Bookish things

Some of the blogs I read have been participating in a “show us your bookcases” meme. Grumpy rumblings, Mutant Supermodel, and Wandering Scientist have given a peek at their bookcases. I’m lifting the veil and showing our bookcases, too.

Knitting books

My knitting reference books

B's bookshelf #1

These are the first of two shelves of B’s books in the living room.

The shelves above appropriately “book end” the sofa. I have my knitting reference books sitting next to me whenever I’m sitting in my usual spot in the living room. Not shown is the side table where I can sit a beverage and stray stitch markers, knitting bags full of projects, and the Ott Lite that helps me see my stitches at night. B’s shelves are next to his side of the couch.

B's bookcase #2 in the living room

Another bookcase full of B’s books in the living room.

B mostly has books about Chicago history, architecture, and music. He’s recently thinned his collection, so there is plenty of room on the shelves here. He has another bookcase upstairs in his music studio/office that I didn’t photograph.

My cookbooks

These are my (printed) cookbooks.

These books are in my dining room. The stack of books about meat are on loan to me from a friend so I can research how to process the odd pig parts I got when I bought a butchered pig from a local farmer.

Messy bookcase in my office

Messy bookcase in my office

This is the messy bookcase in my office. At one time I started placing books there that had some meaning to me and that I wanted to keep, but that degenerated into a place to stack stuff in general. There’s a box at left center, for example, that has seed packets in it, and the little ceramic bowl at bottom right is used to store extra keys. (I made that bowl on a wheel when I took a pottery throwing class a few years ago.)

I have roughly the same amount of books in boxes that are stacked in the basement. One of these days I’ll get around to figuring out what to do with them…after I’ve finally gotten my home office organized and cleaned up.

Books have been a lot on my mind lately as I’ve been making more time to read. I’ve been known as a heavy reader since I was a kid, but in the past few years I’ve filled my time with many other things instead of books. Most of my reading had been relegated to scanning a few pages in bed before falling asleep.

Just after Christmas two years ago, I switched over to using an eReader almost exclusively. After trying out B’s iPad a bit, I found that I really liked the fact that I could read in bed at night without a light on (thanks to the backlit screen) and that I could even do so without my glasses since I could adjust the size of the font.

I didn’t want to splurge on an iPad, though, so I bought a Nook Color and “rooted” it so that it functioned like an Android tablet. I used that rooted Nook Color as my eReader for over a year, and then I took the plunge and bought an iPad. What I love about the iPad is that I have many choices for getting ebooks. Besides the built-in iBook app and bookstore, I have the Kindle app, the Nook app, the Google Reader, and the Overdrive Media app, which gives me lots of choices for how to consume books.

The Overdrive app can be set up to sync directly with your local public library, making it easy to borrow ebooks…if they have the books you want in e-book format and available, that is. The Chicago Public Library system has to serve nearly 3 million people — many of whom cannot afford to buy an eReader of any kind — so I don’t want to bash it for not having more ebooks available. But I do think there’s one thing that they should really improve, which is the Hold/Reserve function.

A patron is allowed to check out a maximum of six ebooks; on the other hand, a patron is only allowed to place a hold on a maximum of three. That seems backwards to me. Consider the following:

  • ebooks default to being checked out for 21 days
  • each patron is given five days to respond to the email that the e-book is available for check out

Therefore, each book could potentially be tied up for 26 days per patron. It’s possible an e-book is tied up for less time if the patron checks it out right away, and then returns it early. But when I find that a book I want to read is not available and I have to place a Hold, I always assume that means waiting about a month per Hold. The Overdrive interface indicates how many people have the item on Hold and how many copies the library licenses, so it gives you some idea of how long a wait there is for a book.

I also find it annoying that the Overdrive app never remembers my library login details, despite the checked “Remember my login information on this device.” My library card number isn’t easily memorized, so I’m always pulling it out whenever I want to look up the availability of a book or check the status of my Holds.

One thing about the e-book lending process that I absolutely love: there’s no possibility that I will have to pay an overdue fine. A few days before the  lending period ends, an email is sent as an alert. At the end of the lending period, the book is no longer accessible. It’s a simple process and one that does not require a forgetful and busy person like me to make a trek back to the library. 🙂

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Digitally challenged

I’ve been reading a lot lately. This is partly why I haven’t been writing much on my blog. With my limited evening free time, I’ve been choosing to read more lately than do anything else like writing or knitting.

It’s been hot and humid outside, so when I’m feeling all limp and wilted I just want to stretch out in cool air-conditioned comfort with some good reading material. And the Stieg Larsson Millennium series has been great reading material: mentally engaging, thrilling, sordid, and with a kick-ass female lead.

I had picked up the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, last summer to take on vacation with me. But I never got around to reading it and and it sat on a shelf for many months. Then a couple months ago, the reviews of my friends compelled me to pick up the book and away I went. (Until Lisbeth Salander was introduced in the second chapter, I frankly found it rather a slog. But once she appeared I was hooked.)

Book one of the series went down pretty fast and easy, and I found myself running out to the bookstore one evening (coupon in hand, at least) about an hour before they closed because I had to pick up the second book in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire. That one went pretty quickly, too, and then I was faced with a real predicament: how to get a copy of book three as quickly as possible, without purchasing it in hardcover. Since book three, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, had only been released in May 2010 that was going to be a challenge.

Of course I checked the library first. Yeah, right. Chicago Public Library may be a very large system and it may be my first choice for books and other media, but it has to serve a population of over 3 million people, and it’s been used pretty heavily since the recession started. The catalog showed every one of the many, many copies on hold or checked out. From previous experience, I knew this meant it would take months to get my hands on the book. B lives in a close suburb, so he checked the suburban library system’s online catalog and saw the same thing.

This desire I have to not purchase books in hardcover is not just me being cheap. As a bibliophile and a collector of books that are truly special to me for one reason or another, the hardcover format is the best hands down. It’s more durable and can withstand quite a bit of knocking around. (Although the hardcover format is no match for Hannah dog’s mighty jaws and high anxiety levels. She easily destroyed a copy of Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver while I was only a few pages into it.) But hardcovers are a pain to lug around on my commute to work and during business travel.

I’ve also been trying to cut down on the amount of Stuff I bring home these days. The massive de-cluttering and purging my friend Adrienne has been doing lately is a big inspiration for me to do the same. I’m slowly but surely getting rid of a lot of the books I’ve collected over the years. I’ll still keep the ones that I like to reread again and again, as well as my knitting books. But most of the others are going to the Half Price Books store where I can recover a little bit of the massive cash outlay in books that are simply sitting in bags and boxes in my basement right now.

So, the day after I finished The Girl Who Played with Fire I packed up a box with some of these books and went off to Half Price Books hoping they may have a copy on hand, even if it would require me putting up with a clunky hard cover. But they didn’t have a copy. (Although I did walk out with $20 in cash from my small box of salable books. Woot!)

Then B came to the rescue: he sent me a copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest in ebook format. I don’t know where he got it from, and I don’t think I want to know. I could load this on my iPhone, he told me, and use the iBook ereader with it. Now, I had been intrigued with using my iPhone as an ereader already, and this would be the ultimate test. With such a large book and such a smallish screen, there would be much page turning involved and I wasn’t sure how I’d like that.

What happened is I liked it a lot. I never would have thought that I’d like reading from a screen, but it was comfortable for my eyes (with the great back lighting I was able to read pretty well without my new reading glasses) and the convenience made up for the little usability issues. Overall, the only complaints I had were that it was a bit of a challenge to lay in bed to read since I couldn’t prop the phone up and still see it, and that the iPhone doesn’t allow you to lock the screen in either vertical or horizontal mode, unlike the iPad. (I had to be extra careful when I read in bed at night that I didn’t accidentally engage the rotation of the screen.)

That was a small price to pay for the amazing convenience of being able to read a page here or there, anywhere and anytime. I always have my mobile phone with me and I could pull up a page while I was waiting at the chiropractor’s office, in line at a shop, or while my slow work computer booted up in the morning. I could also read while commuting and not have to add to my daily load of laptop, files, lunch, water, coffee, etc.

So now I find myself wanting to consume more books via my iPhone. Good ‘ol Chicago Public Library does have some compatible ebooks that can be checked out, but the more popular books are still wait listed even in ebook or audiobook download format. I’m sure this must have something to do with licensing, but it seems a bit odd that one has to be waitlisted to download a book from the library website.

I looked up a couple books I’d like to read to see how much they would cost in ereader format and was disappointed to see that they cost just as much as a paper back book. Why? Is it a marketing thing? Is the the cost of printing and paper and shipping books that cheap? Are the bulk of book production costs the non-tangibles like writing, editing, design and marketing? Maybe someone out there knows and can comment.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to make up my mind about whether I want to get on the library wait list or suck it up and pay the $8.99 to get the ebook.

Books, books, books

One of things I”ve been doing more of lately is reading. I’ve always been big into reading, but finding time (and for while there the energy) to read has been difficult at times. In a normal day, I find time to read a few pages of something before I go to sleep, but one doesn’t accomplish much reading this way.

I recently started using the library a lot, though, and this has helped me make time for reading. After all, when you have a book for a limited period of time, you must commit yourself to it.

In my younger, poorer days, I used the library all the time. About every 2 weeks, I’d stop at the beautiful, main library (the Harold Washington Library Center) after work. I’d drop off the books I had finished reading and browse for new books. The library was only open late 2 nights a week, so I had to plan my book excursions carefully. Also, while I could look up books in their online catalog, it was a hit or miss proposition as to whether the book was actually there. And it if wasn’t showing as being there, well, the best I could do to plan for getting the book I wanted was to fill out a hold slip.

This made really using the library to my best advantage a bit cumbersome. As long as I had little money, I would make it work for me. But, as I moved up the income scale, I often found it easier to buy books at the bookstore. Now, though, services have changed for the better in a big way.

First of all, I can not only look up materials in their catalog online, I can place them on hold for pick up at the branch library of my choice. I get an email notification that the item is ready for pick up and am given several days to do so. The branches are open until 9 PM every week night, so it’s not hard to make time to drop by. I can renew the item online, too.

This is a fabulous service, and I am really, really happy to see my tax dollars being used this way! Way to go Chicago Public Library!

So, I’ve been taking good advantage of this service. If I hear about a book that sounds interesting (through a podcast or a friend or a website) I look it up. I have yet to run across a book that is not already in the catalog, and once I locate it I place it on hold. Within a week or two, I get to pick it up and enjoy it.

Obviously, there’s still some planning involved here, but it’s no more complicated than handling a Netflix queue. You just keep placing books on hold and by the time you’re done with one and ready to drop it off, there’s a new one waiting for you to pick up. So neat and efficient it makes me want to squee. Plus, I can get to the local branch library in about 7 minutes on my bicycle, so it’s another reason to get out there and pedal.

I’m usually a big consumer of fiction, but lately I’ve been getting into a mix of stuff. In the past month, I’ve read Twenty Chickens for a Saddle (a memoir about growing up in Botswana which gets a definite thumbs up: a good story that was entertaining and intriguing), The Thyroid Diet (some useful info, but nothing too surprising), and Suite Francaise.

I just finished the last few pages of Suite Francaise today, and I must say that the end material made the book especially poignant. The English translation is very thoughtully put together with a short introduction followed by the two novellas (Storm in June and Dolce), and then some appendices. It’s in the appendices that we get to really connect with the writer herself, Irene Nemirovsky.

After reading just a few pages of the novel, I sampled a few pages from the first appendix, which was derived from her notes on the book. But I quickly realized that it was best to wait until after I had finished the story so I could better understand the characters she mentions and how they fit in. In these notes and in her letters in the following appendix, it is clear that Irene realized that as a foreign-born Jew her position in occupied France was quite tenuous.

The truly heart-breaking part of the book is in Appendix II, which contains personal correspondence relating to Irene’s situation from 1936 through the end of the war. It’s incredibly sad to read the emploring letters of her husband seeking some information on the whereabouts of his wife. Irene was suddenly taken to a concentration camp in July 1942 and was dead one month later. Even worse, her husband is picked up in October 1942 and sent immediately to the gas chamber, leaving their 2 children orphaned and on the run.

The story itself is very compelling and it would have been such an incredible novel in total if she had been able to finish it. It is also sobering. It made me reflect not just on this time period, but also today.

We are so lucky not to have lived through an experience like this, nor to be so threatened. I know today is a day of memorials in this country, but even this most painful experience for our country’s psyche is nothing like living through a war on our own soil, experiencing the depravations, disgrace, and duplicity of living in an occupied country.

See the Cat? See the Cradle?

I heard about Kurt Vonnegut’s death this morning while getting ready for work. Not a good start to the day to hear that one of your favorite authors is gone, smashing your hopes of ever reading an unexpected new novel or short story by him. I guess it sounds sort of greedy, though. By some accounts it sounds like Kurt was more than ready to check out, and a person shouldn’t have to live longer than they want.

I can’t say I’ve read every book or story Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote, but I’ve read many of them and they’ve all been extremely memorable. Like this segment from Cat’s Cradle:

“The highest possible form of treason,” said Minton, “is to say that
Americans aren’t loved wherever they go, whatever they do. Claire tried to make
the point that American foreign policy should recognize hate rather than imagine
love.”

“I guess Americans are hated a lot of places.”

People are hated a lot of places. Claire pointed out in her letter
that Americans, in being hated, were simply paying the normal penalty for being
people, and that they were foolish to think they should somehow be exempted from
that penalty…”

I loved Cat’s Cradle, Galapagos, Timequake, and of course Slaughterhouse-five. Kurt had a way of making me think while providing me with the necessary distance from the day-to-day crap I need to stay sane, otherwise known as fiction. Thanks, Kurt.

Just call me Bashful

Yesterday was filled with more knitterly goodness in my hometown of Chicago. Amy Singer was in town at Loopy Yarns, signing copies of her new book No Sheep for You, showing off the designs, and chatting with all the folks in the shop. If by any chance Amy runs across this entry and sees the photo I’m posting here, please accept my apologies Amy! I was so tickled by the whole experience last night that I turned all bashful and snapped only this one photo at the event. Amy R. Singer See, it was a cold day yesterday so I got to dress up in hand knits and I decided to wear my Mermaid since I adore it so much. When I got to the shop, as I stripped off my parka one of the ladies said to me “I know you! I mean, I recognize you from your blog. I love the Mermaid!” (or something along those lines) and I sort of imploded with excitement. On the outside, I took it pretty well, on the inside I was like “OMG, OMG, OMG!! Someone I don’t personally know read my blog! How cool!”

I got lots of ego stroking about the Mermaid during the event. People kept asking me about it and admiring it. I may as well have just kept repeating “Aw, shucks” over and over again. All that attention plus the fact that Amy Singer was so approachable and seemed to really enjoy talking with me made for a little personal melt down. I’m just not used to such attention and have no idea how to handle it except through deflection. So, deflect I did. When Amy asked if I had a blog I mumbled yes, but that it was just a silly little thing. She shared that she had started out with just a little online journal and was now doing what she loves as her career.

For the next hour or so I strolled around Loopy, fondling yarns, talking with friends and new acquaintenances, and every once in a while I’d stroll back to where Amy was sitting to exchange a few words. Before our little group left to grab a bite to eat, I went back to say goodbye but Amy was in the midst of conversation. So, we just struck off and made our way to the restaurant.

Those ladies at Loopy really know how to throw a party! This is the first time I’ve been down there for one of their events. For whatever reason I’m usually busy when they have a trunk show or something, so I’ve missed their hospitality. They had wine, soda, selzer water, and lots of yummy snacks. They also had a special of 20% off all non-wool yarns.

Of course I didn’t leave empty handed. Besides the signed book I picked up a skein of Art Yarns Regal Silk. There’s a sweet hat pattern in the No Sheep for You book that uses this silk in a lace pattern with Rowan Calmer providing an inner liner. I have a couple balls of Rowan Calmer in my oddball stash, and now I know what to do with at least one!

In general, my knitting has been so-so. I’ve been trying to finish the Rockin’ Sock Club socks, but keep running into problems. I’ve ripped back the cuff of sock #1 three times already. Attempt #1 resulted in some misplaced cables. I was ready to live with that, but when I tried the sock on for a final fitting before casting off, it wouldn’t fit over my heel. I thought it _may_ be because of the misplaced cables, so I ripped back to the first cable round and restarted. Attempt #2 had perfectly placed cables, but it still would not fit over my heel, so I ripped back again, this time to the second set of cables. At this point, I switched from the 2.5 mm needles I was using for the cuff to 3.0 mm needles. This seems to the do the trick, but it’s taken me about 2 weeks worth of commuter knitting (including 2 flights: prime knitting time!) to get to this point.

The Lift and Seperate wrap sweater (from the Big Girl Knits book) that I started the week before I left for NYC is still sitting on the needles and being neglected. I really want to plunge back into it, but this messing around with my socks has taken precedence. I like to have a sock on the needles to carry around and work on during the inevitable pauses in life (riding on public transit, waiting in airports, visiting relatives, etc.); I also like to be at the point where I can just work away and not have to do a lot of fiddling like short rowing the toes or heels. So I have to do those things at home during my evening knitting time.

Hey, it’s spring! The weather may be a bit goofy, but it is still spring. That means there will start to be more gardening stuff added to my posts. Despite our recent cold snap (it snowed yesterday! Eeeekk!), everything is budding and getting ready to leaf out. I really like these transitional seasons. I spent most of the day last Saturday cutting down the ornamental grasses and cleaning up the beds. Now we’re ready to really pop!

Feed Me

I’ve been thinking about food a lot lately. This is partly because I’ve been on a diet, partly because of the whole e. coli/spinach fiasco, and partly because of a fabulous book I recently finished: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

When Omnivore’s Dilemma was released in April 2006, I snatched it up at the bookstore. I’ve read two other Michael Pollan books (including The Botany of Desire, probably my favorite non-fiction book) and knew that I’d want to read this one. It sat in a stack of “to-be-read” books for months, though.

I had planned to take it on a grand road trip vacation with my sister and mother last July, but the chance to go to India for work conflicted with the road trip idea, so the book and I didn’t travel together this summer. It’s a 1.5 lb hard cover book, so it’s not the kind of thing I take with me during my daily commute or during business trips, either. Finally, about 6 weeks ago I couldn’t wait any longer and started reading the book at home in the evenings. (This meant less knitting time, but so be it.)

Wow, it was just as fabulous as I thought it would be: intriguing, enlightening, and totally eye-opening.

The first section on the industrial scale prodution of our food — possible due to the heavily subsidized abundance of corn (Zea mays) — really floored me. I’ve always been one those shoppers that reads labels in the grocery store, but I never realized just how many of the ingredients in processed foods come from corn.

About a week into the book, the e.coli/spinach event happened. By that time, I’d already been reading the second section of the book that looks at organic and sustainable agricultural practices (sadly, they aren’t necessarily the same thing.) The timing was incredible and I found myself using the word “prescient” a lot when referring to the book and it’s writer, Michael Pollan. I wasn’t the only one making a connection to the book and the event. Michael Pollan was interviewed on NPR, Omnivore’s Dilemma was noted in several press articles, and the farmer whom is featured very prominantly in the second section, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, was interviewed on On Point (which you can find through iTunes, as well).

I can’t recommend enough that everyone read this book to get some much-needed perspective on our food system.

As for the dieting, I started on the Seattle Sutton plan about a month ago. I’ve thinking about doing this for nearly a year. I rarely can make the time to cook anymore, and had found that nearly every meal I ate was take out or a frozen dinner. I know that’s not very healthy. Over the summer, it seemed that I just suddenly gained weight. I found that in July I couldn’t comfortably wear any of the clothing that I had bought just 3 months before. Some if this had to do with the SSRI I was taking, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was also making poor food choices.

I don’t own a scale, so I can’t say how many pounds I’ve lost. But I can say that my clothes are fitting a bit more loosely, and I’m going to keep this up for a while.

I stopped the SSRI, too. I had received no warning from my doctor that one of the side effects is weight gain. This just pissed me off, frankly. Oh, just what you need when you’re feeling down: to get fat! I’m now taking 5HTP and getting started on some St. John’s Wort, too. Those supplements, the new diet, and doing more walking seem to be working just fine for my mood.