Showing posts with label Biography/Autobiography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Biography/Autobiography. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recent Book Duds

As I was reading thorough my archives, I realized that I don't write about the book disappointments very much.  Often, I have nothing more to say then, "Meh.  It was fine."  Or else, "Ugh.  An awful book."  In the case of the latter, there are only so many things you can say about a bad book.  But I was thinking, isn't this kind of like the bloggers who only write about the great things and only post pretty pictures of their lives?  Every book blogger will tell you that she has had her fair share of bad, nay, awful books.  In this post, I'm going to tip you off to a few books that I have read recently and was not a fan of.

1. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel Fattah-This book was sitting on a table at the library and I idly glanced at it and thought it looked good enough to take home.  It's a YA book about a Muslim girl in Australia, dealing with cultural identity and discrimination in an immediately post-9/11 world.  I thought it sounded like a fascinating read.  I think the premise would have been fascinating as adult-level fiction, but, written for YA, it was too annoying.  Our heroine whined far too much, complained about school for probably a combined total of 50 pages, and had a mortifying crush that went on for too long without resolution.  In other words, the book was a stereotypical YA book, with the exception that there was some interesting commentary from the author on race and culture in our world today.  I will say, the book was very funny at parts. Still, not worth reading unless you love YA.

2. The Look of Love by Sarah Jio-Another idly-grabbed-off-the-bookshelf read.  I thought this one had potential.  Sarah Jio is a New York Times bestselling author with a lot of critical acclaim and I've heard good things about her books.  But this one….ooof.  This heroine was far too pathetic and I kept wanting to reach into the book and smack her.  Her sad, lonely, woe-is-me life just irritated me instead of making me feel any kind of sympathy.  That said, the premise of the story-a young woman who has the ability to see love is given the task of identifying the six types of love before the full moon after her 30th birthday; then, of course, falls in love-sounded kind of fun to read.  I'm going to keep pressing on, because, who knows, maybe I will be surprised.  If I end up liking the book, I'll let you know.

3. Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson-Now this was actually a great book.  At least, theoretically, I know that.  For whatever reason, it just didn't click with me.  I'd read a couple of pages, then wander over to a bookshelf or the library book box to see what else I had to read.  That said, I know that this is a good book and, when my mood is right, I'll pick it up again.  Still, I'm counting it as a dud because I can't review it if I haven't made myself read it.

That's not a terribly long list of duds.  But these are all books read (or started) just throughout the month of May.  I do think that I go on cycles of getting heaps of great books and then dry spells where I can't find anything to read.  Discouraging, but the good cycles where I have lots of books do make up for the times when I don't.  Tell me, readers, does this happen to anybody else?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Last week, I went to hear Rachel Held Evans speak.  I had barely heard her name and knew her only as some kind of "theology-ish" person.  However, her topic-The church and its young people-sounded very interesting.  Still, I didn't have very high hopes.  I thought it might be kind of dumb, actually.  I feel very strongly that the church is far too obsessed with "getting young people" and that the current gimmicky trends are ridiculous.  I expected Evans's talk to be more of the frantic hand wringing, but I went anyway.  I am so thankful that I ended up going!  Sure, what she said was preaching to the choir, but it was still fascinating and inspiring and generally wonderful.  In addition to a wonderful talk, all the people in attendance were given signed copies of her new book.

I hurried home and stayed up till one in the morning ploughing through this book, thoroughly enjoying and agreeing all the way.  (Warning: In this post will be a lot of Christianese and pretty divisive topics currently in the church and I'm going to spout opinions left and right.  If this sounds boring to you, I understand.  You may leave now.  Okay, let's continue.)  Evans grew up in what she calls, "the buckle of the Bible belt", namely, Dayton Tennessee.  Dayton is also home to the famous Scope's Monkey Trial and hundreds up churches.  You can read all about her church-going story in her book, but, she grew up in a typically fundamentalist evangelical Christian home and church, only to realize that she was having all these doubts and questions, doubts that her church was unwilling to let her have.

After years of struggling to regain her faith, Evans now writes and talks about what the church is doing wrong-and right-particularly in regards to the Millennial generation.  It is no secret that many people under 35 aren't coming to church.  In response to this, churches wring their hands and get a praise band and a coffee shop in a frantic effort to become relevant.  Evans, in response to this, is writing about what the church really needs to do.  I fall in the Millennial generation myself and I did resonate so much with a lot of what she said.  She argues that the church needs to lose the fog machines and the coffee shops (if you've ever been to a church-wide convention, you know exactly what she's talking about) and regain its weird. Go back to doing the strange and the uncomfortable.  The foot washing and the confessions.  The communion and taking care of the sick and wounded.

She writes that Millennials are sick of having to choose between science and faith or feminism and faith, sick of people stirring politics into religion, the culture wars, rampant exclusivity.  Tired of having church be a place that prefers the pretty, everything-put-together people over the dirty, sick, lonely, wounded people, the very people that Jesus first called to follow him.  And, as encouragement, there are many examples throughout the book of churches that have taken this radical approach to their community.

The book is arranged around the seven sacraments, as named by traditional high churches-baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage.  There are stories Evans's journey towards reconciliation with the church, stories from other people, and beautiful, poignant reflections.  In addition to be a brilliant writer, though, Evans is hilarious.  I haven't laughed so hard in I don't know how long.  The topic is serious and there are heartbreaking stories, but through it all, Evans manages to maintain her humor.  And you all know how much I appreciate a funny writer.

There were so many other wonderful points made in this book, but I don't want to give the whole book away.  It's really something that I think every Christian needs to read.  Evans is unapologetically progressive (which I appreciated), but she is also a serious Christian.  She isn't the type of Christian progressive who breaks out in hives at the mere mention of the words "confession" or "sin".  Her fresh insight into our broken, but beautiful, church inspired me in so many ways-and made me want to have all kinds of discussions.

I can't even begin to recommend this book enough.  Heck, even if you're not a Christian, I think this book might be interesting (and definitely amusing).  Also, the book, while it talks about Millennials quite a bit, is definitely geared to anybody who has left the church, was annoyed by the church, or is just interested in somebody's thoughts on how our church needs to change.  Really, go read this.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler has to be one of my favorite actresses.  I have loved everything she has been in (at least that I have seen).  Parks and Recreation kept me from my huge reading stack more than once this past winter.  So when I saw a woman taking Yes Please from the new book shelf, I instantly wanted to get my hands on a copy.  After a couple of weeks of waiting on the hold list, I finally got a copy.

The book is arranged under the categories: Say Whatever You Want, Do Whatever You Like, and Be Whoever You Are.  Then under each category are a number of essays, not really in chronological order, but all more or less relating to the category.  I think I would say that I mildly enjoyed the book. I laughed out loud maybe four times and smiled maybe ten times. I'm afraid Amy just needs to stick to comedy through film and television.  I had pretty high hopes because, when I read Bossypants last year, I was impressed by Tina Fey and her writing skill and I expected that Poehler, with her similar style of humor would be able to pull of a book.

The writing was kind of awkward and just a little stilted.  I think Poehler tried to imitate her  (extremely talented and funny) voice on paper and was not successful.  There were some good moments.  Some important points made, the occasional good life advice, even some humor.  But I still expected more and ended up being pretty disappointed.

I have discussed the concept of an autobiography several times on this blog, but I never cease being struck by it.  In my mind, there are three kinds of autobiographies-The ones written by amazing people did fascinating things in their lives or had a very unique life experience (eg. Anne Frank, Benjamin Franklin).  Then there are the autobiographies written by people who haven't had the world's most interesting life, but are very talented writers and know how to make something ordinary interesting (these are the writers that I most admire).  Finally, there are the celebrity autobiographies.  These books aren't well written (since most of them aren't written by, you know, writers) and they aren't interesting because, honestly, celebrities actually aren't very interesting people for the most part.  These books get published because the people are famous.  Sadly, Yes Please fell in the final category.  

While I was thinking about this post, I also started writing a rant in my head.  Why, my brain fumed, does every Tom, Dick, and Harry/Harriet think he/she can write?  Nobody would for a minute consider giving an hour long piano performance if they'd had 2 years of piano lessons.  So why do so many people attempt (and, unfortunately, succeed in) publishing and writing a book?  Keeping a journal for future generations?  Of course!  Writing a blog?  Yes!  I'm all for it.  But why is book writing something that we, as a society, have decided anybody can do?  

But, my brain argued back, think of all the undiscovered talent that wouldn't be found if book writing was something that was only done by people with extensive training. I really am in favor of do-it-yourself in so many other areas of life, so why not extend that to the area of book writing? I'd love to hear what you think.  Is book writing something that should be attempted by anybody, or is that disrespectful to the professional writers out there?  Does it cheapen book writing, or enrich it?  

But back to Yes Please.  If you've barely heard of Amy Poehler, then I probably wouldn't bother reading Yes Please.  However, if you are a staunch Amy Poehler fan, I wouldn't turn you away from reading this book.  You might be nothing like me and really enjoy the book!  What about you, readers?   Did any of you read Yes Please?  Did you like it?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Slices of Life: A Food Writer Cooks Through Many a Conundrum by Leah Eskin

I've mentioned a time or two how much I love reading about cooking and food.  I read cookbooks for fun, devour cooking memoirs, articles in magazines by chefs...I love pretty much any food writing I can get my hands on.  I spied this book on the new book shelf at the library and eagerly snagged it because, hey, it was a nice, thick, fun-looking book all about food.  I started it last night and sped through the rest of it this morning.  Overall, I really enjoyed the book.

Leah Eskin is a food writer for a variety of pretty big papers (Chicago Tribune, to name one).  She's also appeared in Saveur (one of the world's loveliest food magazines, I am convinced), Elle, Salon, and handful of other big-name magazines and newspapers.  She writes about food, but, particularly, cooking for her family.  Each article is an essay accompanied by a delicious-looking recipe.

I admit to being just a little underwhelmed by the writing.  The writing was, for the most part, good, but Eskin's writing tone and style wasn't my favorite.  She repeatedly used a present simple tense in the second person (yes, I did have to look that up), which I didn't love.  I think some of that is just my own stylistic taste, but I do think that the writing ended up coming out just a little bit awkward.  The tense and style changed with each article, but the majority were written as described above.

But, sometimes Eskin's writing would suddenly blossom, painting a perfect word image, or elegantly describing a scene.  For instance, when talking about decluttering for moving, she writes, "Gamely, you straighten up.  You square heaps of mail into stacks.  You crack apart the forty-eight pieces of Our Solar System and cram the universe into the black hole of the puzzle cupboard."  See?  Comparing the puzzle cupboard to a black hole?  Smart.  And funny.

Now, let's talk about the amazing food in this book.  I finished this book up this morning and I am convinced that I left several drool marks.  Delicious pasta dishes and salted caramel, brisket and pot roast, greens and beans and pistachio ice cream sandwiches, mushroom broth and walnut pesto crostini.  Oh dear, now I am so hungry.  Leah Eskin is obviously a very good cook, capable of dreaming up some delicious food.  In fact, this book made me want to go hunt down her kitchen and follow her around for a day.  But it also made me want to work in my own kitchen.  Try some of her recipes and maybe even dream up one of my own.  And isn't that the ultimate goal of all good food writers?  To inspire people to get into their own kitchens and create beautiful, delicious food.

So I would definitely pick up this book if you are a food reader like me.  Eskin's recipes all look delicious and her stories about her family are fun to read.  I don't think I would ever buy the book, but as a library read?  It was definitely worth it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Thatched Roof by Beverley Nichols

Beverley Nichols is an author much beloved by both my grandmother and my mother.  Many times over the years, I have been discussing books with them and they stop to gush a little over how witty and sharp and generally great Beverley Nichols is.  I would always smile and nod, but, for whatever reason, never followed through and read something.  The other day, I finally borrowed a Thatched Roof and commenced reading.

I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed the book.  I love to read about people's decorating and gardening adventures and so Nichols's books really are right up my alley.  The gist of this gardening/home improvement autobiography is this: In the 1920s, Nichols buys a completely run-down little cottage with great potential and makes it over, with plenty of advice and opinions from the quirky locals.  In addition to this, it has a lovely garden, which he also fixes up, written about in another book.

There is, of course, much drama involving the whole house being turned into a "ye olde" cottage, filled with fake Tudor pillows and fake Tudor walls, and, well, fake Tudor everything.  I laughed out loud so many times at Nichols's wrath.  There are adventures and problems galore and the descriptions of the house make it sound perfectly lovely once Nichols finishes it.

Another thing that completely impressed me in reading this book was how Nichols made the house really come alive.  I could imagine every room of the house, every color scheme, every bookshelf, every open window.  Often home decorating writers have a hard time trying to describe their project.  In an era before beautiful home improvement books full of more shiny, artistic photographs than text, a book had to rely on the writer's skill as opposed to the crutch of photographs, a refreshing change.

Now, there were some lovely, lovely illustrations done by Rex Whistler did bring the personality of both the house and the book to life.  I appreciated how the illustrations were an aid to the writing, yet did not take the place of the writing.  I've included a sample illustration below:
Credit: Found off of Pinterest.  Not very credible, I know, I know...
The book is also laugh-out-loud hilarious at many parts.  All of the adventures were just plain hilarious, from the trials Nichols underwent, getting a housekeeper, to the descriptions of the nosy neighbors, judging him on the previous owner's choice of lawn statuary.

That said, Nichols got on my nerves by the end of the book.  He strikes me as a waspish little man, never pleased with anything and constantly critical of everybody around him, as well as being a completely priss about his house.  This is funny for awhile, but I couldn't read that indefinitely.  Oh and his blatant dislike for every. single. female who crosses his path?  Also quite annoying.

So those are my thoughts on A Thatched Roof.  Would I read something else by Nichols?  Maybe.  I loved, loved, loved this book, but I think, at least for me, his writing can only be taken in very small doses.  Maybe in a year, when I'm feeling inspired about gardening next March, I'll pull out another of his books about his beautiful garden and have another go.

Friday, February 13, 2015

3 Quick Book Reviews and an Update

Hello, dear readers.  I am still here, lest you thought I was frozen into the side a snowbank, never to appear again.

In spite of my lack of blog activity, I have been up to a lot of things, some reading related.  I have 3 books on the reading pile, two of which I have finished.

1. Don Quixote-
My latest Classics Club read.  It's funny and enjoyable and the translation done by Edith Grossman is great.  I've been enjoying just a few chapters every evening by the fire with hot Earl Grey tea, my new favorite.  I usually make the tea into a London Fog-with lots of steamy hot milk.
But back to the book, there is something so eerily amazing about reading a book that is so old.  I'm quite enjoying it and there will be a full-fledged review, once I've finished it.

2. Small Victories by Anne Lamott-
I love Anne Lamott's writing and this is her latest book.  I have about 5 pages in the book and I can't wait to get a review up about it.  Lamott has had a strange, at times pretty rackety life, but the thing that strikes me reading her books is her incredible grace and wisdom through all kinds of scenarios that I am not entirely sure how I would handle.  If you haven't read anything by Lamott, this is definitely a must-read.

3. The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp-
This is a re-read, but I do love Sharp's incredible sly wit.  The Nutmeg Tree is about a young, irrepressible widow who is left in the early days of WWI with a baby.  After a dreadfully boring stint as a respectable young widow, she leaves the baby with her kindly in-laws and heads to the city. Susan, the baby, grows up dull and respectable, until she falls in love with an unscrupulous man and Julia has to help her get out of the mess.  It's really funny and was a very quick read.

In addition to all of this reading, I'm working and doing as little outside as I possibly can (which usually means just the once-a-day trudge to do the animal chores and then scurrying inside as quickly as possible).  I'm also dreaming of summer through a big stack of summer clothes that I have waiting at the sewing machine.  So see?  I haven't turned into a frozen brick of ice.

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

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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mama Makes Up Her Mind

I loved, loved, loved this spunky, funny, classically southern book so much.  I really do love Southern books and this one, a memoir by Bailey White, a self-proclaimed spinster and her opinionated mother's adventures in northern Florida was priceless.

Bailey White came to public attention through NPR some time in the early 2000s.  I had heard her books recommended and widely praised for years and I finally decided that I needed to do something about the fact that I had never read anything by her.

This memoir is just collections of short stories loosely divided into categories.  The stories are funny and well-written and I felt that they were worth every minute of my time that reading them took up.  Bailey White still lives with her mother in the home where she was born.  Since writing this book, she has abandoned her job as an elementary school teacher to work on her writing.  This book is just stories of daily life that manage to be both hilarious and very commonplace at the same time.

I started the book somewhere public (can't remember where) and remember working very hard to keep from laughing out loud every 5 seconds.  You know that awkward sensation of realizing that pretty much everybody's eyes are on you as you sit grinning from ear to ear and chuckling to yourself?  Well, I had that sensation for pretty much the whole book.

The stories are varied-about White's old car that refuses to break down, about Mama, who finds a tick in her pantyhose on the way to a wedding and spends the whole drive there fussing about it, about the taxidermist next door who can't cook, so takes lessons from Mama.  Each of the stories are just a few pages, but this is not one of those books that you are going to read 5 pages of every day until it's finished.  Oh, no.  Be prepared to spend a large portion of your waking hours behind the covers of this book.

I think the best thing about this book is Bailey White's voice.  It is this voice that shines through in each story and it's the thing that draws all the stories together under a common theme.  It takes a lot of skill to develop a good writer's voice and I was impressed by how clear and likable White's was.

My favorite section was the category about White's teaching adventures.  I loved the story about teaching all of her students to read completely based on the story of the titanic.  Bailey White doesn't teach first grade anymore and I am sure that the loss of her presence at that school is felt.  I would have liked to see her in action, because, the way she talks, you can tell that she was truly devoted to her students and her job.

Southern books and southern writing is pretty prolific in the US.  There are always new southern novels and southern memoirs and southern cookbooks and southern...., but this one really does stand out.  I liked that the south was celebrated without being taken advantage or made fun of.  I think that Bailey White did a good job of this in large part because she lives there, she is an insider and, as such, knows all of the faults and gifts of the south.  It kind of drives me crazy when "outsiders" try to write Southern fiction.  It doesn't work and ends up either being condescending or just weirdly awkward.

If you like to laugh out loud and if you like good writing, then I urge you to please go and hunt this book out. I am only sorry that I am just now finding out about this wonderful writer.  I'm off to read Quite a Year for Plums, a work of fiction that Bailey White wrote.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen

This is a book that I have owned for years.  The title pretty much sums up what the book is about- letters that Jane Austen wrote throughout the years, most of them to her beloved sister, Cassandra.  Penelope Hughes-Hallett did a beautiful job of compiling these letters and introducing them.  Her voice comes through gently, without taking away anything from the beauty of Austen's writing.  So here, quickly, are some of my observations about this book:


  • I met Jane Austen in a new way while reading this book.  So often, we only read about Austen through somebody else's eyes.  Here, we can see Jane Austen herself, without any other author's interpretations or editing.  It's so refreshing!
  • The illustrations!  They are truly one of the highlights of the book.  I found that I am still a sucker for pretty pictures in books.  The illustrations are varied, from portraits that Cassandra, a budding artist drew, to little humorous sketches published in newspapers at the time to beautiful watercolor sketches done by famous people.  
  • The social rules fascinate me.  What accomplishments were expected of ladies, the proper way to accept a dance...the rules go on and on.  It's interesting, because Jane Austen, of course, accepts the rules as just the way things are.  So the reader picks up those social rules along the way through reading Austen's writing.
  • I am glad I don't have to wear regency dress.  I look at those pictures and hear Jane mention certain things about their clothes and I breathe a sigh of relief.  I am a dress-uppy kind of girl, but those teeny-tiny little plunging bodices and skirts that appear to be constantly sticking to ones legs does not sound pleasant.
  • For the first time, I got a very clear picture of the Austen family as a whole.  I have read biographies about Austen before, but this one is so interesting because it is Jane, herself, talking about her family and all of the little quirks that make up everybody.
  • Jane Austen was an observer, rather like me.  She writes to Cassandra all of her observations about people and the funny, strange, and interesting things that they do.  I think it's part of what makes her such a brilliant writer...that ability to observe something interesting, stow it away for future use, and then pull it out again and incorporate it into a novel.
This book was so wonderful, readers.  I think it was my favorite of my Austen in August reads.  I highly recommend it to any Austenites.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life Among the Savages

Life Among the Savages made me laugh until I cried.  This story is written by the famous Shirley Jackson who is most well-known for her short story The Lottery.  But after writing such dark stuff, she went on to write a memoir about raising her children in an old, rambling, New England farmhouse.

Shirley Jackson, along with her husband, raised 4 children, all of whom appear to have been spunky, rambunctious, hilariously funny children (although now that I think about it, isn't that the definition of most children?).  The story starts when Ms. Jackson and her husband are house hunting.  They have been kicked out of their apartment and they are looking at houses to raise their baby and toddler in.  After months of searching, a raggle-taggle farmhouse that is lacking in pretty much any modern convenience is secured and the family moves in.  From the story of Laurie heading off to school and returning a changed, swaggering man to the birth of Barry, their youngest son, when Jackson shouted at all of the nurses because of her pain medication, the stories are all captivating and enjoyable.

Each chapter (they're very long) is an essay-type story about one of her children's exploits.  My absolute favorite story was of the middle daughter, Joanne, who had a vivid imaginary life, with complicated relationships and many children, whom she could also become at times.  One day, they head to the department store (I do so want to step back in time to a 1940s department store) with Joanne and her imaginary family in tow.  The results are disastrous (and wildly funny).

Knowing Shirley Jackson's previous writing, I am in complete awe of how she manages to write in such a different tone.  The tone in these stories is one of warmth and love and humor, rather than dark bitterness.  It is a truly skilled author who can switch between such different writing styles.

This is one of those books that I could not put down.  I read and re-read each word, so as not to miss any little bit of Jackson's writing.  Her style is so captivating.  I laughed and laughed and then read aloud sections to my (sometimes) listening family members.  I was torn between gobbling up the whole book in one sitting and reading about 5 pages so as to make the book last.  Isn't that the best kind of book?

Some of the books I review, I end up saying, "Well, this is a book for (blank) type of person, but if you're not (blank) type of person, don't bother reading this."  This is not that type of book.  These witty, charming stories could be enjoyed by anybody.  If you have ever spent even half an hour with a child under the age of 12, you will instantly recognize so many of the experiences and adventures.  Please, please go read this, my dear readers.  I guarantee that you will thank me.

Friday, July 18, 2014

She Got Up Off the Couch

I loved this book just as much as I did the first.  You know those books that you try to savor by reading each and every word, gently caressing each page as you turn it and seeing how long you can possibly read it?  This was one of those rare gems.

This memoir by Haven Kimmel is told with particular attention to Zippy's mother, a formerly deeply depressed woman who spent her life on the couch with pork rinds and science fiction.  Her mother, Delonda, finally gets off the couch and gets a degree in English, before becoming an English professor herself.  There are still the occasional mentions of Zippy's father, who was a star character in the first book, but Zippy's mother is the main focus of the book.

She Got Up Off the Couch is written with the same child's voice that Kimmel used in the first book.  I think that brilliant style of writing is even more apparent as you can hear Zippy's voice change as she grows up.  The tone is still that unmistakable child interpreting events voice, but the tone is different from the first books.  There is a new awareness.  Kimmel mentions realizing that, oh yeah, she only ever got a bath when she was at her friends' houses and the dawning realization that not everybody lives in a tenement house and has a gambling father.

The book's tone has a slightly more serious, growing-up tone to it, but it is still laugh-out-loud funny in many parts.  The same uproarious games with friends, colorful characters in the small town, and strange-but-true events are present here that were in the first one.

When you pick up a sequel to an adored book, there's always this fear that the second one won't quite match up to the first, that nothing can even try to compete.  But Haven Kimmel has created a second book as memorable as her first.  Please, please, please go and buy this book and read it and then come back and tell me I was right.




(I'm adding the amazon associates link this week because this is a book that I really, really think everybody should read this.)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay

This is a book I read a while ago, loved, and then forgot about because I wasn't blogging yet.  I pulled it out again today and realized what a wonderful book it is and how much it needs to be talked about.  Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough is the story of two friends in the 1920s from rather upper crust backgrounds who travel Europe together after they leave Bryn Mawr. This book is so wonderful because it perfectly captures the utter innocence of these two post-college girls traveling through an unfamiliar part of the world.  The book has the added benefit of being hilarious.  It's a different kind of hilarious from A Girl Named Zippy, but it's still quite funny.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach ached.

The book says that it is written by both Emily Kimbrough and Cornelia Otis Skinner, but all of the writing is told from Cornelia's point of view, so I'm not sure what Emily was doing.  However, the writing is brilliantly done and does not appear to need any added input from anybody.  Each chapter follows some part of the girls' travels.  I am amazed at all of the details remembered after such a long time (1942).  There is nothing vague and fishing through memories about the writing.  It is told as though each event happened yesterday.  From a disastrous tennis game (This is story I cried with laughter through) to buying two little dogs that proceed to pee on chairs in the Ritz Hotel, every single story is captivating and most of them are very funny.

I really have no complaints about this book, other than I laughed too hard.  There are some mildly racist remarks made about Italians for about 2 pages, but definitely not strong enough to make any huge difference in the book.

The illustrations are fantastic.  They are all pencil drawings, done of various events throughout the book.  They had the added bonus of being very funny and perfectly mirroring the writing style of the authors.  Here's an example of what they look like:
A picture taken shamelessly from Flickr.
I wish I could force everybody I know to read this book.  If you are in need of a little reading pick-me-up, or if you aren't, you simply must read this book.  Each anecdote is told at a crisp pace, filled with hilarious events that sound almost as if they were made up.  If you only can read one memoir for the rest of your life, this is the one you should choose.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Girl Named Zippy

I devoured this book, I tell you.  Devoured it.  I read and read and howled with laughter and read some more.  It was one of those books that refuses to let you go about your normal business.  I found myself wishing that it was Sunday so I could cheerfully forget about any work and read instead.  I cannot impress it hard enough upon all of you how much I loved A Girl Named Zippy.

Zippy is the memoir of a girl growing up in Mooreland, Indiana in the 60s.  That might sound pretty straightforward, but Haven Kimmel, the author, has a brilliant way of writing in her childhood voice.  I've heard it said that children make excellent reporters, but terrible interpreters.  This is exactly what is happening in this story.  Kimmel writes down all of her childhood memories with no adult interjection.  The little-girl voice she produces is amazing.

Kimmel's family was anything but functioning.  Her father was a drunk who never held down a job and gambled away everything from her pet pony to her mother's wedding rings.  Her mother, mired down in depression, spent Kimmel's early years on the couch.  However, the book is by no means a sob story.  It is witty and poignant and fun to read.  In spite of all the challenges that I am sure faced her, Kimmel writes about them as a child would-simply stating, Yes my mother lived on the couch for 7 years, what's funny about that?  Then there are wonderful stories about growing up in a colorful community, from the funny Quaker church where she grew up to the best friend who had all her teeth knocked out.

You know how after you read a really, really well-written book you feel kind of spoiled and like no mediocre writing will suit?  That's how I feel right now.  Luckily, Haven Kimmel has written a sequel and you can be sure that I will be reading it very soon.
The second book

It's after reading a book like this that I feel like I praise books too indiscriminately.  I almost never review a book and give it a really nit-picky review, but now I'm thinking that, perhaps, it would be better to do that.  Think what a big impression it would make, then, if I reviewed this book and gave it a whole-hearted praise without any reservations.  My new goal is to write reviews that delve deeper into my likes and dislikes about books, that critique the writing at a deeper level.  So here's to writing nit-picking reviews in the future!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Yes Sister, No Sister

Recently, I've been reading the memoir Yes Sister, No Sister.  I've mentioned it several times on this blog.  It ended up being a really fun story of a young woman in the 50s who leaves her military parents in India to go to study nursing in Yorkshire.  She starts work with her school friends at Leeds General Infirmary and proceeds to have all kinds of fun and challenges in her path to nursing.

Jennifer Ross (the author's real name is Jennifer Craig) tells the partly gripping, partly humorous, partly moving story of nursing in a warm, affectionate voice.  It is obvious that her early years as a nurse spent in Yorkshire were very good years, in spite of the long hours and sometimes cranky head sisters who ran the hospital.  There is also a whole host of likable characters, from kind Sister Busby who fixes the young surgeons' mistakes to Jennifer's best friends, Jess and Sandy.

I won't lie, there are definitely gory parts and Jennifer Craig does not gloss over the nasty hours of cleaning out bedpans and the man whose leg she felt pull off of his body.  This doesn't repulse me like it does some people, so I wouldn't recommend this book to just anyone because of that.  But to counteract the sometimes dark parts of nursing, such as seeing a dead body for the first time, there are things like the old man with the funny Yorkshire accent and the hours spent laughing with fellow nurses over funny incidents.

Jennifer Craig, along with being a good nurse (or so it appears from the stories), is also a good writer.  She doesn't bog the reader down with piles of technical writing and parts of medical procedures that are mentioned are explain in layperson's language.  Her writing style is breezy and funny and there is nothing pedantic or solemn about the way she presents this life story.  I think that it's kind of the nurse's version of the James Herriot stories.   I've always loved Herriot's writing style, so it's great to find somebody else who has the gift of being good at their profession and at telling a story.

If you are completely put off by the occasional mention of blood and guts, then please do not pick up this book.  But if that doesn't faze you, then go ahead and read this.  The stories are fantastic.  I had a heck of a time finding this book.  It appears to be only sold with Amazon UK and I couldn't find it at the library.  I finally found some place in North Carolina that had the book used.  So if you have this book at your library or close to you somewhere, you're very lucky!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday- Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR List

(Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly link-up from the blog The Broke and Bookish.)

This week, The Broke and Bookish is asking about the top ten books on your summer TBR (to be read) list.  I had a really hard time with this question, not because I don't have a huuuuge TBR list, but because I have so many to choose from!

1.  The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyzewski- I already read this, but it was most definitely on my to-read list!

2.  The Mary Stewart books-I had a goal of reading all of them this summer, but now I'm second-guessing my abilities to read about 10 of her books along with everything else.

3. Gone With the Wind-After this was mentioned on the blog Girl With Her Head in a Book, I decided that I needed to get over my aversion to this book and read it this summer

4.  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis-My dad read this recently and told me that it was fantastic, so I'm going to hunt this out and read it.

5. Evelina by France Burney-This was something that was on my Library Loot post about 4 weeks ago and I checked it out of the library, then forgot it, then considered checking it out again, and then forgot.

6. The Baker Street Letters- A book that the library annoyingly refused to put on hold because it was on the new book shelf.  I requested it again and I'm getting it soon

7. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman-A book that, apparently, inspired some kind of controversy (must read up on it).  I saw the movie when it came out and really loved it, so of course, I must read the books.

And then I've discovered a new genre: memoirs that I actually like!  Remember how a couple of weeks ago I had about 3 memoirs on my Library Loot pile?  Well, one of them went missing on the hold shelf and the other just wasn't available, even though it was on the library website (grrr).

So, 8, 9, and 10 are all memoirs that I want to read.  I can't remember all of the titles.  The one I just got in the mail (you know that happy feeling you get when you see that brown, book-sized box?) is called Yes Sister, No Sister: My Life as a Trainee Nurse in 1950s Yorkshire.  It's a fabulous, pretty light book and I'm really excited to read it!

I have to mention as a side note, this is my 100th post!  Yippee!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Library Loot 6/5- Or, The Week of Memoirs

I'm here with this week's library loot.  For those of you who don't know, Library Loot is a blogger's collections of reads for the week that she/he has gotten from the library.  Library Loot is hosted by the wonderful blog, The Captive Reader.

Most of the books in my library loot pile are not yet in my library loot pile.  This appears to be the week of the memoirs.  I have a total of three!  As a rather memoir-averse person, this is strange.  But they all look so good.  Anyway, here are the books that are on my to-read-in-the-very-near-future list.  So, here goes:

1.  Her Royal Spyness- I just started this book and I'm really liking it!  It's the story of a young minor royal in the 30s who becomes a spy.  It's the first in a series.


2.  Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk- Looks funny.

3. A Girl Named Zippy- A memoir about a girl in Mooreland, Indiana

4.  A Nurse in Time- A memoir about a nurse in 1930s England.

5. Yes Sister, No Sister: My Life as a Trainee Nurse in 1950s Yorkshire- Yet another nursing memoir

So that's the rundown of what's on my library loot pile!  What are you reading?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sewing and a Book Review

Today, I have been busy with projects and flaxing around (apparently flaxing isn't a word...autocorrect suggests "flapping" or "flexing", neither of which I was doing...in my book, it means "flying around, getting lots of things done").  One of the things I did was start work on a fabulous late 40s/early 50s wrap dress.  I seem to have a bit of a thing with wrap dresses this summer.  I made a flowery short 60s dress that is for fairly nice occasions and this dress is completely different.  It's long and swishy and will be for really hot August days at home.  I actually took the time to stop and take pictures, so I've included a few.
That blue thing is the bias tape that I'm using as facing
in the place of a regular facing.  The pattern I'm
using was missing any facing pieces.

This actually has a little bit to do with a book I just read.  Well, "read" is a little too serious.  It was more like, "skimmed some parts and read some parts admired the pretty pictures".  The book, written in the 90s, is called Life, Loss, and What I Wore.  I picked it up simply because I had a few minutes and I didn't want to be engrossed in something really good and burn the rhubarb sauce all over the stove (I did that anyway).  This book is a very small memoir of a woman's life, as lived through her clothes.  So, the story starts out with a dress that her mother made and wore in the 30s and moves through her life.  Each page is a small anecdote and its facing page is an illustration of the dress.  Each chapter is a decade and ends in the 90s, with the author's granddaughter playing dress-up in one of her old dresses. And there were some gorgeous vintage dresses mentioned.  I especially loved the description and picture of the author's elegant 50s ball dress.   Reading this description, this sounds like a charming and interesting read.  And it was, to some extent.  However, I didn't love it.  The writing style sounded extremely dated (in a bad way), but it wasn't just that.  It was extremely self-involved and navel-gazey.  I found myself saying, "Oh please," more than once.  So, I don't recommend this unless you just happen to own the book and haven't read it or you really want to know about it and get it from the library.  It's not worth purchasing, in my humble opinion.
The book

But back to my dress.   I can't wait to see how it turns out.  I love this era of pattern and I think it's going to be a very nice, practical dress.  Here's the pattern, so you can see what the end product will look like.  I'm doing the shorter version because, honestly, can't you just imagine tripping over that long skirt every time you walked?


Friday, May 23, 2014

A Wilder Rose

Last week, I was talking to my grandmother and she was enthusiastically telling me about this wonderful book about Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I listened, exclaimed that it sounded wonderful, then promptly forgot about it.  However, she was persistent, and so now I've read the book, too.  And what a wonderful read it was!

A Wilder Rose is the fictionalized account of Rose Wilder's often-fraught relationship with her mother, particularly when helping her mother write the Little House books.  From unpublished diaries and letters, historians and writers are beginning to see that Rose Wilder pretty much wrote the Little House books herself.  Rose was a very skilled editor, journalist, and writer and had a lot of experience in the publishing world.  Laura, on the other hand, and pretty much no skill, but she had a lot of good stories. Laura and Rose's relationship when writing the Little House books is the basis of this book.  According to this book (and who knows how much of this is fictionalized and how much is really based on fact), Rose spent her whole life feeling like Laura didn't quite approve of her.  This feeling only intensified when, at the age of 3, Rose was left alone while Laura was sick.  Wanting desperately to help, Rose put too much wood on the fire and burned the Wilder's little house down.  Rose writes of still remembering that sickening realization of what she had done.  This was just the start of many years of severe poverty and hard living. Rose agreed to basically write these books for her mother with no credit because she always felt indebted to her parents because of all the loss they had suffered.
Rose Wilder Lane

Once Rose grew up, she was determined to make something of herself and so attended high school in Louisiana with one of Almanzo's (her father) sisters.  After that, she attended college and began a high-powered writing career.  She had a brief marriage which collapsed shortly after the death of her only son.  When the Depression came, Rose returned to the Ozarks to live with her parents.   That was when she had her mother began working on the Little House books.  The journey from a very unpolished memoir that Laura wrote to the polished stories that we know of today is a fascinating one.

The book is told by Rose to a young aspiring journalist who is living with her.  This made for some kind of confusing foreshadowing that I think the author could have worked a little harder to make clear.  However, that is my only complaint.  I was surprised at how different these well-known characters appeared to be.  Laura became a very different, but 3-dimensional, character.  This book portrays her as a very domineering, grasping, not-very-nice person.  But in spite of these less-than-perfect character traits, we come to identify with and pity both Laura and Rose through this story.

I recommend this book to anybody who has read the Little House books, which is a pretty large percentage of the population!  The story is well-told and gives the reader another perspective into these well-known stories.  I think that I am going to read a non-fiction book that has just come out about Laura and Rose's relationship.  I'll let you know what I think of it and how it compares to this book.

As usual, I have the amazon links for this book and the A Ghost in the Little House, the non-fiction book I'm going to read.


    

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Please Don't Eat the Daisies

Please Don't Eat the Daisies was a re-read for me.  It is the comedic essays of a New York theater woman in the 50s.  Jean Kerr was, apparently, married to a famous drama critic and was known for her humor in the 50s and 60s.  This was her first foray into writing.  Each essay is hilarious and covers such topics as "How to be a Collector's Item" and "Dogs I Have Known" (my absolute favorite).  This book is interesting because, although it covers such dated topics and ideas, there is something so recognizable about the experiences and thoughts covered.  And I think that's why this book is still so amusing today.  Added to this already great book are the funny pencil drawings done by Carl Rose.

Here's a excerpt from the book:
"It's not just our own dogs that bother me.  The dogs I meet at parties are even worse.  I don't know what I've got that attracts them; it just doesn't bear thought.  My husband swears I rub chopped meat on my ankles.  But at every party it's the same thing.  I'm sitting in happy conviviality with a group in front of the fire when all of a sudden the large mutt of mine host appears in the archway.  Then, without a single bark of warning, he hurls himself upon me. It always makes me think of that line from A Streetcar Named Desire-'Baby, we've had this date right from the beginning.'  My martini flies into space and my stokcings are torn before he finally settles down peacefully in the lap of my new black faille.  I blow out such quantities of hair as I haven't swallowed and glance at my host, expecting to be rescued.  He murmurs, "Isn't that wonderful?  You know, Brucie is usually so distant with strangers."

Illustration found from some Ebay listing.  I had the worst time trying
to find an illustration for you (I was being lazy and didn't feel like getting
up to get my camera).
This book is perfect distraction reading.  My recovery from the oral surgery has been longer than expected and this was the perfect antidote.  This book would also make great on-the-fly reading because each essay is fairly short and the essays could be read in any sequence and still make perfect sense.  I recommend this book for anybody that likes humorous reading and a little slice of late 50s American life.

The Doris Day movie.  This movie was not that great.
I think I didn't like it in large part because I had just read the
book.  There's just no way a movie can capture a funny voice
and a collection of essays without messing everything up.
I think that this might have been a tolerable movie, had
I not just read the book.
I've linked to both the book (there's several used copies on amazon) and the instant-watch movie, should you be curious about either.