book stacks

Blizzard reading, snowstorm Jonas edition

We are about to get hit by what is purportedly going to be the Snowstorm of the Century. Everybody in DC is in a tizzy, grocery store is a scene of carnage, snow predictions increase hourly, the workers are going home (see what I did there) at noon most places, and one of the images on the weather channel this morning simply said ‘MOISTURE’ in giant letters over the area. Last time something similar occurred was in 2010. We lived in Bethesda near the Beltway, and that night a car pulled up by our mailbox and sat there for a good while. Eventually we walked up to it to inquire, and found a woman who simply could not get back home to Virginia because there were no roads. She stayed with us overnight. Two years ago we also had a snowmageddon, albeit of smaller proportions. You may remember it from such blog posts as Bookselling in Extreme Conditions. There might be a repeat of that this weekend, stay tuned.

The important concerns of course are as follows: 1) do we have wine and 2) what am I going to read. Wine has been procured, along with other necessities like chocolate and Swedish fish, and here is your snowstorm Jonas reading list:


It’s heavy on snow and weird: year’s best weird stories edited by Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly; Schubert’s Winter Journey by Ian Bostridge, which seems like the book written specifically for a snowstorm; ditto for Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen. And new Sjón!

Those of you living in places like Boston and Toronto are probably enjoying this ‘here’s our once-a-year snowstorm, batten down the hatches’ post (I used to live in Moscow, I have a heightened sense of my own snow mastery), so here’s a music video for you so this song can also get stuck in your head every time you turn on the weather channel:




Victory over book chaos

I have designated this week as the Book Culling Week. The urge to get rid of some of my personal ‘stock’ was prompted by rampant growth of precarious stalagmites of ARCs and galleys on the floor of my apartment. Here are my Rules of Culling that some of you might want to adapt for your particular purposes (be honest, you’re not reading this because you have too few books):

  1. I start a culling box. The box confines the rejects and prevents them from accidentally sneaking their way back into the regular book collection.
  2. The culling process takes into account the amount of time a book has been sitting on my shelf/floor and how inclined I am to read it upon its discovery. If there exists even a remote hypothetical possibility of me still reading the book, it stays (most likely till the next deaccession time).
  3. I start with the most neglected ARC stack on my floor. Usually it’s the one that I have not looked at in weeks and that contains titles I didn’t even know existed. Some of those ARCs were picked up on impulse, and now they either go into the rejection box or migrate to a more active to-read pile by my bed.
  4. Once that stack is conquered, I proceed to look at other stacks on the floor, if such exist (we haven’t even gotten to any shelving units yet). Repeat until the non-rejects are consolidated into fewer collective entities. If you are doing this, feel free to organize these according to some mysterious, known-only-to-you criteria of future readability.
  5. Now the hard work begins: the culling of the permanent collection. In my house, non-fiction has a much higher chance of being eliminated. I almost never reread non-fiction, so it ends up primarily serving as a showcase of my quirky and varied interests. Which is perfectly fine, but it gets tiresome after years of dusting around yet another 4 inch-thick Stalin biography.
  6. Fiction largely stays in place, except for books I have read and will definitely never read again, or fiction I picked up for some reason that no longer make sense and will never be read, period.

At one point I had this urge to only keep poetry and graphic novels. While I never reached this extreme, these days I mostly keep both of those plus the majority of my fiction and some non-fiction (primarily queer stuff, history I particularly like, essays, mythology, and religion).

What do I do with my box of rejects? Most of it ends up back in the break room at work (then I have to make sure I don’t accidentally bring back my own stuff in a few days). Some of it goes into little free libraries in the neighborhood, or to public libraries if they accept donations. There is also a bookshelf in our living room that is designated as a ‘non-lending library’ for visitors (i.e. take a book, don’t bring it back).

This week so far yielded about 25 rejects. This seems pretty good, except I will probably bring this many books home in the next week. But remember: Getting rid of even a few books is seen as victory over chaos.

Some thoughts on book enjoyment as a function of time

The other day I had a brief Twitter conversation with Memory from In The Forest of Stories about whether one’s enjoyment of a particular book is related to the amount of time it takes to read it. It doesn’t seem like something that should make a difference, yet for me, how long it takes to reach the last page is actually a big factor in how much I’ll like a book. Perhaps it is simply because books that do not engage me take more time to read. I keep putting them down and then picking them up, then putting them down, sometimes to never pick them up again. It doesn’t really matter whether the book is long or short. I remember times when I spent days reading a tiny 150-page novel and two days whizzing through a 650-page doorstop.

Picture of books of diverse length. From top to bottom: read (enjoyed), read (enjoyed somewhat), read (loved), did not read. There, now my dirty secret is out.

Books of diverse length. From top to bottom: read (enjoyed), read (enjoyed somewhat), read (loved), did not read. There, now my dirty secret is out. I have never read The Stand.

Here’s an infographic on how long it takes to read 64 popular books. It uses 300 words per minute as the measure, and doesn’t really take into account complexity of narrative structure, for example (i.e. something like the Lexile measure). I am probably on the higher end of reading speed (though absolutely not as far as Larry Nolen at OF Blog of the Fallen), and that might be another reason why I don’t like to spend a lot of time reading one book. Maybe it’s specifically a fast reader problem.

You might ask: ‘ok, you can read pretty fast, but do you retain anything?’ Personally, I do have a really bad memory for books. But it doesn’t seem to matter whether I spend just a few hours with a book or a few days trying to read it ‘closely’. In fact, I think my bad memory is another reason I read books quickly. If I spend too much time with one book, that means there is a day or two when I don’t touch it, and those couple of days are just enough for me to forget what happened in previous ten chapters.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to Dan Jones’s Wars of the Roses before all those dukes and earls get mixed up in my head and my enjoyment of it takes a dive.

Reading update in which I did not do much reading

All three of you who read this blog regularly are probably wondering whether I have fallen into some alternate dimension or been abducted by alien entities. Fear not, I have simply been crushed by this pile of ARCs acquired this week (that biography of Stalin on the bottom could have done this all on its own, really):


Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. I worked somewhat insane hours, though some of them were for fun things like breathing the same air as David Mitchell while he signed books. I also saw a couple of plays (also fun, but resulted in late evenings and difficult mornings). The one thing I didn’t really do was read, but I managed to finish two books:

1) John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van. Darnielle is probably best known for his band The Mountain Goats, but he also writes novels. I’m still trying to figure out what I thought about this particular one. It’s strange, and I think it is strange mostly because of the narration style. It is a story told essentially backwards, with more and more details uncovered as you read. It reminded me of All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.

2) Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes And Other Lessons From The Crematory. It’s not a big surprise that I like morbid things. When I was 14, I dragged my mother to Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg to look at preserved body parts and two-headed babies. Therefore, this book went straight to the top of my to-read pile. It’s a memoir, but it’s also a hard look at how we treat our dead and deal with death in general. Doughty is not kind to the American funeral industry, and she presents a compelling argument for greater acceptance of death and our own mortality.

We have put the dead beneath. Not just underground, but under the tops of fake hospital stretchers, within the bellies of our aircraft, and in the recesses of our consciousness.

Those of you who like both morbid and linguistic things will learn the word ‘desquamation’. It is perhaps best if you don’t look it up in Google images.

ARC pile demolition project, part 2

It is time for another ARC demolition project! I did one a couple of months ago with great success, and I am due for a repeated because this is how much my pile has increased just this week:


This is insane, although I do not feel particularly bad in this case, as on Monday I reorganized all my giant stacks of books and got rid of three giant boxes of literature that will either never be read or has been read and will not be reread.

We’ll see how it goes this time.

ARC decimation project update

Conversation at work:

Me: I’m off for the next week and a half. I’m going to work through some ARCs for books already out in paperback. Because let’s be honest, we all have those.

Coworker: Hey, I have ARCs for books already out of print.


I posted a couple of weeks ago about my feeble attempt to read through my ARC pile. You will all be shocked to find out that I’ve actually been rather successful. Let’s see what I was up against:


And now let’s see what I actually finished (no photo because I actually gave most of these away to coworkers and other desperate book addicts):

1. Grady Hendrix, Horrorstor (out September 2014) – I feel like I should write a whole post on this one.

2. Eula Biss, On Immunity: An Innoculation (out September 2014)

3. Daryl Gregory, Afterparty (out now)

Then I was briefly interrupted by a re-read of Locke & Key

4. Stephen Collins, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil (technically this was a finished book, but not yet published, so it counts)

5. Julia Elliott, The Wilds (out October 2014)

6. Alyson Foster, God Is An Astronaut (out this week)

7. Randall Munroe, What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (out September 2014)

8. Susan Coll, The Stager (out this week)

So hey, pretty good! I had 11 books in my pile and read 8. But wait…  Upon closer inspection, it is revealed that only one of these was in the original TBR pile. I call this ‘the Nick Hornby effect’ — read any of his Believer columns and you will discover that his books acquired list rarely matches his list of books read.

It was a pretty good run in terms of quality. There were no abandoned ARCs. It was also a pretty good mix of regular fiction, speculative fiction, short stories, and non-fiction. Therefore, I declare my ARC decimation project a success. Commence phase 2: Further Decimation of ARC Pile. And while I’m off, maybe I’ll also do phase 3: Getting Rid of ARCs I Will Never Read But That Looked Good at the Time!


A feeble attempt to decimate my ARC pile

The ARC situation at home is once again out of control. I attempted to make neat stacks out of ARCs and galleys, which made them look even more intimidating and despair-inducing. So I just picked a handful that I am planning on tackling in the next week or so. Let us assume this is 1/10th of my ARC collection (that’s probably a lie, but let’s pretend I’m bad at math). If I get through this pile, I will successfully achieve my first ARC collection decimation.

This initial pile is mostly new stuff:


Four are bookstore events-related, so you can say they are work-related. That sounds a bit silly, since anything book-related is also work-related. A few are already out (but at least not in paperback!). Follow me as I attempt to tackle this ARC construction while being distracted and sidetracked by the re-read of the Dresden Files, new releases that look better than old ARCs, random ancient sci-fi that looks better than all of the above, and works of Turgenev that I always want to read when it’s summer and nice outside.