Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Read in 2014

I read a lot this year.  I think I read so much because I had this blog that was quietly tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me to take the time to read and write on my blog.  Yes, there was my (brief) hiatus from blogging, back in the fall, but I could never completely leave this blog and, so, I'm committing to a brisker blog schedule and even more reading this year!  I thought I would compile a list of what I read this year.  I was so pleased, readers!  The list starts in March because that was when I started blogging and, honestly, I have absolutely no memory of what I read before that.

March

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (And my first blog post!)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Still one of my favorite works of fiction)
The Penderwicks Books by Jeanne Birdsall
Two Sherlock Holmes Books
Canterbury Tales
Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery
Hotel Paradise by Martha Grimes
Don't Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier (NOT a hit!)
The Beginning of Flavia de Luce
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays
The Life of Pi

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gardening Reading

It's been so drearily bleak around here, but not cold.  It's my least favorite weather conditions-50 degrees and gray.  So, to distract myself from the less-than-ideal weather, I've come up with a nice big stack of gardening reading materials.  I'm already getting excited for the seed catalogues and gardening charts!

Here's my list:


  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver-I think this is my third time reading through this and I love it more each time I read it.  This does deserve its own review, so when I get around to it, I'll definitely write one.

  • How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jevons-Good, so far, although the man does seem to have a mad gleam in his eye.  I can't imagine doing all of the hoopla required for this kind of intensive gardening.  Interesting, though.

  • The New Kitchen Garden by Anna Pavord-A lovely, lovely book.  Not terribly informational, but full of gorgeous pictures and ideas for making beautiful little kitchen gardens with just a little bit of space.

  • The 12 Month Gardener by Jeff Ashton-A really great book all about gardening year round in a temperate climate.  Useful, interesting, and inspiring.
Now aren't you refreshed just looking at all those bright green books with the word "garden" in their titles?  I'm sure there will be more books like these as spring draws closer.  I'll be sure to keep you updated on what I'm reading.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Pictures

I've been taking pictures up a storm the past few days.  You see, I got a new camera for Christmas!  And, oh, it is a beauty!  It's a grown-up camera with a nice 18-55 mm lens and all kinds of settings that are making me extremely overwhelmed.  Everything is getting photographed, from the salt shaker to the family opening presents.

Here is some of what I've been capturing:

My brother and I lit some paper lanterns to line the driveway after an extended family Christmas gathering.
So lovely.

A yawning kitty.
The tops of the kale, photographed artistically as I was going out to grab some for a salad.
Photograph of the inside of a hornet's nest sitting in an old tree.  I've been wanting to take
this picture for so long and couldn't get up the nerve to stick my camera lens that close. 

Hazel the sheep.  My camera is speedy enough that I can get animal pictures!
The little paper lanterns.

All of this photography is making me want to check out books and books and more books about photography techniques.  I'll compile a list of favorites once I get them all read.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I am most definitely not a nonfiction reader and I'm not an autobiography reader.  Autobiographies so often feel stuck-up and like the author either has an extremely inflated sense of self and is flaunting flaunting his/her fabulousness faaaaar too much.  They're either, a.) Famous personages who became train wrecks and went on to write about it, b.) Famous personages who did not become train wrecks and are quite proud of it, or, c.) People who are not famous, but think that everybody wants to hear what they are up to (which, now that I think of it, is also the definition of a blogger)

I actually read this book about a month ago and loved it.  I read it cover to cover in a little under 24 hours, then stuck the first two sentences of this post in drafts and forgot about it.  I had stopped at the autobiography section at the library to pick up a James Herriot book because I was going through a dry-spell where nothing at the library looked any good and I stopped and picked this book up.  I read the front cover and laughed out loud until the bored looking man writing a paper at the next table over glowered and I snapped the book up.

Most of you probably know of Tina Fey.  She's a fairly famous comedian in the US, most well-known for her Sarah Palin sketches in the 2008 election, but she's been in a variety of other films and television shows.

The book is very informally written as a collection of essays, written roughly in chronological order, starting with the story of her birth and going on from there.  I laughed and laughed as I read Fey's observations about life; both hers and the lives of the people around her.

But the book wasn't just funny.  It was a thoughtful look at being a comedian, a woman with a successful career, a person in a complicated world.

Here's the thing-I wasn't expecting to like this book.  I mean, come on, it's a famous actress talking about her successful life.  The book was just begging to become a pretentious monologue navel-gazing session.   And, amazingly, it didn't!  The book was just funny and fresh and would be interesting to anybody, not just Fey's devoted fans.  That was the thing that impressed me. The book is of general interest to the general public.  And how often does that happen in a celebrity's autobiography?

The Good Reads reviews, however, whined quite a bit about the book.  Sure, it was not the world's most wonderfully edited piece of writing.  Actually, it was kind of bad at parts.  However, maybe because I was in such a spot of dry reading, I wasn't offended in the least by the content itself.  Could the presentation have been better?  Sure.

So if you are interested in autobiographies, pick this one up.  It's funny and smart and a quick read.  I really enjoyed it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden

Well, dear readers, I'm back!  I'm afraid I've left you in a bit of a blogpostless desert, so I have a nice long book review for you today to make amends.

I started the beginning of a long Christmas vacation and, to celebrate, I grabbed the book on top of my (mountainous) book pile-The Diddakoi.  It had been highly recommended to me, so I was eager to start it.  I read the whole book in about 2 hours and then emerged, blinking, into the real world.

The Diddakoi is about a 7 year old gypsy girl, Kizzy, who lives with her great-great grandmother and her beloved horse in a caravan on the edge of an old English admiral's property.  There are some of the loveliest description scenes I have ever read, such as this one:

"And they (her clothes) did smell, but not of dirt.  Gran washed them often, hanging them along the hedge, while Kizzy wrapped herself in a blanket; they smelled of the open air, of woodsmoke, and a little of the old horse, Joe, because she hugged him often."

And with that little quote, I am instantly transported to this scene.  However, Kizzy's romantic life outdoors is not to be.  She is sent to the local school with the (spoiler alert: nasty!) children.  They tease and torment her, calling her all kinds of awful derogatory terms that were, apparently, in common vernacular at that time and place, from "Diddakoi to "Clothes-Washer" to many, many more.  They pull her hair and push her and smack her and make fun of her endlessly, to the point where it isn't just little kids insulting, but real, concentrated hatefulness.  And, to make matters worse, the teacher is a well-meaning lady who has no idea how to handle the children.

One day, Kizzy comes home from school to the news that her grandmother has died.  The gypsy relatives show up, burn the caravan, as is customary, and then prove themselves to be quite unsavory people.  Kizzy runs away with dear Joe, her horse, who has just been threatened with being sent to the butcher.  She goes to the first place she knows: the admiral's large mansion.  He takes her in, despite being an old curmudgeonly bachelor and he and his two trusty assistants from the navy nurse her back to health (oh, yeah, she got pneumonia somewhere along in there).

But Kizzy's happiness is not to be and she is taken before a local magistrate and told that she must leave the kindly gentlemen and go somewhere with a woman's influence.  After all sorts of awful adults discuss children's homes and foster parents, she is taken in by the kind, yet serious magistrate herself.  And Kizzy proceeds to learn to be a Nice English Middle-Class Person.

After I finished the book, I was in too much of a daze to analyze properly.  But now I'm ready.  Let me just say that the book gets worse, actually.  Stop reading here if you don't want more spoilers.  Kizzy is really abused by the little girls in her class.  There's one scene where they think her neck might be broken from being beat up.  It's awful, really.  But the thing that most offended me is that Rumer Goden refers several times to the girls picking on Kizzy as, "kittens fighting with their fur all on end".  By using the word "kittens", Goden has instantly made this situation "not that bad" and nothing more than children's nonsense.

Now, I understand that bullying as we have to come use the term was not a commonly addresses issue at the time Godden wrote this (60s, I think, but don't quote me).  And I have read (and heard personal stories) of pretty awful things happening at the time because adults were just not paying attention.  But here's the thing that made me truly disgusted at the end of the book.

SPOILER!  SPOILER!

After these girls beat up Kizzy over and over, they are finally caught by the Magistrate who scolds them and takes Kizzy home with her.  Some of the adults are properly upset and agree that these girls must be punished.  But the magistrate prevails and says that they must none of them do anything, because, after all, "this is a children's war".  Gah.  This excuse absolutely makes me froth at the mouth. And so they do nothing.  Kizzy is hauled back to school where, magically, she is made a popular British schoolgirl who is fascinating to all and everybody starts using the derogatory terms in a fascinated, loving kind of way.

This argument of, "This is a children's war.  We can't get involved," might be appropriate if the kids are bickering over something minor and nobody is getting singled out and pummeled.  But this?  This is truly disgusting.  And that's the thing that drove me wild about this book.  This is not normal children's behavior and Godden was treating it as such.  And it may have been a different time, but children have not changed that much in the last 50 years.  It does make me wonder what kind of tortured childhood Godden might have had.  And the ending message that Kizzy should have faced actual bodily harm so that she could end up popular and beloved by the little demons who hurt her?   Sheesh.

This book I was loaned was an old library copy and was marked, "Youth", which surprised me.  Evidently, Godden wrote this as a children's story.  I know I wouldn't hand that book to any early-chapter-book-reader.  And, really, it is an adult's story.  There are all of the heinous bullying scenes, but the book isn't even written from Kizzy's perspective.  The story is being told about Kizzy, but there's almost no internal dialogue from Kizzy's point of view.  It's the perspective of an adult outsider, looking in.  All to say, this is very much an adult's book.

The way that gypsies were addressed in the book was also interesting.  They were written about in a very romantic way, alternating between shock at their "wild ways" musing over their gorgeous outdoors, rugged life.  It was a little weird and probably not something you'd read in a book today.

So what did I like?  Well, the first 1/4 of the book, with the cozy caravan scenes and the heavily romanticized loveliness of it all.  Oh, and the section where the kindly admiral goes to the department store and buys Kizzy piles of lovingly described clothing.  And Rumer Goden is a truly gifted author.  She wrote An Episode of Sparrows, which I loved and she is a very good storyteller.

In closing, I wouldn't really bother with this book.  TBR piles are too high anyway.  However, I'm not going to scream, "Don't read this!" from the rooftops.  If you're really in the mood to have a good British Schoolchildren in the 60s analysis, then go ahead and have a good time.  Believe me, there's plenty to analyze.  It also appears that people who were exposed to this book as children/teenagers and have fond memories associated with this book seem to speak far more favorably of it than the people who picked it up for the first time recently, like me.  So if you've read it before, then go ahead and give it a reread!  You might have a completely different reaction.  I'll be back tomorrow with a picture post.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

A December Poem

My December has been absolutely jam-packed.  Even my reading has slowed down!  Not halted, but slowed down.  I thought I would just give a quick summary of what's on my book list or is currently being read:

1.) My Cousin Michael by Mary Stewart

2.) The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley-This book is absolutely fabulous!  The books are modern settings, but they remind me so very much of Mary Stewart's work.  They're that amazing combination of thrilling, yet cozy.

Aaaand that's it.  See?  I told you I wasn't reading much.  In other news, here's a lovely poem I picked out, along with a December painting, called Winter Painter by Carl Larssen (A Swedish artist, whose paintings I dearly love).  I really do love December, and Longfellow, which is why I picked this poem about winter.



Snow-flakes, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Out of the bosom of the Air,
     Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
     Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
          Silent, and soft, and slow
          Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
     Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
     In the white countenance confession,
          The troubled sky reveals
          The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
     Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
     Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
          Now whispered and revealed
          To wood and field.