Showing posts with label Thoughts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thoughts. Show all posts

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Years Resolutions and the First Book of 2015

Happy New Year, everybody!  I had a lovely, fairly low-key little party last night and now I'm full of plans to sit by the fire and read any number of books.  My first read is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  I'm actually really enjoying the dramatic, yet surprisingly unsentimental account of passionate love on the barren moors.  I'm reading this as part of a book club, so I'll be writing a nice long analysis very soon.  Just 100 more pages to go!

My copy is a very ratty, beaten up one with some college notes in it.  Interesting, but not the most beautiful copy.  Anyway, that's my first read of 2015.

My reading resolutions are as follows:

1.  Better balance between blogging and reading.  It's easy to read a whole bunch and then get completely lazy and not feel like writing about the books.  Or, to spend too much time focusing on the blog and not enough on the books.  So my main goal this year is to focus on finding that balance.

2. Join Classics Club.  I have heard so many wonderful things about this great club, including the facts that it is fairly low-maintenance, gets you to read some great literature, and you can connect with others also reading classics.

3.  Read through more books that I own and stop checking out ones from the library until I've made a serious dent.  I do love the library.  I think it's probably one of the greatest civic institutions.  But I have books at home that I really, really need to read.  This resolution was inspired by Lory's great challenge for January.


4. Read some nonfiction!  I want to branch out in my reading.  I am normally a strictly fiction reader and I want to change that a bit.  I've started by reading What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.  It's a fun, quick nonfiction read and I'm really enjoying it (and I own it!).



My resolutions aren't huge, but I'm hoping to follow through with them.  I wish you all a very, very happy 2015 with lots of good reading!

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.

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.



Monday, November 17, 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley Miniseries

Readers, I just fell in love with a Jane Austen Knock-off (spin-off, whatever you want to call it) miniseries.  I know, just go ahead and take away my Jane-Austen-reverer-book-blogger license.  Go ahead.  It was Sunday evening and I was dying of one of those absolutely disgusting chest colds that leaves you gasping for breath and weakly sipping hot tea.  I was absolutely done with reading a book that I was making no progress on and the dog was yapping out the window.  I decided to start the fairly new Death Comes to Pemberley Miniseries.  I was suspicious.  I've heard lots of people who were tepid at best about P.D. James's classic mystery, but I was desperate for some distraction and it had good actors, so Death Comes to Pemberley it was.

Now, to be fair to this series, I'm not sure how different it was from the book (and I've remedied that and have it on hold from the library), but because of the not-great reviews of the book, I was absolutely stunned by how well-done the movie was.  The characters seemed like they had developed, but not in a forced way.  I was especially impressed by Mrs. Bennet.  She was her usual attention-grabbing obnoxious self without being over-done (a tragedy done to Mrs. Bennet many times over in both knock-off books and films).  My favorite characters were, really, Darcy and Lizzie.  Their relationship seemed to have grown from this romantic thing that has been swooned over for ages into a grown-up, married couple with kids relationship that I found quite charming.  But they really were still Darcy and Lizzie.

Here's a brief synopsis of this 3-part series:  The Darcys are planning a ball for the neighborhood when, suddenly, a hysterical Lydia Bennet arrives shrieking that shots were heard in the woods after Wickham and Denny ran into the woods.  Darcy starts a search and they discover Wickham with a dead Denny crying in distress.   Following are tense court scenes, cute shots of the Darcy's son, Fitzwilliam, who is perpetually getting into trouble, scenes below-stairs among the horrified servants, and up-stairs scenes between the Darcys, Georgiana, who is justifiably upset by seeing Wickham again, and the whole Bennet family, who turns up at a rather inopportune moment.

I have to say, if you haven't read the book, then the multitude of references will go completely over your head.  This is not a movie for somebody who hasn't read and seen Pride and Prejudice 5,000 times.

But anyway, it was a good miniseries and I watched all 3 hours in one go.  It was pretty fabulous, although exhausting.  The one thing that did throw me off was the actors.  I have this weird combination of faces for all of the P&;P characters that's a mix of the Colin Firth P&P, the Keira Knightley P&P, and my own imagined faces from the book.  For the first episode, I was driven completely nuts by these new faces, but my episode 2, they seemed completely normal, nay, made more sense in this setting than my odd mish-mash of faces.

I hope the book won't turn out to be a dud.  I do have my doubts, but I'm awaiting it with bated breath.  I'm also curious how my perception of it will change because of having seen this series.  But, even if you absolutely loathed the book, please check out the miniseries.  I love it.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

November, in a Poem

I dearly love November and it's accompanying coziness.  I think it's the grim, coldness contrasted with the warmth and light and books and people that I love so much.  I have been reading and reading in the evenings, but not bothering to write about what I'm reading, so this afternoon I'm spending working on posts that will come out soon. In the meantime, here's a poem for you.
November Moonlight by John Atkinson Grimshaw, thanks to Paintings, Art, Pictures

November by Elizabeth Coatsworth

November comes,
And November goes
With the last red berries
And the first white snows,

With night coming early
And dawn coming late,
And ice int eh bucket
And frost by the gate.

The forest burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pride and Prejudice, While Running

I've been running for a few months now, but it's just recently that I have discovered that I can listen to the written word while running.  Happy day!  My first choice was Pride and Prejudice because, why not?  And I figured that if I was going up some steep incline or let my mind wander, it wouldn't matter as much with this book because I've read it so many times.

Every time I listen to an audiobook, I am amazed by the new dimensions that previously explored books take on.  I downloaded a free copy of P&P from Loyal Books (it used to be Books Should Be Free-it's a company that records books that are now free since they are in the public domain).  Luckily, this particular recording was a good one and the narrator's voice didn't annoy me, something that frequently occurs when I listen to audiobooks.

Everybody knows the story of Pride and Prejudice, so there's no way that I need to actually give you a  synopsis here, so I'll just write some of the things I loved about listening, in particular, to P&P.


  • I can be a very a fast reader at times and so being able to catch every word and s  l  o  w down was good for me.  Listening made me realize yet again how brilliant Austen's writing is and that her work is something to be savored and focused on.
  • The dialogue was a huge highlight of listening.  The reader that narrated my recording was very good at switching voices and I had so much fun listening to the pages upon pages of verbal sparring that is so prolific in Austen's writing.  I am always so impressed by how mean those people can be without ever losing their manners.  
  • I completely forgot about running while I was listening and, as such, improved my time immensely.  I've always been a slow-ish runner and it's thanks to Jane Austen that I'm getting up enough speed to run a 5k without driving everybody nuts around me.  
  • I loved the characters more.  For some reason, listening to these characters talk and live, I became more attached to them than I ever have through reading or watching the 4-hour extravaganza of a movie.
  • It made me lengthen my runs.  I was guilty of saying, "Hey, I did 2 miles, what the heck," when I needed to keep going.  Because I was breathlessly (quite literally) eager to hear what was going to happen after Lydia runs away with Wickam (yes, yes, I know what's going to happen, but still…), I did longer runs.
  • Runs became more meditative.  While I was listening, I would slow down a bit to laugh at the squirrel fight going on over my head or turn around to watch a sunset unfolding.  The prettiness around me was perfectly offset by Jane Austen's lovely words.
This is something I really recommend doing, if you run or work out at all.  At first, you're going to be distracted and it's going to be hard to focus if you've never done this before.  But pick a book that you've read a million times and before you know it, you'll be completely engrossed and you'll never go back to book-less exercise.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Just For Pretty


I love capturing the everyday pretty.  Last week, I was getting ready for out of town family and I just walked around, taking pictures of the failed maple fudge, the clean porch, the cat in the sunshine, the dusty piano keys….all of the beautiful, yet boring in my life that isn't enough to make up a real blog post but shouldn't be forgotten.  Here is the recent mundane, yet beautiful from my life:


A bunch of squash, that is now tucked into the
 basement for the winter months.

The knitting project that is going painfully slowly.
I can't write a post these days without adding a cute kitten picture.
Here's Dorcas chasing leaves behind the watering can.

One of a multitude of sunset pictures.
A beautiful wooden bowl that I'm going to put some pretty
little acorns in.

Hetty, short for Mehitabel…the only chicken who has resisted
the coop and, instead, prefers to be free-range.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Place Called Hope

I really enjoyed this book.  A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley is not the first thing that I've ever read by Gulley.  Philip Gulley is a Quaker minister and a writer of both fiction and nonfictional thoughts, mostly on Christianity and church life.  His portrayal of and insight into church life, both fictional and nonfictional is so very accurate and wise and funny that I can't help but love everything he has written.   And, of course, there is also the added benefit of the books being very, very well written.

The Harmony series is about a fictional series (although I think there's a lot of truth and almost-true events in the books) about a Quaker preacher and his wife and two sons who move home to Harmony where Sam, the main character, grew up.  There, Sam takes over preaching the small, fundamentalist, Quaker church where he spent his childhood.  Throughout the series, we are introduced to a number of characters in this small town-from the sensible church ladies on the Chicken and Noodles Committee to the raving conservative, Dale Hinshaw who manages to alienate almost everybody.   I'm sensing another post about this series coming on...

Anyway, this series is a spin-off of that series.  In this series, Sam and Barbara (his wife) are about to experience a change.  They have to leave their town of Harmony and Sam's pastoring position after an uproar occurs.  The Unitarian pastor in Harmony asks Sam to conduct a blessing at the end of a wedding.  To Sam's utter shock, the couple is gay.  And to add to the problem the local newspaper reporter is there.  When this news gets out, the church creates a complete uproar, fires Sam, and hires a fly-by-night pastor.

With no job and two sons just sent off to college, Sam and Barbara get ready to leave for new in Hope, Indiana, respectively, at a congregation of 12 people, and the school library.  They are happy there at this new church, with kind people and, of course, the few malcontents that accompany any church.  And this is the start of a new series.

I knew that I was going to like this book.  Philip Gulley is a very funny writer with a sense of the charming foibles and quirks that accompany church life.  It also makes me laugh at how universal some parts of church life are.  For instance, take this quote from the chapter in which Sam is being interviewed by the Search committee:

"'Now I'm clerk of the Limb Committee,' Hank said.  'Limb Committee?  What's a limb committee?' Sam asked.  'Just like it sounds.  I'm in charge of making sure th tree limbs get picked up.  Got a lot of trees here.  If we didn't have a limb committee, the yard would be a mess.'  'What other committees are there?' Sam asked.  'Well, let's see, we have the limb committee, the pie committee, the roof committee, the snow committee, the lawn-mowing committee, the kitchen committee, a funeral committee, a parsonage committee, and the pastoral search committee,' Hank Withers said.  'Don't forget the peace committee,' Norma Withers added.  'And technically, we have an elders' committee, but it doesn't meet regularly.'"

This sounds ridiculous to the average ear, but this passage so funnily captures that church-wide phenomenon of, "Have something to do?  I know!  We'll start a committee and stick a couple of people on it."

This is the brilliance of Gulley's writing- capturing the mundanities of church life and showing the true hilarity of some of the situations.

This book has also been rather controversial (at least, GoodReads seems to think so), because, by the end of the book, it's pretty obvious that Gulley is in favor of the church becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, something that, at least in the US, the majority of people are not.  I appreciated how he dealt with the topic with grace, humor, and kindness to both sides of the argument, something that is not often done.

This books is obviously a niche-novel.  It's written for a certain set of the population and the majority of the jokes are good-church-people jokes.   That said, if you've ever spent any time in a church setting (and, really, it can be pretty much any church), then I would definitely recommend this book.  It's a funny, kind, gentle book and a very fast read.  I enjoyed picking it up and reading about half of it over a lunch break and then the other half that evening.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Meet Dorcas

About a month ago, we got a new stray kitten.  A straggly, skin-and-bones, strangely colored, yet adorable kitten.  She was about 4 weeks old and had just a few teensy weensy teeth that were definitely not ready for grown-up food.  She was named Dorcas, after the small town near where she was found.

Fast forward another 4 weeks and Dorcas is still adorable, but now her little tummy pooches out and she had grown a nice thick, outdoor-kitty coat.  I made fudge and, while it cooled on the porch, I had my (at least 3 times daily) visit with Dorcas.  I snapped pictures while I was there.  I have to say, kittens are not easy to photograph and this kitten is even harder.  She's much more attached to us than previous strays have been, which means that, as soon as she sees a person, she wants to climb all over them and snuggle up for a nap.  Nevertheless, I managed to get a few good-ish pictures.

I keep finding myself making excuses to go out and visit this charming little bundle of fur.

The box that was her shelter when she was littler.  Now it's
just a climbing structure.
This picture is to display Dorcas's tail.  Her ears and her tail
are a striking charcoal against her otherwise black fur.




 The picture above comes with a story.  While I was busy taking pictures of Dorcas, Olive, the plump, elderly cat who has been surprisingly calm about Dorcas joining her in living on the porch, came up to me.  She touched the camera with her nose and then headed over to these plants...




...and posed for me.  And what could I do but take a picture.



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Listening

Here's what I'm listening to while I sit working at the computer.  I thought I would share:
And this piece:

I've loved Old Crow Medicine Show for a while, but just now realized what great Get-Stuff-Done-To-Music it is.  Has anybody else noticed that there is music you can work to and music you can't work to?  I love this group.  Happy Listening!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

This book was fantastic.  It's written by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who wrote fiction back in the 1920s.  She was quite controversial and, apparently, shocked quite a few people with her educational/political/philosophical beliefs.  This book, The Homemaker, amazed me at its surprising currentness.
I love this cover, by the way.  Isn't it cozy?

The Homemaker is about a husband and wife who both despise their roles.  Evangeline Knapp tries to be the perfect housewife-scrubbing everything in sight every minute, creating perfect meals, hating it all and, subsequently, being terribly mean to her 3 kids.  Lester Knapp works at a store in a job that he hates.  He has no freedom and what he really wants to do is read poetry and hang out with his children.   The children all have various health problems and are nervous wrecks.  After Lester is fired from his job, he falls off of the roof, breaking his back and forcing his wife to go out and get a job at the very store that fired him.  Evangeline finds out how much she loves working in the clothing department, advising people and organizing everything, and becomes generally a kinder and happier person.  After his back begins to heal, Lester realizes how much he loves being home and taking care of his family.

But once Lester recovers, the Knapps realize how much they love their new way of life.  They all have an unspoken dread of returning to the way things used to be, but they know that if Lester does not return to a new job and Evangeline does not come home, society will completely disapprove.

I'm not going to tell you the ending, but I promise that it's good.  This book amazed me with its modernness.  We have to remember that in 1924 this would have been a message that would have left most people reeling.  I can only imagine the shock that this book must have caused.  It's obvious that Fisher was well ahead of her time.

I loved this book for the cozy domestic details, the fabulous story line (Fisher is a fantastic writer), and the way that the characters were presented.  Fisher is very, very good at writing sympathetic characters that you instantly begin to identify with.  I grew to love these characters and genuinely hope that they would find a way to be happy.

I really recommend this book to anybody and, really, this book could still produce a thought-provoking discussion today about men's and women's roles and how they do and do not work.  The book is a very fast read (I read it in a day).  It's a perfect book to curl up by the fire with.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

About the Rude Gentleman at the Table Next to Me

This evening, we went to a rather nice restaurant.  The food is always perfect-everything local, most organic, everything perfectly done and presented by somebody who should be a food photographer.  We sat down, ordered, and, of course, because I am the queen of people watching, I started to people watch.  The people at the table next to us were a middle-aged couple and their teenage son (pay attention to them, they're the point of this long-winded story).  I joined in the conversation at my table and promptly forgot to people watch.
A picture that has absolutely nothing to do with anything

Halfway through our meal, my people watching-self surfaced and casually listened in to the conversation that was happening at the table next to me between the husband of the family and the waitress.  
Waitress: And how is your food?
Man: (Imagine that his nose is in the air, oh, and he's talking quite loudly) Well, those vegetables were completely lacking in any kind of nuanced flavor.  Your chef needs to rethink this whole meat dish-I mean, really, the meat was far too overdone and this herb sprig is wilted.  
Waitress: (Looking terrified) Well, how was the salad?
Man: (Nose sticking up higher in the air) Well…fine, I suppose.
Waitress: Would you like me to get the chef?
Man: (Says hastily) No! No!  It's fine, it's really fine.  You don't need to worry about it.  
Waitress: Well, I could just call him over-
Man: No, no. 
Waitress: (Walks away looking weary)

I didn't make this up or embellish, by the way.  This is pretty much how this conversation went down.  

Readers, I trust I don't have to explain the extreme rudeness of the man at the table.  The point isn't whether the food did or did not need to be "rethought" (there's something grammatically iffy about this sentence, please tell me what it is).  The point is that somebody was completely lacking in any kind of social grace and, of course, wasn't brave enough to actually talk to the chef, just pretentiously whine to the waitress. 

And then the fuming started at my table (did I mention that I have a family of people watchers?  I like to think I trained them all very well in the art of people watching, er, listening).  We all agreed to loudly praise the food when the harried waitress came to our table.  But after that, I was still musing on properly biting remarks to the man at the next table.  And, believe me, I thought of some pretty good ones.  

Imagine this:
(After waitress leaves table and man is looking pleased with himself)
Me: Excuse me, I happened to hear your discussion of the food.  For what food column do you write?
Man: (I haven't quite worked out what he's supposed to say…probably just look properly abashed and murmur something apologetic)

OR

(Same setting and time as before)
Me: Excuse me, I was walking past and heard you criticizing the food.  At what restaurant did you train?
Man: (Same response as before, except probably a little more stunned)

OR
I could have just whacked him upside the head with my seltzer bottle and properly shocked the whole restaurant.  

But I did none of those things.  But I told you about it, so I feel completely vindicated.  Thank you, dear readers.  And maybe, just maybe, this man will be surfing through the book blogs that he loves and come across this post and be thoroughly mortified and repent.  Maybe he'll even ask me to absolve him of his horrible error.  Can't you imagine it?  What a lovely image.  And thus ends my post that had absolutely nothing to do about books (seriously, I can't think of one way to tie this into books except that I was disgusted because I had to drive instead of read Val McDermid's Northanger Abbey on the way to the restaurant.)  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

I read a really interesting nonfiction book recently.  I'm discovering something interesting about myself. My whole life, I've never really felt the need to read nonfiction.  Nonfiction just never spoke to my reading self.  However, recently, my reading tastes have broadened.  I am enjoying pretty much any nonfiction book.  In fact, my nonfiction reading tastes are much broader than my fiction reading tastes.  I credit my inner sociologist.  I have always been fascinated by people and why people do what they do and what they think and how they behave.  Nonfiction accounts of people's thoughts and inner workings perfectly feed that inner sociologist.

So anyway, my latest nonfiction book was The Language of God by Francis S. Collins.  It was recommended to me some time ago and I picked it up at the library the other week.  This book is written by the head of the Human Genome Project.  He also happens to be a devout Christian who was deeply inspired by C.S. Lewis's writings.  In fact, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was what brought him to Christianity.

In this book, Collins argues that Christianity and science are actually compatible, that the two do not need to have the discordant relationship that they have historically had, particularly in regards to evolution.  He starts the book by giving his personal journey of faith.  He grew up with two hippie, back-to-the-land, adamantly atheist parents who homeschooled him and his brothers.  He went to college and studied physics, before eventually meandering over to the field of medicine.  After talking to a dying patient who asked him about what he believed, he began to rethink everything he'd ever been taught, culminating in his reading of Mere Christianity.

Collins goes on to talk about the arguments that scientists/atheists pose against Christianity, from the argument that so much wrong has been done in the name of Christianity, to the argument that Christianity is not "smart" or "logical".  All of the common arguments were addressed very well.

Next, he talks about the warring viewpoints- creationism, atheism/agnosticism, intelligent design, and his own viewpoint, which he calls biologos, or theistic evolution.  I think that this was probably my favorite section.

I'll leave the rest of the book for you to explore, though.  You really must read it for yourself to get a true idea of what this book is about.

I think that Collins's most powerful argument is that we weaken God when we argue that God would not be real to us if the earth was not created in a literal 7 days, etc.  He talks about how we place this ridiculously human limitations on God.  Collins makes the point that God can, indeed be the master over all areas of science, that science is yet another language of God.  I found this to be a beautiful and poignant message.

This is probably the most controversial book that I've ever reviewed and it feels a little funny writing about something that is a rather tense issue right now.  But, I enjoyed this book and found it to be a thought provoking piece of writing.   If you're interested in this, Collins has also headed up a whole organization/website called BioLogos, or faith and science in harmony.   Here's the link:
http://biologos.org.

This book is for anybody who has ever thought about the rather fraught with tension issue of science and faith.  I think that this book perfectly addressed this issue, if only as a presentation of another position.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Great Divorce

My latest read has been The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  I grew up with C.S. Lewis (particularly the Chronicles of Narnia, but other things as well, such as Screwtape Letters), so his writing is not new to me, but for some reason I had skipped this book.

The Great Divorce refers to a book called The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  C.S. Lewis is replying to the assertion that parts of Heaven and Hell should be combined to make earth and instead calls for "a great divorce between heaven and hell," a return to an either/or stance rather than a both/and stance.  The story is an allegory, a sort of reflection on the nature of heaven and hell and how people participate in both realms on earth.  The story starts when the narrator boards a bus in a strange land where it is always grey and drizzly.  He goes on an incredible journey through heaven and hell with his complaining, griping, unsatisfied fellow travelers.  Lewis sums up the moral of the story in the introduction, "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven; if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."

It is no secret that Lewis is a highly revered writer and thinker, but this was especially impressed upon me in this book.  The way that important truths are presented in an unassuming, yet poignant way is impressive.  And it isn't every writer that can write a pressing allegory without it become a diatribe or a long-winded sermon.  I was encourage in my own faith by this book, but I was also challenged and convicted by it.  I think it's a good idea to read a book that makes one ever so slightly uncomfortable (in a good, spurring-on kind of way, of course) every once in a while.

I'm going to include a quote from the introduction of the book (which really was a sort of interpretation for the whole allegory).

"You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind."

I really enjoyed this book.  As you long-time readers know, I read a lot of lighter-end fiction and so it was quite refreshing to get out of a bit of a reading grove.  This book also has the advantage of not being a tome-like book.  It's something that can be read over a quiet weekend and the reader will be left with a refreshed, thoughtful feeling.  Of course, this is a Christianity-geared book, however, if you are a thinker and enjoy contemplating, I would highly recommend this book.  I really liked it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Shift from Amazon Affiliates

So remember how about a month ago I used to always have a link to amazon affiliates whenever I posted a book review?  Well, then you might have noticed that the links just disappeared.  I thought I would let you all know why I ended up deciding against it.
Breadsticks I made for supper one night this week.  Yes, they're completely unrelated.
They were delicious, though.  I wish I could pass you one through the computer screen.

1.  I felt bad about posting the new books for a variety of reasons- new books can be ridiculously pricey, and environmental, financial, and human resources are needed make a new book.  There are lots of nice books that are already out there.  It felt silly to be advocating buying new books when so many used books are looking for loving homes.  :)  I know, that sounded like I was talking about puppies from a shelter.  It also seems like a bad idea to buy new books simply for financial reasons.  I don't know who's reading this blog and I didn't like encouraging a financially struggling reader to spend exorbitant prices on a new book.  Of course there are exceptions to this rule-textbooks and books that have just been released, among other things.

2.  I just recently learned that Amazon is not the best of companies, ethically speaking.  I don't know why I was surprised.  They really are just a big-box store in online format.  And it's no new news that big box companies are almost never ethically sound.  I would rather support a smaller business, be it online or a local bookshop.  If that's what I believe, then it's talking out of both sides of my mouth to recommend that you buy something on Amazon that I've linked and then turn around and say that I prefer local businesses.  Of course, like in reason # 1, there are cases where Amazon really is the best, nay, the only, place to get something.  Then, I say go ahead.  But I don't think that it's a good default.

So anyway, that's why you aren't seeing those handy-dandy links from me anymore.  I do wish that places like Powell's and other little books companies like this and this would implement a book-linking service for bloggers.  I would gladly use it!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Canning Tomatoes-An Excerpt from The Melendys

Today is the beginning of the canning extravaganza-where every surface is covered in pulp and seeds and we all collapse on random kitchen chairs at 7 pm, wearily watching the last canner.  Every year that I do this, I wonder why I think this is a good idea, but when I see the beautiful ruby red jars full of tomatoes sitting in the basement, I feel completely gratified.  The other thing that always crosses my mind is the story of the Melendys, written by Elizabeth Enright.  The Melendys have all sorts of adventures (see this post, where I wrote about them), but here's an excerpt from their canning adventure, accompanied by pictures of our canning mess.   Enjoy!
Onions in the food processor, for pizza sauce.  (Note the clean kitchen.
It's the last time you're going to see a tomato-less surface for the rest of this post)

So in summary, Cuffy (the kindly housekeeper) has left to take care of her sister-with-a-broken-leg, widower Father is on some vague business trip (he frequently is), and that leaves the four children at home, the oldest of whom is fourteen.  You heard that right, fourteen!  It's August and the garden is, of course, overflowing.  Mona (the 14 year old) is completely enchanted with cooking and proposes that she and Randy (the 12 year old) can the produce-

""We eat tomatoes for every meal except breakfast now," Randy said.  "And the cucumbers are just getting boring."  "Maybe we could sell them," offered Oliver helpfully.  "Nix, small fry.  In a rural community like this it would be coals to Newcastle."  "Canning is the answer," Mona said.  "Oh, if only Cuffy were here!""

"A moment later she looked up, striking the table with her mixing spoon.  "We'll do it ourselves!  We'll surprise Cuffy."  "O-o-oh, no!"  said Rush.  "And have us all dead with bottling bacillus or whatever it is.  No, thank you."  "Botulinus bacillus," corrected Mona.  "Oh, Rush, don't be so stuffy.  I'll get a book about it and do everything just the way it says.  I'll only can safe things like the tomatoes and I'll make pickles of the cucumbers."

"Mona slept an uneasy sleep that night, and her dreams were long dull dreams about tomatoes.  She rose early the next morning, got breakfast with Randy, and studied her canning book.  By the time the boys and Willy began bringing the vegetables, she knew it almost by heart.  She and Rand were enthusiastic about the first bushel-basketful of tomatoes, it seemed a treasure trove: an abundance of sleek vermilion fruit, still beaded with dew.  The second bushel also looked very pretty, the third a little less so, and by the time the fourth one arrived she stared at it with an emotion of horror.  "There can't be that many, Rush!"  "You asked for it, pal.  There's the living evidence.  And in twenty four hours, there'll be this much over again." …."The kitchen was swamped with vegetables."

"It was a long, hot, clumsy business.  Mona dropped sterilized lids on the floor, and they had to be sterilized all over again; Randy cut herself with the paring knife; Mona half-scalded her fingers getting the first jar into the boiler.  Randy skidded and fell on a slippery tomato skin which had somehow landed on the kitchen floor.  They lost two jars of tomatoes from the first batch when they were taking them out of the boiler.  The first was dropped by Mona when she thoughtlessly took hold of it with her bare hands.  The second exploded like a bomb, all by itself.  "I guess there was something the matter with it," said Randy brilliantly.

"Her [Mona's] face was scarlet with exertion.  Her hair was tied up in a dish towel, and her apron was covered with tomato stains.  Randy looked worse if anything.  There were tomato seeds in her hair and an orange smear across one cheek.  She was wearing nothing but a faded old playsuit and an apron.  "Gee whiz," she said.   "You know how I feel?  I feel like an old, old woman about forty years old, with fallen arches."

I hear ya', Randy, I hear ya'.

Still, later…"They look sort of nice.  The tomatoes, I mean, not your arches.  Look, Ran."  They were nice.  Sixteen sealed jars of scarlet fruit, upside down on the kitchen table.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reading Habits Tag

I was just recently tagged by Girl With Her Head in a Book to answer a series of questions about reading habits (you can see her answers at the above link).  Fun!  So here goes:


1. Do you have a certain place for reading at home?- Not really.  Well, I read all over the place.  My favorite places are stretched out longways on the sofa with the little lap dog curled up next to me or at the kitchen table in the morning.
2.  Do you use a bookmark or a random piece of paper?- Random shreds of paper.  The little tear-out ad cards in magazines work beautifully.  Sometimes I feel like I should have real bookmarks (see this post and this post), but for the most part, I use random shreds because I lose the real bookmarks so quickly.  They're like bobby-pins.  So loseable.
3.  Can you just stop reading or does it need to be at the end of a chapter or a certain number of pages?-Definitely at the end of a chapter.  I can never get back into a chapter that I've stopped halfway through with.  You know what else is weird?  People that read the first chapter of a book and then stick a bookmark in and walk away.   I have to read a least 5 chapters into a book before I stick a bookmark in it.
4.  Do you eat or drink while eating?- Well, I read at breakfast and lunch.  At dinner I tend not to because everybody's back from work and it's nice to sit and talk.  I would feel weirdly anti-social reading at dinner.  Sunday afternoons, when I have a huge glut of reading time, I'll often make some little treat to share and eat myself while reading.  My family has a tradition of eating sunflower seeds in the summer while reading novels.  I still carry that on.
5.  Do you read one book at a time or several at once?- Always several at once.  I like having something light, something tome-like, and something pretty to look at.
6.  Do you read out loud or silently in your head?- Huh!  I didn't know there were people who read out loud to themselves.  So yes, I read silently.  I can still remember the first day that I learned to do that in about 2nd grade.  I was so proud.
7.  Do you ever read ahead or skip pages?- *Ahem*.  Well, yes, I do.  I very often skip long, rhapsodizing descriptions of scenery or people.   If I see a whole string of sentences chock full of adjectives, let the skimming begin!  I must say, I am quite a skilled skimmer.  I read ahead if I suspect an author of writing a depressing ending.  If I find out that the outcome is not what I want, I slam the book shut and no harm done because I haven't gotten all invested with the characters.
8.  Breaking the spine or keeping it new?- Argh.  What a question.  I always want to crack the spines, but as soon as I do, I feel bad that the book has lost its newness.  I ask myself which I'm going to do every time I open a new book.
9.  Do you write in your books?- Depends.  Never in fiction, but from all my academic exposure over the years, I do write in nonfiction books.  I do think that writing in some books can have value.  I love finding old family members' books that were written in.  It's like a window into their minds.  So I'm not opposed to writing in books, I just don't do it frequently.
10.  What are you currently reading?- An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott, Eat and Make by Paul Lowe, Tea with Jane Austen, and The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen (the Austen books are for Austen in August).

Thanks so much to Girl With Her Head in a book for this fun challenge!  I can't wait to see what others say about these questions.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

An Old-Fashioned Girl

I have always loved Louisa May Alcott's writing.  Like so many little girls, I was introduced to Little Women by my mother early on.  We read the book together and laughed over the adventures and felt sorry for Laurie and wept over Beth.  After that introduction, I adored everything by Alcott.  I went on to read Little Men and Jo's Boys and all of the lesser-known books, like Under the Lilac Bush and Hospital Sketches.  However, my favorite is An Old-Fashioned Girl.

An Old Fashioned Girl is the story of Polly, a shy, smart, highly spirited girl.  She goes to visit a friend, Fanny, who lives a cosseted life with her wild brother Tom, her whiny, spoiled little sister Maud, her distracted businessman father, her self-absorbed, hypochondriacal mother and her lonely grandmother who disapproves of the whole family.  Into this scene full of ennui and dissipation comes a breath of fresh air in the form of young Polly.  She, a country girl from a countercultural family that reminds me of the Marches,  is shocked by the city life so full of problems and trouble in spite of the wealth.  She is introduced to Polly's shallow friends and she begins to work change in the family and she begins to see the real sides of her hosts.

The book is spread over a time period of about 10 years.  By the end, there is a charming suitor, Mr. Sidney, and Polly has grown in wisdom and maturity and has become an even more well-rounded character.  Polly is living in a little apartment and keeping house for herself and giving music lessons to support her brother in college.  Then the unthinkable happens-Polly and her family lose all of their money in some banking crises.  And…well, you'll have to read this wonderful book to find out what happens!

The domestic descriptions are unbelievable cozy, particularly when Polly moves into her own house.  It's one of the lovely bonuses of this book.  I couldn't find the particular description that I love, so you'll just have to read the book and find it for yourself.
I sat down with a delicious slice of peach upside down cake made with roasted cornmeal,
hot peppermint tea, and An Old Fashioned Girl (rereading for the millionth time).
It was so pretty, I decided to take a picture-yes, I've become one of those bloggers who takes
pictures of her food.

Even though Polly is a Victorianly good character, there is nothing saccharine or fake about her goodness.  She has her struggles, very much like the March sisters of Little Women.  She has troubles and setbacks just like all of us, but she has a loving family base that is helping her along as she sees new, tempting, strange things.  The old-fashioned in the title is from when Fanny and her friends refer to Polly as "old-fashioned" and "little-girl-ish" because she doesn't behave the way Fanny and her friends do.

Polly's family is not portrayed as a demon-family, but simply one that has become distracted by worldly things and in the process has forgotten the family.  Polly is simply there to remind them of the importance of each other.  The books is not explicitly Christian, but there is that undertone, much like the undertone in Little Women.  I think that also has a lot to do with the way that Polly and her family behave.
Finished!  (Does anybody else prop their books against
their tea pot?  It makes the perfect hands-free reading!

Polly reminds me of Meg March is so many ways.  If L.M. Alcott were to write a story just about Meg on her own in a strange city, you would get this book.  I've always identified with Meg in Little Women.  I do not have that willful, passionate Jo March streak, goodness knows I'm not like saintly Beth and I hope to goodness I'm not like the spoiled, vain Amy.   Meg's calm, practical nature, in spite on her own personal temptations resonated with me, which is part of the reason I identified with Polly.  

The ultimate message of this story and the whole story in general are really timeless.  There is nothing archaic or old-fashioned about the writing or the story.  Louisa May Alcott did it again-she wrote another wonderful book about lovable characters that you are sure to remember for years after you read this book.