8 things I learned in April

Taking Emily Freeman’s lead to share a handful of things I learned this month, from the (occasionally) significant to the (mostly) shallow.

1. The first thing I learned: I always accumulate a long list of things I learned when I travel. This month, we traveled.

2. The DC cherry blossom scene is for real. This month my whole family headed to Washington, DC for spring break. I’ve always heard DC is lovely in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Well. When we planned the trip (on short notice, in typical fashion) we didn’t realize just how big a deal the Cherry Blossom Festival is, or that we’d timed our visit to coincide with peak bloom—which is gorgeous, and also draws unbelievable crowds to the city. I hate crowds, and that might have scared us off if we’d known. But we didn’t, so we enjoyed the blossoms.

3. There is one thing that can make me wish I had a long commute. I’m usually emphatically grateful not to spend lots of time going back and forth to work every day. But I regularly hear from What Should I Read Next? listeners that their daily commute does great things for their reading life, and when we were in DC zipping around on public transit I experienced that for myself.

I wasn’t sure how much reading I’d get done on our busy family vacation, but I forgot about the time we would be spending on the train. And WOW can I read a lot on the train.

I don’t really wish for a long commute … but I can see why if you’re a reader, you might not hate it. At all.

4. The Library of Congress is the largest library on earth. A few impressive stats: 838 miles of bookshelves, 167 million items, among them 39 million books, 14.8 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 72 million manuscripts.

Also, it’s gorgeous. This wasn’t high on my list of DC must-sees (can you believe it?) but I’m so thankful my daughter’s history teacher put this on her radar. Totally worth the visit.

5. Bonsai is amazing. Surprise, more from DC. Before we visited the National Arboretum, I thought “bonsai” meant using hedge clippers to trim bushes into animal shapes. Silly me. These are miniature trees that have been trained and pruned to grow in pots, and thankfully the welcome desk volunteer urged us to go see the Arboretum’s amazing bonsai collection. My whole family was mesmerized.

6. Nothing Compares 2 U is a Prince song. Change of pace: a few months ago Prince’s estate manager started hinting that a bunch of previously unreleased Prince music would be coming soon. And it’s coming. His estate just released the original version of this song—a Prince original—that he recorded in 1984. (Sinead O’Connor made it famous in 1990.)

Prince’s sound engineer was there when he wrote it, and she recently speculated as to why Prince didn’t release the song himself back then, saying its origins weren’t really about a breakup but about his housekeeper leaving his employ to take care of her sick father—and that connection was too personal to put on his own album.

7. Marked-up books are trending. I recently read Gary Keller’s book The One Thing, and noticed something unusual: it had already been thoroughly underlined. I got my copy from the library, and at first I thought a patron had marked it up, but then I noticed that no, the book had been printed that way: when it rolled off the press, it was already highlighted and underlined. (See photo above—that’s not my pencil mark!)

Since then, I’ve noticed this more and more in the new books I’m reading. Marketing books are filled with yellow highlighter. A new advance review copy came in with a thoroughly underlined and highlighted back cover.

Have you noticed this? I’m not sure what to think!

8. Intriguing historical fiction hits shelves this fall. October 2: Patti Callahan Henry’s Becoming Mrs. Lewis, about C.S. Lewis’s wife Joy Davidman. October 9: Kate Morton’s The Clockmaker’s Daughter, a tale of art, love, and murder set in contemporary London and 1860s Oxfordshire. October 23: Sarah McCoy’s Marilla of Green Gables imagines Marilla’s childhood and life at Green Gables before Anne. I can’t wait.

What did you learn in April?

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    Your DC lessons make me so happy as a DC resident! 🙂 The cherry blossoms were truly stunning this year – I was so glad they had a few good weeks because an badly timed snowfall killed them early last year. And isn’t the Library of Congress incredible? I fairly salivated the first time I visited!

  2. Kathi says:

    I’m glad you got to the Library of Congress! I worked there for 30 years before moving back to the Midwest. It truly is a work of art and should not be missed. I was also fortunate to see the cherry blossoms on my way to work everyday and never tired of them. They are magical! Love your posts!

  3. LoriM says:

    We were surprised at the beauty of the Library of Congress too. I’d like to go back and spend more time there.

    I don’t think I’d like to buy a pre-marked up book. I want to make my own marks. I guess it’s kinda like “pull quotes” that some books (and magazines) use? I guess you could skim for a first reading – by just reading the pull quotes/hilighting…

    • Annette Silveira says:

      I don’t think I’d be a fan of premarked-up books. I’d have to see it to be sure but what if what’s marked doesn’t ring true with me?

      • Linette says:

        I wouldn’t want a -remarked book either. My very angry at the moment self jumped in with “Don’t tell me what I need to underline/think. I can decide for myself thanks very much.” It was so nice to hear someone say it calmly.

    • Sarah says:

      I completely agree. I dislike the Kindle setting that shows others’ highlights. And because I am stubborn like that, I will not highlight something that has been marked up by a lot of people before me.

      • Colleen says:

        If you go into settings, you can turn OFF others’ highlights. I did that because I don’t want to see others’ highlights in print OR in e-reader form!

        • Rebekah in Redlands says:

          The pre-highlighted books sound dreadful. I turned that feature off on my kindle because I felt like someone else was interpreting the book for me and I was unable to just read it and form my own thoughts.

      • Erin says:

        This is so me too! I had to turn them off, because I found them distracting and then I didn’t want to like that particular part of the book.

  4. Katie says:

    DC has long been on my list to visit! Note to self: go when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
    I would be annoyed at a book that was already highlighted and underlined. It would be really distracting to me, especially when I’m trying to read and take in a book for the first time.

  5. I have to confess, we ended up in DC at peak cherry blossom time (coincided with a business trip) and, although the blooms were beautiful, the crowds freaked us out and we said “never again.” On the marked-up books, I wouldn’t mind buying one of the special annotated editions where the author makes comments about what they were thinking, etc. But I really don’t like this idea otherwise. I always turn the “most commonly highlighted” feature off on my Kindle app… Hope you have a great week!

  6. Jill Porco says:

    Have you read Surprised by Joy by C.S Lewis , the story of how Lewis and Joy Davidman met, tell in love, and of her conversion to Christianity. Like Lewis, she was an atheist before that. Interesting story.

  7. Diane Canova says:

    I have lived in the DC area for over 30 years and find Spring to be the best. So glad you enjoyed your time here. While the cherry blossoms are a sight to behold, other flowering bushes and trees are equally beautiful. My redbud is gorgeous this year. Haven’t yet read a “marked-up” book, but not a fan. I like making my own markings and notations for thoughts that strike me. Underlining is in the eye of the reader!

  8. Whitney H says:

    Lived in DC briefly in college. One of the ways I used to get book recommendations was to keep track of what was popular reading material during my commute. Unfortunately, I think e-readers have made that difficult now 🙁

    I always forget how beautiful the cherry blossoms are until someone mentions it…. and that smell… SO lovely!

  9. Terry says:

    Don’t like “pre-marked” books. Wouldn’t buy one if I knew in advance that it was done that way. I want to make my own notes. That said, I sometimes like to read a book that a FRIEND has marked up – just to compare our thoughts. But I would read it unmarked first, then theirs….

  10. Lisa says:

    Regarding already marked up books: I am all for making marks and notations in books. The tactile process of marking and notating makes connections for me when I am reading. I am sure the author wants to draw attention to particular statements with this pre-marking strategy but I would prefer they didn’t. Use bold text or italics, but let me mark my book myself!

  11. Brittany says:

    I commute 45 minutes to work each way and I get so much “reading” done during that time with audiobooks. Over the past two weeks I’ve finished re-reads of the first two Harry Potter books. Thanks for recommending the Jim Dale editions on your podcast, they’re wonderful!

    One thing I learned in April (especially being a New Englander) is that while it may seem like spring is NEVER ever going to come; it will come and it will be amazing!

  12. Courtney says:

    No thank you on the pre-marked up books!!! I want to mark them with my own thoughts and impressions…

    Thanks for the heads up on the books coming out- they all sound fantastic!!

  13. Adrienne Hudson says:

    Pre-marked up books sounds like a bad idea….
    I did not know there is a new Kate Morton book coming out this Fall. YAY!!! Thank you for sharing that.
    And I think the word you were looking for is “topiary” – bushes pruned in the shape of animals.

  14. Susan says:

    Pre-printed marked up books would drive me insane! Especially if the lines were wobbly or not neat. ( I use a ruler to underline in my books. I know!) I’ve even taken the time to erase the underlining in books I buy used. In most cases, I don’t care to see what’s important to other readers while I’m reading and forming my own opinions about a book. Afterwards, I love to discuss books with other folks and to see their books marked up and flagged.
    PS It took me forever to get to the point where I’d mark up a book in the first place. ?

  15. Melanie says:

    I lived in DC for a number of years and went back just last week to visit. Unfortunately pretty much all of the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin are gone, although there are still cherry blossoms blooming at various places around the city.

    If you have to have a long commute I think commuting by public transit is the way to go so that you can have your hands and mind free to read. My metro commutes taught me than my Kindle was indispensable. When you’re jam-packed into a metro car it’s hard to have space and hands free to turn pages; it’s so much easier when you can hold you e-reader in one hand and press a button to turn the page.

    Also, if you’re ever in DC over the summer, check out the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. It’s a gorgeous, off-the-beaten path garden of lily pads and lotuses.

  16. Debi Morton says:

    I cannot wait for Becoming Mrs. Lewis and Marilla of Green Gables. I have read, and would like to reread Surprised by Joy, which I loved. And just last year I dragged my poor, patient and very sweet husband all over Prince Edward Island to see all things Anne and Green Gables, et al. So getting to know Marilla better is high on my list. (Fast fact: when you live in Texas, spell check wants Marilla to be Amarillo.?)0

  17. I heard the Prince version of Nothing Compares 2 U on the radio here in Mpls when The Current radio station was doing an all-Prince weekend celebration! You can also get a sneak peak of some of his never-released stuff if you take a tour of Paisley Park in Chanhassen, MN. Fun stuff. 🙂

  18. Carol says:

    I haven’t been to every building in DC, but I’ve been to many and I think the Library of Congress is the most beautiful of the bunch. Was anyone else tempted to just lie down on the floor and stair at the ceiling? I didn’t, because I’m classy like that, but I was tempted.

    This month I learned that it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve visited a place, there’s always something new to see. During our Spring Break visit to Seattle (our favorite city) I discovered the beauty of West Seattle & Alki Beach. Also, we went to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival via the backroads (through Conway for those who are curious) and happened upon several fields packed with migrating snow geese. It was a spectacular surprise. We learned that they were on their way to Russia for the summer. (The geese didn’t tell us, the locals did.)

    • Kathi says:

      The standard memorials are well worth visiting. Definitely the Library of Congress – take the tour! Use the tour mobile to get around … Arlington Cemetery is worth the tour mobile ride-great view of DC from there. The Smithsonan building are great but can be overwhelming … reasesrch which ones you want to go to beforehand. Also they are GREAT restaurants just north of the mall a couple of blocks near the Capital One Arena – just up from the National Archives. If you are into art … The National Art Gallery is fantastic – good restaurant in the basement! Enjoy DC – it is a great place to visit!

    • Anne says:

      We wanted to stay in the city and waited too long to find anything to accommodate our large family. If you find a great place I’d love to hear about it.

  19. Jennifer says:

    My first experience with books marked up by the author/publisher was with The One Thing, as well. I do not like it at all. I want to make my notations and marks without being influenced by what someone else thinks is important.

  20. Kelli says:

    Not a fan of buying pre-marked books, BUT I got a “happy accident” for my birthday. My best friend “gifted” me one of her favorite books – AND, I hit the jackpot because she gave me her “marked up” copy!’ While she offered to give me the clean copy, I declined. I LOVED reading her notes and seeing her insight. Best.gift.EVER.

  21. Jillian says:

    Sounds like a delightful month! My travels took me to Gettysburg and Harper’s Ferry, and I learned SO much! I can’t wait for Marilla of Green Gables!! That sounds like a lot of fun.

  22. I used to ride the bus to work when I lived in NYC and LOVED that time to read! I still remember reading the paperback version of American Psycho and worrying people on the bus would judge me or be completely horrified if they were reading over my shoulder (which happens a lot when people are standing over you on the bus or subway).

  23. Steph says:

    Ew to the pre-marked books. I don’t mind marking up my own books, and it can be interesting to see what another reader thought (anecdote: my little brother had to read a biography for his English class and their teacher MADE them write notes in the margins. Reading that was HYSTERICAL). But to me it feels like lazy writing to publish it that way. If you can’t communicate what’s important without highlighting it, you need to work on your writing.

  24. Ellen Cole says:

    When I toured the LoC a few years ago, the tour guide tooks us into a room that overlooked the famous reading room. I was so overwhelmed by the sight that I started to cry. Non-readers would never understand!

    I don’t want previously marked up books! What happens when something that means something to me isn’t marked or something IS marked that doesn’t strike me as much? Then I’m left wondering…what am I missing?

  25. Amelia says:

    I’ve never been able to look at bonsai trees the same way since I read the poem “A Work of Artifice” by Marge Piercy in 12th grade. They’re pretty though.

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