My current obsession.

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a Little Free Library carved into a tree in Hampton, NH (photo)

I spotted my first Little Free Library at the Omni Starbucks in Richmond, Virginia almost two years ago. I noticed it—I even instagrammed it—but I didn’t really know what I was looking at.

The first Little Free Library—though it wasn’t called that yet—was built in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2009. Todd Bol built a miniature one-room schoolhouse to honor his mother, a teacher who loved reading. He filled it with books, and put it on a pole in his front yard with a sign that said FREE BOOKS. It was a hit.

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a Little Free Library in Crescent Hill, Louisville, Kentucky

He built several more and gave them away. The grassroots movement caught on. Bol’s original goal was for 5,210 Little Free Libraries: that’s one more than Andrew Carnegie built, which would make the Little Free Library movement the world’s largest library network.

Now—just a few years later—there are about 15,000 officially registered Little Free Libraries.

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this Little Free Library is a gift of interactive art for its Corvallis, Oregon neighborhood (photo

I’m in love with the idea and am seriously considered putting one in my yard. (Books + whimsy, how can I resist?)

The Little Free Libraries come in all shapes and sizes. Kits can be purchased on the Little Free Library website, or owners can create whatever kind of structure they’d like, limited only by their imagination and, in some instances, zoning laws.

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a little red phone booth in Vancouver (photo)

Some Little Free Libraries are shaped like birdhouses; some are shaped like phone booths. Some are carved into trees; some are carved into garages. Some look like school buses; some look like RVs. There’s even a Little Free Bike Library.

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Little Free Bike Library of Chino Hills, California (photo by Andrew Scott, steward)

Personally, I love the miniature house-shaped ones that the creators personalize in every way imaginable.

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I made Will stop the car on a busy Pensacola street so I could jog back a block to snap this photo. Can you blame me?

Do you have a Little Free Library near you? Would you ever want to have one yourself? And if you know of any more in Louisville, let me know so I can hunt them down!

P.S. You can watch a twelve-minute documentary about the Little Free Library movement here.

P.P.S. One past obsession. And another one.

What I’ve been reading lately.

twitterature

Welcome to twitterature, where we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately on the 15th of every month.

What I’ve been reading lately, in a rather lopsided two-part installment. The tail end of my summer reading (new books), and The Spectator Bird, which is more indicative of the flavor of my autumn reading.

THE SPECTATOR BIRD

by Wallace Stegner

spectator birdI picked this up after reading Stegner’s later novels Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose. I finished it weeks ago, and I still can’t quite get a handle on it. Maybe that’s because the novel itself asks hard questions, and offers no easy answers. It’s a short read—only 224 pages—but if you’ve never read Stegner, I don’t recommend starting here. Pensive, wistful, thoughtful.

BURNT TOAST MAKES YOU SING GOOD: A MEMOIR OF FOOD & LOVE FROM AN AMERICAN MIDWEST FAMILY

by Kathleen Flinn

burnt toastThis is the story of Flinn’s family of origin, from her parent’s courtship to her own teenage years. I didn’t like it as a memoir: the bumpy writing got in the way of her parent’s story. I was delighted to discover key parts of the story took place in Anna Maria Island, Florida, where my own family vacationed for many years growing up. Despite the book’s shortcomings, give it a shot if you have ties to Michigan, which plays a key role in her family’s heritage.

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

by Anthony Doerr

all the lightA haunting WWII literary novel that reminded me of Ian McEwan’s Atonement—not necessarily in a good way—and had me scoping Saint-Malo, France on Lonely Planet’s website. Recommended reading for fans of The English Patient and Life After Life (Atkinson, not McCorkle). Intelligent, detailed, literary.

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU

by Celeste Ng

everything I never“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this psychological drama that deals with love, loss, and a million what ifs. The interesting narrative perspective allows the reader to intimately enter into the mysteries that plagued this Chinese-American family. Don’t read the jacket copy first. The less you know, the better.

GOOD CHEAP EATS: EVERYDAY DINNERS AND FANTASTIC FEASTS FOR $20 OR LESS

by Jessica Fisher

cheap eatsA brand-new cookbook from the author of Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook, which I’ve come to rely on for its delicious and trustworthy meals. Easy to follow recipes and tempting photos highlight budget-friendly meals—for weeknights or for company dinners—that sound amazing yet still come in at $10 or less per meal. Easily adaptable for gluten-free, dairy-free, make-ahead, vegetarian, and freezer-friendly options. We’ve already tried a few recipes; my husband’s begging for poblano-chile enchiladas; my kids want the garlicky grilled-cheese.

ASTONISH ME

by Maggie Shipstead

Astonish MeThis book, set in the world of professional dance, is unlike anything I’ve never read in form and content. Spanning 30 years, told from 4 different viewpoints, this novel swept me into the world of classical ballet—a world I didn’t know I’d been longing to enter.  The Times hated it, but nevermind that. (But a warning: there’s language, and so much cocaine.)

What have you been reading lately?

Not cheerful and upbeat, but really, really good.

Not cheerful and upbeat, but really, really good | Modern Mrs Darcy

The details on this ongoing project, and the factors I’m taking to heart.

Readers told me 3 books they loved, 1 book they hated, and what they’re reading right now. In turn, I’m recommending 3 books for each reader. (Or more, if I can’t help myself.)

This week we’re choosing books for Jeannie, whose books are:

Love: The House of Mirth, Rebecca, The Remains of the Day
Hate: Death Comes to Pemberley
Recently: The Fault in Our Stars

Jeannie describes her choices by saying her favorite books “don’t have to be cheerful and upbeat but they have to be SO GOOD.” I agree, which is fortunate because I still haven’t read The House of Mirth. (It’s on the list!) I felt like I was operating with a handicap here because of that.

My first impressions of Jeannie’s selections were that she adores substantial literary fiction and Gothic novels, but isn’t afraid to try modern popular stuff (like John Green) or an updated twist on a classic (like Death Comes to Pemberley).

For the first time, I asked you all on Facebook what books YOU would recommend. If your suggestions matched mine, I knew we had a winner. And you suggested books I’d never thought of, but which seemed like perfect matches. I’ll definitely be doing that again.

My picks: 

My first impressions, confirmed by readers: A Room With a View, My Cousin Rachel, Tess of the D’Urbevilles
Classic: Kristin Lavransdatter
Gothic novels: The Thirteenth Tale, A Long Fatal Love Chase
Modern: The Likeness, The Distant Hours, Angle of Repose 

Jeannie’s list of favorites immediately brought three read-this-next selections to mind: A Room With a ViewMy Cousin Rachel, and Tess of the D’Urbevilles. These were great picks, but strikeouts all the same: Jeannie chimed in on Facebook and said she’d already read them! I was glad to know I was on the right track. Kristin Lavransdatter holds its own as a classic, but it’s less read than the heavy hitters I first turned to. Given Jeannie’s taste in books, I think it’s a likely winner.

Given Jeannie’s love for Rebecca, I’m recommending the neo-Gothic novel The Thirteenth Tale. Disclaimer: I haven’t read it yet. But I can see it from where I sit in my office, and it’s been heartily recommended by fellow book lovers with similar taste to my own (and to Jeannie’s). Either we’ll love it together, or we’ll rip it apart—together.

Anyone who loves Rebecca should also give Kate Morton a try. Jeannie says she’s already read—and loved—The Forgotten Garden.  I recommend she read The Distant Hours next. This is a spoiler-free zone, so I can’t say why, but trust me—read it next!

I’m going out on a limb with The Likeness. It’s a modern psychological thriller, an Irish detective novel with blood and guts and f-bombs galore. Don’t read it if you’re not up for that—but if you are, prepare yourself for a gripping read, like Kate Morton or Rebecca circa 2014 Dublin.   

Another novel I haven’t yet completed but very much want to is Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase. Alcott fans who know her only from Little Women and Eight Cousins may not recognize her in this darker piece, which was originally intended for magazine serialization. It reads more like something we can imagine Jo March (or perhaps adolescent Anne Shirley?) writing, not Louisa May Alcott!

Finally, I’m recommending Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, for its complexity, its human drama, and its emotional pull—even if it’s not cheerful or upbeat. I have Stegner on the brain (I’ve read three of his books in a row) and I want to recommend a classic (or future classic; this one is a shoo-in) that I’m not 99% sure Jeannie’s already it. This fits the bill.

Please share YOUR recommendations for books that aren’t necessarily cheerful or upbeat, but are really, really good in comments. Thank you!

View all the literary matchmaking posts here.

The thirty-year rule.

The thirty year rule | Modern Mrs Darcy

I was given this advice nearly twenty years ago, when I was embarking on college visits. While on campus, attend as many classes as you can. Ask the professors for the course syllabi. Review the reading lists carefully. If the majority of the school’s required texts aren’t at least thirty years old, run for the hills.

I find myself thinking about this thirty-year rule every summer, and never more so than this year.

I approached this year’s summer reading guide somewhat differently than in years past. Previous years’ guides contained categories for classics, for gorgeous novels, even for memoirs that have been around a while.

Not this year. The 2014 guide was focused squarely on modern fiction, (with a few nerdy nonfiction reads thrown in for good measure).

I read a ton of great books this summer. My personal favorites were The Sea of Tranquility (2 years old), Astonish Me (not even a year old), Peace Like a River (13 years old), Team of Rivals (9 years old), and I Capture the Castle (66 years old). (If re-reading counts, add Crossing to Safety to the list. 27 years old.)

I enjoyed so much of my summer reading, but after a while the steady diet of modern fiction took its toll. (Ironic, because I used to never read modern fiction. I didn’t know where to start, so I didn’t even try. Blogging has changed that.)

I have a hard time describing what it is, exactly, that I find disappointing about so much modern fiction, even modern literary fiction. I know it when I see it, but I struggle to describe it.

I’ll try. To generalize: even with a good story and strong prose, too many modern novels lack the depth, richness, and complexity that I hope to glimpse in my serious reads. I feel like I’m just skimming the surface, because the author lacked the desire, or the skill, to take the reader deeper.

The characters are flat, at worst, or self-consciously three-dimensional, at best. The novels give up all their secrets on the first reading, or the second. Great books can hold out much longer than that—for forever, some of them.

And so I find myself evaluating my reading list through the lens of this thirty-year rule. That’s unfair, because it isn’t at all the purpose for which it was intended, but I come back to it all the same. It tells me it’s time to swing the pendulum back in the other direction.

I don’t believe it’s an ironclad rule, by any means, but a shortcut to get to the good stuff—the books with substance and staying power.

As I move into fall, I’m filling my shelves with old books—books that are older than me, at the very least.

Of course I’ll keep reading new ones. I just started Outlander (23 years old) and picked up the new Tana French from the library (10 days old). I can’t help myself; I wouldn’t want to.

But I am hungry for the old.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on modern fiction, novels with staying power, and the thirty-year rule.