sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

May 31, 2013

armchair bea: non-fiction
posted by soe 11:14 pm
Armchair BEA logo design by Emily of Emily's Reading Room
Designed by Emily of
Emily’s Reading Room

Today’s Armchair BEA genre topic is non-fiction. Do we read it? If so, what kinds?

When I first started considering this topic, I was sure my list would be short, but it turns out I am a sucker for a broader swath of non-fiction than I expected.

If you divided up my reading time, only a tiny proportion of it would be devoted to non-fiction. Fiction fills a far larger percentage of my reading life. But if you looked at my shelves you could fill a whole bookshelf with non-fiction. That means, in general, I’m more likely to buy non-fiction than fiction, although I suppose if we took away books I purchased for college or grad school classes that number might shrink back to being more proportional.

Among the books you’d find on my shelves are:

  • I like a good reference book. Dictionary, thesaurus, literture desk reference set… I know my use of these books have been cut down by the internet, but it doesn’t matter. I still want a hard copy. If I ever win a lottery, I’m going to buy myself a full-size set of OED. Then I will need to move in order to have enough space to store it.
  • Writers manuals. I acquired some of these as a teen and still can’t help picking them up when I see them for sale for cheap.
  • Foreign language textbooks. Apparently I really feel I can learn how to speak a foreign language just through reading about verb conjugation. Failed attempts at three languages aside, I still have hopes.
  • Women’s studies texts. Also books on minority studies and American studies. I have an unofficial minor and a graduate degree in these topics, so they’re near to my heart. Also, when I first read Women in the Global Factory, I carried the thin book with me from dorm room to dorm room just pelting my friends with horrifying facts about atrocities visited upon women and children all in the name of our getting cheap goods.
  • Cookbooks and knitting books. I want to live in the worlds portrayed in their pages. This theory was first posited in the podcast Stash and Burn in regards to particularly nicely styled photos of unremarkable knitted goods. I have expanded it slightly to include cookbooks, since I like to buy them, but I hardly ever cook.
  • Identification guides. I love being able to flip through and find the bird I saw on the canal or a tree with unusual leaves.
  • Poetry. Why this is considered non-fiction, I don’t know, but it is. And I love it. Mary Oliver. Elizabeth Bishop. Anthologies. All good.
  • Shakespeare plays. Again, it feels particularly weird to classify these under non-fiction, but that’s where a library would put them.
  • Travelogues. I quite enjoy reading travel narratives, be they about the Appalachian Trail or the Provençal countryside. Guide books are also interesting, but I only really read the ones for places I’m going, with the exception of themed guides, such as Storybook Travels, which offers vacation ideas for places like Chincoteague Island and the Plaza Hotel.
  • Memoirs. When I was a kid, I devoured biographies, particularly that series of books that focused on famous people’s childhoods. But these days I more prefer memoir to biography. I have Penny Marshall’s on my iPod now and am looking forward to listening to Tina Fey’s and Mindy Kaling’s, too. Epistolary memoirs, such as The Delicacy and Strength of Lace or 84, Charing Cross Road, are especial favorites.
  • So that’s about it. Are there any aspects of non-fiction I didn’t touch on? Sure: history and economics and design and science and medicine and self-help and philosophy, to name just a few. None of them really do it for me as a class of books, although there are certainly individual books that fall into those categories that stand out.

    How about you? What non-fiction categories are your favorites?

    Category: books. There is/are 4 Comments.

sing along, sport, and bounty
posted by soe 3:12 am

It’s getting late, so I want to quickly highlight three beautiful things from the past week and then head to bed. Here we go:

1. Friends invite me to join them for dinner. Holden, who’s 2 1/2, started singing the English translation of “Frere Jacques,” then moved on to “The Alphabet Song” and later “Twinkle, Twinkle.” For a while he was content to serenade us (Susan and Phillip tell me this is new), but then he commanded us to sing along. And we did. (For what it’s worth, I think we’d probably be a much happier society if we broke into song more often.)

2. This was the final week of spring volleyball. I hadn’t yet picked a summer league, but a teammate told me about one that plays at a local park (rather than across town or state lines), informed me of a Groupon expiring that night that would give me half off the cost, and suggested I see about being added to her team’s roster.

3. In addition to leaves of spinach, we also picked a head of bok choy and a quart of strawberries from the garden tonight.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

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May 30, 2013

armchair bea: literary fiction
posted by soe 11:06 pm
Armchair BEA logo design by Emily of Emily's Reading Room
Designed by Emily of
Emily’s Reading Room

Today’s genre topic in Armchair BEA is “literary fiction.” I’m not sure there’s an official definition for this term, but I use it as a snobby code word for general, non-genre fiction that’s particularly well-written. Classics and historical fiction also tend to get lumped into this category.

My favorite classic literary fiction (since I didn’t write a separate post on this topic earlier this week) would include works by Jane Austen, the Brontës, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, Louisa May Alcott, and Mark Twain.

Among more modern literary fiction, I’d highlight books by Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Amy Tan, Nicole Krauss, Michael Chabon, Fannie Flagg, Jane Smiley, Marilynne Robinson, Sandra Cisneros, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Brunonia Barry.

What do you think? Any favorite authors of literary fiction you think I should sample?

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May 29, 2013

armchair bea: genre fiction
posted by soe 11:59 pm
Armchair BEA logo design by Emily of Emily's Reading Room
Designed by Emily of
Emily’s Reading Room

Today’s genre focus was on genre fiction, such as mystery, historical fiction, horror, romance, science fiction, and fantasy:

Though often dismissed or ridiculed by the more “literary” minded, these novels often deal with complex themes and issues and some of the world’s most beloved authors write in these categories. . . . If you’re a reader of genre fiction do you have a favourite author or series? And what keeps bringing you back for more . . .? And if you don’t read one (or more) of these genres what is it that deters you from those sections of the bookstore? I’m also curious to hear why you think these genres often don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Let’s start with the baseline: I like a well-written story. And while it seems like poor storytelling should be spread equally across BookWorld (™Jasper Fforde), it doesn’t seem to be. Or, maybe it is, but bad genre fiction gets more shelf space and press than other poorly written books. I suspect that’s due in part to genre fiction’s predilection for series. Many of those series start out strong, with well-developed characters and plots. But by the time an author has churned out their 15th or 50th book dealing with the same folks and settings, they often feel stale and tired. (This is not a new problem; Arthur Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes over Reichenbach Falls and Hugh Lofting had to resort to flying Dr. Doolittle to the moon in an attempt to free themselves from their popular characters.)

But that complaint aside, there are plenty of imaginative and fresh genre writers out there who can go pen-to-pen with those whose work is considered more serious.

Let’s start with fantasy. Yes, J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings has a lot of lineage and a lot of walking. But it also set out many of the ideas that fantasy authors still adhere to today in terms of structure and magical creature races. Anne McCaffrey’s early works in the Pern series took dragons to new and more beloved heights, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s feminist version of King Arthur’s tale, The Mists of Avalon, took an old tale and gave it fresh legs. Jo Rowling’s Harry Potter series made reading cool all around the world. And I dare you to find me an author writing today more clever than Jasper Fforde, particularly with his Thursday Next series.

I will concede that fewer mystery authors earn my top shelf placement, but the aforementioned Arthur Conan Doyle is certainly one of them. And Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series nicely blends historical fiction with mystery to give us an ex-battlefield nurse eager to solve cases thanks to a combination of psychology and keen observation.

There are plenty of other cosy mystery series I enjoy devouring, but I prefer to take them out from the library or buy second-hand, due to less well-rounded characters and plots (these are more like potato chips and less like a baked potato). These include Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Whimsey books, M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series, and Rhys Bowen’s Constable Evans books. Oh, and who can forget the middle grade mystery series that started the addiction for so many of us — Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden?

Anyway, those tend to be the two genres I like best. Romance, crime, and horror tend to be too graphic for my tastes. I don’t mind science fiction (and have a genuine fondness for Douglas Adams), but only as long as it doesn’t get too bleak. (Dystopian fiction is right out.) And historical fiction is okay, but I prefer it filled with spunky heroines who shrug off the societal constraints of their time, which limits my choices.

How about you? Do you enjoy genre fiction? And do you have any books or authors you particularly recommend?

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armchair bea: introduction
posted by soe 12:53 am
Armchair BEA logo design by Emily of Emily's Reading Room
Designed by Emily of
Emily’s Reading Room

There’s nothing that helps you jump back into blogging like participating in an event, and there’s nothing I’d like more than to start writing about books again. As such, I’ve decided to join the Armchair BEA. (The Book Expo of America is the publishing event of the year, reputedly filled with publishers handing booksellers as many free books as they’re willing to carry. Clearly this would be a dream event to attend in real life.) I’ll write here all week about books, possibly sometimes even more than once a day. (!!)

The first task? Answer five of the posed questions as an introduction:


Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

I’m sprite, and I’ve been blogging here for eight years, although the last six months have been ridiculously light on posts. This space was a gift from my partner, who was tired of my saying that I was going to start writing and then not doing so. He figured if he created a blog for me I’d have to do a certain amount of writing, and he’s been correct. My blog is not book-specific, so it also includes chats about my community garden plot, knitting, politics, and life in general.

Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. Feel free to share pictures.

I’m blogging from Washington, D.C. While D.C. (those who live here hardly ever call the city “Washington;” it’s either the District or D.C.) is noted as the home of our government, it’s also been home to a number of writers, including Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones, a lifelong resident; mystery writer George Pelecanos; children’s author Frances Hodgson Burnett, who wrote her first novel while living in D.C.; Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis, who wrote his most famous novels from his Dupont Circle home; and poet Ezra Pound, who was institutionalized in St. Elizabeths Hospital after pleading insanity to treason charges following World War II.

What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013?

I nearly always have several books going at once. I just finished Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, which was heart-wrenching and should be read by everyone who loves books featuring teen protagonists. I’m also working on My Ideal Bookshelf; Politics & Prose’s new local literary journal, District Lines; and two middle grade novels I chose for a fantasy reading challenge, Bliss and The Blue Shoe.

If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?

My college used to throw “Dinner with 12 Camels,” so my literary feast would be with:

  • James Thurber, Bill Bryson, and Fannie Flagg, because the conversation would always be amusing with one of them present;
  • Meg Murray, Holden Caulfield, Anne Shirley, and Jo March, because what’s the point of having this event if I don’t get to meet some of my favorite teens from growing up?
  • Maisie Dobbs and Thursday Next, because a few resourceful women who can solve mysteries are always an asset;
  • Barbara Kingsolver and Elizabeth Bishop, because their work never grows old; and
  • Death, from The Book Thief, but we’d clearly have to establish some ground rules.

What literary location would you most like to visit? Why?

Jo Rowling’s The Burrow, home of the Weasleys. I christened our subterranean apartment The Burrow in their honor, because when we moved down here I hoped it would be just as full of love as their patchwork home was.

You can read other introductory posts here, and do stop back later in the week for my thoughts on other literary topics.

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May 28, 2013

long weekending
posted by soe 2:51 am

Weekend’s over. I’m not looking forward to heading back to work, but at least I got a lot accomplished over my three days at home:

  1. I didn’t finish any of my knitting project, but I feel like the end is in sight for my grandmother’s birthday wrap — just as we’re heading into a heat wave.
  2. I wrote a pair of postcards that will go out in the morning’s mail.
  3. I visited the Georgetown library and picked up a few new books to peruse. I also took advantage of their back patio to read some of Eleanor & Park, which I also read by the C&O Canal, at a cafe, at a pizzeria, and, finally, on my couch, late into the night.
  4. I stopped by the garden to water and refill our slug traps with beer. I picked spinach and lettuce and probably a pint of strawberries. I also noticed the first tomatoes of the season are growing.
  5. I looked for ducklings in the canal, but only saw a family of geese. Oh, and turtles, cormorants, a couple great blue herons, and what I’m pretty sure was a belted kingfisher.
  6. I rode my bike, probably ten miles or so.
  7. I took a yoga class. (Weak arms!)
  8. I went to the farmers market, where i picked up strawberries and a spear of bamboo. (We’ll make a stir fry this week and use that and some of the bok choy from the garden.)
  9. My friends phoned and invited me to join them for dinner, so we ate Thai food instead of playing on the swings. Still very enjoyable.
  10. I drank tea, mango juice, and an Arnold Palmer outside, but not all at the same time.
  11. I got a couple loads of laundry done, but there are probably three more that need doing. (The perils of living with a stinky boy.)
  12. I mopped the bathroom floor and cleaned the sink and mirror. I’m going to let the aforementioned stinky boy work on the tub.
  13. I went to trivia night at my local bookstore and joined a team of strangers. We did not win, but probably finished in the top third. I left without buying any books, but only because it was my second trip there this week.
  14. I put away the Christmas dvds. Maybe next weekend I’ll go over my desk and put away any spare Christmas cds that are lingering there.
  15. A friend and I played phone tag for a while, but we finally got a chance to catch up in a nice chat.

How about you? How was your weekend?

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