. The Complete Earthsea and Robertson Davies’s three-volume trilogies (the Deptford, Salterton and Cornish trilogies) will definitely come along too.

Another consideration: in the last few years I have overcome my resistance to e-books and it can’t be denied they are incredibly convenient for traveling. I hate spending money on them, but I’m tempted to buy some of the Delphi Classics collections to have a large, inexpensive supply of classic literature, which is always worth reading. And I wonder if I can get a library membership or e-book subscription that will keep me connected to a good assortment of books. (I know there’s Kindle Unlimited, but I am resisting the Amazon behemoth as much as possible.)

I’ve spent a lot of time and money building up hardcover collections of my favorite authors, but now when I look at them I just think how bulky and heavy they are. Will I really read them again? Will the joy of possessing them outweigh the hassle of moving them? Wouldn’t e-books from the library be easier?

Then there are books that are not just for reading, but for helping me make and do things: cookbooks, knitting books, travel books and so forth. The internet has made finding this kind of instruction much easier, so although I still love paging through these books, I don’t use them as often as I once did. Which of these are truly essential? What information do I really need on paper, and what can I trust to be kept in my head, or in some more lightweight form?

It all makes for some hard decisions, but I hope I’ll come to a solution I can live with. Have you ever had to move your books and decide what to keep? How did you make those decisions?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

How do you organize your TBR?



Recently I went through my Goodreads “want to read” list and took off almost 200 books. Now I have a little over 100, which feels more manageable.

I removed books that I’ve already read (duh), books I own (I don’t need a virtual reminder when I have a physical copy), and books that have been on there so long I no longer remember why I wanted to read them. There are also books associated with interests that were once strong for me but have lapsed, or reading challenges I’m not pursuing any more. Those were jettisoned as well.

I’d like to do a periodic purge of this nature to try to keep my list more streamlined, but the question remains of how to organize what I have left.

I like Goodreads as a tool; it has the information I want and it’s easy to add books and connect with other readers. So I’ll keep using it as a handy place to store my list of books I’m interested in, but am not ready yet to buy or check out from the library.

Whenever I add a book, I put it in at least one category (nonfiction, historical, around the world, fantasy, etc.) so when I’m in the mood for a book of that nature, I can narrow down my choices easily.

My physical TBR pile mainly consists of two kinds of books: nonfiction that I’ve bought at some point because I thought I ought to read it, but which was superseded quickly by other distractions; and classic literature I’ve bought in nice editions that look lovely on my shelves, but that I haven’t gotten around to actually cracking open yet.

I hope to make a dent in both of these during the next three months, by not acquiring anything new, and only reading from my own shelves. Meanwhile, I can still keep adding to my online TBR list — making the number slowly creep up again …

That’s about it for my organizing; my picking up of book recommendations is usually pretty random, and I just park them on the list (or in the pile) until I need ideas for my next read. I’ve shed most of the challenges and review commitments that I scrambled to keep up with during my first years of blogging. Right now, I feel like reading according to the whim of the moment, though I may get back to a more structured approach at some point.

How do you manage your TBR list? Do you keep a physical pile, or an online list, or both? How do you like to organize them? Do you have goals for this year’s reading from the TBR?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

What is a children’s book?



Somebody once defined a children’s book as “any book that a child will read.” Which could be nearly anything–some children will read very strange and unexpected things, while other books earmarked for children languish on the shelf. I think our usual definitions have to do more with what adults think children will read, or more typically, what they think children should be reading.

I started thinking about this question because I just reread The Owl Service, which won the Carnegie Medal, the British prize honoring children’s literature, upon its publication in 1967. It would certainly be considered YA today, but I see no reason to define it even in this way. With its complex, subtle treatment of themes of sexuality and class, within a masterfully imagined framework of mythological recurrence, and written in an oblique style that demands a high level of sophistication from the reader, this has much in common with books we would certainly consider “adult.” Just because it’s about teenagers does not mean only teenagers will want to read it, nor that it’s necessarily suitable for them.

It’s a pity when such books are pushed onto young readers who maybe are not ready for them, and segregated from the adult fiction with which they could just as easily belong. But nor do I think any child who wants and need such a book should be deprived of that experience. It’s hard to know how to create definitions that do not also become limitations.

There are at least three interrelated factors to consider: subject matter, style, and complexity of narrative. What subjects are children interested in, and what should they be shielded from? Sex and violence are the usual taboos, although I’ve been surprised on rereading some childhood favorites at how much violence they contain. Children are generally just not interested in adult relationship problems, at least in the most naturalistic way. These can be conveyed symbolically in fantasy and fairy tales, in a form suitable for slow digestion into adulthood.

As for style, it’s repugnant to me when a children’s book is written in a twee, simplistic, or sentimental style for the wee ones, or in a lazy, cliche-ridden way because they’re thought to be too unsophisticated to notice. Language in a book for children should be crafted with great beauty and care. It goes deeply into a child reader and becomes a formative force. It does not have to have lots of big words or convoluted sentence structure in order to be thoughtful, artistic, and intellectually nourishing. But this is not an issue limited to books for young readers. I wish many adult books would pay more attention to this principle as well.

Complexity, the difficulty of following what is going on, is the main factor that struck me with The Owl Service. This is not a straightforward tale; there are lots of gaps and implications for the reader to wake up to in order to make sense of the narrative. This is part of what makes it such a potentially exciting and rewarding reading experience, but for a reader unprepared for such heavy lifting it could be just confusing and opaque. I think that’s why I didn’t like it at all when I first read it as a teen myself, along with the adult subject matter to which I could not relate.

A book like The Blue Sword, which I also reread recently, was just my cup of tea, on the other hand. Reading it now, I’m more impressed than I was back then by Robin McKinley’s dignified, lucid style (especially since her later books became tangled up in increasingly convoluted sentences). The general subject is that of innumerable adventure stories and folktales: the training and testing of a hero, who must depart from her own land in order to find her true self, ending with reconciliation of the two worlds. From that point of view, it could be for readers of any age.

But the story upon adult reading is so straightforward as to be almost boring. Where are the challenges, the surprises, the conflict and ambiguity? The writing is so fluent and the imaginative world so attractive that it carries you along, but what’s underneath is surprisingly thin.

Such lack of layering and complexity is not unique to children’s literature, though. There are plenty of adult books that don’t demand much of the reader other than to follow along where the author leads — and there’s nothing wrong with that. There can be different kinds of books for different moods or reading preferences, and an undemanding story can at times be a great gift. At other times, we might appreciate being challenged and woken up more. This is as true for children as for adults, I believe.

So my question remains unanswered, except to say that the definition above might be the best one. What do you think? Can you say what makes a book “for children”?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Are there books you have outgrown?

This question follows on from last month’s about rereading. As I grow older and reread some of my former favorites, I find that some of them have lost their luster. What formerly seemed so powerful and full of insight now shows its limitations. I might find it poorly written, or full of holes and inconsistencies I never noticed before, or simply uninspiring.

Is this due to age, or experience, or changing tastes? In what does the magic reside, and why does it sometimes flee?

I would hesitate to say it’s because I’ve become so much more wise and mature myself, and that anyone who adores these books must be on a lower level of literary appreciation. It’s more that some alchemical process has changed … some element has shifted in me and no longer wakens the corresponding reaction in the book.

If that reaction still occurs for other readers — fantastic! It was real for me the first time, and I’m glad it’s real for you.

But it leaves me a little sad, and longing for that wonderful, transcendent experience I once had. Fortunately, there are still so many books to discover and fall in love with, all over again. I hope I will never outgrow that.

Are there books you seem to have left behind, as you have changed and grown through life? Can you say what makes you feel that way?

Do you re-read?



There are two kinds of readers: those who re-read, and those who don’t. The latter group, represented in the extreme by Marie Kondo of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up fame, feels there is no reason to read a book again once it’s entered your brain. You’ve gotten what there is to glean from it, and why waste time going through all that again? You can safely get rid of all previously perused material and keep your shelves nice and tidy, while your mind collects another lot of information from the next volume.

If that method works for you, I’ve nothing against it, but my experience says otherwise. To me, each time I read a book it’s different, because I’ve changed in the meantime. Re-reading creates a conversation between me and the book that is much more than a mere culling of information. There are new epiphanies and expanded awareness, with connections to other books I’ve read in the meantime, or to my life experience. A good book is a whole world in itself, and one visit is not enough to get to know all it contains.

When I was a child, I had a big shelf of books in my bedroom and I went through it over and over again. Of course I got lots of other books from the library and school, but these were the treasures that entered my soul through repeated experience. The Oz books, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Curdie books, Little Women and Little Men, Doctor Dolittle, the Maida books, Betsy-Tacy, the Shoes books, A Wrinkle in Time, the Earthsea books (lots of series!) — these and many others became real touchstones for me. I know passages by heart, and unless you have a photographic memory, that’s something you’re unlikely to gain from a single reading. Certain phrases still pop up in my mind at relevant events in my life.

Lately I’ve been doing more re-reading than usual in my adult life. This is partly because I’ve had little mental and emotional energy, so familiar books go easier on my tired brain. But I’m also looking for confirmation of certain truths I found in books in the past. Such truths, I find, only become stronger and richer over time, and that is very reassuring in an uncertain world.

When I do have a chance to come back to a beloved book, its meaning unfolds even more, and goes deeper into my soul. Sometimes I find the magic has gone and I’m disappointed, but this is rare. Usually there’s the joy of meeting a friend, and having another conversation, with the endless possibilities of discovery that provides.

Do you re-read? If so, what do you get out of it?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Are classics the best books to review?



When I started this blog, I thought I would focus mainly on children’s books and fantasy, which for years formed my main reading interests. And I was excited to read and review new releases from many genres. But as things developed, and I discovered more blogs and The Classics Club, I began reading and writing more about classic literature. There’s a large subset of the book blog community that focuses on classics and they reminded me of many time-honored titles I had yet to read, and some I wanted to revisit.

I was surprised to find that in general my posts about classic books were more popular than my reviews of new releases. There are exceptions — I admit to being disappointed that my carefully written review of Our Town garnered only a single comment — but others, including My Cousin Rachel (my most popular review ever), Ethan Frome, The Makioka Sisters, Armadale, and The Return of the Native got much more attention.

I had thought the opposite would be the case, as I assumed readers of blogs were primarily looking for reviews of new and unknown titles, and there would be more commenting on and discussion of these. But when I think about it, it makes sense that there’s more activity around the classics, for these reasons:

  • They’ve been around longer and more people have had a chance to read them, and thus have something to say about them. New releases, by necessity, have been read by few people and there’s not much to say except “I really want to read this!”
  • They’re classics for a reason; they have substance and thought-provoking content that lends itself to discussion.
  • Even when they belong to the category of “Classics I hated and wish I hadn’t been forced to read,” people have a lot to say about that. (I think that’s why Ethan Frome was such a hot one.)


Some book bloggers have stopped doing reviews because they don’t get much attention. If you find that a problem, I suggest reviewing some classics (which can be from any genre or time period), connecting to the blog community that shares this interest, and seeing what happens!

Do you read and review classic literature? Do you find these posts are some of the more popular ones on your blog?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

How do you get rid of books?

This query is twofold: how do you decide which books to pass on, and what do you then do with them?

I’ve been dealing with these questions lately after completing my three-month book acquisition ban. I had gathered all (well, nearly all) of the unread books in my house into one place, and after three months of reading exclusively from those stacks I wanted to reassess and decide which ones to keep and which ones needed to move on.

In line with my general cleaning style, I tend to let such possessions pile up and then do a big purge all at once. The urge to purge came upon me the other day and I ruthlessly pruned the stacks of unsolicited review copies I had no immediate urge to read, purchases based on past interests that had now faded, and those arising from good intentions that I doubted I would ever follow through, plus books I’ve read and don’t need to keep any more.

It felt great, but now what to do with them? I’ve tried various things over the years, but my favorite strategy these days is to take my pile to my local independent book store, which has a terrific used books section, and see what they will accept. Then I donate the rest at the library around the corner for their seasonal used-book annex. So I’ve done a good deed, given some books a chance of finding new homes, and end up with store credit that I can use to buy more books! (Um, wait … is this a good thing?)

What are your strategies for honing your own book collection?


Some of the books I’m passing along this time.

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

What are your favorite Arthurian books? (with readalong poll)

As Witch Week 2017 approaches, with this year’s theme of Dreams of Arthur, I want to ask for recommendations of your favorite Arthurian literature. Whether ballad or epic poem, fantasy or historical fiction, humorous or tragic, what version of the legend of Arthur and his knights has caught your imagination? Which authors have you found most successful at transforming it into something new and original?

In my own reading life The Dark Is Rising series made a strong impression on me as a child, though the Arthurian legend is not really in the foreground. The character of Merriman Lyon (Merlin) definitely stood out for me, as a figure of mystery and magic, along with the highly atmospheric, historically rich settings in England and Wales.

A very different version of Merlin is found in The Once and Future King. I loved it as a child as well, but recently I tried to reread it and couldn’t get much past The Sword in the Stone (which was still wonderful). Anyone else have this experience?

Historical novelists continue to ring changes on the legend, bringing it into a more realistic mode. Stewart’s Merlin series, starting with The Crystal Cave gives a rational explanation for much of the magic in the tales; and Elizabeth Wein’s alternative view of Arthur’s family, particularly Mordred (no Merlin in this version) goes into a very unusual direction in The Winter Prince and its sequels.

Glimpses of Arthur can be found even in more contemporary settings, as in The Lyre of Orpheus by Robertson Davies, which centers around the rediscovery of an Arthurian opera by Henry Purcell, and the intrusion of its age-old themes into a modern Canadian university. In his 1930 “supernatural thriller” War in Heaven, Charles Williams places a search for the Grail in a small English parish and surrounds it with a bizarre mixture of good and evil characters.

From the acerbic satire of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which skewers both the romanticized past and the prosaic present, to the mind-bending fantasy of Diana Wynne Jones’s Hexwood, in which other worlds collide with our own — truly, this is a legend that can fit seemingly any number of interpretations.

What else should be on our reading list this year? From October 31 to November 6, all are welcome to post about the theme and link up here at ECBR, or just visit to see what others are reading and writing about. As in previous years, November 5 is readalong day — please vote in the poll below to determine what book we should read together. I’m listing several titles I personally have not read and would like to, but feel free to add others using the write-in option.

Thanks for your suggestions!