Monday, July 24, 2017

Pretty Books for Pretty Books Sake

A couple weeks ago I saw an article posted somewhere (can't remember where or when, or else I'd link to it, sorry!) all about how hard copy books are outselling ebooks because publishers have caught on to this idea of making books really pretty. So, instead of producing millions of ugly, cheap, mass market paperbacks (like they were a decade ago), they've gone in for super pretty covers, gilt edges, special editions, beautiful artwork, etc. And it's worked! People are buying these pretty books, and thus the book publishing industry has survived.

What I remember most, however, is a comment some reader made on this article. It said something to the effect of "Can we please stop fetishizing books?!?!?"

And I've not been able to stop thinking about this comment, because, well, because I'm a huge sucker for pretty books. I love quality books, vintage books, or books that were made for no other reason than to sit on the shelf and be admired. Is this so wrong? Is this the wrong way to appreciate books? Should I be more puritan in my views and only love books for the messages and words they hold, not the cover they come with? Never judge a book, etc., etc.

So I was having a bit of a tiny moral crisis over this little comment for a while, until I started reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I'm still in the middle of this one (curse those library due dates coming up too quickly!) but in brief this is the fictional story of a rare book, the beautifully illustrated Serajevo Haggadah (which is a real book, Brooks just fictionalized the backstory). This novel follows the story of the book, from the modern expert hired to study it, back through the hands of all the people who helped rescue, rebind, restore, and originally create this beautiful book.

I've found this novel fascinating on many levels, but one is that I took a bibliography class in grad school that was all about historical book binding and construction. One of my assignments was to pick a book out of our library's special collections and do a full analysis of the folios, paper weights, measurements, binding materials, etc. At the time, I thought the assignment was tedious and pointless (I was there to talk about books, not measure them with a ruler!), but I've been amazed at how much I've appreciated knowing this sort of information about how books are physically made. So I felt a real kinship with Hannah, the rare book expert in this novel who does just such an analysis of the Haggadah.

What this story of a beautiful rare book has impressed on me all over again is that books are important for the words inside them, but also as objects of art. Often, the two go hand in hand. The more beautiful or important the words, the more they deserve to be housed in beautiful covers. So bring on the pretty covers! Bring on the gilt edges! Bring on the heavy-weight papers and the illustrated editions and the fancy designs!

I still love some good cheap books. Well, actually what I love are free books (libraries forever!). And, ironically, 90% of the books I've read in the last year haven't had covers at all (as in, they've been audio or ebooks read or listened to on my Kindle or phone).

But when it comes to the books I want to buy? The books I want sitting on my shelf? I want those to be beautiful, on the inside and on the outside. I want quality and design. I want only the best books, only the most beautiful words, and I want covers to match.

I'm totally here for the pretty books.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Home Tour: Library (Before)

I was going to wait until this room was "finished," or at least fully furnished, before foisting pictures of it on you. But that's going to take too long and I'm too eager to share, so here you go. The "before" tour of our very unfinished library.

For years now, my husband and I have dreamed about having a home library. A room entirely dedicated to books. Something with floor to ceiling shelves, a spiral staircase, and cozy reading nooks.

Now that we have a house, it's time to make that dream a reality!

Okay, not exactly the dream I'd envisioned (no floor to ceiling shelves, no spiral staircase), but here's the thing. Houses in middle America here don't seem to follow the fashion of English manors of yesteryear. Nobody in this modern era wants a room just for their books. So until we get to design and build that dream house of our own (someday), I'm making do with the space we have.

This is obviously our front room. Parlor? Sitting room? Hearth room? I actually don't know what the official name of this room is (there is a living/family room downstairs), so I decided to just start calling it the library, and so far it's stuck. I've got the kids calling it the library, so the library it is.

Priority #1 upon moving into out house was getting some shelves for this room. The first house we bid on had these amazing built-in shelves around their fireplace, and I would've loved to have some nice built-ins put in here, but that would've been a capital-P Project! Plus taken a bunch of time/money etc. So instead I scoured the internet for a matching set of bookshelves to flank our fireplace, and I'd picked out a few options. But then my husband pointed out that there is both an outlet and switch (for the gas fireplace) on the right side wall that he really didn't want blocked by a bookcase, so I was scratching my head about what to do. Only put a shelf on one side? Find backless shelves that I actually liked?

Then, on our first (of many) trips to Ikea, I saw a set of these very respectable Hemnes bookshelves that I liked the look of, and lo and behold! It came in a half-width size too! Which meant the smaller one could fit between the fireplace and the switch without blocking anything!

(See the switch in question back there?) It's still not my ideal, as it feels a little off-balance, but I've decided that's fine for now. It's still a heck of a lot more shelf space than I've ever had before, and I'm having way too much fun figuring out how to arrange my books and decorate these shelves, and obviously making plans for all the books I want to buy to fill them up.

This is by no means my final shelf arrangement, this is just how I threw things together a few hours before we left for our family reunion, so I've still got lots of tinkering and thinking and rearranging to do about it.

There's also a new bookcase down in our office area, so with this move our shelf space has more than doubled, and I'm pretty giddy about that expansion. I always considered it a moral challenge to limit my book collection to the few bookcases we could fit in our little apartment, but now there's actually empty shelf space! For things other than books! And I won't have to fret so much every time I get a new book about where it's going to fit. So luxurious.

As for the rest of the room...

So far we got nothing. (I realized the other day, when we had visitors over, that most people probably think it's weird the bookshelves were my priority, and not a place to sit, but there you go). We've got plans to get a sofa and a comfy reading chair or two in here, and definitely a plant of some kind. And someday, I want to turn this into the library/music room with the addition of a piano (I play a little), but my husband is really hesitant about buying a piano. He plays the violin, and doesn't believe in instruments you can't carry and pack in the car with you (not really, he just doesn't want to move a piano up our front stairs).

Also, we've got to figure out how to decorate the walls and fireplace. I mean, what is that little alcove thing up there? What am I supposed to do with that? We've talked about getting a nice piece of art to put there, but we disagree on what it should be. Also, do you see that black swirly thing on the wall? The previous owners left it for us. I kind of want to throw it out, but my husband is in favor of keeping it (he just doesn't want to have to pull out the ladder and take it down just to put something else up in it's place). And maybe someday we'll repaint too (as much as I love beige... I actually don't).

So anyway, big plans, and this room is far, far from finished. I have no idea how long it will take us to get this room actually together (years?), but I have a feeling it will be my very favorite room in the house when we do. And I'll be sure to post pictures as it evolves, lucky you!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Book Blab Episode 14: Summer Reading Programs

Hey guys, time for another episode of The Book Blab! This month we're discussing summer reading programs, the pros and cons of reading incentive programs in general, and the fabulous summer reading program Amy puts on for her own kids. This was a pretty fun discussion, and we even had a couple of special guests (one invited, the other not, but both still adorable!).

We ask a couple of questions in the videos that we'd love your feedback on, so please comment with your opinions. What would your ideal summer reading program look like? What kinds of incentives motivate you? And finally, are there any topic ideas you have for me and Amy that you think would be fun for us to talk about in future episodes? If so, we'd love to know!

Show notes below. As always, thanks for watching!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

2017 Goals: Mid-Year Review

I made six public resolutions here on the blog back in January, and seeing as we've passed the mid-point of the year I figured it was time to check in on them and see how I'm doing. Let's get started.

1. Read 52 Books. According to Goodreads, by the end of June I'd read 33 books which puts me slightly ahead of schedule. I'm hoping that even with school starting up, I'll be able to keep up with audio books during my commute, so I think there's a strong chance I'll be able to accomplish this one by the end of the year. Yay!

2. Finish Draft of Book. Yeah, this one is not looking good. I can barely find time to write here on the blog, let alone on that book project I started last year. And I don't think starting a PhD is going to help anything on this front. So, we'll see what happens by the end of the year.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Books I Read in June

Sorry, this one's getting up rather late into July for me, but we had a family reunion over that extended holiday weekend and I didn't get this up before it started, etc., etc. Despite more craziness in June (living with my in-laws most the month, closing on a house, finally moving in, shopping and unpacking and everything) I was determined to get more books read than I did in May (which was only one book, a pathetic all time low for me).

To get my reading juices flowing again, I fell back on my old stand-by trick of turning to light, fluffy, easy and addictive books. You know, the kind of books that don't make your brain work too hard and are easy to breeze through. It worked, because I made it through five books in June. The only downside to this trick is that these books never tend to be good ones, or ones I feel strongly about recommending. I might even be a tiny bit embarrassed to admit I read these. I guess that's what makes them fluff reads. Anyway, in the interest of accurate record keeping, here they are: