After last month’s journal expedition, I wandered through my bookshelf and discovered a journal wherein I reviewed books for myself as a reminder of what I read and what I thought. I forgot I had done that.
My inspiration came from those funky “record your recollections” books found in your bookstore’s gift section. The fun titles and decorative covers invite you to review wines, where you drank them and save the wine labels. You could write about the places you traveled and significant snippets of the journey. Journal titles encouraged memories of meals and restaurants, favorite songs, meaningful quotes, garden plantings, lists and more. Since my two main interests were books and movies, I decided I would chronicle my impressions of each.
Rather than pay for a fancy-schmancy, pretentious book with pages too small for a proper review, I could make my own book better than any preprinted book. Besides, I found a pair of regal spiral bound notebooks, elegant in their 8″x10″ stature. The simple black hardcover was perfect for a funky, relevant, inspirational postcard. I clipped identical, important-looking blue gel pens in the rings. I was set to write whether at home or on-the-go.
I recorded each book in the same look, manner, and design: “The Title” by Author; Month and year I finished reading, and my review.
It was the prehistoric equivalent of modern day Goodreads.
I tabbed four sections. The front main pages were reviews of the books I read. The second tabbed section I reserved for books recommended to me or that I wanted to read. The last section has some pencil scribblings on the first page; it looks like I planned a “books I borrowed or loaned.” I didn’t know enough people who read books. There is a third section tabbed off but with nothing written on those pages I have no clue what I intended.
I reviewed books from July 1999 through September 2002. My first reviewed book will remain nameless because it is so horrible. I wrote: “College life…here was my chance to see how someone else does it. I’ve learned how not to do it. I have no idea what any of the characters look like. Everyone swore, drank and got drunk. C’mon, a keg at your final? A torture to read but I had to finish it for story’s sake. I forgot that there had been a framing structure at the beginning. Events just end and everything is summed up neatly, compactly, and smoothly like the end of the stereotypical sitcom. Now writing about it, I can put it out of my mind.”
That book was my first exposure to self-published books, often called vanity press back then. This book had to be good. After all, it was a hardback book, with a colorful cover, I discovered at an independent book fair in New York City. That gave it validation. Ever since I read it, this is the book I refer to anytime I need an example of poor writing and the desperate need for an editor.
The General’s Daughter by Nelson DeMille. July 1999
“Print from this ‘old style’ trade paperback dirties my fingers. I like the movie better than the book. Narrator often sounded like the author, not the character.” The ending was given away too soon. Very few ‘he said’ in text and was often confused by who was speaking. Movie was more coherent, flowed better.”
The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. November 5, 1999
“Never was I so glad to finish a book!”
I developed a fascination about writing the true story of a real person. I moved away from fiction and desperately sought solid nonfiction. I read a series of disappointing memoirs after that. One review included my insightful comment: “In the last two memoirs, the struggle is established at the beginning but then the readers never reap the benefits of success.”
Good advice to remember as I finish my memoir.
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. November 25, 1999
“This book made me uncomfy [uncomfortable]. That was wonderful! I want to read it again.” In January 2000, I did just that. “The second reading as powerful as the first. Real writing, honest and true yet not sappy. There’s a reason this has been on the best seller list for over 100 weeks.”
Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah. Saturday, March 4, 2000
“A tragic memoir wonderfully told. Her words: simple, and I got so caught up in her storytelling I didn’t notice.”
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. June 2000
“Good example of a story told through many smaller, seemingly unrelated stories. I’d like to see how the movie translated this fine book.”
As of this writing, I have not yet seen the movie.
The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. August 13, 2000
“What a quick read! Recommended by Jane, I echo her thoughts: I wish I’d written this book.”
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. March 2001
“It has been so long since a book snagged me so completely. I was up nights swallowing every word until way past my practical bedtime.”
I wrote about the Harry Potter series from December 1999 to 2002. Interesting how my opinion has changed since those initial readings.
My last entry is Diary of a Mad Bride by Laura Wolf. September 2002
“B-day gift from Dawn, I read it in about one week. Funny, and a lot more truth in there than any bride would care to admit. Written in short journal entries, it’s easy to read. I must read this closer to my wedding 🙂 again!”
I never did read that book again, but maybe I will now, especially since I am married. One part of my New Year’s Non-Resolutions is to revisit and reread an old favorite book. I’m faced with a dilemma: which one do I choose?
Do you have any recommendations of good books to read, or ones to avoid?