With beautiful blue skies and a touch of fall in the air, I strolled the streets of Berkeley pretending I was back in college. Well, actually I was pretending I was my husband back in college because Berkeley is his alma mater, not mine, but I still caught the nostalgia bug for my own days in college. And there is no place more quietly exciting than a campus bookstore in the fall. After I had exhausted all the regular bookstores in Berkeley I found myself in a few that sold course books. I thought fondly of how much I loved going course book shopping when I was in school. It was especially fun as an undergrad when there was so much that was new and so many courses outside my major to take. Not surprisingly then, I found myself wrapped up in a college fantasy as I strolled the aisles. But which classes would I take? Which class would you take?
I did actually buy one of the required texts for an Italian class on English grammar for students of Italian. I worry that some Berkeley student doesn’t have his/her textbook because I bought a copy, but one of my challenges in studying a foreign language is my spotty knowledge of the technical names of parts of grammar like “direct object pronouns”.
After a lovely, foggy, few days at Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast, it was equally lovely to spend a few gloriously sunny days in Berkeley. One of the reasons for both the Sea Ranch and the Berkeley stays was because a crazy tech conference in San Francisco meant that hotel room prices were astronomically off the charts. When looking for a place to stay that was convenient to the BART so that I could get into the city for the opera and orchestra performances I had booked, Berkeley was an easy choice. I had been there on three or four occasions with my husband who went to school at UC-Berkeley. I knew there would be good food and plenty of books.
I had to work while I was there, but given that my work day started at about 6:00 AM to keep up with my office back in DC, it meant that I also had lunchtime and a good chunk of the afternoon to have a bit of a wander. I was able to spend time book buying at Mrs. Dalloway’s, Sleepy Cat, Pegasus, and Half Price Books. I also went to the historic Moe’s Books, but they had Brett Kavanaugh on the radio and that is most definitely not compatible with book browsing, so I left empty handed after about 2 minutes.
After The Readers Retreat Simon and I wended our way up the coast to Sea Ranch, a lovely, quiet spot of rugged coastline. And when I say wended, we really wended. The road north of Bodega Bay to Sea Ranch is twisty and yours truly got more than a little car sick even though I was driving. I think that the windy road (as opposed to windy) is one of the reasons why the area is not jam packed with holiday makers and weekend homeowners. There are, for sure, weekend homes at Sea Ranch, but happily it has all been done in a way to keep the coast looking very coastal. We stayed at the Sea Ranch Lodge which is a lovely throwback to 1970s California modernism.
It was foggy the whole time we were there but it was so peaceful and conducive to reading that I didn’t mind one little bit. One of the things I really love about this setting aside from the ocean, is the plant diversity. It may look at first glance like a field of grass, but there is so much more going on the closer you look.
As most of you know I have been the co-host of The Readers podcast for about 107 episodes so far. Recently Simon and I had the distinct pleasure of welcoming about 18 of our listeners to San Francisco for a weekend of hanging out and book-based banter. It was a little challenging organizing three days of activities in one city siting in another about 3,000 miles away. But, happily, everything worked out really well. It was so much fun getting to know so many wonderful bookish people. The only real problem is that I took almost no pictures of the proceedings or the participants.
We ate, we went book shopping, we got a bespoke tour of the rare book collection at the San Francisco Public Library, and we recorded three episodes with a live audience. Those recording sessions was my favorite part of the weekend. It was so much fun expanding our regular chatter to include others. One of the episodes we recorded was the discussion of Hot Milk by Deborah Levy which was our summer read along pick. If you haven’t read it yet you still have time before the episode goes live. I think you will enjoy the discussion.
A comment recently on Twitter about War and Peace got me thinking about the longest book I have read this year. The stats page of Goodreads offers up a nifty tool that shows you the longest book you’ve read each year. The results are kind of fun.
2018: So far this year the longest book I have read is The Philosopher’s Pupil by Iris MURDOCH at 560 pages, but I fully intend to read Anathem by Neal STEPHENSON which 937 pages.
2017: 69 read, longest was 866 pages – 4 3 2 1 by P. AUSTER
2016: 99 read, longest was 799 pages – Middlemarch by G. ELIOT
2015: 74 read, longest was 864 pages – The Prime Minister by A. TROLLOPE
2014: 60 read, longest was 850 pages – Can You Forgive Her? by A. TROLLOPE
2013: 109 read, longest was 1,474 pages – A Suitable Boy by V. SETH
2012: 62 read, longest was 536 pages – The Name of the Rose by U. ECO
2011: 88 read, longest was 1,276 pages – The Count of Monte Christo by A. DUMAS
2010: 62 read, longest was 1,358 pages – War and Peace by L. TOLSTOY
2009: 110 read, longest was 797 pages – The Portrait of a Lady by H. JAMES
2008: 58 read, longest was 880 pages – The Last Chronicle of Barset by A. TROLLOPE
2007: 69 read, longest was 738 pages – I am Charlotte Simmons by T. WOLFE
2006: 76 read, longest was 648 pages – The Three Clerks by A. TROLLOPE
2005: 57 read, longest was 659 pages – The Small House at Allington by A. TROLLOPE
2004: 51 read, longest was 629 pages – The Secret History by D. TARTT
2003: 39 read, longest was 850 pages – Can You Forgive Her? by A. TROLLOPE
2002: 31 read, longest was 859 pages – An American Tragedy by T. DREISER
2001: 34 read, longest was 495 pages – The Sea, the Sea by I. MURDOCH
2000: 33 read, longest was 654 pages – Sons and Lovers by D.H. LAWRENCE
1999: 27 read, longest was 704 pages – A Man in Full by T. WOLFE
1998: 25 read, longest was 897 pages – I Know This Much Is True by W. LAMB
1997: 31 read, longest was 960 pages – Anna Karenina by L. TOLSTOY
1996: 14 read, longest was 582 pages – Elmer Gantry by S. LEWIS
1995: 20 read, longest was 637 pages – A Prayer for Owen Meany by J. IRVING
One thing that is interesting about this list is that some big books like The Woman in White and The Three Musketeers didn’t make the cut because there were other bigger books those years.
I didn’t bother with the winners from 1993 and 1994 because they didn’t even go above 400 pages.
From the 1,000+ category I think I enjoyed The Count of Monte Christo the most.
The one I am least likely to read again (meaning, you couldn’t pay me to read it again): Sons and Lovers
The one I think I may have enjoyed the most: 4 3 2 1
If I wait until I have the energy to write a narrative I will never get around to posting these pictures. We did a quick four-day trip to Maine over Labor Day weekend that was just what the doctor ordered. The weather was perfect. The food was good. The books were plentiful. The water was blue, the trees were green, and the birds in the sky sang.