HAPPINESS IS . . .

As Mr. Janakay has occasionaly observed (admittedly somewhat to his peril), I do not possess a naturally sunny disposition. Unlike my more fortunate friends, I do not, alas, look for the silver lining purportedly possessed by even the stormiest cloud; think that it’s darkest just before the dawn; or consider a half-empty glass to be half-full. These days we live in are so very dark and dreadful, however, that I have decided to turn over a new leaf. Away with the doom and gloom! Up with the smiles and sunshine! For strictly pragmatic reasons, I have resolved to go from frowny to smiley face. Without some (perhaps irrational) optimism I see no way to survive the upcoming weeks, when I and my fellow Americans (of the U.S. variety) are clearly in for a very rough ride indeed. As part of my new program of sunshine & smiles, I’ve decided to compile a “Happiness List” of all the positive things that will keep me going in these stressful times. So — here goes!

FIRST HAPPINESS:

The certain knowledge that 2020 will be over in fifty-six days and approximately four hours (depending on when I manage to finish this post). To borrow words once uttered by her British majesty during her own dark year, 2020 has been one annus horribilis and can’t end soon enough!

Will it surprise you, dear reader, to learn that I also “officially” voted earlier this week for one other thing to end as well? (Janakay doesn’t mean to be a tease, but no more details — some forums (fora?) need to stay neutral.) With respect to the current political situation, what can one say, except:

I lifted this great photo from today’s edition of the Washington Post. It speaks volumes for the pitiful state of the times that this photo accompanied the daily weather report, for gosh sakes . . .

SECOND HAPPINESS:

Having many, many wonderful new books, many more than I could read in a lifetime, but, hey — since when has practicality been a factor in my book acquisition? I began this awful year traumatized with the need to do a massive cull of my bookshelves, which I managed after some hysterics and the moderate assistance of medically prescribed tranquilizers. After dismembering my little library, I dumped the surviving volumes onto a moving truck that carried them away to their temporary new home, an unused bedroom where they’re currently sharing space with some lamp shades and a table or two. I retained, unpacked, only the very minimum number of books necessary for survival — perhaps 200 volumes or so — and resolutely refused to unpack the others, as they’d be moving again in a few months. My heroic restraint created empty space in the bookcases for the first time in my adult life! Well, we know that old saw about nature abhorring a vacuum, don’t we? I’m actually too embarrassed to disclose all of my new acquisitions, which are, frankly, quite enormous (I handle my stress by acquiring books). In mitigation, I plead extenuating circumstances: I began collecting my new stash months ago (last April to be exact); the NYRB Classics had several great book sales this year and many of you write really great blogs with excellent reading recommendations that I couldn’t resist (I’m like Oscar Wilde in one way at least, being able to resist anything but temptation). Below is an incomplete but fairly representative sample of my new books:

My books aren’t usually this neatly stacked, but I’m trying to impress my readers!
I’ve been meaning to try Lispector for ages; with all this new “at home” time, perhaps this will be the year . .
This one is Kaggsy’s fault! After reading her September review of a Berridge novella (kaggsysbookishramblings.wordpress.com), I had to try Berridge for myself. I really meant to post a review but — didn’t quite get around to it! I will say, however, that this slightly lurid cover image is rather misleading; clearly the publisher was marketing the novel as a Gothic romance, which it most certainly is not.
Another of my books that I’ve actually read! This was the monthly selection automatically sent out by the NYRB Classics Club, so it really doesn’t count against my total. These two novellas are a great introduction to Ginzburg, whom I had not previously read. I loved both novellas and now must get copies of Ginzburg’s other works as well.
Another September review, this time by Ali (heavenali.wordpress.com) led to this acquisition. Penelope Mortimer sounded so interesting this novel became a “must.”
This one I blame on Simon (at stuckinabook.com). I’ve been following his reviews of this great new series by the British Library (which he is curating) and just had to try one (ahem; actually three — notice the sticker — how could I refuse an offer like this?)
I’m reasonably fond of Henry Green (he’s so original that, at least for me, his work takes some getting used to) and haven’t read this one. When it was available on sale by NYRB Classics, there was only one thing to be done . . .
What’s a book binge that doesn’t include some art books? The art world has recently rediscovered Klint, a woman painter who was doing abstracts years and years before the big boys like Pollock. I find it very soothing to sit and look at pictures . . .
Another art book. I love landscapes but this book has lots of text and looks quite serious. It also has a limited number of pictures. Whatever was I thinking? Who reads an art book? Perhaps I’ll just place this one in a casual position on the coffee table, to impress my new neighbors when they drop by . . .
I don’t think Faulkner’s very fashionable these days and I’m not sure how many people actually read him. I loved Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom and the few other novels I’ve sampled but . . . there’s no ignoring the fact they were written by a white southern male of the pre-civil rights era. In my opinion, Faulkner views his culture with a merciless and unflinching eye, although he is quite unable to escape its limitations. I’m eager to dip into this study, to see if Gorra shares my view . . .
Last but far from least, these two Gothic novels are a trip down memory lane. They were among the first Gothic romances I ever read, oh so very many years ago, very shortly after I read my first Victoria Holts. I was thrilled to rediscover these books a few weeks ago and will be interested to see how they hold up (so far, Sarsen Place is doing pretty well).
Maxi says, “Enough blathering about books, Janakay. Move on to the next item on your Happiness List!” There are times, dear reader, when Maxi is as wise as Confucious (and far more sly).

THIRD HAPPINESS

My third happiness is — gasp! new book shelves! Lots and lots of lovely, empty new shelves, just waiting to be filled when I finally complete my move.

Shelves in the living room . . .
Shelves in a bedroom . . .
Shelves on one side of the dining room and
Shelves on the other! And, of course, besides all the shelves, I still have all my old book cases.

Haven’t we all known the agony of triple stacking our beloved treasures, or even (horrors) boxing them away in one of those plastic slidey things that fit under the bed? Could it be that finally I will have enough space to alphabetize my fiction by authors’ last name and group my art books by artists? Reader, is it possible to have a greater happiness than this?

FOURTH (AND FINAL) HAPPINESS

Although I am definitely not an athletic type (turning the pages in my book, or clicking my kindle is quite enough exercise, thank you very much) I do find it absolutely necessary to touch nature at some level for at least some portion of time. In this respect, I’ve been lucky indeed; both my old home and my new have lots of green space.

Aren’t these Sandhill Cranes gorgeous, particularly with their red head stripe? There’s nothing to show you the scale, but these are big birds, standing 4 to 5 feet (approximately 152 cm). If you want to see them “live,” plan a trip to North America, where they’re primarily located. This little family group hangs close to my house and seeing them is always a major treat.
A classic river scene from a large state park about 20 minutes away from me by car. This photo was taken a few months ago, when it was unbelievably hot. Although I didn’t see any, it’s a very safe bet that this river has alligators!
Same state park, different habitat . . . those golden flowers were at their peak when this photo was made earlier in the year (note to self: I really must get a plant book to learn what I’m looking at!)
This is an older photo, from an Audubon sanctuary located about 100 miles (160 km) further south from my house. The weird spikey things are flowers and the orange things are butterflies. Aren’t they both marvelous?

Well, that’s it for my Happiness List. What’s on yours, dear reader? What’s keeping you afloat, so to speak, during these dark times?

21 thoughts on “HAPPINESS IS . . .

  1. Speaking of bookshelves, we are about to Ikea bookshelf our garage, which we now think of as our library in making. Both long sides, floor to ceiling. I’m wondering whether to buy the standard ‘Billy’ that are about 28cm deep or a new type they have which are more like 22cm. I know it doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but most books will fit on the latter, and it saving even 4 inches across in a room that is narrow is not nothing. Maybe we’ll find it easier to walk around the lounging around reading books furniture which will find its way there.

    What are the pros and cons of deeper bookshelves vs shallower. And could they make up for the extravagant use of space in this case? If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

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  2. Hi Cathy! What an exciting project — I bet you can’t wait until you have your library up and running, so to speak! In my old house I did something similar in a spare bedroom, also using Ikea shelving. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the dimensions but one of my previous posts (https://youmightaswellread.com/2019/12/04/midweek-miscellany-percy-murdered-my-library-apologies-to-linda-grant/) does have some photos: just ignore the cute cats and scroll midway to the dark brown shelves. I was quite happy with the result. As for the depth, I would make it turn on the types of books you have. As you said, most books will fit on the 22 cm shelves and having space to move around is pretty valuable. On the other hand, if (like me) you have a lot of oversized books and don’t want them hanging over the shelves’ edges, the 28 cm might be a better choice. Since Ikea has component shelving, perhaps you could have one section with the 28 cm if you have only a few oversized volumes (as you can see from my previous post, I did some mixing myself, with a component to fit a corner, two that had glass shelves and one with a door). One thing I did learn the hard way: some of my Ikea shelves were too wide for my heavy art books and, after awhile, began to sag. My shelves in my new house are less wide, so hopefully I won’t have that problem (also, the art books are going on the bottom shelves!).
    Good luck with your project — when you finish, I’d love to see a photo!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I should have mentioned that we already have one wall of our dining room covered with Billies and also our study/guest room, so we already have more than enough bookshelves for the larger books as long as we don’t try to keep everything in systemic order of one sort or another.

      Yes, photos to come!

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  3. The Covid project here was new IKEA shelves as well–in theory we have enough shelves to hold every book without double shelving. Ha! I haven’t been that organized, and I *need* to have stacks of books by my reading chair.

    Not to mention the only shopping I truly enjoy is book-shopping…I don’t know how it is they keep arriving…

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    1. Hi Reese! I hear you about the book shopping — all other shopping pales by comparison. And these days, there just seems to be a wealth of new publishers with interesting new offerings. I’ve added my name to several email lists and, as you say, the books just seem to arrive on their own. As for organizing, well — theoretically my new shelving will solve the problem but in practical fact I live among big, messy piles of printed matter. There’s always a pile of at least 5 to 10 books under the nightstand for bedtime reading, two piles (one serious, one not) of goodies on either side of my ratty old reading chair and, as for the dining room table, you could see in my photo what that’s being used for!
      Vive les livres! (I probably have the French wrong!)

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  4. Oh Kaggsy, the Berridge is the least of it! I didn’t show my new book of Gogol short stories (direct from your blog) nor mention the fact that I’m now subscribed to Pushkin Press (I have THREE new books by Icelandic writers; I, who never read translations) as well as Brian Dillon’s Essayism (I’ve been slightly resisting Suppose A Sentence but this won’t last much longer). In short, I owe you a massive debt of gratitude for some wonderful recommendations! Keep up the blogging — I’ve plenty of time to read these days!

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  5. Those shelves are one of the nicest things that have ever happened to me! I’ve slowly began moving my books in, gloating over each book as I’ve pulled it out of the box (haven’t seen some of these since last November). As for the optimism — well, it’s a tough slog but I’m working on it!

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    1. Think of us as you are unpacking. Having been ‘stuck’ in Australia unable to get back to Geneva, since coming over here early Feb, we’ve just had our books packed and picked up to send them here, but I’ll be pleased if it only takes six more months…..

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cathyc: I feel your pain! Nothing’s more traumatic than having the darling books packed up and inaccessible — at least, I could (and did) pop upstairs to rummage around now and then. Hopefully, your books will arrive quicker than you think and will find nice new shelves awaiting them! (and, yes, I’ll definitely think of your dilemna as I very slowly unpack and shelve my own motley little collection!)

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  6. Oh my goodness!! Those bookshelves!! How wonderful!! Please post photos when they’re filled! And seeing them makes me feel so much better. I counted 17 bookshelves in my house and I still have books overflowing. Oh well, I think it’s a good problem to have.

    It surprises me that you don’t have a naturally sunny disposition but you’re a thinker and sadly I believe thinking deeply about things can squeeze out a little happiness. As for me, I’m just enjoying every day …. my dog, the windstorm the other day, my flower that is still blooming outside on my deck because of the unusually balmy weather ….. Life is short and I don’t want to waste any of it being unhappy or discontent.

    Great post as always, Janakay. I always enjoy reading your thoughts!

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  7. Cleo: so lovely you dropped by and enjoyed the post. I must admit I was feeling a little dark when I composed it and very much centered on “will this horrible year never end”? I do so admire your attitude (or should I say “determination”) to focus on the things that bring you joy. It’s definitely the way to survive these difficult times, not to mention being a roadmap on how to best use the time that we’re lucky enough to be given. It’s hard NOT to be upbeat around a dog, isn’t it? They are natural bringers of joy. Like you, I adore windstorms, particularly if they include some picturesque rain clouds and — guess what? I had two perfect morning glories blooming this morning, grown from some seeds I threw out a few months ago! See? I’m working on it!
    I’m glad you enjoyed the photos of my new bookshelves, as they are definitely one of the best things that have ever happened to me. I’ve just spent a wonderful Saturday morning, unpacking boxes of books and gloating over their contents, mostly novels. At this point, I think the fiction is somewhat under control (knock on wood) and I’m working up steam to tackle the art books. I will definitely be including photos at appropriate times on the blog.
    I hope to summon the energy to catch up on my favorite blogs (yours very much included) and to write some reviews of what I’ve been reading for this one, which is really on life support. I’ve very much enjoyed some of my recent reading choices, although they’re a bit lightweight compared to many of the classics you routinely tackle (I finished Sarsen Place, for example, the gothic I mentioned in my post. It was a lot of fun). I HAVE almost finished Effie Briest, by Theodore Fontane, a German writer I discovered last spring in the Back To The Classics Challenge. I’ve very much enjoyed it; it has much to say about moral choices & women’s place in 19th century traditional society and is a great example of those wonderful, realistic 19th century novels that I’m very fond of. Effie herself also invites some very interesting comparisons with Anna Karenina & Madame Bovary, although I read both of those novels so long ago that much of the detail has faded. Now, if I can just get organized enough to do a re-read but . . . what books are in that box I just brought downstairs? I really must check it out first . . . . .

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  8. Josie — so glad you dropped by! I think we all have to do our best to cheer each other up these days. When so many of the big things are dark and anxiety-provoking, it’s vital I think to look at those things that ARE positive. For example, my two morning glories bloomed again this morning and I’ve found hardback copies of Scott’s Raj Quartet for a somewhat reasonable price! Hey, it doesn’t get better than this! Oh, and if you want another laugh — I find that I’m re-acquiring copies of books that I discarded last spring during my move, as all those shelves just looked too, too lonely . . . .

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  9. Hi Janakay,
    It is always such a pleasure to read your posts. They go on MY happiness list.

    Isn’t Simon from Stuck in a Book marvelous? He makes all the books he loves sound so wonderful and tempting. I did read O The Brave Music on his recommendation and I quite liked it. It is a sweet coming of age novel in the strain of I Captured the Castle or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I also recently read The Shelf by Phyllis Rose, also on his recommendation and really, really loved it. It is the kind of “book about books” I like best.

    I love all your new shelf space. Let me add my vote to the request to please share what they look like when filled. I wish I could pop over and help. I love to sort and alphabetize. Not that my own books are in any real order you understand, but for others, I am a whiz.

    I would say avoiding the news is what is keeping me afloat during these hard times. I’ve been very good about not bringing too many new books into my home. But concentrating on reading some of what I already own has brought its own kind of joy. Sometimes the joy of discovery and sometimes the joy of putting a book on the “donate” pile after it has been read.

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    1. Ruthiella: what a nice Friday morning treat, to read your comment! I always enjoy our little interchanges so much; aside from our (many) commonalities we differ just enough on the importance of “plot vs atmosphere” in novels to make our “conversations” most stimulating. Do you know that I’m STILL thinking about your review of Durrell’s Justine, as your reaction to it differed so much from mine? It’s been so long since I read Durrell I can’t really remember the specifics but I must admit I had never wondered whether, in some sense, Justine might represent the Alexandria itself. In fact, I’ve almost resolved to attempt a re-read myself, just to see if Durrell’s magic still holds for me. Naughty girl, you — I had enough unread books already!
      Speaking of which, I’m afraid that my current approach to book acquisition differs greatly from your own. I’ve been suffering from “book deprivation anxiety” in the past year, as so many of my treasures are boxed up, ready for the second (and I devotedly hope) final move. My solution to this anxiety has been – “more! more! more!” So, I’m acquiring more and reading less these days, sad to say. Hopefully, this phase will pass, as I agree with your philosophy that there’s a very special joy in finishing a book that’s already on the shelves.
      One of our many points of agreement is Simon’s blog, which is indeed a treasure. I actually began reading it long before my fairly recent foray into blogging. I frequently check out his recommendations to my immense benefit; to his detriment, however, I must say that his reviews are so persuasive I’ve become sort of hooked on middlebrow mid-20th century British fiction (another bookish area to become addicted to, I absolutely did not need!).
      I’d love to have you pop in and help arrange the shelves, as I’m in a bit of a quandary right now on certain things: do I shelve my new collection of Hilary Mantel’s essay with her novels, or in a special shelf where I put my essay collection? How do I handle author’s names beginning with “Mac” & “Mc” and “St.” & “Saint”? Ah, the philosophical dilemmas aroused by such questions. Like you, I absolutely to alphabetize and I’m having such a grand time with those new shelves it almost makes the agony of the move worth it!
      I hope you are keeping well and I look forward to reading more of your very perceptive reviews. In fact, I enjoy them so much I switch browsers to access your blog, as the one I usually use doesn’t always let me leave comments.

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  10. A great post! Your new books all look very interesting. Lispector’s “Near to the Wild Heart” and “The Hour of the Star” were five-star reads for me. She was an immensely talented writer.

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    1. Oh, thanks to your recommendations I’ve quite a little stack of the British Library books to work through! Such a treat and such an interesting idea for a series. And, yes, that cover for the Berridge was so wildly inappropriate it was MOST amusing . . .

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