Reading Journal (6 January): Starting Off the New Year

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Although the New Year is already six days old, I have yet to finish my first book of the year. I blame it on the fact that I’m reading some longer books.

Churchill’s History, my project book, is going well. I think it’s written in an easy to read format, not at all textbook like. That said, it is rather like Dickens’ children’s history in that it’s obviously a bit biased (although Churchill is obviously more scholarly than Dickens). Besides, there are few references so I wonder how “accurate” much of it is. Despite those flaws, I’m glad I’m reading it and I’m enjoying this immergence into the history of England, as I know nothing.

The Pillow Book has become delightful. It was hard to get in to it at first, as I know nothing about the lifestyle at court in 1000 A.D. Japan. But by referring to the extensive notes in my translation, I feel I know a bit more and I’m not fascinated and interest in reading more about Japan. Can you imagine living in a world where you have to write poems to communicate with people? If you get a poem note from someone and don’t respond properly, it’s a bad thing. Talk about pressure!

Swiss Family Robinson is interesting. It’s a typical 1800s didactic text but I can see why it’s so entertaining for kids. I’ve been listening as we do our home improvement projects but I may finish by reading the etext as it takes forever.

I started reading Toni Morrison’s Jazz, as it’s about people during the Harlem Renaissance, but I haven’t made too much progress. Mrs. Dalloway is my nemesis for the week. I started the etext, but I felt I didn’t know what was going on. So I’m going to start again when I can focus on it, with the physical copy, and I hope I can really get it. I’m a bit afraid now.

The other books are ones I really want to read, but I just haven’t had time for. Maybe in the coming week!

What was your first finished book of the year? Did it bode well for you?

Finished Books

I finished a book on New Year’s Eve. I loved it and I ordered my own copy (and if you know me, you know I rarely buy books, so that is a testament to how great it was!!).

  • The ABCs of Literacy by Cynthia Dollins (250 read of 350 pages/the last 100 pages are book lists; nonfiction).

Abandoned Books

I returned unread or partially read a number of books this week. I have a rule that if I haven’t started a book after three weeks, I can’t renew it for the second three weeks. That said, I admit that a few of the books I’ve kept break that rule. I have been a bit unrestrained in my library books lately, so it’s a good thing it’s free! These books, while they look good, had to go back this week.

  • Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book Leonard S. Marcus. This book looks so great! It’s conversations with illustrators about what makes a good children’s picture book. But I don’t have time to read it right now.
  • Cane by Jean Toomer. I want to read this so badly! Maybe I’ll get to it after February’s Classics Circuit.
  • Story Stretchers for infants, toddlers, and twos by Shirley Raines. Nice ideas for tying in picture books to other activities, but I didn’t read it cover to cover.
  • Children’s Book Corner by Judy Bradbury. Nice ideas for tying in picture books to other activities, but I didn’t read it cover to cover.
  • The Story Road to Literacy by Rita Roth. Nice ideas for tying in picture books to other activities, but I didn’t read it cover to cover.
  • Phonics from A to Z : a practical guide by Wiley Blevins. A basic introduction to teaching phonics. Something to return to in the future!
  • Cotton candy on a rainy day: poems by Nikki Giovanni. I really like Giovanni’s poetry so I’ll have to revisit it when I have time to.
  • Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Weatherford. Didn’t have time for this.
  • Jam! : the story of jazz music by Jeanne Lee. Didn’t have time for this.
  • Louis Armstrong : the offstage story of Satchmo by Michael Cogswell. Didn’t have time for this.
  • Jazz : a history of America’s music by Geoffrey Ward. Didn’t have time for this.

Currently Reading

Each week, I list my progress so I can see how my reading compares week to week. I did make a little progress on some of these.

My Books

Here are the books I own or downloaded.

  • Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and Their Messages by Karen Lynn Davidson (100 read of 455 pages; nonfiction).
  • The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (175 read of 260 pages + 100 pages of notes; fiction/really old classic).
  • The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (on chapter 45 of 57, via Project Gutenberg/Librivox; children’s fiction). I was listening while I was doing housework and then I am going to finish reading it via the etext.
  • History of the English-Speaking People by Winston Churchill, abridged by Henry Steele Commager (75 read of 415; nonfiction). My Project Book.

Old Library Loot

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation trans. Simon Armitage. I haven’t begun yet. Oops. It’s due soon.
  • The collected poems of Langston Hughes
  • Jazz by Toni Morrison. (20 read of 220 pages; fiction).
  • Golden Slippers, an anthology of Negro poetry for young readers
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

New Library Loot

  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I decided to read the hard copy, as the etext confused me.

I have a few more books waiting at the library for me to pick up. Maybe I’ll get them tomorrow!


  • Governess by Ruth Brandon. Suggested by Chris at Book-a-rama
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’ve been afraid of this book, but Jessica’s review bumped it up my list a bit.
  • Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. I’ve been meaning to read this and Vasilly considered it a 2009 favorite so I really should.
  • The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes.  Vasilly loved this illustrated children’s boookbook! I’ve already requested it from the library.
  • West with the Night by Beryl Markham. Karen says this is one of the best books she read this decade: a great nonfiction book.
  • After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld. Claire had nothing but good things to say about this author’s debut novel.
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Jane found some interesting similarities between these two novels. Since I haven’t read either, I’m intrigued.
Reviewed on January 6, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • The first book I finished was the Pulitzer winner for fiction in 1934 – Lamb in His Bosom. I won’t say too much about it here because I’ll blog about it soon, but I really enjoyed it. I love stories that tell me how people live or lived.

  • I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway twice and loved it both times, but it IS very difficult. The only Woolf that has not been difficult for me is The Voyage Out, and that’s only because she wrote that was in straight prose rather than stream of consciousness. I’m sure I’m missing 95% of what goes on in Dalloway, but I still love it. On the other hand, I read To the Lighthouse in 2001 and didn’t understand a word of it. I need to go back and try it again one of these days, but of the Woolf books I’ve read (Dalloway, The Voyage Out, Jacob’s Room, & A Room of One’s Own), To the Lighthouse remains by far the most obscure and difficult.

  • The first book I read this year was The Case for Books by Robert Darnton — very interesting look at the future of books as we know them (and there is a future!)
    You must must must read The Road — I read it a few months ago and was bursting to talk to someone about it.

  • My first book of the year was Slaughterhouse Five – not very auspicious but maybe I’m getting the bad-to-me stuff out of the way early on. 🙂

  • I finished Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. It was pretty good. Don’t be afraind of Mrs. Dalloway. I’ve read it three times and it is among my favorite books. The first tiem I read it it was hard but it’s rewarding. Just keep in mind that it skips around between a few characters without many cues to the switch and don’t fret about keeping exact track of what is going on. Then you’ll be fine. 🙂

  • My first book was The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde. Fun and entertaining, a good start to the year. Jane is right – Vanity Fair and Gone with the Wind are very similar. I love both of them. I adore Becky Sharp and Scarlett O’Hara, even though they actually aren’t that likeable! They are worth the million pages between the novels. 🙂

  • Rebecca, whenever you start to fret about not having finished a book yet this year, just remember “Quality NOT Quantity!” It doesn’t matter how many books you read, so long as you enjoy them or take something away from them! There’s still plenty of time to finish your challenge book, as well as many others before the month is over… it hasn’t even really begun yet, after all!

    I wish you the best of luck with Mrs. Dalloway and hope the real text serves you better than the etext. Alas, this is one of those books I think I’m destined to never finish, as I’ve tried to read it at least three times and just couldn’t get into it. I am going to try to take part in the next section of Woolf in Winter as I own a copy of To The Lighthouse and so I figured this was the push I needed to give Woolf another chance!

  • Ohhh-I hope you get to Sir Gawain! It’s a one-sitting read. 🙂

    I love Woolf…I think because I started reading her before I realised she was an intimidating author, so I treated her novels like I would any, lol. So I hope the hard copy of Mrs. Dalloway treats you well!

    Oh, and last year I read a *fascinating* historical novel set in the same Japanese era: The Tale of Murasaki. It’s a fictionalised memoir of the author of Tale of the Genji, and I loved all of the court life details. The whole poetry thing was crazy to me! I’ve got The Pillow Book on my Really Old Classics list…I might get to it next month. But it scares me too. lol Which translation are you reading? My library has the Penguin Classics edition translated by Meredeith McKinney.

    I started a *huge* nonfiction book this morning (Dancing in the Dark: a Cultural History of the Depression). The text itself is over 500 pages, and at first I thought ‘Maybe it’s too long.’ But then I thought of you and was inspired to go for it anyway, and so far it’s really interesting. Oh, and I’m starting my Wharton book today too! You’re the best influence on my reading. 😀

  • With Mrs. Dalloway, I recommend slowing WAY down from one’s normal reading pace, and just focusing on the rhythm of the language without worrying too much if you don’t “get” the plot right away. It’s a very unorthodox “plot” anyway – Clarissa prepares for her party, Septimus struggles with his inner demons, Elizabeth lunches with her tutor and rides on the top of a bus – the prime delight is the way language works. I’m finding that even I have to remind myself to slow down while reading it in order to really feel the language, and I’ve read it multiple times before. Good luck!

  • Oh, and West w/ the Night and Vanity Fair are both well worth reading! I can see similarities between VF and GWTW, but VF is mercifully free of much of the icky racism. Thackeray does tend to ramble on about historical events in the middle of the narrative, rather like Tolstoy and Hugo, so I had to skim a few bits. But VF was kind of difficult for me to get into, just because Becky Sharp is SUCH an unlikeable heroine. Fortunately, the supporting characters offered me more to worry about! I enjoyed the movie adaptation w/ Reese Witherspoon too.

  • Don’t fret about not having a book done yet. You sound like you’re enjoying the ones you’re currently reading and that’s all that matters.

    I once started Mrs. Dalloway but, like you, couldn’t focus on it. I’d like to give it another go sometime as several bloggers have gushed about how good it is. And I began My Antonia last night thanks to your review. I’m really enjoying it so far, and I’m kicking myself for allowing a friend to scare me off.

  • My first book of the year was one I finished yesterday, The Bone People. It is a HARD read- full of abuse and violence and just a lot of emotional baggage. But I can tell it’s one that will stay with me for a long time and I have a feeling it will make my Best of list for 2010. Not bad at all in that way!

  • I’ve only finished one book so far this year, which shocks me a little! In 2009, I got off to a rip-roarin’ start and tore through several novels in a matter of days.

    My first book of the year was Jacqueline Kelly’s The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate, which I definitely loved. So enchanting and full of fun historical details that I didn’t want it to end! And Callie is just my kind of fun, assertive girl!

  • AK, I’ll look forward to your post!

    Amanda, “I’m sure I’m missing 95% of what goes on in Dalloway, but I still love it. ” Maybe that’s my problem. I was reading expecting to understand it. I’ll start over tonight.

    Suzanne, I was a bit afraid of The Road but Jessica’s review made me actually consider it. It sounds very good, even if depressing!!

    Jenny, so I take it you didn’t like the book? I guess that happens!!

    Stefanie, I’ll try to keep that in mind: I’m not supposed to completely follow it!

    Lindsey, I’m going to have to make time for them this year, it sounds!!

    Steph, I’m not really “fretting”, I just find it odd that after six days I haven’t finished a book. I thought I read more than that! I’ll have to let you know about Mrs. Dalloway once I get through it.

    Marie, me too on last year’s books!

    Eva, I know it is a one-sitting read — I’m just waiting for the right time when I can sit and read it at one time! I’ve been busy and now I’m blogging instead of reading….maybe soon!’

    I’m reading Ivan Morris’ translation based on an Amazon reviewer’s comments, which probably should be taken with a grain of salt. I’ve also read elsewhere that Morris better but can’t recall where. I couldn’t get it at the library either, I had to get it. He has seriously 150 pages of notes so I can better understand the Buddist context for Shonagon’s life. I really enjoy it, but I would have loved it to be annotated instead so I didn’t have to have my hand in two places the whole time I’m reading!

    That’s a turn-around: my reading inspiring Eva?! I’m flattered, since your voracious reading is often an inspiration for me.

    Thanks for your thoughts on VF and GWTW and WwtN. Lots I need to read and experience for myself!

    Emily, I’m planning on doing just that, starting tonight. I’m hoping that slowing down, without a child interrupting me, and accepting the fact that I won’t “get” will make it more enjoyable overall. Thanks for the pointers! I’m kind of looking forward to a mini-challenge like this. Espeically since all these comments are saying “go slow and don’t get it and you’ll be fine”!

    Christina, I’m glad you’re enjoying My Antonia and I hope you keep saying that by the end!

    Aarti, wow, great to start the year with a memorable best book!

  • Woolf is so difficult. Every time I’ve read any of her books, I’ve had to read and reread sentences so many times. It’s really slow going, but her really beautiful insights into human thoughts make it worth it!

    That ABCs of Literacy intrigues me.

  • Hmmm…maybe I’ll hold off on The Pillow Book then until I can just buy the Morris translation. I think it might be a book best enjoyed stretched out over time anyway. And yes, you’re definitely one of my main reading inspirations. I’m glad that I can inspire you too! 😀

  • I hope you enjoy Reading Like a Writer. When you read it, make sure you have a notebook nearby. There’s so many authors that Prose mentions, you’re going to want to read them. I also hope you enjoy The Negro Speaks of Rivers. It’s one of my favorite children’s books. Happy New Year.

    • Hi Vasilly, this was last years’ new years post! Funny to see I still haven’t found a copy of READING LIKE A WRITER in the past year. I did enjoy THE NEGRO SPEAKS OF RIVERS, though.

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