Thoughts on the nature of books

At the beginning of this year, I started a project of keeping a list of all the books I read during the year. This was partly inspired by various bookcrossers who were discussing their reading aims for the year – I have no interest whatsoever in trying to meet some sort of target for my reading (reading is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, and having an aim to work towards would remove that for me), but some of the figures they were aiming for (like 50 books) sounded low to me, so I was interested to find out just how many books I do actually read in a year. The other impetus was the realisation that being such a voracious and often indiscriminating reader, many books I read seem to leave no imprint on my consciousness – I know that I’ve read them, but a few weeks later couldn’t tell you anything about the book at all. So I had a vague hope that by actually recording the books I’d read, and where possible making journal entries for them on Bookcrossing, the process of having to actually think about each book after reading it might help me remember it, and if not, well at least I’d have an aide memoire in the form of the list of books.

Of course, as Heisenberg pointed out, the act of observation changes the thing being observed, and this has proved to be true of my reading list. I’ve noticed myself reading in a different way since I started keeping the list – for a start, I found myself thinking more about books as I read them, with a corner of my consciousness already starting to compose the journal entry I would write about each book even as I started to read. The effect of this depended on the book – sometimes it was a useful tool, helping me to appreciate the book on a deeper level, and look more closely at what the author was trying to achieve (arrgghhh, I’ll become an English scholar yet!), at others it was just an irritating distraction from my enjoyment of the story. It changed the type of journal entries I was writing too – sometimes the extra thought I’d put into reading was reflected in a thoughtful journal entry, at other times by the time I’d come to actually write the review down I’d re-written it so many times in my head that I was completely bored with the idea, and the resulting journal entry would revert to “I liked this book” banalities. Another result of keeping the list was that although I wasn’t trying to meet any numerical targets, the satisfaction of seeing the numbers grow meant that I often found myself choosing shorter books over longer ones, and often rejecting other types of reading material (like magazines or newspapers) because by reading them I was somehow “wasting” reading time that I could be devoting to books. Once I realised that I was doing this I was able to stop, but it took a conscious effort to go back to selecting my next read purely on the basis of what I felt like reading, not on how quickly it would increase my total.

Early on in the exercise, I hit a philosophical problem: what exactly do you count as a book? It seems simple enough, everyone knows what a book is, but I quickly found that the edges of the definition are a bit fluffy. For example, what about e-books? They aren’t a physical book you can hold in your hand, but the text is exactly the same as the print edition, it’s just in a different format. You still read them. But then what about audio books? Again, the text is exactly the same as the print edition, but now instead of reading it, you’re listening to it. But you end up with the same information passing into your brain as you would by reading it, it’s just come through a different sensory channel. To me, that counts as a book I’ve read, so I thought maybe I needed to extend my definition of books to be things that have a print version (although where does that leave films of books? I wouldn’t count seeing the film of a book as being the same thing as having read it (even where the adaptation has been totally faithful to the book), but what’s the difference between a film and an audiobook?) And recently, inspired by a lecture series I attended, I’ve read a few hypertext novels. They don’t have a print edition (in fact, for most of them a print edition would be impossible to conceive of), but they’re novels, so it seems natural to add them to my list (and we won’t even get into the question of when you can be said to have “read” a hypertext novel, which by their nature are often completely open-ended, with no set beginning or ending, and which can be completely different on every reading – one definition I heard said that you’ve finished reading a hypertext novel when you feel like you’ve got as much out of it as you wanted to). At the other end of the scale, there’s things that physically are definitely books – they have pages, covers, ISBNs – but somehow don’t seem like *real* books – things like books of cartoons, children’s books (and where is the cutoff point for a children’s book being a real book? Hairy Maclary isn’t, and Harry Potter is, but where do you draw the dividing line between them?), art books… And then there’s things like playscripts, books of poetry, textbooks… the list of doubtful cases is endless. In the end, I took the coward’s way out and listed everything I read that could conceivably be considered a book, and just accepted the fact that the final number is pretty meaningless, really.

So, how many books have I read this year? No idea. But so far I’ve read 168 things that may or may not be considered as books, depending on your point of view. For today, you can peruse my reading list for the year on my diary’s index page. Tomorrow, I’ll probably move it to a diary entry so I can start my list for 2006…

Currently reading: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Splurge

There are a few pleasant side effects to MrPloppy being out of work. One I particularly enjoy is the fact that he does all the housework, so that I come home from work to a clean house and dinner prepared – I can suddenly see why men have always been so keen on women being housewives… :-) Another benefit is that our parents have all got it into their heads that we’re starving and on the verge of bankruptcy (which we’re not – we’ve had to cut back on a few luxuries, but otherwise we’re surviving quite comfortably on my salary), so we keep getting given money for Christmas and birthday presents. Add that to the fact that MrPloppy’s parents still haven’t quite got their heads round the exchange rate (no matter how often we tell them that £20 goes a long way in NZ money, and is a lot more than is necessary for “a birthday drink” as they always say in their cards), and between MrPloppy’s birthday and Christmas it’s added up to quite a bit.

We both believe that present money shouldn’t be used for boring things like paying bills, so we decided yesterday to go into town and blow it all on fun stuff while there are sales on, which we succeeded in doing quite nicely, coming home with a new game for the PS2 (Lego Star Wars, which is brilliantly silly – we had a demo for the PC version, which my nephews love (as soon as they came in the door the other day, the first thing Nephew#1 said was “I really love that Star Wars game” (which is his new “polite” way of hinting that he’d like to play it)) – the demo’s enough to keep them entertained for ages (they’re only 4 and 2, after all!), but the full game is a bit more entertaining for us over-5s!); several DVDs (The Phantom Menace (just to complete the set – we’ve got it on video, but that’s not the same); Fight Club; Edward Scissorhands; and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban); and a few music CDs (which MrPloppy picked, so are all by totally obscure artists I don’t remember the names of and who nobody else would have heard of anyway).

When we got back from town, I went round to gwilk‘s place – his wife used to be in a book discussion group, which eventually folded through lack of interest, and a few of the ex-members had discussed replacing it with a film club that would go a see a movie together once a month. Mrs Gwilk had mentioned this when they were at our place the other night, and I’d said I might be interested, so she emailed me yesterday morning to say they were getting together that afternoon to set up the group and invited me along. I did feel a little bit out of place at first, being the only woman there who didn’t have a string of kids in tow, but they do seem like a friendly group, and the plan for seeing a film each month sounds like fun (and might inspire me to actually go to the pictures more often, instead of my normal thing of saying “that sounds like a good film, we must go and see it” and then by the time I think of it again it’s gone and we just wait and see it on DVD), so I joined up. They’re also planning on organising a few board game evenings, which might be fun to go along to too. So I might end up having quite a social year at this rate!

Merry Christmas and other frivolity

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope everyone’s having a day of pleasant overindulgence and laziness – we certainly are here in the FutureCat household.

We had a little bookcrossing party here on Friday night – lytteltonwitch, awhina, meerkitten, non-fiction, and gwilk and his wife came round for dinner and silly games (supplied by gwilk – it’s amazing how much energy a bunch of adults can put into a children’s card game involving foxes chasing chickens!), and then once it got dark we went over to Jelly Park and created a Christmas Book Tree. We put books in plastic bags and tied them up with Christmassy ribbon, and then picked a tree in the park and hung the books from it. The tree looked amazing when we’d finished, with books hanging all over it, spinning gently in the breeze.

Here’s lytteltonwitch (in Santa outfit) and the kitten standing in front of the finished tree:

The books I released on the tree were:
Saints and Sinners by Marcelle Bernstein
Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald/a>
The Art of Mingling by Jeanne Martinet
The Fire People by Cordell Alexander
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Season of Miracles by Emilie Richards

After we got back from the park, we had some dessert, played some more games, and then tuned in to BBC Radio Shropshire for the main event of the evening: the weekly Bookcrossing Update. But we had plans to do more than listen and chat on the forum this time. Just after midnight, when the Bookcrossing Update segment started, we rang the radio station (the Bookcrossing Update is part of their morning talk-back show, so they’re always giving out the number to ring) and said we were calling from New Zealand to say Merry Christmas to Jim (the DJ). The receptionist who answered the phone was very excited that we were calling from the other side of the world, and even offered to ring us back rather than put us on hold, so that we wouldn’t have a huge phone bill. And then when we finally got to talk to Jim (I did most of the talking, but everyone else got the chance to say Merry Christmas), he asked me all about our Book Tree, and Lesley’s Santa outfit (I’d posted the above photo on the forums, which he’d seen), and we talked about the fact that it was after midnight here, so it was already Christmas Eve (and Elaine, his co-presenter, asked if I was really Dr Who, seeing as we were obviously time travellers :-) ) – it was a really nice little chat (it was funny, before I rang I was really nervous about talking on the radio, but because I’ve chatted to Jim on-line, it was just like talking to a friend, so it wasn’t scarey at all), and all the bookcrossers listening on line said it was really fun to listen to. We’d (the Christchurch Bookcrossers) been planning to make the call for ages, but kept it secret so it would be a Christmas surprise for Jim and for the Bookcrossers listening in other countries, and I think the surprise worked :-) I even got a nice email from Jim after the show was finished, thanking me for ringing! The Listen Again clip of the show isn’t up yet, but when it is (hopefully in a day or two), it’ll be here (look on the sidebar for “BC update part fifteen”).

Currently reading: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Not quite a book fence

Well, we’re back from our little releasing expedition, and although things didn’t entirely go according to plan, it did turn out pretty well in the end.

The original plan was that Mothercat (no relation :-)) and I were going to create a book fence at St Andrews College, because they have a very long lovely old spikey topped fence (ready made book hooks :-)) that runs alongside quite a busy road, where it would get quite a bit of attention from passing cars and pedestrians.

We arrived at St Andrews, where we were met by lytteltonwitch, and began hanging books from the fence. I’d brought along a couple of bags of books, as had lytteltonwitch, and Mothercat had brought several boxes, so we worked out we probably had about 200 books between us.

We’d managed to hang about half of them when someone came out of the school and told us off :-( We did attempt to explain the concept of Bookcrossing, and that the whole point of the exercise was to spread the joy of reading (which surely a school must appreciate!) and that we’d been very careful to hang the books in a way that wouldn’t damage the fence, but he started getting huffy and claiming that there was a council by-law preventing anything being hung from the fence (I suspect it’s more about advertising signs than plastic bags with books in them), and made us remove them all (but not before a couple of passing kids had stopped to look at the books and had taken some home, so it wasn’t a total loss). Anyway, we gave in and bundled all the books back into the boxes, and after a quick consultation over a map decided to head to Hagley Park.

Hagley Park doesn’t have a cool fence like St Andrews, but it does have a fence with footpaths and bike and running tracks on either side, as well as a major road going past, so we ended up just placing a book at the base of each fence-post. It’s a testament to how large the park is that even though the posts are several metres apart, 200 books (less a few that lytteltonwitch hung from a tree) still only covered a small part of one side of the park!

The finished line of books looked very impressive, and as we were leaving it was starting to attract some attention from passers-by.

The books I released:
We Always Wore Sailor Suits by Susanna Agnelli
The Clock Strikes Twelve by Patricia Wentworth
Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
Six Plays by Lillian Hellman
The Soul of a Bishop by HG Wells
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Cockney Girl by Gilda O’Neill
Tomorrow, When It’s Summer by Helen Brown
Legacy by Tomáš Carba, Alexandr Koráb and David Borek
Man’s Estate by Andre Malraux
The World’s Most Infamous Murders by Roger Boar and Nigel Blundell
The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F Glut
Scruples by Judith Kantz
Summer at the Lake by Andrew M Greeley
The Scar by Frank Kippax
The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abé
The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Tropisms and the Age of Suspicion by Nathalie Sarraute
A History of the English Language by Albert C Baugh and Thomas Cable
Damnable Opinions by Llewelyn Powys
The Murder in the Tower by Jean Plaidy

Normally when I post photos that include other bookcrossers’ cars, I make sure I obscure the number plate in some way. But I have Mothercat’s permission to show you her fabulously appropriate number plate:

A caught domino

One of the Readers’ Digest dominoes we released in Dunedin has been caught, and is now in Prague! So much for my theory that nobody ever picks up Readers’ Digests…

Actually, getting that catch reminds me that I never did make release notes for the domino books – I think when we got back from Dunedin I was too busy writing my newsletter article (which has now been published) and writing the long and complicated release notes for the tour by Tom Sawyer, so actually releasing the dominoes slipped my mind. [Slight pause while FutureCat races off and makes a few post facto release notes – thank goodness for the adjustable date field on the release page…] Right, all released now. Here’s the other four copies I released: 1, 2, 3, 4 (lytteltonwitch supplied the bulk of the books for the project, my five were just a token addition).

Another cool recent catch was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – it’s been quietly travelling from Anonymous Finder to Anonymous Finder for the last couple of years, aquiring a reasonably impressive string of journal entries.

Off on another mad expedition this morning – I’ll report back later.

Why FutureCat?

Ah, the tale of the naming of FutureCat is a long and tangled one. Sit down and I’ll tell you the story of how I got my name… Actually, it’s reasonably simple: ever since I first started using the internet, I’ve used a variety of usernames with “cat” in them. On one forum that I used to hang round a few years back, one of the North American members was puzzled by the fact that I always seemed to be a day ahead of everyone else – I would mention the fact that it was Friday, but as far as he was concerned it was still Thursday. Instead of coming to the obvious conclusion that I lived on the other side of the International Dateline from him, he decided I must be from the future, and dubbed me “the future cat”. So when I joined Bookcrossing and all my usual usernames were already taken, FutureCat seemed like the obvious choice. And as this diary is mostly about Bookcrossing (with not-so-occasional detours into the realms of cats, embroidery, and life in general), I’ve stuck with the FutureCat name.

Meetup last night, for which we had a surprisingly large turn-out (and surprisingly gender-imbalanced – not that a gender imbalance is unusual, it’s just that for a change there were more men than women, when it’s normally the reverse). MrPloppy made a rare appearance, plus there was a new member, MonkeCatcher, and regular attendees lytteltonwitch, non-fiction, Cathietay, daveytay, and (of course) me. We haven’t had that many turn up in ages. It’s probably a good thing awhina and meerkitten were at a movie, otherwise we wouldn’t have had room round the table! I passed on The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace (which had somehow found its way back into my house), One Hit Wonderland by Tony Hawks, and Undressed by Stacy Gregg, and picked up The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and Porno by Irvine Welsh.

A couple of neat recent catches: another of my Tom Sawyers from our Dunedin trip got caught, and is now somewhere in Northern Ireland, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover was caught from the OCZ (which there’s been very little movement from recently), and has been re-released back onto the shelf. The catcher didn’t enjoy the book, unfortunately, but they did join Bookcrossing!

Currently reading: still slogging my way through Cuentos en español and the multitude of endnotes and appendices to A Path Where No Man Thought, as well as having made a start on Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, which is a bookring book so I don’t want to leave it sitting in Mt. TBR for too long. I have really got to get back to reading just one book at a time…

Playing Tag

(Actually, at my first primary school we used to call it “tig” rather than “tag” – hmm, the great NZE vowel shift in action? (although that would be more likely to produce “teg”))

Anyway, the game as updated for the 21st century, and with its vowel duely restored, is this:


Name 5 of life’s simple pleasures that you like most, then pick 5 people to do the same. Try to be original and creative and not to use things that someone else has already used. Tag 5 people on your list.

Kimi tagged me, so here goes:

  1. Chocolate! Pretty much any chocolate will do, but for preference the really nice Swiss stuff we used to buy in Germany and I haven’t seen since (I’ve seen Swiss chocolate, of course, but not this particular brand), or if I have to stick to what’s locally available a nice box of chocolates from De Spa (if only I could afford them… I think I’ll have to stick to Cadbury’s).

  2. A good book and a comfy spot – curled up in front of the fire in winter, or lying under a tree in summer, I’m not fussy :-)

  3. Getting up really early in the morning on a day when you don’t actually have to, and enjoying the calm that sits over the city when most of it is asleep.

  4. Being out in the country on a clear night and looking up at the night sky, and being blown away by the stars no matter how many times I see them.

  5. (One for Christmas) Managing to find the perfect gift for someone, and seeing the look on their face as they open the parcel.

And now I strike a slight problem. Just about everyone I can think of has already been tagged, so I don’t know who to tag for my 5 people :-(

I know! If you’re reading this, and you haven’t already been tagged by someone else, consider yourself tagged by me! Hmm, maybe you should leave a comment to say you accept your tagging, just in case more than 5 people actually read this entry (unlikely, I know, but just in case…). So if there’s already been 5 people tagged, and you read this, you’ll have to go and find someone else to tag you, sorry (although given that this tagging thing is a geometric progression, within a few weeks the entire population of the world except you should have been tagged, so it shouldn’t be a problem finding someone to tag you…)

Another sort of Christmas Kitten

It’s that time of year again, and as meerkitten‘s “honorary aunties”, lytteltonwitch and I were invited along to her Sunday school’s Christmas play. I had about as much fun as an atheist who has very little to do with children can sitting in a church watching a bunch of kids talking about Jesus… but cynicism aside, the kitten was pretty good in her role of a cheeky shepherd, and there *were* one or two funny moments in the play (plus, of course, a few unintentionally funny bits when various children messed up their lines producing… um… *interesting* results (like a mix-up involving “room” and “womb” which produced quite a few sniggers from the adult part of the audience)). But overall not really my idea of an exciting way to spend a morning. Oh well, you have to do these things when you’ve got friends with kids, I suppose, and at least it only comes round once a year.

Progress report on my topiary cross-stitch:

The kittens in situ

I finally got round to getting a piece of ribbon (well, actually I finally got round to asking MrPloppy to getting some for me when he was in town the other day) so I could finish off the Christmas Kittens. I’ve still got to get a brass ring to put on the ribbon to hang them from, but in the meantime blutak is doing the job just as well.

One nice thing about having Christmas in summer is that the chimney makes a lovely place to hang the kittens, and I don’t have to worry about them catching on fire or getting melted :-)

Sorry about the poor focus – my camera obviously didn’t like the contrast against the black chimney.

Cackles

A private entry to show off a bit of embroidery that won’t be able to be made public until February:

Cackleberry is one of the lovely Brisbane bookcrossers I met when I was over there for the ABC convention. Last week his wife, jawin, sent me the following email:


Hello FutureCat,

I have received an intriguing note from DiamondLucy, a bookcrosser from Austria, who has become a special friend of a certain well-known feathered fiend.

Here is what she said:

“Heya jawin,

Since I know now that you’re mrs berry, I have an unusual request! Please make sure that the Chook is nowhere around when reading this pm!!

I’ve decided to “write” a cackleberry birthday book with the help of various bookcrossers. I’m doing this because he and others really cheered me up when I was having a bad time … it’s my way to thank him ;-) There are so many wonderful people out there and I guess now it’s my time to spread some vibes. I found out that his birthday is on the 3rd of February but I’m still lacking the year! I think it’s a milestone but am not sure for he deleted this information on his profile! Can you help me out? *conspiratively blinking* These fellow bookcrossers are already involved: constantweader, luz-de-luna, cartref, mrjiggs, milly1401, pepita-di-Corfu, apapsa. Do you think some Australians should be on the list too? Please tell me what you think about my idea!”

Lucy is right – 3 February 2006 is a special milestone in cackleberry’s life – he will turn 60. So of course I think some Australians should be involved in preparing a birthday book for him – we can’t let the foreigners have all the good ideas!

Lucy has subsequently come back with some more detailed instructions for those who would like to participate, and the list of players has expanded too. So far, there are more than a dozen volunteers from Australia and New Zealand.

If you would like to be part of this surprise for a special Chook, let me know and I will pass on the next set of instructions. The only catch is that all submissions must be here with me in Brisbane by Friday 16 December by email or snail mail. Or you can send it direct to lucy in Austria by mid January – I have all her contact details.

Oh, and if you think of anyone else that may like to be part of this, feel free to let them in on the secret too – but remember it is a secret!

I feel like I am in a James Bond movie!!! *slips on sunnies and trench coat and sidles out of the room*

Regards

jawin

Intrigued (and wanting to repay Cackles for his generousity on my birthday), I replied to Jawin saying I was interested in helping out, and got the secret instructions sent to me:


Hello FutureCat,

Thanks for agreeing to be part of the Great Chook Book conspiracy!

Here are the next instructions sent by spymaster Lucy. Read them carefully – they will self destruct in 30 seconds (or something like that)

1) take at least one sheet of paper, size A4, different colours would be nice too
2) leave 3 centimetres on the left side free for the binding
3) go create your constribution for the “cackleberry birthday book” and be creative!!
4) send the sheets to Jan who will send them to me
5) when I get all of them, I will get the book bound!
6) I will register it in January, not earlier to make sure he won’t see it by accident on one of our shelves! Then I will mail the bcid to you!

Lucy’s email is [email address removed for obvious reasons] if you have nay questions.

The cut off date for mailing from Australia is Friday 16 December to give them time to make it all the way to Austria for binding in January.

My snail mail address is:
[address]

And if you don’t already have it, my email address is [email]

Happy creating!!!!

jawin

I immediately had a brilliant idea – I’d cross-stitch a chicken as the centrepiece of my page (note for those foreigners who are wondering what the connection between cackleberry and chickens is: “cackleberry” is antipodean slang for an egg (think about it), hence him being referred to as “the chook” in Diamondlucy‘s email (“chook” is slang for chicken/hen)).

So I got out my vast supply of cross-stitch books and magazines, searching for a suitable pattern… and couldn’t find any chickens! Hundreds of ducks, a few geese, but not a single chicken. Finally, just when I thought I’d have to go and start searching the craft shops for an expensive pattern, in the second last magazine in the pile I found a selection of border patterns, one of which was a stylised chicken. It was a bit small for what I had in mind, but then I remembered I had an aida patch with a decorative edge (aida is a type of fabric used for cross-stitch) that I’d originally bought thinking it might be useful for making a bookmark, but it hadn’t been the right size for the design I’d had in mind, so I put it aside. So I dug out the patch, and discovered that with a tiny bit of tweaking of the pattern it would fit three chickens on it, and even better, the lacy edge was large enough to fill enough of an A4 page to look good, leaving just enough room for a happy birthday message (it meant I had to design the page in landscape format, but I reckoned having to turn the book sideways to see my contribution wouldn’t be that huge a hardship).

A couple of nights’ work and I had completed the chickens, and last weekend I went into town and found the perfect colour of paper to mount the embroidery on, and it’s now been safely sent off to Jawin – just hope the post isn’t delayed and it reaches her in time!