Thursday, June 14, 2018

Summer Reading: Getting the 'Pages' in This Summer

Summer is the perfect time to read. Even though summer days remain 24 hours, they feel longer, which is a delicious situation for readers. 

School is out, work very well could slow down, and summer vacations away from the distractions of life present ample opportunities to bury yourself in a book.

We can create opportunities to increase the amount of time we read with a few tweaks to our habits.

(By the way, feel free to apply these practices appropriately to other activities you'd like to spend more time doing.)


  • Put down the social media. Take the summer off of your personal social media use. Trust me, it will still be there when you get back — and chances are, it will be easier to use, less intrusive, and maybe even a little more civil. 
  • Can't step away from personal  social media use? First, see a professional about this issue, then set limits for social media use:
    • set a timer for only a few minutes, then stop when the timer goes off
    • only read social media in certain situations that limit your time
      • X number of stops on your train commute
      • on the potty (to which you needn't admit)
      • on your 15-minute breaks at work
      • via certain electronic devices only (when you can access your desktop computer, for example, or at home on your tablet)
  • For the record, "setting limits" includes this blog. Check in to see what's up and enjoy my delightful and entertaining posts, then get back to reading.
  • Turn off the television — or whatever you use for "screen time," including You Tube, Netflix, and Hulu. 
    • Too radical? Then try Appointment Television, watching it "live" on the broadcast channel, or on a schedule (The Crown at 7 p.m. only on Thursdays, for example).
  • Read aloud with a buddy, alternating chapters or voicing characters. This increases the time you spend with friends (in person or virtually) and you get your reading in!
  • Get your family in on this deal: listen to audiobooks on road trips — or be like my friend Carole who reads aloud as her family motors down the road together. (She is hardcore.)
  • Get a single copy of a book you want to read, and set a deadline to share it with a reading buddy.
  • Join your library summer reading program, so you double the incentive for reading a lot. And if your library doesn't offer incentives for adults, talk to your librarians to change that.
  • Visit your library regularly. Make a weekly date, or spend time there instead of at work when avoiding rush hour. Yes, this way is fraught with peril, snatching books to stack on your TBR pile, but how else can you find your next read if not at the library?
  • Talk you your friendly neighborhood librarian and get introduced to books you will willingly put before other forms of entertainment.

These are just a few ideas, and no doubt you know of others that have worked for you. So, tell us: how do you make ample time for reading? Post your suggestions below, or contact me directly and I'll share with the rest of the class!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Summer Reading: What's on My TBR 'List'

Summer reading is fraught with peril.

Choose the wrong books and you've wasted your summer reading bad books. Choose nothing at all, and you may read nothing.

Choose too many books and you could be paralyzed with fear at the tide of books you face, and the possibility that you may not finish. Choose only a handful of books and so many are left unread.

Choose books, then risk not reading those particular tomes because you stumbled across other books.

Okay, "peril" is a strong word — but you get my drift. With choice comes limitation, or responsibility, or paralysis. Or, in my case, failure.

Last year, I listed 45 books I wanted to read. Of the 26 books I read last summer, eight were on the original list. Some books have been on the list for years. Some books are pies in the sky. Some books will always be on my TBR shelf.

However, this year, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of rustling up gobs of books from my bookshelves, scouring my library and my wish lists, I simply looked at what was on my nightstand.

Well, "nightstand" isn't quite accurate: In March, my husband David installed the floating shelves my stepson Phil gave me for Christmas (pictured above). That has lightened the load on the nightstand itself, but I keep a few there anyway so I can reach them for reading in bed.

More importantly, it gave me the opportunity to prune the books teetering on my nightstand. There are two ways to look at TBR stacks: opportunity or oppression. By thinning the stack awaiting me for nighttime reading, I could see them as the former, and enjoy them more.

So, here are my Upstairs TBR Bedroom books, in no particular order:


  • Less
  • Small Great Things
  • The Divine Comedy
  • A Man Called Ove


  • Hamilton
  • The Book of the Unknown
  • The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu
  • Being Mortal
  • Reading Dante
  • Standard Deviation
  • The Bear and the Nightingale
  • The Lilac Girls
  • The Fall of the House of Cabal
  • March (books 1, 2, 3)
  • Educated
  • We Were Eight Years in Power
  • The Keeper of Lost Things
  • 4 3 2 1
  • The Art of War Visualized


I have a few more books in the home library that I will include on this list — but only once I clear these books from my upstairs shelves.

This does not include the multitude of books on my Kindle and in Audible, which often (but not always) duplicate what I have on my shelves. Among those is:

  • Norse Mythology
  • Lady Cop Makes Trouble
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
  • Differently Morphous
  • The Power
  • Welcome to Night Vale


Some of these books intersect with those to be featured this autumn at Fall for the Book, and the serendipity makes me smile. Others that have not yet been read will be, if not this summer, then at least before the October festival.

Those sentiments — home library, multiple books on multiple platforms, attending a major book festival — are steeped in privilege, and trust me, I know full well the privilege of purchasing and reading books. I share my good fortune when I can, and I hope those folks whose share my good fortune also spread the love of books and reading.

So, in a nutshell, that is what I hope to read this summer. I have heard from another reader, Karen,  whose reading list we will see in the coming days  — and yes, for ideas as well as for support.

What's on your nightstand or bookshelves that you plan to read this summer? Share your summer reading list in the comments below, or send it to me and I will share it with our fellow book lovers!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Summer Reading: Getting with the Program

DoodleCats by Beth Wilson at www dot doodlecats dot com
Summer reading means hot days and humid nights reading any book you darn well please.

Reading with friends makes it even better — so get with the Program!

That's the whole reason for the Summer Reading Program: to gather friends, make new friends, and READ.

The Summer Reading Program lasts from the Friday before Memorial Day and the first weekend in autumn. In 2018, that is Friday, May 25 through Sunday, September 23. 

If you read the most of anyone in our program, I will give you a book. (I know, right?)

So, to get in on this sweet deal, what do you have to do? Not much. Contact me directly or leave a comment below. 

We programmers can tell each other what we are reading, what we plan to read, what we actually read, and what we would read if we had way more time.

What kind of books count? All kinds! Mix a few graphic novels in with non-graphic novels, catch up on your comics, toss in some audiobooks, and front-load the e-reader of your choice. (We are equal opportunity here at the Summer Reading Program: Nooks, Kindles, tablets, phablets — all are welcome.)

Kickstart your reading with a treat: go to your favorite book source and pick up that book you have been promising yourself you will read. 

Is it trashy? Good. 
Is it short? Excellent. 
Is the cover bright? Perfect! 
Is it the next in your beloved series? Go for it!

Once I figure out how to easily put my photos on my computer (long story), I will share my reading list — which consists of books that are literally hanging around my nightstand.

Even if you don't join the reading program, I still would love to know: what's on your summer reading list? Tell me!chattingwithchris@gmail.com

And a special shout-out to the artists of this year's Summer Reading graphic: Beth Wilson and her DoodleCats!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Summer Reading: Join the Club!

I hope you had a good Memorial Day, stacking up your books on the nightstand or desk, putting them in order for —

Oh, maybe that was just me. 

Anyway, summer reading has begun, so join the club!

Summer reading means long days and humid nights reading any book you darned well choose. The club counts books read between the Friday before Memorial Day and the first weekend in autumn. This year, that is Friday, May 25 through Sunday, September 23.

I am still trying to decide what's on my reading list. After reviewing last year's list and realizing how many of those books remain in my TBR pile, I may skip the list and just wait for the Fall for the Book participant list. (Please note; I always welcome suggestions.)


Visit your library (public or private), your local bookstores and thrift shops, yard sales and online book suppliers, friends and family, and choose what books look like they need to be read this summer.

Join the Summer Reading Club and put yourself in the running for a new book. Read as much as you wish  — and if you read the most books during the club reading dates, you will win a book of your own. Seriously. I will give you a book.

To join the club, just send me an e-mail or leave a message below. Then, at the end of the summer reading period, send me n e-mail or include your reading list in a blog comment. If you read the most, congratulations! If not, you still are a winner because you spent your summer reading. And who knows, you may win a book anyway.

I've already had a few e-mails from eager readers, and I can't wait to read your list!

I make sure summer reading is beneficial to my community. I will  donate  to Main Street Child Development Center, and I will buy new books for the Fairfax County Public Library from its Amazon Wish List


Hopefully, reading club members also will find a way to help their communities through their reading, or to help share the love of reading with their communities. It's not a requirement, of course, but it certainly is a worthy effort. It doesn't have to be financial support, either — think of what the community wants and needs. Every reader can determine what is within her or his power to bestow.

Even if you don't join the reading club, I still would love to know: what's on your summer reading list? Tell me!

Oh, and if you're like me and adore reading cat cartoons, check out Doodlecats. It's adorable!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Bookstore Day: My Catch Was Amazing!

This year, April 28 was a very busy day in my household. First of all, it was World Tai Chi Qigong Day, so my family spent the cool morning at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.

The afternoon, however, was spent with books.

My first stop was One More Page Books. In addition to oodles of tomes, the store featured a bookseller bake-off, hourly raffles, and lots of recommendations. I blew my budget at this little bookstore, but it was worth it: the staff was helpful and enthusiastic, and did I mention the bake-off?

Invictus has been described as "Doctor Who meets Guardians of the Galaxy," both bonuses in my book (so to speak). I haven't read anything by this author, so I can't wait to see how a time-traveling thief meets his destiny.

Alternate history involving the British crown? Count me in with That Inevitable Victorian Thing. It takes place in the near-future, which makes it even more intriguing, and sounds a little akin to Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet involves space travel, daring-do, and the feeling of a Browncoat adventure without the perplexing Chinese swearing.

My next stop was an indie used bookstore, Hole in the Wall Books, which is almost as claustrophobic as — but perhaps a tad more flammable and certainly less escapable than — the late, great Acres of Books.

I resumed my "one book per store" rule and walked out with a crime drama involving, of all things, a suspension bridge.

Suspension follows a New York police sergeant trying to stop the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge a week after it opened in 1883. I surprised myself, considering I am still traumatized by writing an exhaustive review of Hart Crane's poem about the Brooklyn Bridge in grad school. The book and its cover reminded me of The Alienist, which may not be accurate, but the mind goes where it goes.

My last stop was Bards Alley, and although I was intrigued by the new translation of Les Misérables (which didn't stay on the shelves much longer!), I finally settled on the second book of a series I will begin this summer.

The Girl in the Tower is the second in a series about a Russian heroine, and the cover of this book was as lovely as the first. Indeed, don't judge a book by its cover, but sometimes it's impossible to not take it into account — especially if it's gorgeous and dreamy and intriguing.

When I made my way to the register, I found buttons that included images of hedgehogs and llamas. Some depicted just hedgehogs, some featured only llamas, but I chose one with drawings of both. (Oh, and a heart.)

I could have walked out with at least three other books, but I knew my debit card needed a break. Independent bookstores have fair prices, and one should always be ready to purchase a book for full MSRP (which I was, and am, and glad to do) — but it can be costly. The abundance and availability of cheap books is delicious, but in my case, it leads to sacks of books that include stenography instruction handbooks that silently judge you from the shelf until donated to the library upon college graduation. Indie bookstores help reign me in.

The big cat was relieved when I finally made it home so she had a lap in which to relax, and the little cat sat across the room plotting how to unseat her sister from my lap.

In the end, I assisted the local economy (three different jurisdictions, in fact!) and added to my bursting library. I haven't begun any of these gems yet, but with summer reading already in the works, I plan to start one this week. Which one would you recommend? Let me know!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Bookstore Day is April 28: How Will You Celebrate?



I love bookstores. Big bookstores, little bookstores, mega-bookstores, chains, indie shops. Brick-and-mortar or mail order. Used or new, thrift store, department store, or dedicated bookstore, I'm in. In fact, I will find book sections in stores to shop — just ask the folks at the gift shop in Harpers Ferry National Park.

So, when Twitter told me about Bookstore Day, I didn't need to be told twice. Nor did it take much to remind me that I can visit multiple bookstores on that day, and I set about mapping my visits.

My kryptonite is older used books. If someone else has loved the book, I love it even more. I have been known to purchase used books as gifts — which may sound gauche, but as I ask myself with no discernible irony, who wouldn't like a hardback early edition of The Godfather? (To go with the cheap paperback loaner copy, of course. I mean, one doesn't loan out one's first-string books!)

So, here in Northern Virginia, I will hit a few indie and used bookstores. Bard's Alley in Vienna is right on the way home from World Tai Chi and Qigong Day celebrations, and Hole in the Wall in Falls Church is right up the road from Penzy's Spice (which gets my love, too).

If I go further afield, I can venture to McKay in Manassas, stay on Route 50 to explore Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, or hit the Beltway to travel up to Wonder Book.

Stay in town? There's Goodwill on Main Street (or Salvation Army on Little River Turnpike, up the road near a great Indian restaurant, IndAroma).

Don't get me wrong: my e-reader is locked and loaded, and I am always looking for a good deal (a.k.a. cheap book). However, if I am not willing to walk into a retail-priced bookstore and lay out a few Hamiltons, maybe I'd better not plunk down any Washingtons. (This may change when I get to spend Tubmans, but we shall see.)

How will you spend Bookstore Day? And will you stop with one day, or like with Christmas, carry it always in your heart (and wallet)?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Poetry: Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World


Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World

                    For the community of Newtown, Connecticut,
                    where twenty students and six educators lost their
                    lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary
                    School, December 14, 2012

Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze.
Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say:
Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins
of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass,
and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born
in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing
of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell
in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War
sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate,
and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke
form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons,
but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells.

Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street,
a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House,
the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence.
Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say:
Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells.
Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say:
Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells.
Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep
in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried.
Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language
of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation
from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds.

Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest,
heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.

by Martín Espada

From Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence (Beacon Press, 2017). 
Courtesy poets.org