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Posts tagged ‘books’

Meme of the Week

Nerd Girl Problem

Happy Friday.

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Miranda: For the Love of Books, Before and After

During August, I’ll be sharing a few choice tidbits from the archives. Enjoy!

Warning. This post contains an unusually intense degree of navel-gazing and otherwise raving on and on about one’s home library, books, and related minutiae. If you find such material nauseating, turn away now. 

Recently, I posted this on Facebook:

I’m staging a serious overhaul of the home library/office today, with Mom’s help. The question is — and please don’t cringe, fellow bibliophiles — shelve the books by author last name, or by jacket color? I know, I know….but I peruse and admire many design blogs and must admit that books shelved by color look fabulous. Although I’m not sure I can bring myself to mix genres…..help!

I was amused by the considerable volume of responses. People feel VERY strongly about how to organize their books — as well they should. This is serious business, people!

rainbowWhen I first heard of organizing books by color, I thought the premise was among the most ridiculous things I’d ever heard of. Not to mention sacrilegious. The whole idea sounded like “book as prop,” in the way that a professional decorator might buy small decorative things for a client’s room simply because they look nice against the wallpaper; nothing whatsoever to do with the item’s meaning or symbolism or its emotional value to the owner. Just “stuff.” Books, of course, are not “stuff.” Ew.

But over time, I came across more instances of books organized by color that really looked beautiful. Not just a stack of three yellow books next to a yellow vase, but shelves organized wholesale by color. Still, how would you ever find anything if you didn’t organize all of your books by genre and then by author last name?

When we moved into our new home, I was thrilled to unpack my books and various possessions into our new library. I very vaguely segregated the books by nonfiction and fiction, intending to properly sort out the shelves, alphabetize my collection, and arrange all of my non-book items in the near future. Eight months later, the time finally arrived. My mother had given me a birthday coupon for a day’s worth of organizational help (and, most importantly, moral support) so I booked my sitter for an extra day, and on Friday my mother and I tackled the library. (It seemed indulgent to pay for babysitting in order to overhaul my library/home office, but considering that my mother and I worked all day long on Friday, and then I spent the better part of the weekend finishing the job myself, I know that this never would have happened if I hadn’t paid for the extra help.)

So, alphabet or color? I was intrigued by the color principle, and I had to try it. (Obviously, by the photo I ran above, there isn’t much question about which way I went.) I can’t believe HOW LONG it took to sort all the books, but we did it. (All those “taupe” books — are they gray? Are they brown? Are they off-white?) It was a LOT of fun, I have to admit. And I came to realize fairly early on that finding a specific book was not going to be a problem. But more on that later.

I also went through ever drawer and bin, sorting out all of my office supplies. I weeded out tons of stuff I don’t need or want. I filed every stack of paper. I found (or created) logical homes for all those little things that you pick up and say “what do I do with THIS?”

I now have a desk that I can actually use! I paid bills sitting at the desk last night, and everything I needed was in arm’s reach. My art supplies are organized in the hall closet around the corner, as there just isn’t room for everything in one place. But it all works.

The basic footprint of the room hasn’t changed (months ago, we tried many different arrangements of the furniture, but nothing else worked). I did change out a yucky fiberboard bookshelf for a marginally better, longer bookshelf made by my ex-husband. (No, you can’t have it back!) Please ignore the hospital-style table on wheels (it’s one of the most practical things I own, and I use it all the time).

BEFORE

B_before

AFTER

B_after

Desk corner before:

Desk_before

Desk corner after:

Desk_after

Considering that relatively little actually changed, aside from clearing out all the clutter, I can’t entirely explain the magic that this room now holds. I FREAKING LOVE IT. I want to be in here all the time. Yes, I’m in here now, typing on my laptop at my desk. I swear, it’s as if Mr. Roy G. Biv turned the room into a bowl of M&M’s. Very cozy at night, too:

night1

night2

So here’s my case for organizing books by color. In the first “after” photo above, fiction comprises the vertical shelf on the far right and the white shelf up the middle. That’s not really so many books. If I’m looking for a particular title, it’s not going to be hard to find even if I can’t remember the color of its spine. This is the only place I have adult fiction aside from my “to read” shelf on the other wall. The books to the left in the same photo are general nonfiction (biography, autobiography, and history). Again, these are mixed together, but it’s not a lot of shelf space for me to peruse if I need something. The fifth shelf is poetry.

On the other wall, books are broken down by genre. I have a shelf for editorial reference, a shelf for art reference, a shelf for books about writing, a shelf for books about creativity, a shelf for parenting, a shelf for self-help & metaphysical (yes, I have that many self-help and metaphysical books). There’s another shelf of semi-mixed nonfiction; a little chunk of current political books, a chunk of animal-related training books, a chunk of sports-related books, a section for gardening. Then there is the to-read shelf, as well a short fiction and plays. And so on.

For each of these subsections, I organized books by color and shape, depending on what looked best for each shelf. Again, I’m not going to have trouble finding anything because I know what each subsection is, and no single subsection is more than a shelf long.

So, now that I’ve dealt with the question of “how will you find anything?” I’ll get to why I think this is such a fabulous way to organize your books. First, a book is so much more than words on a page, or the author’s position in an alphabet. A book is a piece of art — even an old Bantam mass-market paperback — and to my mind, organizing books this way is something that honors each book as art. Positioning each book on a shelf in a way that maximizes its beauty (almost as “paint”) rather than by the name of the person who wrote it seems to me a more potent way to celebrate the beauty of a personal library. The shelves are pleasing and peaceful, without losing the vaguely chaotic and cozy look that is inherent in any library. The color progression is so eye-catching that I think it actually calls more attention to the books, not less — without dominating. What do you think?

The downside to having a dream library/work environment is this: There is pretty much no excuse left on the planet for not coming up with something brilliantly creative. I seem to have run out of excuses. And I DID just use an entire weekend’s worth of “free” moments to finish the room. Time to get to back to the writing 🙂

What do you think?

Cathy: writerly crisis of faith and confirmation of all my fears

This entry is a combination of a couple of recent posts on my personal blog.

on Monday, I wrote:

writerly crisis of faith
Almost two weeks ago, I gave the first 33 pages of my baby, er, children’s novel manuscript to my critique group. We meet tomorrow. During school vacation. At my house. With my gang of mayhem and two other kids added to the mix. And the one person I know outside the group will not be there, so she returned my pages with her comments yesterday.

I’ve done a lot of work on those first 30 pages in the past 6ish years since I started writing this little tale. They are the initial inspiration, and what I always felt really worked about the book. The changes I had made were on the small side, grammar, tense, slight rearranging of things. Now I feel like I have to move a thought bubble that wraps the first third of the novel very nicely and turn into a scene that will be the new opening of the book. Not that that was her exact suggestion, but that’s where my mind took it.

But I love my opening! There’s a great slow build to what happened to make this kid so upset in the opening lines.

I have had other readers who really loved the opening. I have four more readers to hear from tomorrow.

How can my heart be simultaneously in my throat and in the bottom of my gut at the same time? I feel like I have a big envelope to open, and it either has very very good news, or absolutely horrid news to bear. Quite possibly both. And once I open it, I will have to cut my big ball of dough in half, knead it, fold it over and over again into itself, pound on it, and hopefully, a beautiful loaf will emerge from the oven.

I know, mixed metaphor central, but give me a break!

Anticipation is a killer.

On Tuesday, came:

confirmation of all my fears

Great writers’ group this morning — afternoon. We wrote, I was interrupted by kids a variety of ways (school vacation and toddler), and then we got hungry, ate lunch and discussed the first third of my novel, as I mentioned yesterday.

They confirmed all of my misgivings about the manuscript’s current state, and now, boy do I have a lot of work to do. But it’s good, not the dread that my anticipation was giving me.

I kind of wish I was done already…but I guess this is what they mean about 2nd draft work. It’s not just about picking through the first draft and the million and a half edits already done, but about the complete restructuring of the storytelling… focus description into action, rearrange parts, rethink what is important about characters and how they serve the story, get rid of unnecessary adverbs…you know, the big stuff.

So big stuff, here I come. Right after this diaper change….

Psst! And guess what else?  They liked it, too!

The Soul’s Re-education – Whose writing do you love?

I will never be a literary critic. I say Wow. I say Yes. I feel a resonance inside, a plucked guitar string, light shifting, I find myself holding my breath. I feel a flicker of an idea, consciousness swirling, a pulse of feeling, a glimpse of memory that sets me ready to try to say…..something, something that might in turn touch and inspire others or provide them with a reflection of their emotions, or show them a new way of looking at the world.

Who are the writers that refill the well for you?

The last decade for me has been a decade of what I call ‘mud’. Not in a negative sense but in a hands-on, practical, prosaic, down in the thick of things kind of way. I have given birth to and raised four children with all the nappies and puree and wiping down and tidying up and cajoling and physical helping and emotional steering that that entailed. Something has to give, sometimes its ‘air’, what’s up there, the things that take us out of ourselves, music, words, exercise, theatre, new places, silence. The children are older now, the tiny baby stage has passed. I am about to start a new decade in age too. I want to begin to refuel in all the other things that I haven’t been able to get to. I still have the physical, the hugs, the squeaky noses, the lifting, the holding, the toddler insisting he can only be happy lying cheek to cheek with me but I want the breath as well, a little bit more than before.

This means catching up on old music videos I have never seen, bands that I hear fleetingly in the car between pickups but never hear the name of. It means, perhaps DVD box sets or catching re-runs of shows I missed like Madmen, The Mighty Boosh, The West Wing. It means getting to more music shows, more theatre, more galleries. (Even if its only 1 more!). And it means books and authors.

These are the books currently on my bedside table or in a tall pile beside it.

They are by writers who were recommended to me by others or are people that I have enjoyed in the past and want to continue to become more familiar with their work. In particular since I have begun to write so many short stories I have also become a voracious reader of short story collections.

  • Hanif Kureshami: The Body (Already in awe!)
  • J.G. Ballard: Kingdom Come
  • A.S Byatt: Possession
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Nabokov: Collected stories (His work is a wonderful revelation!)
  • Jeannette Winterson: The Stone Gods
  • Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories
  • Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze
  • Virginia Woolf: The Waves, To the Lighthouse
  • John Steinbeck: The Pearl, Sweet Thursday, The Wayward Bus
  • Ivy Bannister: The Magician (short stories)
  • Paul Durkan: Life is a Dream: 40 Years Reading Poems 1967-2007
  • Sylvia Plath’s: Collected Poems

These are books I have enjoyed most in the past few years and highly recommend.

  • What was Lost: Catherine O’Flynn
  • The Accidental and Hotel World: Ali Smith
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • To a God Unknown, Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck
  • The Gathering: Anne Enright
  • Postcards, The Shipping News: Annie Proulx
  • Map of Glass: Jane Urquart
  • The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen (An event of a book, great illustrations, notes in the margins. Beautiful to hold.)

Short Stories

  • How to Breathe Underwater: Julie Orringer
  • Constitutional: Helen Simpson
  • Lorrie Moore: The Collected Stories
  • A.S. Byatt: Little Black Book of Stories

I also hope to become acquainted with the stories of Raymond Carver and to read the first two available stories from The Chaos Walking Trilogy (teen fiction) by Patrick Ness The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer.

Help me with my re-education, my filling up of the soul and the well of inspiration.

Who are your favourite authors? What are your favourite books? Do you have any recommendations for us of authors we should become acquainted with? Are you an author we should become acquainted with? Add in your favourite band and TV show too. Please leave your comments and hopefully we can share some gems.

The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood

dividedheartLast year, while trawling the web, I came across mention of Rachel Power’s The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood. The book’s scope was clearly related to my own work, so I immediately ordered a copy even though I had to order it directly from Red Dog, the Australian publisher. The book arrived in good stead — fat and enticing — but it took me nearly a year before making the time to read it while on vacation this August. I only wish I hadn’t waited so long.

Rachel Power explores the painful dichotomy that is inherent in being both a mother and an artist: “A divided heart; a split self; the sense that to succeed at one means to fail at the other.” Through profiles of professional creative women — many of whom are familiar names to an American audience — Rachel explores how the divided heart manifests for each artist. While every situation is different, there are undeniable — and affirming — commonalities. Rachel’s book is not prescriptive; rather it is an intimate exploration of what it means to be an artist and a mother.

The profiles are fascinating, but the most compelling parts of the book are the author’s introduction, first chapter, and conclusion — which are all personal and expository. Rachel Power is a beautiful writer, and her prose is brilliant and honest. Ultimately, I wished the book had included more of her own thoughts and analysis.

Here is an excerpt that will sell the book to this particular audience more than any reviewer’s pontification:

“I looked at the other mothers in the part in the hope of recognising something. But we were smiling, smiling, all noble silence. Inside, are you crushed? I wanted to ask them. Are you gazing at the planes that fly overhead with a barely disguised yearning? Are your legs restless to run? And then, do you see your child grinning proudly at you from the top of the slide and does your heart lurch? Does love storm through your body and cuase you to run toward that darling face as if you’ve never wanted anything more in your life?” (p. 15)

This, dear reader, is the divided heart. I know that you know it well. Fortunately, the book rings with optimism without glossing over the author’s premise: being an artist and a mother is inherently painful, but you CAN turn the experience into something beautiful and successful, if you try hard enough — and surrender to the rocky landscape. Rachel quotes Susan Rubein Suleiman: “…Any mother of young children…who wants to do serious creative work — with all that such work implies of the will to self-assertion, self-absorption, solitary grappling — must be prepared for the worst kind of struggle, which is the struggle against herself.”

The Aussie writer and blogger MamaMia (Mia Freedman) described The Divided Heart as “A book that changed my life” and posted a terrific interview with Rachel. In-depth blogger reviews abound; my favorites include Loobylu, PickleMeThis, and You can now order the book in hardcover through third parties at amazon, or a paperback via the publisher.

Rachel Power has her own blog, The Rachel Papers, which continues the conversation.

Without question, The Divided Heart is an important resource in our discussion and contemplation of motherhood and art.

Miranda: For the love of books

Warning. This post contains an unusually intense degree of navel-gazing and otherwise raving on and on about one’s home library and related minutiae. If you find such material nauseating, turn away now. I warned you!

On Friday, I posted this on Facebook:

Miranda Hersey Helin is staging a serious overhaul of the home library/office today, with Mom’s help. The question is — and please don’t cringe, fellow bibliophiles — shelve the books by author last name, or by jacket color? I know, I know….but I peruse and admire many design blogs and must admit that books shelved by color look fabulous. Although I’m not sure I can bring myself to mix genres…..help!

I was amused by the considerable volume of responses. People feel VERY strongly about how to organize their books — as well they should. This is serious business, people!

rainbowWhen I first heard of organizing books by color, I thought the premise was among the most ridiculous things I’d ever heard of. Not to mention sacrilegious. The whole idea sounded like “book as prop,” in the way that a professional decorator might buy small decorative things for a client’s room simply because they look nice against the wallpaper; nothing whatsoever to do with the item’s meaning or symbolism or its emotional value to the owner. Just “stuff.” Books, of course, are not “stuff.” Ew.

But over time, I came across more instances of books organized by color that really looked beautiful. Not just a stack of three yellow books next to a yellow vase, but shelves organized wholesale by color. Still, how would you ever find anything if you didn’t organize all of your books by genre and then by author last name?

When we moved into our new home in February of this year, I was thrilled to unpack my books and various possessions into our new library. I very vaguely segregated the books by nonfiction and fiction, intending to properly sort out the shelves, alphabetize my collection, and arrange all of my non-book items in the near future. Eight months later, the time finally arrived. My mother had given me a birthday coupon for a day’s worth of organizational help (and, most importantly, moral support) so I booked my sitter for an extra day, and on Friday my mother and I tackled the library. (It seemed indulgent to pay for babysitting in order to overhaul my library/home office, but considering that my mother and I worked all day long on Friday, and then I spent the better part of the weekend finishing the job myself, I know that this never would have happened if I hadn’t paid for the extra help.)

So, alphabet or color? I was intrigued by the color principle, and I had to try it. (Obviously, by the photo I ran above, there isn’t much question about which way I went.) I can’t believe HOW LONG it took to sort all the books, but we did it. (All those “taupe” books — are they gray? Are they brown? Are they off-white?) It was a LOT of fun, I have to admit. And I came to realize fairly early on that finding a specific book was not going to be a problem. But more on that later.

I also went through ever drawer and bin, sorting out all of my office supplies. I weeded out tons of stuff I don’t need or want. I filed every stack of paper. I found (or created) logical homes for all those little things that you pick up and say “what do I do with THIS?”

I now have a desk that I can actually use! I paid bills sitting at the desk last night, and everything I needed was in arm’s reach. My art supplies are organized in the hall closet around the corner, as there just isn’t room for everything in one place. But it all works.

The basic footprint of the room hasn’t changed (months ago, we tried many different arrangements of the furniture, but nothing else worked). I did change out a yucky fiberboard bookshelf for a marginally better, longer bookshelf made by my ex-husband. (No, you can’t have it back!) Please ignore the hospital-style table on wheels (it’s one of the most practical things I own, and I use it all the time).

BEFORE

B_before

AFTER

B_after

Desk corner before:

Desk_before

Desk corner after:

Desk_after

Considering that relatively little actually changed, aside from clearing out all the clutter, I can’t entirely explain the magic that this room now holds. I FREAKING LOVE IT. I want to be in here all the time. Yes, I’m in here now, typing on my laptop at my desk. I swear, it’s as if Mr. Roy G. Biv turned the room into a bowl of M&M’s. Very cozy at night, too:

night1

night2

So here’s my case for organizing books by color. In the first “after” photo above, fiction comprises the vertical shelf on the far right and the white shelf up the middle. That’s not really so many books. If I’m looking for a particular title, it’s not going to be hard to find even if I can’t remember the color of its spine. This is the only place I have adult fiction aside from my “to read” shelf on the other wall. The books to the left in the same photo are general nonfiction (biography, autobiography, and history). Again, these are mixed together, but it’s not a lot of shelf space for me to peruse if I need something. The fifth shelf is poetry.

On the other wall, books are broken down by genre. I have a shelf for editorial reference, a shelf for art reference, a shelf for books about writing, a shelf for books about creativity, a shelf for parenting, a shelf for self-help & metaphysical (yes, I have that many self-help and metaphysical books). There’s another shelf of semi-mixed nonfiction; a little chunk of current political books, a chunk of animal-related training books, a chunk of sports-related books, a section for gardening. Then there is the to-read shelf, as well a short fiction and plays. And so on.

For each of these subsections, I organized books by color and shape, depending on what looked best for each shelf. Again, I’m not going to have trouble finding anything because I know what each subsection is, and no single subsection is more than a shelf long.

So, now that I’ve dealt with the question of “how will you find anything?” I’ll get to why I think this is such a fabulous way to organize your books. First, a book is so much more than words on a page, or the author’s position in an alphabet. A book is a piece of art — even an old Bantam mass-market paperback — and to my mind, organizing books this way is something that honors each book as art. Positioning each book on a shelf in a way that maximizes its beauty (almost as “paint”) rather than by the name of the person who wrote it seems to me a more potent way to celebrate the beauty of a personal library. The shelves are pleasing and peaceful, without losing the vaguely chaotic and cozy look that is inherent in any library. The color progression is so eye-catching that I think it actually calls more attention to the books, not less — without dominating. What do you think?

The downside to having a dream library/work environment is this: There is pretty much no excuse left on the planet for not coming up with something brilliantly creative. I seem to have run out of excuses. And I DID just use an entire weekend’s worth of “free” moments to finish the room. Time to get to back to the writing 🙂

Cathy: I can’t even peek.

In my travels over a week ago, I retrieved one well inked copy of my first manuscript draft I had sent to a dear friend in the Boston area for critique and suggested edits.

Many moons ago, I lived in a 2nd floor walk-up on Newbury Street dubbed the shoebox, and he rented a room in the former servants’ quarters on the fourth floor (even more stairs, I had to take them two at a time at a momentum run to survive the ascent) of an old Commonwealth Avenue townhouse that had been broken into condos. We regularly spent entire days walking around Copley Square, sitting on benches on Comm Ave, in the BPL Courtyard, a few regular cafes, Newbury Pizza or each other’s humble abodes, discussing Literature, Art, listening to Mozart, Schubert, old time Rockabilly, Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, and critiquing poetry and plays each wrote. We really dissected each other’s work, at times taking personal affronts, at others, able to make useful and take useful suggestions. Sometimes another friend joined us, but mostly it was just the two of us, picking apart each other’s work in order to build it back up again into something better. That was fifteen and then some years ago.

When he handed back my baby, er, first draft in Cambridge, he very kindly told me it was a great story and excellent characterizations. He gave a few verbal points of interest. But mostly, I noticed just how much ink he laid on each page in my quick thumb through in the dark of the rainy night under a street light.

How very film noir.

I still can’t look at it.

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