Because of Winn-Dixie

img_2719Book: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Date Read: December 2 to 9, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

I was prompted to finally get this book off my to read list by two things. I happened to be sitting in on a Fifth Grade class when they started to read this as a group, and was at least a little intrigued. It happened to work out that this also fit into the December prompt for the Unread Shelf Project, which suggested reading the shortest book on your shelf. Until this, I had avoided reading this one for quite some time, as I had been told that it was sad. Considering that I knew this was a book about a dog, I made some assumptions about why it might be sad, and decided to pass—who really needs to read another book where the dog dies at the end? Well, spoiler alert: that’s not what happens. In fact, we actually get a happy ending! Of course, I did not know that going in. Perhaps the surprise of a happier than expected ending biased me some in favor of the book, but I am glad that I finally decided to pick up this quite popular children’s novel.

Our main character, Opal, has recently moved with her father, the Preacher, to a new town. Being new, she is unsure of her place in the town, and seems a bit withdrawn and certainly lonely. Enter Winn-Dixie, the stray dog she claims as her own after he has wreaked havoc in the produce section of the local grocery store. Opal’s father has taught her to help the less fortunate, and this dog certainly fits the bill: he is skinny, gangly, and generally appears to be in rough condition. Winn-Dixie quickly wins over Opal, her father, and then a large number of people throughout the town. With the help of the dog, Opal starts to meet and open up to various people around the town.

One of the things that I found interesting in Opal’s journey is that the lesson she learns through Winn-Dixie about opening up to others and not judging based on looks, is something that she already knew—sort of. Opal has a soft spot for the outsiders, which I suppose goes along well with her taking in a rough looking dog. Opal was quick to befriend Otis at the pet shop, despite being told that he had been in jail. She quickly accepted the woman whom the other children referred to as a witch. While she is willing to let these people into her world, she is quick to judge many of the others around her, especially other children and the people who belong to her father’s church.

This is a great middle and upper elementary novel, and works really well for classroom discussions. I imagine that is not a major revelation to anyone. There is good reason that this book is often taught in school. There can be a lot to unpack here, in Opal’s relationships to the town, to her father, and the catalyst for growing up a bit she finds when she brings home Winn-Dixie.

Boris’s Thoughts: “A book about a dog? Really? 1 paw.”

Fortunately, the Milk

img_3501Book: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Date Read: December 14, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This book was a semi-random purchase as a Christmas gift for my cousin’s son. When my family was a bit smaller than it is now, I started the tradition of buying books for the kids that came for my family’s Christmas Eve celebration. It was easy at first. When I started this, there were three; we are now up to 12. I suppose there are worse things than being known as the family member to count on for a new book, but it has become increasingly difficult to find books that the kids will enjoy, and to try to remember which ones I have already given each of them! I usually go to my cousins for ideas for their kids, but both my cousin and I were stumped on this one. He loves adventure, but can be picky. He likes graphic novels, but has read most of the popular ones. I had a few ideas, but nothing I was too excited about, so I decided to browse a bit at the store. I ended up stumbling upon this one which I think was a perfect fit: a sort of adventure, but also a lot of goofiness; not quite a graphic novel, but definitely a nice balance of pictures interwoven into the story.

One day, while Mum is away, Dad is forced to run to the corner store to get some milk for breakfast. When he takes longer than expected, the children are suspicious about where he has been, but fortunately the milk was there to save him on his wild and wacky journey back home. It all starts with a strange noise as he steps out from the corner store, and then there is no stopping this ridiculous and fun tale from unwinding. There is something here to please everyone: aliens, time travel, dinosaurs, pirates, human sacrifice, hot air balloons… all seemingly random, but strung together into the perfect narrative to entertain young and old.

Based on reading level, I think this probably works best as an independent read for mid to upper elementary children. It is novel length, but not really separated out into chapters. There are many pictures incorporated throughout the text, along with interesting text blocking to make everything flow nicely. I can see the interest level on this extending a bit younger, but could see it being a bit difficult as a read aloud book. The length is certainly too much for a typical bedtime story, but without chapters, it’s not quite as easy to break it up for multiple reading sessions.

Boris’s thoughts: “You were supposed to take the picture before you wrapped it and put it in the Christmas bag.”

Invisible Monsters

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Book: Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Date Read: February 6 to 16, 2020

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

The February prompt for The Unread Shelf Project was a book that was gifted to you. This book was gifted to me quite some time ago—I’m going to guess some time around my 25th birthday, back in 2011. My friend Kirsten and I had a tradition of celebrating our birthdays very late with the exchange of books as gifts. It was included in the first chunk of books that I added onto my official to read list on Goodreads; the 50ish books that I consider the true bottom of my to read pile. I digress. I suppose my point is that this certainly fits the bill for the purpose of this project, as it not only meets the prompt but also has been waiting for me for quite some time (sorry, Kirsten).

I had a little bit of a Chuck Palahniuk kick back around that time, which I remember talking about with my friend; I am sure part of the reason that she decided on this particular book as a gift, although I am not sure that she had read it. I read Fight Club, Choke, and then Haunted, all in fairly short succession. While I enjoyed them all, I needed a break from the madness. There is something about Palahniuk’s work that leaves me a little mentally exhausted. Invisible Monsters was no exception to that—I quickly found myself totally engrossed in this book. The writing and style are intriguing, but the story itself is like a train wreck where you cannot help but gape at the disaster.

One of the reviews printed in the first few pages of the book describes it as a “twisted soap opera,” and I feel that really hits the nail on the head. Although generally moving forward in time, the story is told non-sequentially, with many flashbacks that help each bit of this crazy puzzle fit together. The plot twists and turns, while somehow still moving forward at the hurtling speed of a runaway train. There is commentary along the way about the nature of existence, although I feel like it is up to the reader to decide how deeply this should be taken: maybe we are simply dealing with the insane ramblings of the drug-addled troupe, or perhaps there is something more there, in the need to break free from expectations and the possibilities brought forth from utter disaster and chaos.

At several points during my reading, I wondered at how the story was progressing and the direction it seemed to aim. The first chapter gives some not-at-all-subtle foreshadowing of what is to come, and while it all seemed to fit perfectly with the narrative, I felt myself feeling increasingly dissatisfied with how I expected things to turn out. No doubt that the book was entertaining, but the ending I anticipated seemed a sort of anticlimax in that it wrapped things up just a bit too neatly. I should have known better. There were a few additional twists waiting at the end, after the rest of the story and caught up to the opening paragraphs. The conclusion feels perfect, but also leaves a funny taste in my mouth, to be quite honest: an unusual combination of dark humor and philosophical thought.

Boris’s thoughts: “This is all too weird for me. 1 paw.”

Unread Shelf Progress for February

  • Books Read: 2
  • Books Acquired: 1
  • Total Unread Books: 263

The Unread Shelf Project

I got behind this month, so I wanted to write an out of regular sequence post to talk about something that I am working on this year.

I discovered the Unread Shelf Project on Instagram some time near the end of 2018. It felt like a good fit for me, and I decided to participate throughout last year. This is a reading challenge, with a very particular focus: reading the books that are already on your shelves. I have a huge backlog of books that I have collected through the years. While I do want to read them all, the accumulation of high numbers can be daunting, and it can be so easy to grab for something shiny and new rather than look through the stacks that have been waiting.

I started 2020 with my highest number of unread books ever: 270. Needless to say, this is something that I do need to focus on a bit more. I think participating in 2019 was good for me, and I am planning to participate again through 2020. I love to read and collect books, but I do have a bad habit of acquiring much faster than I consume. I could list out many reasons for that, but ultimately, a big part of the problem is that I do not always make reading time the priority that I would like it to be. I am certainly not banning myself from buying new books, but am working on being more intentional in those I choose and not just loading myself up with stacks of new books.

The idea of reading challenges has always been appealing to me. It can serve as an interesting way to choose the next read, and can be a fun scavenger hunt to find something that fits. Unfortunately, I have always had difficulty finding reading challenges that really work for me. With my very long list of books to read, I always made an effort to find books on my shelf to fit each prompt, but would inevitably end up using this as an excuse to accumulate new books. This is part of what makes this project a good fit for me: a reading challenge that is specifically designed to allow you to focus on books you already own. There is a single prompt every month, and each one is written to allow for flexibility: everyone has a book in their favorite genre, or one recommended by a friend.

For 2020, I am adding my own little personal challenge: I want to finish my chosen book and write my review post in time for my final post each month. This is one of many ways that I am hoping to stay more up to date online, as well as challenge myself to read a bit more. If I want to stick to my personal time line, I will need to read quickly enough to finish the book well before the end of the month. In January, I decided to finish off a book series that I started in December as a kickoff to 2020 reading. I have plans to post on that series a bit later in the year. This week Wednesday will be the first of my monthly Unread Shelf picks for the remainder of the year: a book that was gifted to me.

More information on The Unread Shelf Project can be found here:

 

As an overview, here are the prompts for 2020:

  • January: any unread book
  • February: gifted to you
  • March: been on your unread shelf the longest
  • April: most recently acquired
  • May: a backlist title
  • June: from a series
  • July: voted for you by bookstagram
  • August: a buddy read
  • September: forget where or why you got it
  • October: a book that scares/intimidates you
  • November: from your favorite genre
  • December: shortest book on your shelf

The October Country

img_2499Book: The October Country by Ray Bradbury

Date Read: October 19 to December 1, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I read The October Country a few months back as a sort of reward for myself— if you have been following along, you may recall that in October I was challenged to read a book that scares me, and chose the lowest rated book on my to read shelf, which I had been putting off for quite some time. (I wrote about that here, if you’re interested.) I planned on reading this one next, as a sort of carrot for myself: finish the book I was less excited about so that I could move on to one that I was excited to read. Coincidentally, this was also a good fit for the November Unread Shelf challenge, a book from your favorite genre. I have a tough time defining a favorite genre, but I think this was a good fit for that.

This collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury turned out to be that perfect reward. Although it took me longer than I had hoped to finish, it was well worth the time spent. The October Country is introduced as a sort propensity for darkness that exists within us. A place that is not inherently evil, but perhaps a little creepy with the potential for wickedness. Despite an overwhelming sense of spookiness, I would not classify anything in this book as outright horror.

Rather than go for an upfront scare, these stories leave one with a feeling of uneasiness. Many of the endings are at least a tad ambiguous, leaving the level of horror up to the imagination of the reader. Some ease in with some creepiness, but end with a sense of sadness—a man left with a shattered self, an average person born into a family of immortals, a glimmer of hope with a grave consequence.

One story that particularly stood out to me was The Next in Line, which I am positive relates to the fact that I have visited the location of the story in the recent past. I have very clear memories of walking through the cemetery, and looking down the spiral staircase into the crypt. The Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato looks very different now than the room described in the story, but having seen them for myself, the thought of being haunted by the faces encountered there is by no means a stretch of the imagination.

Boris’s thoughts: “It’s always all about the spooky with you, isn’t it? 3 paws.”

Book: The October Country by Ray Bradbury

A Friend for Dragon

img_3067Book: A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey

As a kick off to the third year of Books On My Cat, I present to you A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey. This is the first book in the Dragon series of book, which I have written about several times before. Dragon is one of my favorite children’s characters. He is always getting into some sort of misadventure—in this case, Dragon falls for a prank and mistakenly assumes that an apple that has fallen on his head is actually looking to become his friend. Despite the misunderstanding, Dragon finds the apple to be a delightful friend, who is a good listener, has common interests, and shares with his friends.

I admit that this is not my favorite addition to the Dragon collection, but I think it sets a nice tone to the series. We get a good glimpse of his personality, which is then built upon in the later books. Dragon is a little naïve, but is also willing to make the most of any situation with his positive attitude. If everyone else is too busy, why not spend your time hanging out with an apple? Of course, apples do not last forever (especially when you are tricked into thinking you have a special speaking apple, and the culprit of the trick is no longer around to fake an appley voice). Although Dragon is quite distraught at the loss of his friend, he receives a pleasant surprise the summer after laying his friend to rest in the backyard.

Of course, as you may have noticed in the photo, today is also the debut of a friend of Boris: introducing Minka, a sassy little girl that joined our family at the end of December. She was found near where my dad works as a kitten in July; she was alone despite seeming too young to have left her mother. My dad began to care for her, and she moved into the office building. After living there for a few months, and with the weather starting to turn cold, he decided that it was time for her to have a more proper home and asked if Boris needed a friend. I was reluctant, as Boris has always struck me as a lone cat personality, but we decided to give it a try. The two are still getting used to having another cat around, but are starting to warm up to each other a bit. While Boris is still my number one guy, you will start to see a bit more of Minka around here!

Book: A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey

Biggest Apologies

I was so excited about my new plans for Books On My Cat that I got ahead of myself– I started to write content to schedule but just kept writing and never scheduled it!! I had a post ready to go for this week, but alas, it is saved on my laptop at home while I am out of town. My sincerest apologies to readers. I am so disappointed in myself.

So as not to leave you completely without content this week, I will share my current situation, and what I imagine Boris to be doing in my absence:

Welcome Back

As January wraps up, I would like to welcome you back to the new (and hopefully improved) Books On My Cat blog! During my time off, I took the opportunity to organize my thoughts around this blog and what I would like it to be. While my priority will be on sharing the books that I am reading, I hope to be more intentional with how I use the blog and want to give myself some room to breath as well.

Part of my revamp will be a slightly modified post format. Looking back to my previous posts, I realized that I have not always been good about including the full titles and author names for each book. I will correct that with the new format, and am planning to slowly work on ensuring that this information is included in all previous posts as well.

Currently, I have a bit of a backlog of books from the end of last year, which is a perfect place to start. I have looked ahead at the year to plan out some posts, and built in some breaks where I think I will need them. Moving forward, I plan to catch up on reviews, participate in The Unread Shelf Project 2020, and mix in a few extras along the way. My regular posts will still be on Wednesdays, and I will continue to feature a picture book at the beginning of each month. My last post each month to be the book I chose for the Unread Shelf, with a few pre-planned exceptions.

I am working on a few ideas for “bonus” posts— bookish content, but not necessarily book reviews. Even when planning some weeks for picture books and taking time off, there are simply more weeks remaining than books I will realistically read. At a minimum, I have these planned for months when there will be five Wednesdays. However, I would love to plan out something special to share every month.

My regular posts will resume next week, February 5, 2020, which is also the second anniversary of Books On My Cat. This post will be in the form of a book review, but will also include a surprise announcement! I am looking forward to a wonderful year of books and cats, and I hope you are too!

Under Construction

img_3117A few weeks ago, I posted that Boris and I were taking a break. This has extended a little longer than I had originally planned, but I am now hoping that it will be with good results.

While taking a break from writing, I took some time to think about my reasons for starting this blog. I love to read, and I love to share the things that I have read (although I am not sure of how many people out there are really reading). I felt like channeling this into a blog would make it feel a little more productive—and it did, at first. Over time, something that I truly loved to do in the beginning was starting to feel like a chore. I would fall behind on reading or writing reviews, which would make me feel guilty for being unprepared, and eventually lead to me feeling overwhelmed by the idea of writing. I have tried a few “tricks” along the way to help me catch up, whether that be posting about previous reads, adding in children’s books, or sharing other bookish things. Unfortunately, these were only temporary fixes. I want to change that.

So here I am with an update: Books On My Cat is still temporarily under construction. I am working on establishing some better habits, starting with making writing a regular routine. Rather than trying to force myself to write a review because of a deadline, I want to spend just a little time each day with my writing—thinking about the things that I have read recently, or perhaps with some other bookish musings.

Over the next couple weeks, I plan to take some time to lay out my vision for the future of Books On My Cat. I would like to continue to post here weekly, but I do not go through books quickly enough to make that feasible without expanding a bit from book reviews. I have a few ideas to fill in the gaps, but need some time to fully flesh them out. I plan to be back to the regular schedule at the beginning of February (if not sooner).

Until then, thank you to those who are reading! If there is anyone out there who has made it this far, I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment with something you like about this blog, or something you think could be improved. Or maybe just say hello!

Notes on the photo above: Boris is pictured with My Purrfect Friend by Charles Wysocki. This is a cute little book that was gifted to me. It is full of cat pictures and artwork, along with many quotes and poems related to friendship.