‘Just My Type’ by Simon Garfield

This post is part of our on-going 2016 Spring Reading Spree. Kick off your own reading spree this spring by giving some love to the unread books on your shelf!

just-my-typeOnce upon a time in college, I took a class where the professor stood up on the first day of class and said, “This course will change your life.” Half of the students stifled sniggers at such a cliched pronouncement as he continued on to promise that the course would completely change the way we looked at the world.

I remember looking around the cluttered workshop in which we were meeting and, for some reason, believing him. We were in a printer’s studio and the class was an introduction to letterpress printing. And I was right to believe my professor: he changed my life in the same way Simon Garfield’s Just My Type will change the way you look at the world: once you see fonts, you can’t unsee them.

Just My Type has a great topic at its heart: it tells the story of fonts and typographic design and printing history, spotlighting specific fonts for special attention along the way. It’s hard to articulate how interesting this is until you’ve actually taken a moment to stop and look around to see all the fonts surrounding you in their nearly infinite variety. Type is everywhere this days and it says a lot more than whatever it spells out in the literal sense. (more…)

May 26, 2016 at 6:55 am Leave a comment

‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton

This post is part of our on-going 2016 Spring Reading Spree. Kick off your own reading spree this spring by giving some love to the unread books on your shelf!


As Kate has previously noted in her post on Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, it is incredibly hard to write about big, excellent books. Where do you start when you love something so lengthy and for so many reasons? What do you do when you finish an epic book and want to talk about everything and everyone in the book?

Like The Count, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is a hefty tale, largely fueled by revenge and other sorts of nefariousness, that takes its time unraveling its plot and the relationships between its characters. Additionally, The Luminaries is akin to the Victorian mystery novel, but instead of having a Father Brown or a Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Marple to do the mystery-solving, the responsibility of figuring out what actually happened is divided amongst thirteen people. They all want to solve the mystery and they each have a specific piece of information that might do the trick, but they are often hampered by their own blind-spots and prejudices.

But more than the triple mystery at its heart, The Luminaries is an insightful exploration of character and New Zealand’s own history. (more…)

May 18, 2016 at 6:09 am Leave a comment

‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

audleyMy co-blogger Kate recommended Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon to me many, many years ago and, while I did buy a nice copy back in 2012, it mostly sat on my shelf looking pretty and collecting dust. It was on the list to be read during my last spring reading spree in 2014 and, for my second, I was determined to actually read it.

Lady Audley’s Secret has a lot to recommend it, in my view: it’s a Victorian suspense novel along the lines of Wilkie Collins, but written by a woman and featuring numerous, and distinct, female characters. And author Braddon herself is an interesting historical figure. Like George Eliot, Braddon had an unconventional personal life, although hers would, appropriately enough, not be out of place in one of her own novels: the wife of her publisher (and future husband) was locked away in an insane asylum, so, when Braddon and the publisher fell in love, the pair ignored the insane wife, moved in together, and proceeded to act as though they were married. (All their servants quit in protest at such flagrant moral depravity.) Meanwhile, Braddon continued to write and her would-be-husband (they did later marry, after his wife died) happily published her popular novels.

You have to figure with a biography like that, Mary Elizabeth Braddon probably knows her way around a gothic suspense novel.

And she doesn’t disappoint! Lady Audley’s Secret is a wild ride of a narrative with all the frequent twists, betrayals, secret histories, and love affairs that you’d hope for in the genre. Braddon does her precursor Ann Radcliffe proud in this one (more…)

May 13, 2016 at 6:51 am Leave a comment

A Spring Reading Spree

A few years ago about this time, I went on a spring reading spree to cull the many books I had on my shelves that I had never read. I was moving and didn’t want to keep schlepping books around from place to place that I had never read and possibly didn’t even like. My little spring reading spree/cull was pretty successful and I read a lot in just a few weeks, but, unsurprisingly, I still didn’t make it through everything I hadn’t read on my shelves.

This spring, I find myself faced with a different reading challenge: I’ve been in a real, prolonged reading rut. Middlemarch was practically the beginning and end of my reading in 2016 and I couldn’t seem to get into anything else after finishing it. I read, but only lackadaisically, and didn’t finish much.

So I decided a spring kick-start was in order. If I had once plowed through a whole pile of books with sheer force of will, I would do so again! First up? Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. (more…)

May 5, 2016 at 6:25 am 2 comments

‘Still Life with Murder’ by P.B. Ryan

114029Rarely have I been as captivated by a mystery as I was by P.B. Ryan’s Still Life with Murder, the first in her Nell Sweeney series. Combining a few tropes familiar to readers of historical fiction with a willful, wonderfully flawed heroine and gorgeous trappings — as well as a tightly-knit plot — this novel is one of the best mysteries I’ve read in quite some time.

The premise is simple: Nell Sweeney, a physician’s assistant, is hired as a governess-cum-nursemaid for the infant Gracie, the daughter of a chambermaid in a Boston Brahmin household. In a move that surprises and shocks Boston society, the matriarch of the family adopts the little girl as her own. The woman has lost two of her four sons to the Civil War, and tells all who will listen that she’s always wanted a daughter, so why pass up this one?

Nell, however, infers that it’s not the whole story. Raised in the Irish-Catholic Boston slums, she knows that when a chambermaid hasn’t seen her husband in a year and a half, the baby she just gave birth to definitely isn’t his. And since the baby was so readily accepted by this high-brow family, Nell knows the baby must be one of the sons’, somehow.

Turns out, she’s right — but that’s not all. The son in question, William Hewitt, was thought to have died during the War, but he is actually alive, addicted to opium and charged with murdering a man in a boarding house known for card games and prostitutes. Amazing. On behalf of her employer, Nell is sent to determine Will’s innocence and somehow keep him from being hanged. (more…)

April 19, 2016 at 12:48 am Leave a comment

‘The Collector’ by Nora Roberts

18668066You guys must think all I read is trash, at this point. Nothing could be further from the truth. I came to Nora Roberts’ The Collector after whipping through Margaret Atwood’s entire ‘MaddAddam’ trilogy within two weeks. I was desperate for a compelling story that I could enjoy without having to think too much about it, and the premise of this one seemed intriguing.

The story starts with Lila Emerson, a professional house-sitter and writer of young adult novels, who is watching a New York City penthouse when she witnesses a murder outside her window. The woman who is pushed out a plate glass window to her death turns out to be a model and the girlfriend of antiquities dealer Oliver Archer, who is also found dead. After giving a statement to the police, Lila encounters Oliver’s brother Ashton, a brooding artist determined to find his brother’s killer. The pair team up to solve the crime, falling in love in the process.

See? Compelling. (more…)

April 12, 2016 at 12:03 am 1 comment

Three Things I Learned After Organizing My Books By Color

My view on living with (and without) books has shifted drastically in the last few years as I’ve gone from being a total book packrat to someone actually advocating a minimalist approach to book ownership.

Just in the past two years, I’ve been forced to live without the vast majority of my books and found that it wasn’t the end of the world. I’ve had to move so many times that actually owning every book I read isn’t just impractical, it’s unappealing. I’ve come to love using the public library — a side effect of leaving New York and thus having readier access to libraries than expansive used book stores — and, to my utter shock, I’ve come to feel more at ease in spaces that aren’t brimming-to-overflowing with books.

As I continue along this strange path, I recently stared at a haphazard bookcase of fiction in my childhood bedroom. Once upon a time, it had been meticulously organized by author’s last name. But, since I hadn’t lived near home for over a decade, the bookcase had become rather neglected, the victim of previous raids and casual additions, with books hoisted into the general space they were supposed to be and others just piled up vertically, plus stuff added for extra chaos.

Before Reorganization, or what happens when you more-or-less abandon a bookcase for 12 years.

Before Reorganization, or what happens when you more-or-less abandon a bookcase for 12 years.

It made me cringe to look at it and, the more I thought about it, the more radical I felt. Finally, I had enough and decided to pull the trigger on the most dramatic reorganization I could think of: as an experiment, I would organize these books by color.

At such a departure, past versions of myself would have, in no particular order, screamed, swooned, and tried to bodily restrain me. Whenever I saw books organized by color before, I would sniff and wonder how such people ever found anything. What nutters! You can’t look up a book under “blue”! (Did I mention I come from a family of librarians?)

After Reorganization

After Reorganization

But I went for it anyway. I had somehow become someone who no longer found clutter cozy and preferred neatness to shelves overflowing with a mixture of books, bric-a-brac, and fanciful bookends. A few short hours later when I was done, I couldn’t believe the change — and not just the visible one. I’d discovered three big things about my books, myself, and what “organized” can mean. (more…)

April 7, 2016 at 6:22 am Leave a comment

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