Tag: e-books

The Secret Life of Books by Tom Mole

If you’re like me and author Tom Mole, the first thing you do in any new acquaintance’s house is to scrutinize their bookshelves, whether openly or surreptitiously. You can learn all kinds of surprising things about what someone is interested in, and holds dear, from the books on display. (And if they don’t have any books around, should you really be friends?)

Mole runs the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh, where he is a professor of English Literature and Book History. His specialist discipline and this book’s subtitle – “Why They Mean More than Words” – are clues that here he’s concerned with books more as physical and cultural objects than as containers of knowledge and stories:

“reading them is only one of the things we do with books, and not always the most significant. For a book to signal something about you, you don’t necessarily need to have read it.”

From the papyrus scroll to the early codex, from a leather-bound first edition to a mass-market paperback, and from the Kindle to the smartphone reading app, Mole asks how what we think of as a “book” has changed and what our different ways of accessing and possessing books say about us. He examines the book as a basis of personal identity and relationships with other people. His learned and digressive history of the book contains many pleasing pieces of trivia about authors, libraries and bookshops, making it a perfect gift for bibliophiles. I also enjoyed the three “interludes,” in which he explores three paintings that feature books.

There are a lot of talking points here for book lovers. Here are a few:

  • Are you a true collector, or merely an “accumulator” of books? (Mole is the latter, as am I. “I have a few modest antiquarian volumes, but most of my books are paperbacks … I was the first in my immediate family to go to university, and I suspect the books on my shelves reassure me that I really have learned something along the way.”)
  • In Anne Fadiman’s scheme, are you a “courtly” or a “carnal” reader? The former keeps a book pristine, while the latter has no qualms about cracking spines or dog-earing pages. (I’m a courtly reader, with the exception that I correct all errors in pencil.)
  • Is a book a commercial product or a creative artifact? (“This is why authors quite often cross out the printed version of their name when they sign. Their action negates the book’s existence as a product of industry or commerce and reclaims it as the product of their own artistic effort.”)
  • How is the experience of reading an e-book, or listening to an audiobook, different from reading a print book? (There is evidence that we remember less when we read on a screen, because we don’t have the physical cues of a book in our hand, plus “most people could in theory fit a lifetime’s reading on a single e-reader.”)

I would particularly recommend this to readers who have enjoyed Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris, Alberto Manguel’s various books on libraries, and Tim Parks’s Where I’m Reading From.

 

A personal note: I was delighted to come across a mention of one of the visiting professors on my Master’s course in Victorian Literature at the University of Leeds, Matthew Rubery. In the autumn term of 2005, he taught one of my seminars, “The Reading Revolution in the Victorian Period,” which had a Book History slant and included topics like serial publication, anonymity and the rise of the media. A few years ago Rubery published an academic study of audiobooks, The Untold Story of the Talking Book, which Mole draws on for his discussion.

 

Two more favorite passages:

“when I’m reading, I’m not just spending time with a book, but investing time in cultivating a more learned version of myself.”

“A library is an argument. An argument about who’s in and who’s out, about what kinds of things belong together, about what’s more important and what’s less so. The books that we choose to keep, the ones that we display most prominently, and the ones that we shelve together make an implicit claim about what we value and how we perceive the world.”

My rating:

 


The Secret Life of Books will be published by Elliott & Thompson on Thursday 19th September. My thanks to Alison Menzies for arranging my free copy for review.

Reading Statistics for the First Half of 2019, Including Where My Books Came From

Almost halfway through the year: how am I doing on the reading goals I set for myself? So-so. I’m mostly managing one doorstopper and one classic per month, though sometimes I’ve had to fudge it a little with modern classics or a skim read. I’ve read precisely 0 travel classics, biographies, or re-reads, so those aims are a fail thus far. As to literature in translation, I’m doing better: it’s made up 8.1% of my reading, nearly double my 2018 percentage. And it looks like I’m on track to meet or exceed my Goodreads target.

 

The breakdown:

 

Fiction: 42.3%

Nonfiction: 42.3%

Poetry: 15.4%

(Exactly equal numbers of fiction and nonfiction books! What are the odds?!)

 

Male author: 41.3%

Female author: 56.7%

Non-binary author: 2%

(This is the first year when I’ve consciously read work by non-binary authors – three of them.)

 

E-books: 9.3%

Print books: 90.7%

(I seem to be moving further and further away from e-books now that they no longer make up the bulk of my paid reviewing.)

 


I always find it interesting to look back at where my books come from. Here are the statistics for the year so far, in both real numbers and percentages (not including books I’m currently reading, DNFs or books I only skimmed):

 

  • Free print or e-copy from the publisher or author: 65 (43%)
  • Public library: 31 (21%)
  • Secondhand purchase: 21 (14%)
  • Downloaded from NetGalley or Edelweiss: 12 (8%)
  • Gifts: 9 (6%)
  • Free, e.g. from Book Thing of Baltimore, local swap shop or free mall bookshop: 5 (3.5%)
  • University library: 4 (2.5%)
  • New book purchase: 2 (1.5%)
  • Borrowed: 1 (0.5%)

 

How are you doing on any reading goals you set for yourself?

Where do you get most of your books from?

Final 2018 Statistics and Where My Books Came From

My most prolific year yet! (I’m sure I said the same last year, but really, this is a number I will most likely never top and shouldn’t attempt to.) People sometimes joke to me, “why not shoot for a book a day?!” but that’s not how I do things. Instead of reading one book from start to finish, I almost always have 10 to 20 books on the go at a time, and I tend to start and finish books in batches – I’m addicted to starting new books, but also to finishing them.

 

The breakdown:

 

Fiction: 44.9%

Nonfiction: 45.8%

Poetry: 9.3%

(I think this is the first time nonfiction has surpassed fiction! They’re awfully close, though. I read a bit less poetry this year than last.)

 

Male author: 38.1%

Female author: 61.9%

(Roughly the same thing has happened the last two years, which I find interesting because I have never consciously set out to read more books by women.)

 

E-books: 15.7%

Print books: 84.3%

(In 2016 I read one-third e-books; in 2017 it was one-quarter. For some reason I seem to find e-books less and less appealing. They are awfully useful for traveling. However, I’ve been cutting back on the reviewing gigs that rely on me reading only e-books.)

 

Works in translation: 4.8%

(Ouch – my reading in translation almost halved compared to last year. I’m going to have to make a point of reading more translated work next year.)

 

Where my books came from for the whole year:

  • Free print or e-copy from publisher: 28.7%
  • Public library: 20.8%
  • Secondhand purchase: 20.6%
  • Downloaded from NetGalley or Edelweiss: 14.9%
  • Gifts: 5%
  • Free (giveaways, GET Free Bookshop, Book Thing of Baltimore, etc.): 3.8%
  • University library: 3.2%
  • New purchase (usually at a bargain): 1.5%
  • Kindle purchase: 0.9%
  • Borrowed: 0.6%

 

Some interesting additional statistics courtesy of Goodreads:

 

How did 2018 turn out for you reading-wise?

Happy New Year!

Where My Books Came from in the First Half of 2018

I find it interesting to look back at where my books come from, and how this changes from year to year. So far this year, it seems like I’m reading fewer e-books and more from various libraries. I’m also doing a bit better about reading the secondhand books I already own, but – like last year – the largest proportion of my reading is still review copies of new books.

Here are the statistics for the year so far, in both real numbers and percentages (not including the books I’m currently reading, DNFs and books I only skimmed BUT including picture books, which I don’t count towards my yearly total):

 

  • Free print or e-copy from the publisher or author: 45 (28%)
  • Public library: 42 (26%)
  • Secondhand purchase: 29 (18%)
  • Downloaded from NetGalley or Edelweiss: 27 (17%)
  • University library: 8 (5%)
  • Gifts: 5 (3%)
  • Twitter giveaway win: 3 (2%)
  • New (bargain) book purchase: 1 (0.5%)
  • Kindle purchase: 1 (0.5%)

 

Where do you get most of your books from?

Where My Books Come From

This challenge Laura (Reading in Bed) posted the other day is just too fun for me to pass up, plus it allows me to get a jump on my 2017 statistics. The idea is to look at the last 30 books you’ve read and note where you got hold of each one – whether from the publisher, the library, new or secondhand at a bookshop, etc. If you wish, you can also look at the whole year’s books and work out percentages. Leave a comment to let me know what you figure out about your own books’ provenance.

My bedside table (and environs): always a mix of secondhand, library and review copies.

 

Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man’s Voice from the Silence of Autism, Naoki Higashida: Public library

A Girl Walks into a Book: What the Brontës Taught Me about Life, Love, and Women’s Work, Miranda K. Pennington: E-book from Edelweiss

The Great Profundo and Other Stories, Bernard MacLaverty: Secondhand copy from Book-Cycle, Exeter

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris: Free from the Book Thing of Baltimore

Finding Myself in Britain: Our Search for Faith, Home and True Identity, Amy Boucher Pye: Christmas gift from my Amazon wish list last year

No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine, Rachel Pearson: PDF from publisher

At Seventy: A Journal, May Sarton: Secondhand copy from Wonder Book and Video

A Wood of One’s Own, Ruth Pavey: Free from publisher

A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, Aldo Leopold: University library

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary Vol. II, M.R. James: Free from publisher

This Little Art, Kate Briggs: Free from publisher

Reputations, Juan Gabriel Vásquez: Gift from a Goodreads friend

The Rector’s Daughter, F.M. Mayor: Secondhand copy from a charity shop

An English Guide to Birdwatching, Nicholas Royle: Gift from a Goodreads friend

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnovich: E-book from Edelweiss

Unruly Creatures: Stories, Jennifer Caloyeras: PDF from author

One Year Wiser: An Illustrated Guide to Mindfulness, Mike Medaglia: Free from publisher

A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives, Lisa Congdon: PDF from publisher

Dreadful Wind and Rain: A Lyrical Fairy Tale, Diane Gilliam: Won in Twitter giveaway

As a God Might Be, Neil Griffiths: Free from publisher

Devil’s Day, Andrew Michael Hurley: E-book from NetGalley

Interlibrary Loan Sharks and Seedy Roms: Cartoons from Libraryland, Benita L. Epstein: University library

Skating at the Vertical: Stories, Jan English Leary: E-book from NetGalley

Master Georgie, Beryl Bainbridge: Free from work staff room years ago

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin: Free proof copy for Bookbag review

Jacob’s Room Is Full of Books, Susan Hill: Free from publisher

Slade House, David Mitchell: Public library

The Lauras, Sara Taylor: Free for Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shadow panel reading

Survival Lessons, Alice Hoffman: Birthday gift from my Amazon wish list

 A Field Guide to the North American Family, Garth Risk Hallberg: Free from publisher

 

Our new (secondhand) bookcase on the landing quickly filled up with the double stacks from other shelves. Top: priority fiction; Shelf #1: fiction; Shelf #2: biography and memoir; Shelf #3: short stories and poetry.

 

And the statistics for 2017 so far:

  • Free print or e-copy from publisher: 30.11% (Wow – how lucky am I?!)
  • Downloaded from NetGalley or Edelweiss: 22.3%
  • Public library: 18.22%
  • Secondhand purchase: 15.24%
  • Free (other) = from giveaways or Book Thing of Baltimore: 6.69%
  • Gifts: 6.32%
  • University library: 1.12%

How Many Books Is Too Many? (to be reading at once)

You can never have too many books. But it’s entirely possible to have too many on the go at one time, or too many on the physical to-read pile (as opposed to the virtual to-read list; mine currently numbers in the thousands over at Goodreads). I was prompted to think about this at the end of 2014, when I went around our flat and counted all my owned but unread books that I still wanted to read. At that point I counted 155.

One of my reading goals for 2015 was born: I would attempt to read more of the books I actually own – at least enough to keep pace with my secondhand book buying habit. So yesterday afternoon, expecting to be heartened by my progress, I did a recount. Result? 180.

WHAT?! The number went up! Gah!

It must be that all-paperbacks-for-£1 shopping spree we did at the bookshop in Henley-on-Thames…and then I brought some books back in my suitcase on our last trip to America…plus a few more review copies have arrived.

There are books all over the flat: in the spare room, on the bedroom bookcase, on the bedside tables, on the hallway bookcase, on a big four-shelf case in the lounge, on desk shelves, even in an overflow area on the shelving unit of board games, jigsaw puzzles, CDs and DVDs.

And that’s not counting the dozens of approved e-books awaiting download on NetGalley and Edelweiss, and the others already on my Nook and Kindle e-readers. It’s nigh on impossible to say no to free books, after all.

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Okay, so I’ve established that I have a book hoarding obsession that extends into both the print and electronic realms. (It’s no surprise I worked for a website called Bookkaholic for two years, is it?) But is this really such a problem? It’s somehow comforting to know that I’ll never run out of reading material.

A related concern, though, is this: Am I reading too many books at once? I have 13 on the go at the moment (8 print and 5 electronic). Especially since I got my Nook, I find that I’ve developed a kind of ADHD when it comes to books. It’s so easy to click from one book to another that I sometimes don’t stick with one for more than a chapter at a time. Sometimes, if I’m in a rut, I’ll read the first few pages of 10 or more books before I manage to settle on one.

Up until college, I was the kind of person who faithfully read just one book at a time. Since then, though, I’ve become convinced of the merit of having two or more on the go at a time: at least one novel and at least one work of nonfiction, maybe with some poetry thrown in. If you have nonfiction from very different genres – for instance, a spiritual autobiography and a nature book; or a travel book and a foodie memoir – you could read multiple nonfiction books at the same time.

The benefits are multiple.

  • If you’re bored with one book, spend time with another one. You can always go back.
  • Sometimes a pairing is fortuitous – what you’re learning in one book will have bearing on another, or the same historical figure will turn up in both.
  • The psychological burden of having a tall stack of books staring you down may encourage you to read more.

Yet there are disadvantages.

  • With novels and short story collections, you may get characters and storylines mixed up if you have too many in your head at once.
  • You’ll make progress in all the books more slowly.
  • If you get gripped by one, you might abandon the others temporarily.

Your turn:

How many books do you read at once?

What do you think is an ideal number?

How do you manage your (physical or virtual) to-read shelf?