Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Archive for the category “Reading habits”

Reading Habits…

Like many of my bookish friends, I rarely read only one book at a time. Right now, for example, I am reading a collection of short works by P. G. Wodehouse (The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories), a novel by Iraj Pezeshkzad (My Uncle Napoleon), a book about libraries by Matthew Battles (Library: An Unquiet History) a book about the making of “Imagine” by John and Yoko Ono Lennon (Imagine: John Yoko), and a book of essays about food mostly by Mark Kurlansky (Choice Cuts). I am also listening to an audio version of Homer’s Iliad.

I’ve read this way for as long as I can remember. There are so many things I’m interested in, and so many times a book that is fine on one day is not something that suits my mood the following day. It may be a weird way of approaching books, but it has always worked for me.

Another bookish habit — one that was schooled out of me early on — is not marking up books as a rule. There are one or two books that I have marked up over the years (always feeling guilty about doing so), but those books I have always bought an extra copy of — just for the purpose. I’ve been thinking about this lately because Benjamin McEvoy notes in his YouTube lectures about reading notes that marking up a book with comments, indices, and other marginalia is one of the best ways to make a book “yours” and to tie your thoughts about the book to other books you’ve read, ideas you’ve had, and how the book relates to your world views and general values and beliefs. I have to admit that the idea is scary — and when I discussed it with one of my most well-read friends last night, he noted that he had also been taught that marking up books was a sin. (His parents were both educators; my mom was a bookkeeper and my dad was a construction worker.)

A bookish friend of mine, the late Velma Bowen, had a system for marking up books, and I did use it once or twice to note ideas in books on journal-keeping (I was teaching online courses in journal-keeping at the time, so being able to find the info was useful. I also developed a system for noting things in my own journals (which I still use when I journal by hand). I number the notebook’s pages and then I create a Table of Contents (ToC) going from back to front in the last three pages of the journal. Working from back to front with the ToC means that if I need more pages, it’s easy enough to do, I just rule off a page or two more. I have three columns in my ToC: the date of the entry, the page number(s), and a column for a brief description of the information I’m noting. I’ve used this system since 1979 or so (way. before Ryder Carroll and Bullet Journalling became A THING, and it has never failed me yet.

Another bookish habit I developed early on is maxing out my library cards. These days, that’s easier than ever, what with e-readers; apps like Glose, Audible, and Libby (my current favorite); inter-library loans; Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and — of course — the good, old neighborhood library. (We won’t mention that I have maxed out my Kindle at least three times, and I am currently at maximum borrowing and holds at two of the three libraries I have access to through Libby.) Yes, I do love “real” books (now often referred to as “dead-tree editions”, but I can carry thousands of books an an electronic device (as opposed to maybe three physical books), which has become more important as my health has declined over the years

The other bookish habit I have, and I suspect that it is the most important one of the lot, is that I read every day. I found out long ago that if I do not do that, the ability atrophies, just like what happens when you don’t use any other muscle, talent, or ability. What I do not do is set up a formal schedule for reading — life throws too many curve balls at adults to be able to say I will read for “x” amount of time every day. Some days, I will barely get half a short story read; other days, I will finish one or two novels. The point is not that I turn reading into a job that must be done; I keep it a pleasure that I can fit into whatever time my day allows.

So, above are peeks at some of the habits (good and bad) that I have acquired around reading over the years. I’d love to hear what yours are, so please feel free to tell me what works (or doesn’t) for you.

A New Year, A New Start…Maybe

While this is not the venue I journal about my life in general, let me just note that the past fall has been one of the roughest I’ve seen. My roommate spent much of it in hospitals and a nursing home dealing with things she had avoided dealing with for years. I lost – in rapid succession – two very good friends of over 30 years. I have been undertaking – with the help of a friend and the more limited help of my roommate – a major revamping of the apartment.

That last – the revamping of the apartment – actually borders on stuff that is the provence of this journal. I have gotten rid of about two-thirds of my record collection, and about one-third of my books. At the same time, the last few weeks have been occupied by boxing books (27 boxes), so we could get rid of an entertainment center and two of the old bookcases and get in ten new-to-us bookcases. Our acquisitions were from the IKEA Billy line: A corner unit, two glass-fronted bookcases, two wooden-fronted narrow cupboards, two narrow open bookcases, and three standard open bookcases. This was successfully done, although there were a few times that stress levels for all three of us were running pretty high. We are now unboxing the books (two more boxes to go), and trying to organize the bookshelves in some kind of reasonable order. My friend Lisa likes books organized by subject; my roommate is a former librarian who likes her books in alphabetical order within subjects; my preference is alphabetical by authors. We are using my roommate’s preference to organize things since that pleases all concerned.

The other thing is that I now have organized all the books that I was sent to review, and shall be starting to work my way through them shortly so you can expect a good number of book reviews for the next while.

The other thing I have taken on, relevant to this particular blog, are two reading challenges. I exceeded my goal for last year’s Goodreads Challenge, reading 223 books – 23 books over my goal of 200 books for the year. This year, I have raised my goal for that challenge to 250 books.

I have also taken on Read Harder’s 2018 challenge (and I shall incorporate those books into my total for the year). This is a challenge sponsored by Book Riot which consists of the following 24 tasks:

1) A book published posthumously
2) A book of true crime
3) A classic of genre fiction
4) A comic written and illustrated by the same person
5) A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)
6) A book about nature
7) A western
8) A comic written or illustrated by a person of color
9) A book of colonial or postcolonial literature
10) A romance novel by or about a person of color
11) A children’s classic published before 1980
12) A celebrity memoir
13) An Oprah Book Club selection
14) A book of social science
15) A one-sitting book
16) The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle-grade series
17) A sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author
18) A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image
19) A book of genre fiction in translation
20) A book with a cover you hate
21) A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author
22) An essay anthology
23) A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60
24) An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

I will keep folks here updated on my progress with this list.

Thanks to my friend Debbie (aka mamadeb) I have become part of the planner community.Mind, I have had a love for planners for as long as I can remember. I can even say that I was doing a form of bullet journaling long before it became a Thing. I have, for decades, put a Table of Contents (ToC) in the back of every journal, so that I could find things again. It was a very simple thing: I numbered my journal’s pages, then did a three columnrule for the last six sides (three pages) of my journal. The columns were “Date,” “Page,” and “Item.” And I always used my journal for listing tasks, tracking things, and taking notes, as well as the usual diary entries.

One thing I do want to work on this year in my planning is doing better granular work, that is, improving my skill in breaking down large goals into smaller pieces that can be done as a progression, rather than trying to do an overwhelming task all at once. We will see how that tuens out over the course of the year.

So, no real resolutions, but a number of commitments and things to work on. I hope you enjoy the ride if you come along with me.

I Love My Library…Sometimes!

Many of you who know me in real life know that I am generally an advocate of the public library. You also know that I live in a city that supports three public library systems: The Queens Borough Public Library, which is the one I grew up using; the New York Public Library, which I used extensively when I was more mobile; and the Brooklyn Public Library, which I have become a huge fan of since moving to Brooklyn in 2000.

However, as time has gone on, I have had reason to become a bit less enamored of Brooklyn Public Library. I had no problem when they switched to a library card that could be read by computers, or when they added a feature to add money to your card, then made it impossible to pay overdue fines online unless they were over a certain amount, and only allowed you to pay them by placing money on your library card. I have had an ongoing issue with them over notification. They are supposed to let me know by either email or text message when a book I have put a hold on is ready for pickup. I have not, in the eight years I have lived at my present home, been able to get them to reliably do this. I have, in fact, given up on it, and just check my account every few days when I have a book on hold. I can even live with missing a lecture I would have very much liked to attend on December 10th because their newsletter announcing it didn’t arrive until the 11th.

However, I was recently subject to some of the worst service I have received from a library – and that includes all the college libraries and private libraries I have been involved with over the years. At some point the Brooklyn Pubic Library seems to have decided that their library cards would come with an expiration date. Not something I had ever encountered outside of one private library and a few college libraries, but not the end of the world. EXCEPT…Brooklyn Public never notified me of this change. I recently went to renew my library books online and got a message that my card was no longer valid. I headed to the “Ask a Librarian” section of their website, where I was informed that my card had expired, and I would have to go to an actual branch, with actual ID, in order to renew it. When I noted to the librarian that I am currently an invalid, without asking my age or anything, she asked if  I wanted to sign up for Service to the Aging, with no explanation of what it was. When I pointed out that since I had no idea what it was, so I would not sign up for it, I was very rudely told that it would provide me books by mail, and that it would be the only option available to me once my card was renewed to make sure my card did not expire without notice.

After a few choice words to the librarian, I ended the chat and spoke to the roomie, who had – after all – been a librarian before she retired. She noted that yes, the library had changed to cards with expiration dates, and yes they were supposed to notify me before the card expired. We ended up schlepping to the local library and getting my card renewed, but I am still feeling unhappy with my library. While it’s true that I am certainly old enough to qualify for Service to the Aging, it was incredibly rude for the librarian to assume that without checking my age first. Nor am I happy that I missed a lecture I very much would have loved (about the Allan Sherman bio I recently read, by the author of said bio) simply because the library couldn’t be bothered to mail their newsletter in a timely manner (and – I note – this is far from the first time this has happened). Nor was I happy when they trashed their beautiful card catalog — without transferring all the books to the computer system first (in fact, various librarians I know have informed me that that task will never be finished, because there is not enough manpower to do so).

Will this stop me from being a fan of libraries in general? Not gonna happen. I love many aspects of my library, including the tremendous amount of e-books they have that can be borrowed (although I would like it a lot better if I didn’t need two different kinds of reader applications – 3M Cloud and Overdrive – in order to be sure I can read e-books from the library). Further, I think libraries are an important part of building strong communities. Also, as a deep and wide reader, I surely could not afford all the books the library gives me access to, and that is one of the most important reasons to support the library.

However, I have – as many of you know – a long-standing propensity for pointing out when the emperor is fooling himself as to his coverage; a propensity which seems to grow as I get older. Therefore, while I love my library, I find myself calling it out on its shortfalls.

What are some of your favorite writing, reading, and language books?

Most of us who play with words, whether for a living or for fun, love books about words, about writing, and about language. From the grammar books we grew up with, to the histories of language tha pique our interests, we are, indeed, “people of the book,” although the “book” in question may vary.

When it comes to writing, my go-to book is The Chicago Manual of Style, followed closely by Lawrence Block’s books on writing, by the Writers’ Digest series of writing books, and by almost any book that explores how English developed.  I also love books about journal-keeping (whether online or on paper).

Since I have read most of the books *I* have found on the subject, I am asking my readers to let me know what some of their favorites are, so that I can hit the library (my favorite resource of all) and expand my knowledge base. I know that a lot of the books we lean on for our grammar depend on what was being taught as we were growing up, and I also know that grammar has changed since I was a young’un.  Therefore, I am primarily interested in seeing what books are being taken as grammar gospel by those whose schooling was after mine (I graduated high school in 1970).

What books are your touchstones when it comes to grammar, language, writing and reading? What books would you recommend to someone trying to learn more about English and how it developed? What is your favorite reference resource?

Reading in Cycles

I don’t know about you, but I have noticed I tend to read in cycles.

Lately, my leisure reading is concentrated in three areas:  mysteries, biographies, and books about food & cooking.

this is, of course, not a hard and fast rule.  I can be tempted by a book on the Brooklyn Public Library website that is outside of those areas, or a book by a friend — I have a ton of writers among my acquaintances.

But for some reason, this is how my reading habit works.  Some months I will read primarily books about writing, or organizing one’s stuff, or philosophy & religion books.  Other months, it will be craft books.  But I always seem to gravitate to one area for a while, then move on to another.

Do you read in cycles?  What are your favorite things to read currently?

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