Pandemic Book Browsing : Juxtaposition City

This guy is the Executive Director of the Kansas City Public Library, but I find the juxtaposition of his overall look and the loft apartment to be kind of an odd one. The two don’t look like they go together, particularly the floating canopy bed in the middle of it all. Probably was a mistake to make conclusions about someone based on their appearance. In fact, I coined a phrase that might be easier to remember: Don’t judge a text by its dust jacket. :)

Pandemic Book Browsing : Living in a Library?

Another in my series where I post a video about someone’s home library, or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books.

Well not quite living in a library, but living above a library and having after hours access to it? They would probably evict me because I would straighten things at night. Possibly in a way that isn’t helpful to the staff.

Pandemic Book Browsing : Casing the Strand

Another in my series where I post a video about someone’s home library, or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books.

Today’s installment has us shopping for books at Strand Books in New York with two white men I have never heard of. I have mixed feelings about posting this video. The notion of someone having a quest to read “every significant novel that has been written” is kind of annoying to hear. It sounds outdated and makes me think it is code for novels written by authors with penises. But even though that line is uttered, the video doesn’t really veer too far that direction.

I have also developed a tiny, tiny, bit of an aversion to the Strand. Probably because it is often crammed with poseurs. You know, people who have read one book since college and insist that their friend read it.

But who am I kidding? It is still an amazing place to browse and buy. Sometimes I don’t even make it inside because I can spend all my time at the carts outside where I usually find one or two readable copies of the kind of books that I like that other people don’t care much about. And how can I quibble about the Strand? I had first become aware of it in the film Six Degrees of Separation (one of my favorite movies of all time). It was the one place I sought out on my first trip to New York in 1995. That was back when it was still only “Eight Miles of Books.”

Their reading tastes might not be your cup of tea (certainly weren’t mine), but it is still fun to tag along.

Pandemic Book Browsing : A Tipping Point

Another in my series where I post a video about someone’s home library, or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books.

This video is a bit of a departure from the others I have posted so far. Less joy, less serenity. But, lots and lots of books, and for me at least a different kind of joy. This shop would have been a great candidate for my Book Tidying Fantasy Camp. And the fact that the store is now closed makes my retrospective FOMO go off the charts.

When I see a store like this, I don’t just think what I might discover, but I think about wanting to organize it. And I don’t just think about wanting to organize it, I start thinking about the process I would use to get it organized. I would say a full 60% of my fantasy life is about process. If I think about inheriting a ton of money, it isn’t long before I start thinking of process questions. What kind of lawyers would I need to hire? If I start that charity who should I have on my board? How would I go about hiring staff? Do I work out of my home at first or find some space somewhere? How would I find someone to design my logo?

But back to process fantasies about chaotic bookstores. What would be the first thing I would do?

  1. For this one, first thing would be recycling all non-essential papers. Seems to be more than a few stacks of that kind of thing.
  2. Then I would clear a front corner for sorting. Given the space restrictions, it would have to be a small area–and it would create more short term mayhem in the rest of the store.
  3. Everything in the aisles would be put in boxes and then those boxes stacked up to the ceiling in the empty corner.
  4. Discard any cat skeletons I find.
  5. Once the aisles are clear I would get all of the obvious losers off the shelves. Things like Self-Help, which can’t have much resale value. Not to mention the fact that most of them are total bullshit. I would probably put them out on the sidewalk for a one-day free give away. Then they go somewhere else…
  6. Now that I think of it, #5 would also apply to those boxes I stacked up in #3.
  7. This would probably give me enough space to organize the shelves.
  8. Then I would open up the boxes and place those books in their appropriate sections. No doubt, this would start to create some piles in the aisles (ooh, say that phrase out loud, I like how that sounds), but hopefully not too bad. This step would also free up that area in the front corner that was used for the stacks of boxes.
  9. At this point, the store should be navigable for those who wish to be adventurous.
  10. Now I need to make sure my desk is set up properly so I can have a decent work space for assessing each book in turn.
  11. Prior to getting serious about inventorying the stock, I would probably also look in general what I had and decide if I want to jettison any subjects. I’d be super tempted to 86 sports for starters. But who knows. Even for those subjects I would have to assess each one to get an understanding what is worth putting online and what I just donate.
  12. With sports (or similar) gone, I’ve got a bit more room to spread out.
  13. And so it continues…
  14. I begin to put stuff in the window, I put up clever signs, keep the tables outside appropriately interesting.
  15. Is this the point at which I adopt a gentle senior dog to hang out in the store with me?
  16. Get rich.

Pandemic Book Browsing : Sylvia Townsend Warner Edition

Another in my series where I post a video about someone’s home library, or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books.

You don’t have to be a fan of Sylvia Townsend Warner or Arthur Machen to enjoy this quiet stroll through R.B. Russell’s library (and mind). In addition to perusing his crowded shelves Russell tells about how he became a book collector. Nothing fancy here. Just someone who loves his books.

Pandemic Book Browsing : Where it started

Earlier this week I posted the first of a series where I will post someone’s video about their home libraries or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books during lockdown.

The video today is kind of where the whole thing started. My husband and I have been trying to live vicariously and stumbled across videos that focus on interior design and generally include strolling through people’s houses. I could say a lot about these videos, but I will save that for another day or another forum. Once I clicked on the video below the great Algorithm started offering videos of people’s libraries. Which then led to lots of great videos of bookish rooms which I will be posting in the coming weeks.

Author Eric Motley takes us on a tour of his Georgetown apartment. This gentleman has a predilection for fancy books which really isn’t my thing, but I love the enthusiasm he has for his collection. This video isn’t entirely about books, it’s also about him, and his art, and, as I explained above, it was the gateway for discovering some really good content on YouTube.

Pandemic Book Browsing

This is going to be the first of (hopefully) a series where I post someone else’s video about their home libraries or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books.

Confession time: Back when books blogs were going gangbusters and I had about 100 bookish blogs in my blogroll, I used to do a lot of skimming. No one had time to read all those blogs and still have a life, or more importantly, still had time to read. So I would skim through for interesting bits. This meant that there were a lot of blog posts that never got read. And I was always drawn to posts that were about bookish topics rather than straight book reviews.

The same is true with book videos on YouTube. Except with videos it is a lot harder to skim. Sometimes you can fast forward to see that the vlogger has moved on to another book, but that is pretty inexact and time consuming. Also, so, so many reviews or stacks of new books.

Lately, in our quest for some relief from 11 months of pandemic lockdown, my husband and I have taken to watching YouTube videos of people going to antique shows, galleries, and anything else where we can feel like we are somewhere experiencing something. Never in my life have I wanted to go antique shopping like I do right now. One can buy a lot of stuff online, including antiques or old books, but there is very little satisfaction in that. One wants to browse, touch, smell.

After all those antiques and old houses, the algorithm started to point us towards videos about old books, libraries, and such. And in exploring some of those I’ve seen a few so far that are a delight. Nothing fancy, and focused on the books, not the person. Seriously, so many vloggers of every type and stripe think that their face is what we have shown up for…it isn’t. It’s like someone who gives a PowerPoint presentation and stays on one imageless slide for 20 minutes and then rushes through others slides that have images you actually want to look at.

So, now that I have pissed off the book vlogging world, let’s move on to the first video. A lovely, slow walk through a home library. The video is ten years old and is satisfying in so many ways. Our reading tastes are not necessarily in line, but I love to hear him wax poetic about the contents of his flat.


FYI: I know nothing about the people I will be posting–and since I enjoyed the videos, I’m not about to find out. (Snaps blinders firmly on face.)

A delicious random challenge

What is more exciting than setting a reading challenge for oneself? Normally I would say abandoning a reading challenge, but this time it’s different, I mean it.

Back in December, I was drawn to a post on Twitter because J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country was among the books shown. It was a surprise favorite of mine several years ago and I always like to see people talking about it. But then I took a look at the other titles, and rather quickly formed the notion of re-reading the Carr and reading all of the other titles as well.

I should say that I don’t know the Tweeter from Adam. I follow him, and enjoy his output, but I don’t know how I came across him in the first place. So why am I placing any faith in his assembly of books for a project he is working on? I suppose it is because of the Carr. I did find the cover for A House in Norway attractive. And then I thought the subtitle for Ceremonial Time was intriguing and in line with my recent interest in archaeology and pre-history. And by then I was kind of sunk in.

But maybe more than anything, I like thinking about what might be in that space in the middle that Himmer is pointing to.

I’ve gotten my hands on all of them except for Pond which appears to be stuck somewhere in Georgia. I suppose I don’t have to wait for it to arrive to start. If only there was some natural starting point for this challenge…wait, I just finished a book this morning…it’s the 1st day of 2021…I have three more days before I have to go back to work…

2020 in 20/20

I don’t have the energy to recap the ways in which 2020 was the worst year globally, but still pretty delightful on a personal level. We all have our pandemic stories, and probably at least another six months to create new ones, plenty of time for reflection at some point. For now, let’s just make it about books.

Racing myself

I set myself a modest goal of 52 books for the year. Although I reached that number fairly easily, I had my doubts at first. With travel and Italian studies in the early months of the year, I didn’t have many books under my belt when the lock-down arrived. Like many of you, I had a hard time reading for several months. Sometime along the way, however, things picked up steam.

Pretending it wasn’t 2020

Regular readers will know that I don’t read a ton of current fiction. This year, needing to escape the current state of the world, I doubled down on my thirst for the past. Not to say the past is not chock-a-block with nefarious characters doing evil things, but the problems of the past feel safer to contemplate than the ones smacking one square in the face on a daily basis.


In the Before Times, most of my re-reads were books I had read years ago and then listened to in audio form on my work commute. With nine months of no driving to work, I haven’t listened to any books, but I did do a fair amount of re-reading this year. Another side effect of coping with the pandemic and civil unrest had me looking for books that I knew would make me feel a certain way. (Oddly, the picture below includes no re-reads.)

Most of those blank spaces are E.F. Benson’s Old London books and a few others that have no photos on Goodreads.

Abandoning books with abandon

One of the reasons my list of books read was slow to fill early in the shutdown was because I started a lot of books that I just didn’t want to finish. Some were books that I realized early on weren’t going to do it for me. Others were books that I gave up on having already read more than a hundred pages. This is unusual for me. If I can make it past 20 to 50 pages I’m in it until the end. This year? No. I Marie Kondo’d the shit out of books this year. No joy, no read. (And no, the books below are not ones that I abandoned.)

Three of my favorite books this year are in this group. But you will have to wait until the Hoggies are announced later this month.

The history boy

It is a little hard for me to believe it was 30 years ago that I was a history major at the University of Minnesota. It’s also amazing–and right–that a four-year liberal arts undergraduate degree doesn’t make most students an expert in anything. If my degree gave me the right to any claim about proficiency, it would be in the history of Edwardian England, but even that would be a stretch. It certainly is what I was most interested in. And yes, I wrote my senior paper on Sir Edward Elgar, Bt. OM, GCVO, so there is that.

But really those four years were about learning how to think and write. Language, humanities, geography, logic, music, art history. (Even a bit of physical education. Our Welsh teaching assistant taught the eight of us in the class a highly modified version of indoor cricket.) Even within my major, my learning was broad rather than deep. England, Spain, U.S., Europe (broadly), European intellectual history, ancient Greece and Rome, China, WWII, etc. And, in a bit of foreshadowing for my senior paper on Elgar, I wrote a paper for my Scandinavian history class about the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

This degree didn’t directly set me up to get a job, but it did give me a foundation that has proven extremely helpful throughout my career. It’s also why I go out of my way to interview and hire liberal arts majors even though I work in an engineering-related field. And I guess I am forgetting about the time that I was literally paid for 18 months to be a historian, when my job as an urban planner turned into a gig to research and write the history of St. Elizabeths [sic] Hospital.

I stumbled across this the other day. Seems appropriate for my mood.

I think if I could quit my day job and do anything, I would probably come up with a history research project or two. Something that allowed me to spend my days rooting around in archives and libraries.

All of this is prelude to the fact that I bought The English and Their History by Robert Tombs at the original Daunt Books on a trip to London in December 2019 (the Before Times) and started reading it a few weeks ago. As much as I know about England, I know very little about what happened before 1066. Also, as a student of history with an interest in the 19th century, I spent very little time thinking about how historians know what they know about ancient civilizations. I may know my way around a Victorian primary source, but when it comes to the Angles and the Saxons it’s all a bit murky to me how we know what we know.

It soon became apparent in my reading that I had far more questions than a survey history could possibly supply. As I combed through the bibliography at the back of the book I hatched an idea to return to school. Not for real. I wish. But why not break this survey down and go in-depth? In general, my free-time fixation on fiction and my efforts to keep up with my Italian, make non-fiction seem almost like forbidden fruit. Do I really have time to add another class, as it were? Maybe I could turn the TV on a little less, and unglue myself from social media.

I would have to set aside the competition I have with myself to see how fast I can hack my way through my fiction TBR. But maybe I could also adjust my expectations in that regard. Who am I racing after all? (Okay we all know that I’m racing death, just like every other reader.) But then the idea to go back to school took root and I decided that although I can’t really go back to school, I could create my own curriculum. So I have decided to break it up and read three to four in-depth sources for each chapter in the Tombs book.

With Tombs’s bibliography in hand, off I went to the internet to place an order with my local indie. I couldn’t be more excited. I am still not devoting the time to it that I would like to, but I am enjoying the exploration immensely. I’m particularly taken at the moment with Britain Begins by archaeologist Barry Cunliffe. This is next level fascinating and makes me wonder what the hell I have been doing for the past 30 years when I could have been plumbing the depths of the historical record on any number of fronts.

None of these books will make me an expert. For anyone who has spent time in academe, many, if not most fields these days write more and more about less and less. Every page I read could be a subject of study in itself. But time is not endless, so that isn’t going to happen. I can, however, have a fun time following whatever bread crumbs I want. I’m already noticing my eye straying toward the Continent to flesh out the Roman Empire and set the context for what happened in England. But that is going to have to wait until I get through Britain Begins. I have lots of barrows and henges to read about.

The process has also reinforced my most noble interest in accumulating books. As I was reading Bede, I remembered that I had found an atlas when I was fossicking around in a used bookstore in The Hague last year that might help in my instruction. At the time I bought it because I liked it as an object and had a general interest in having some atlases that showed changes in Europe over time. The internet is not good for everything, after all. (Seriously, if you like used bookstores, click on the link.)

Much to my delight I had this atlas in my library so I could put Bede’s location and world into context. If you zoom in you can see Jarrow and Wearmouth on the northeast coast of the England.

Doing this kind of reading/studying even has me wanting to take tests and write papers again. It has me thinking about my study habits and general incuriosity when I was 19. It has me wanting to visit the great libraries and archives of England to see source material. Now if I could just turn the TV off.