My Book Journals

My book journals

I recently read an amusing post at Stuck-in-a-Book about book journals.  He is busy consolidating his lists into a single notebook.  While he copied titles and authors into his new notebook, I experimented with my 2018 book journal.  Inspired by Goodreads stats, I added categories in columns:  Genre, Why?, Copyright, and Star Ratings.

It Was Not for the Better. I returned to my original format.

My 1997 book journal

In my first book journal, which I recently found in a box, I wrote the title, author, and date (when I remembered) and sometimes a short response to the book.  On January 6, 1997, I was enthusiastic about Wright Morris’s Plains Song: “This novel about three generations of women in the harsh Midwest reminded me of Willa Cather’s books. Cora, the unsmiling matriarch, reminded me of my grandmother.  Life on the farm was hard.  So hard. Iincomprehensible to me surrounded by books.  This novel really grew on me.”

In the next entry, I said I hated Amy Bloom’s Love Invents Us:  “The worst novel I’ve read this year.”  Outlander:  “Cult reading at its weirdest.”  Brenda Peterson’s Sister Stories:  “A non-fiction book that explores the sister bond and the role of women’s friendships.  Worth reading!”  And some of the titles I don’t remember at all.  Playing the Bones by Louise Redd?

In later book journals, I was less thorough:  I never wrote “reviews.” From Feb. 2008 – December 2012, I kept a list of titles, authors, and dates in a journal with a stained glass motif on the cover. During these years I read a lot of Monica Dickens, Charles Dickens, Ruth Suckow, H. G. Wells, Pamela Hansford Johnson, and Elizabeth von Arnim.

One of the most beat-up notebooks.

Then there was the Miquelrius notebook with graph paper (2013-2015).  The binding cracked.

From 2016- 2017,  I listed titles, authors, and dates in an orange Moleskine notebook.  This year I switched to a tall orange Nava Notes notebook, because I wanted to expand my notebook to include short reviews.

And so it begins. I wrote this month about The Ice House by Laura Lee Smith:  “An entertaining novel, very well-written, about a group of people facing an OSHA investigation of an ice factory, and the consequences.  A very good read.  No much going on beneath the surface, though.” Continue reading

Garage Bookstores, Book Journals, & Second Week of Zero Spending!

The ultimate garge bookstore: the Planned Parenthood Book Sale in Des Moines

The Ultimate Garage Bookstore: the Planned Parenthood Book Sale in Des Moines

I love garage bookstores.

That’s what I call them.

They are located in literal garages, concrete bunkers, and dilapidated buildings in deserted urban neighborhoods.

In the 1970s, my dad used to take me with my terminally hip, wire-rim-bespectacled friends to what we laughingly called the “garage bookstore.” It wasn’t one of the great bookshops like The Paper Place or Epstein’s, where you could find Lawrence Ferlinghetti and The Diaries of Anais Nin.   No, it was a low-to-the-ground concrete building on Riverside Dr., between Iowa City and the small town of Hills.   You could find Kurt Vonnegut (he taught briefly in I.C. so we loved him), Mary Stewart, Herman Hesse (Steppenwolf was made into a movie), Rosemary’s Baby, Jane Eyre, and an occasional Thomas Hardy for 25 or 50 cents!  Later you could trade them in for something else!  The shop was crammed with treasure and junk.

the watefall margaret drabble 6574486-MEvey town used to have a garage bookstore.  In Bloomington, Indiana, there was a similarly gloomy low-slung building near the park where the market was held every Saturday.   I walked past The Book Rack or Book Bag (or whatever it was called) every day on the way to and from campus, and I acquired most of my Margaret Drabbles there..  It wasn’t in the class of Bloomington’s other used bookstores, among them Caveat Emptor, where I bought Kathleen Raine’s autobiography, or Christopher’s, where I found Kristin Lavransdatter.  But I loved it.

On vacation in Canada some years back, we stopped late one afternoon for lunch in Fort Erie, Ontario,  and then went to a garage bookstore.  (Possibly  Bridgeport Books, which I found on the net, but I am not sure.)  Rooms opened into rooms into more rooms, and we found lovely Canadian books by Sandra Birdsell, Margaret Laurence, and Joy Kogawa.

One winter we were in Dubuque, Iowa, for a cross-country ski race (my husband skis; I do not!).  It was three degrees and we were both cold and cranky, so we stopped in a run-down neighborhood to shop at a true garage bookstore.  (It may have been called Catherine’s._  It was unheated, and you could see your breath, but there certainly were a lot of books.  I found Barbara Pyms and a complete boxed set of Anne of Green Gables.  The next time we went to Dubuque, the store had gone out of business.  Too bad!

In Des Moines, the ultimate garage bookstore is the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, held twice a year in the 4-H Building on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.   In the huge, uncozy building, I  always find cheap hardbacks, Viragos, travel books, and classics.

I suppose there are still garage bookstores, but I rarely see them anymore. Do you know this kind of store?

My book journal.

  My Book Journal is falling apart!

MY BOOK JOURNAL is falling apart!  The cover has been clawed by cats, the pages are dog-eared, and now the spine is cracked.

These guys didn’t do it.  They’re asleep!

IMG_3470They say it was that visiting cat–the one outside who wants to come in and live here!

Actually, I can’t imagine what could have cracked the spine.

Fortunately, I have lots of other notebooks.  But I’ve only written in one-third of the pages!

I suppose I could tape it up.

Do you have trouble with book journals?

no shoppingZERO SPENDING!  I am very good at ALMOST-ZERO spending so far.

My conspicuous consumption was brought home to me during my recent vacation.

And so I decided to spend less.

The Living Well Spending Less website expresses what we all feel sometimes.

Let’s face it–we all get off track sometimes when it comes to budgeting and managing our money wisely! Whether it be overspending on a vacation or little bad habits that add up over time, sometimes we just need to hit the reset button! If you’ve ever made it to the end of the month and wondered where all your money actually went, a month of no-spending might just be the perfect way to reset your spending habits.

I am buying the necessities. But I am not buying any more books till March 2016.

And so I have also temporarily stopped reading book reviews, because somehow an enthusiastic book review in a professional book publication can send me into BUY BUY BUY mode.

Reading book blogs is more soothing.  Really, it’s very like spying on someone’s book journal. I write them down on a list and look for them at used bookstores.  The bloggers I read don’t always read the latest books.

Anyway,  I spent zero for six days in a row and then had to buy a teaball for $5.  (My other one broke.)  Another day I bought sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, and white beans for an emergency vegetarian meal.  It cost $7.45.

Aren’t groceries expensive?

But I’m doing very well!  I have many weeks to go, though.

My Funny-Sad Diary of the ’70s & How to Keep a Book Journal

Long ago, in a parallel universe in the ’70s, I kept a  charming diary.  It is the only diary I wrote that is enjoyable reading, and I would gladly burn my later sad-sack diaries, except that burning one’s journals in a bonfire is banned by the EPA (air emissions).

My girly vinyl-and-silk '70s diary

My girly vinyl-and-silk ’70s diary

Much of this charming, funny, girly vinyl-and-silk diary is about my student days.  I described the politics of the classics department, flirtations and friendships, my charming soon-to-be-ex-husband’s extravagant dinner parties, a never-ending paper on Jane Eyre, and going to bars to listen to Greg Brown (good) or Chickie and the Dipsticks (not so good).

Here is my mocking inscription on the first page of the diary.


A Useful Document for Janitors
Aspiring to be Classicists.
One woman’s story.
Her trials and tribulations.
Outer struggles with
clogged toilets reflect
inner mental crises.

I had a satiric outlook, but also described the ups and downs of everyday life.  My ex- was the most charming person I knew, but he and his friends were hard drinkers. We once spent Thanksgiving with an alcoholic friend who had lost his English professor job and who became drunkenly abusive to his wife at dinner.  But my witty husband, who, even when drunk, brought out the best in everyone, managed to divert him by describing something on PBS as “the Stratford-on-Avon picture torture.”   We all laughed, and the friend calmed down.

Occasionally I wrote about books.  Well, I must admit, I wrote about books all the time.  I loved Anna Karenina, and wrote reams about Levin, who was my favorite character.  I wrote about all kinds of books:  Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, Dickens’s Hard Times, Cicero’s Pro Caelio (I was very indignant that Clodia Metelli, an older woman, was blamed for Caelius’s  problems), Euripides’s Medea, Colette’s Break of Day, and a trashy French romance series, the Angelique books.

Jane Austen’s Emma was my favorite book, but  I wrote disapprovingly of Pride and Prejudice.

Aug. 22

Am writing at the laundromat, drinking Pelican Punch tea from a defective Gunsmoke thermos purchased at a garage sale.  It leaked all over my purse.

I am reading Pride and Prejudice, and am astonished that I could ever have read Jane Austen as a satirist.  For the first half of the book Elizabeth Bennet looks critically at the world; in the second half she learns her mistake and accepts traditional propriety.


There you have it:  Gunsmoke and Pride and Prejudice.

Surprisingly, my views on P& P have not changed much. I enjoy Lizzie’s sharpness and wit, but the last part of P&P still annoys me.  Lizzie doesn’t fall in love with Darcy until she sees his property, and Darcy, like so many Austen heroes, is a stiff, even if he’s played by Colin Firth.  Could anyone really fall in love with Darcy/Knightley/etc.?

But I’m really here to talk about:


I no longer keep a personal diary, but I love my book journal.   I recently filled a book journal of five years of my reading.  I need to pick a new notebook for my book journal.

Big or little?

So far the format has been easy.  It’s a list.  And if I want to keep this format, I have two small notebooks that will work.

NOTEBOOK CHOICE #1:  The novelty notebook


This small notebook looks like a Penguin edition of On the Road.  I’m not a big Kerouac fan, but I saw the exhibit of his typed scroll of the manuscript at the University of Iowa Art Museum.  A guard had to warn me not to lean on the glass case.  I was fascinated by the scroll.

All I can remember about On the Road is that “the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.”  This struck me because I’m a Midwesterner.

NOTEBOOK CHOICE #2:  The Moleskine reporter’s notebook

IMG_2260I deliberately bought the reporter’s style notebook so I can flip it open and take notes.   You never know when Nick Hornby, Michael Stipe, or Dovegreyreader might walk down the street.  Of course I’d flip open my notebook and  ask them a few questions.

“Sir? Ma’am?”

NOTEBOOK CHOICE #3:  If I want to change the format to an actual journal with brief critiques of each book, this irresistible Miquerlius softbound journal might do.

IMG_2256No idea how many pages, but at least two-to-three hundred.

I bought most of my notebooks for occasional teaching, but as you know who know me from my previous blog, I have no students at the moment.  No one to study Wheelock or Catullus?  Dear me!

Do let me know what kind of notebook you use for your book journal.  And whether you list books or “journal.”